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  • Writer's pictureKimberly LaBounty

Mobility vs. Flexibility. Which is Better?

Good Question!! I'm so glad you asked :-) Let's first discuss what each means.

Flexibility is essentially how far you can fold, bend or reach as your muscles stretch to their maximum length. This is a passive movement, such as bending over to touch your toes.

Mobility incorporates strength through range of motion. Here, your range of motion is the measurement of movement around a specific joint or body part. For example, if you had knee surgery, you may not be able to bend or straighten your knee all the way. Your range of motion is limited. So, you go to physical therapy to help fully bend and straighten it over time, thus increasing your range of motion. Mobility adds strength to the equation. For example, in the top image

I'm flexible enough to hold my foot at that height (first image). When I let go of my leg, it takes strength to hold it up - that's an example of mobility. (second image) I not only need to be flexible enough to get my leg up there, I also need strength to lift and hold it there. More complex ranges of motion involve hip and shoulder joints.

Why are flexibility and mobility important? Well, let's say you started going to CrossFit because you think your arms look saggy and you heard strength training is a good idea (most definitely!). You start lifting that barbell over your head and after doing it a while you develop lower back pain. So, thinking it's a back problem, you ask me how to fix it. I ask you to lift your arms over your head, only to see you can't get them up by your ears. Instead, your arms stop by your mouth. If you can't lift your arms over your head but you know that's where it should go, you have to arch your back to get the barbell up there, and that compensation leads to back pain. The solution to is not to fix your back, but to increase the flexibility in your shoulders, thus improving mobility. While this is a simplistic example, you can see how flexibility plays a role in various sports or activities. Many trainers won't look for this. That's what sets them apart from the better coaches.. In summary, flexibility is where we start. Passive stretches help us to keep the muscles from feeling too tight and lengthen our range of motion. From there, we improve mobility by building strength through our current range of motion. As we continue to improve, our range of motion (or workspace) in the joints gets larger and we build strength over a larger range of motion.

If you're interested in learning more feel free to reach out to me. I'm happy to help explain further in-person or via video or set up time to help you with your own mobility.

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