How often have you watched an instagram video of some insane gymnast and said, “Wow, I wish I had her flexibility!” Or how many times have you felt some movement is just out of reach and said, “I’m so inflexible!” We use flexibility and mobility as interchangeable words that mean the same thing. In reality, while they are related, they’re not the same.
Flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to be passively lengthened through a range of motion. Mobility on the other hand is the ability of a joint to actively move through that range. Put into real terms, you can stretch for hours to achieve a nice flat forward fold but if you can’t actively get into that position, then your forward fold is only temporary and will be ineffective when applied to movement.
While we can have good flexibility without mobility, we can’t have good mobility without flexibility. Back to our nice deep forward fold on the floor, but now apply that position to a hanging toe to bar. You may have the hamstring flexibility to maintain that position when you get there but if you can’t raise your legs past your hips in the hang then you lack the strength in the opposing muscles to actively pull you into that position.
Achieving full active range of motion of the joint takes into consideration a number of things; restrictive muscle tissue, joint and joint capsule health, motor control and soft tissue health. Actively strengthening our end range combined with a variety of stretching techniques will lengthen, strengthen and stabilise our muscles, improving our overall mobility.
Consistency is key in mobility training. You might feel like you’re making little or no progress at all but over time, all those little victories add up to big changes. Initially it will be something you feel rather than see. Do a little each day as part of your warm up or cool down to your strength training, or in between reps as part of your active rest. Before you know it those leg raises will feel a little easier instead of feeling like lifting elephants.
When we apply increased mobility to our strength training, our muscles and joints will be better balanced and aligned, as will our posture as our range of motion increases. Better alignment means being able to complete exercises to their maximum, pushing further and harder. The central nervous system (CNS) will fire up more muscle fibres and more rapidly with continued mobility drills helping to build speed, power and endurance.
Having active control over the positions we move through keeps us pain free, reduces injury risk, corrects imbalances, keeps our joints healthy and allows us to move in a way that looks effortless.
Ruth is our Co-founder and General Manager and coaches Mobility on Thursday evenings at 6.30pm