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Mobility vs. Flexibility

My client asked, what I thought at the time was a simple enough question, “What is the difference between mobility and flexibility?” Well um..let me see, “Flexibility is the ability to assume extended positions and then maintain them only using your body weight and the support of your limbs or by some other apparatus, like a strap, chair or bar to increase ROM (Range Of Motion). I felt confident about that answer. I continued to explain that there are other different applications of attaining flexibility and they are:

Dynamic or Lymbric stretching: Individuals absolute range of motion achieved with movement.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) also known as assisted stretching.

I then went on to say that mobility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion (ROM) using momentum, muscle length, and muscle tension. The client nodded and thanked me for the clarification. At the end of our session, there was this nagging feeling that the definition of mobility that I gave the client could also be used to describe dynamic flexibility.

So I did some research to enhance my understanding of the differences between mobility and flexibility.

The best definition of mobility was given by Kelly Starret, who is a cross fit coach physical therapist and owner of San Francisco Cross Fit. He describes mobilization as “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems”.

So I have come to the conclusion that:

Mobility – Range of motion under specific circumstances (specific)

Flexibility – Range of motion about a joint (non-specific)

Having said this, there is still one question that nobody seems to have a very direct answer too. Do you need to be flexible to have mobility or if you’re mobile are you flexible? The conclusion I have drawn is that these two concepts are joined at the hip and cannot be separated by definition, but instead coexist in synergistic balance.

I hope this sheds some light on a very technical question. If you are looking to become more mobile and flexible or, should I dare say pliable (another word for flexible,) come join us at the Stoweflake on Wednesday nights at 5:00 for a mobility and stretching class.

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