Mobility vs Flexibilty
Flexibility: The extent to which something will bend before it breaks
Mobility: The ease by which something can be moved.
The difference between flexibility and mobility is a subtle yet important one. I love that the word “moved” is in the definition for mobility while flexibility is a mere measure of how far something can be pushed. The word “moved” adds a certain quality to the word that gives it function. And as upright moving and atheletic individuals, function is one of our most coveted qualities.
I rarely use the word “flexiblity” when talking to my patients and clients. A person can be considered “flexible” if they are willing to bend their own rules a bit or, as in the case of a young gymnast, able to do the middle splits without flinching. Flexibility can be both a positive and a negative quality when it comes to the human body. Many people who have flexible ligaments have loose joints and reduced stability under loads but they can also be gorgeous movers with fluid physical capacity. It is functional for a dancer to be highly flexible. It is not functional for a downhill skier to be highly flexible. The term “functional” is a fluid one that can mean something different depending on the activity it is applied to. A 75 year-old man whose only physical requirements are to walk 600 ft (a community distance) and reach to get something out of the cupboards has a far different definition of functional than a 44 year old competitive Olympic weight-lifter. The 75 year old needs to be able to lift his arm above his head without pain. The Olympic weightlifter needs to be able to do the same but with a rotational component and added weight. Functional is not the same to everyone. But the fundamentals for human existence are.
Mobility is the ability to move within a range of motion and therefore mobility is inherently functional. Range of motion can differ from person to person as to what their available range is.
The best way to decide if you need to sit in the middle splits for 2 hours a day or foam roll your lats and do some arm circles is to ask yourself, “What skills do I need to be able to do to achieve my goals?” (CAUTION RANT: This question is a wonderful gateway to identifying your own personal goals. If your daily life is sitting at your desk and in asking this question you realize that you actually want to be able to run a 5k then that also helps you identify the path. Goal setters are goal getters. wahwah) If you need to be able to pull your entire body weight on your right arm as in a rock climber doing a “gaston”, then you need full shoulder fluid range of motion with an added amount of torque at the end range.
Fundamentally, the idea is to maintain your mobility during strengthening AND performance periods. If you are training and you become stiff, your mobility decreases. I think some people equate tightness with being strong. This is a poor way to feel satisfied from strengthening.
Here’s the take away. Identify your range of motion. Maintain your personal mobility by achieving it as a warm up AND as a cool down to remind your muscles what their normal neutral position should be. Rest days should be fluidity days. You should move effortlessly and again find your personal range of motion so you are fresh for your next training day.