In a post I wrote a while back on warming up, I mentioned the difference between flexibility and mobility but I didn’t go into detail at the time. Today seems like a good day to do so. 🙂
Hold out your arm, straight in front of you. Now, keeping it straight, pull it back behind you as far as it can comfortably go. You may start to feel a bit of a stretch, but probably nothing major. This is the edge of your mobility.
Now, walk over to a doorway and put your hand against the door frame. Turn away from your arm. You should be in the same position, only you should be able to go further. Much further. This is your flexibility.
Mobility is your ability to move your body, while flexibility is your ability to be moved. Mobility is active, while flexibility is passive.
Want another example? Keeping your knee straight, lift your leg straight out in front of you. See how high you can go. Now, get a friend to support your leg and lift it even higher. You will almost invariably be able to go higher than you could under your own power.
Athletically speaking, mobility is what we want, not flexibility. It’s not clear where – historically speaking – the mistake of one for the other took place, but somewhere down the line, we mistook the ability to to have our bodies moved awkwardly for control of our bodies in awkward positions.
This isn’t to say flexibility doesn’t have a benefit. It most certainly does, but that benefit is almost always injury-avoidance when something goes wrong. Meanwhile, the active pursuit of mobility often gets neglected. And when mobility issues appear, they are incorrectly addressed with techniques and drills meant to address flexibility, namely stretching.
Mobility is improved through movement. To improve one’s flexibility, you identify the range of motion you wish to improve and simply work your way through it, pushing yourself slightly but never exhaustively. The range of motion invariably comes. Stretching one’s self, an act meant to improve flexibility, will have little benefit on mobility, while the inverse is not true; improving one’s mobility will also improve one’s flexibility.
How do you improve your mobility?
The long answer involves specific mobility training (where I can make some recommendations), sometimes not unlike yoga.
The short answer, however, is simple: move. Just move, and move more. 🙂