Updated: Feb 1, 2020
I get asked all the time what the difference between ‘flexibility’ or ‘static stretching’ and ‘mobility’ training is. I also get asked why I do more mobility than I do static stretching. Yes, it is a bit of a preference thing… and yes, I would benefit (as we all would) from static stretching at the end of my workout. But, I find that by choosing to do mobility before my workout, I can save time by killing two birds with one stone! There is of course a difference between the two, but I would argue that if you are going to choose one, choose mobility!
What is Flexibility?
Stretching, or ‘flexibility’ is defined as “the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion”. Think of a classic seated hamstring stretch (pictured below). You get into a position where the body of the muscle is being lengthened, and you hold the position.
What is Mobility?
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. Many additional structures define how good a person’s mobility is, as it’s not only the muscles stretching over a joint but also how far a joint moves within the joint capsule. A classic mobility example is a ‘yoga stretch’ where you start in a low lunge position with both hands on the inside of your front foot. You then reach your inside hand toward the ceiling and then bring it back to the floor. This mobilizes the front hip joint and the thoracic spine (pictured below).
The main reason you should always choose mobility training over flexibility training is if you’re trying to stretch a muscle over a joint that has a mobility restriction you are going to get nowhere fast! The muscle will not be able to lengthen to its full extent as the joint won’t allow it to move far enough. This supports my argument that mobility training is much more beneficial and effective than ‘stretching’ because it’s based on movement and motor control.
A perfect example of this is someone who has tight hamstrings. This person well bend over to touch their toes, feel a big pull through the back of their legs… and blame their hamstrings for limiting them in this movement. The REAL reason for them not being able to touch their toes is that they need to improve their active mobility, stability and strength of their spine in order to get into the position.
Best Time to Work on Mobility
Mobility training is most effective if done before exercise. This will lubricate the joints allowing them to achieve greater ranges of motion when you do your workout.