Flexibility vs. Mobility: What’s the Difference?

“Yoga practitioners, dancers, and martial artists have understood the concepts of mobility and stability for thousands of years without every making scientific studies or analyzing every little detail in the body.” ~SPE Performance

Traditional fitness programs emphasize on three primary pillars of fitness which are muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. Human movement and behavior, however, are much more complex than these three attributes. In fact, over-training in either three pillars or neglecting other aspects of human movement and behavior can lead to injuries, pain and muscular and joint diseases and disorders.

Physical therapist Gray Cook, author of “Movement,” discusses that mobility and stability are the fundamental factors that influence the outcome of your performance, including strength, endurance, and agility. They also affect how much risk you have in getting an injury, regardless of whether you have or never have a previous injury. Mobility and stability cannot be trained separately since both constantly work together in your body like a salsa-dancing couple.

So what is mobility and stability? How are they different than flexibility and strength? Don’t they mean the same thing?

In reference to the dancing couple analogy, think of mobility as the woman who is moving and spinning freely to the music, while the man is stability, keeping the woman in balance and guiding her to certain positions throughout the song. If either one cannot move well or control the movement, then the risk of falling or losing the rhythm increases for either party.

Mobility is your ability to move your entire body freely without pain or limitations. Stability is your ability to control movement and maintain your body alignment while you move. Flexibility, however, refers to a muscle group’s or a joint’s normal range of motion, usually without taking into account of how it interacts with other body parts. Strength is simply your ability to produce force against a resistance, such as a free weight or your own body weight.

In the following first video, the model  is unable to deep squat with his arms over his head. Is it because he has tight ankles, hamstrings or hip joints or weak abs and buttocks? Not necessarily.

In the second video, he is able to bring his shoulders and hip joints in full flexion when he is in a supine position. If his muscles and joints are truly tight and stiff, then he would not be able to flex his shoulders and hip joints in a greater range of motion in the supine position. The model’s flexibility is adequate anatomically speaking, but his mobility needs much improvement.

Movement screening can help you determine if you have any weaknesses or faulty movement patterns that are restricted by poor mobility and/or stability. These problems are often caused by poor software in your brain rather than a piece of anatomy. Rather than stretching each muscle group individually, mobility and stability training improves total-body movement patterns, reducing your risk of injury and enhancing your ability to perform. We cannot tell you what exercises or which movement pattern to work on because everyone’s patterns are different. The Functional Movement Screen will help us customize the right exercise strategy for you to improve your athletic abilities.


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