I’m sure many of us have heard the terms mobility and flexibility before but what do they both mean? Are they the same thing and what do they have an effect on? Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same thing, but one might have an effect on the other.
Flexibility is how much a soft tissue, that is a muscle or a group of muscles, is able to stretch or how much is can lengthen whereas mobility is the range of motion of a joint and how much freedom of movement there is in that particular joint. This is affected by the various ligaments and tendons that attach at the joint as well as the muscles surrounding that joint and the joint capsule itself. This means that flexibility is part of mobility which is in turn affected by the flexibility of the muscles connected to that joint. So one might ask which one is more important; flexibility or mobility ad how can we improve at both flexibility and mobility? Since movement happens at joints not muscles mobility is by far the more important of the two. Try stretching a muscle for example your hamstring – inevitably there needs to be movement at the hip, so although it might seem that your hamstrings are very tight the main problem might be coming from your hip joint. Lack of mobility usually arises from lack of movement in a particular joint which will lead to stiffness in the ligaments and tendons and shortening of the muscles and this can usually be found in the hips, shoulder and upper back or spine. A few things that you can do to increase your mobility are self-myofascial release (SMR), mobility drills and exercises and stretching.
SMR, otherwise known as foam rolling is when you use a foam roller or a stiff ball like a lacrosse ball to release tight spots and knots in the muscles or very close to the joint. Although this is usually quite painful try and stay on that tight sport for around 30s and then move to another. By releasing these tight sports you are essentially freeing up the soft tissues for better movement. After that, move on to mobility drills which are exercises specifically targeted towards increasing the range of movement in a joint by activating dormant muscles and releasing trapped one and improving motor control. Examples include holding the bottom of a squat position for some time, down dog which is great for shoulder and upper back mobility and world’s greatest exercise targeting your spine and hips. Lastly, also stretch specific muscles or muscle groups but make sure that you use a good posture.
Do give the above techniques a go to start improving your mobility now. Mobility not only improves our performance in the gym but also our way of life. It reduces the chances of getting injured, decreases tension and pain in the joints and might also correct any imbalances that we might have.