Mobility vs flexibility

Mobility vs flexibility what is the difference? Learn more

By Grant Leiphart

Mobility vs Flexibility

Mobility is different than flexibility. However, these two often get related even though they are quite different. Is one better than the other? Well that all depends on what your goals. As far as longevity and strength of joints go mobility is the clear favorite. 

The difference between mobility vs flexibility

First, we must distinguish the difference between flexibility and mobility. Flexibility is the ability to work a muscle, passively, through a range of motion. Static stretching is an example of how people try to increase flexibility. Mobility on the other hand is actively moving a joint through a range of motion. Being able to go into a deep squat with good form would be an example of good mobility. 

Real World Examples

Wouldn’t we want to be both flexible through a muscle and mobile through our joints? Ideally we would like to have more mobility than flexibility. Imagine you can do the splits (flexibility), now try to lay on your back and actively move your leg towards your head simulating the splits. You will find that you most likely cannot get your foot nearly as far as would if you were passively doing the splits. That is because you don’t have the stability and strength in that active movement to do so.

Mobility requires stability and strength surrounding a joint. Think about how we live too. Humans live an active lifestyle (standing up, sitting down, moving in weird angles) so being able to control our joints through active movements is crucial especially if we are talking about longevity and performance. There are few times where we are passively doing something that requires flexibility. 

Is too flexible a problem?

Having too much flexibility can actually compromise joint health. If all I did was static passive stretching then I would have no stability through my joints. Sure, maybe I’d be able to put my foot behind my head but what good does that do? What would happen if I went to squat with a barbell on my back? Either my range of motion would be terrible (not being able to go into a full squat) or I would be exposed to possible injury from having muscles that are too elongated and not strong or stable enough.

Shoulder Joint example

The shoulder joint is a great example of how being too flexible can be worse than being mobile. Imagine I spend my time passively stretching my chest, arms, and upper back to allow my shoulders to move wherever they want. That sounds nice, until you go to press weight overhead. Since there is little to no stability in the shoulder joint the shoulder is prone to moving into a position that is unnatural therefore leading to injury. If I worked on becoming stable through the shoulder joint then overhead pressing would feel a lot more comfortable and allow my shoulder to move the way it is intended to move.

Mobility helps flexibility

Being mobile can actually help us gain some flexibility as well. Think about moving through a full range of motion squat. If I have the stability and strength to go from standing to getting my hips down and back, almost all the way to the floor, then my muscles are going to elongate in that process. Remember flexibility is stretching the muscle, making it longer. At the bottom of the squat my hamstrings, glutes, and quads go through some lengthening. When we put load on our back and do a full squat we get lengthening of muscles, stability for the hips and ankles, and strength for the muscles. So moving through a full range of motions not only helps our mobility but it can also help us gain the right amount of flexibility needed to move naturally. 

Mobility for the win!

Maintaining healthy joints and feeling good when we move is a goal we should strive for. Having good mobility will allow. Unless you want to be a full time yogi, focusing more on mobility will help improve quality of life and will give you the freedom to enjoy the activities you love to do. 

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