Mobility and Flexibility are two terms you hear used frequently, and often at the same time. Both are very important, but they are two very different concepts. Mobility is the new term that gets thrown around a lot, but with very little understanding of what it actually is…
Flexibility and Mobility: What Is The Difference?
Flexibility is the ability to take a joint through a range of motion passively. For example, if someone takes you through a hamstring stretch whilst you are lying on your back, it is a test of your hamstring flexibility. They are passively assisting you in taking your joint through its range of motion.
Mobility is similar to flexibility in that it involves range of motion at a joint, however it is classed as active because you are doing the work yourself. For example, legs swing front on are a good test of hamstring mobility. You have to contract your muscles yourself and take your joint through its range of motion actively, as opposed to passively. However, you are still testing how ‘far’ your hamstring can go.
As you can see, they are pretty similar, but at the same time, oh so different. Both are really quite important and neither is better than the other. Often they will complement each other, but it is when you should perform flexibility or mobility that is the important factor. This is also where most people make mistakes.
When Should I Do Flexibility Training?
The biggest thing I want people to know is when NOT to do flexibility training. This is being done to death on many fitness sites, but I still walk into gyms and see people doing making this mistake.
Passive stretching before your workout is not a good idea. When you passively stretch your muscles you are relaxing them. Consequently you are also relaxing your nervous system. Sound not too bad? Well, when you relax your muscles and nervous system you are inhibiting their ability to produce strength and power by weakening the signal between them. It’s important that both your muscles and nervous system are firing during a workout or training session. You will reduce your risk of injury, and you will have a better performance outcome.
On the other hand, the reasons why passive stretching is so bad before a workout, is exactly the reason why it is great to do after a workout. After a workout your muscles and nervous system are all fired up, and you want them to relax. Relaxing your muscles will get them in an optimal state to enhance recovery. It’s also a great time to do some work on your flexibility, as warm muscles are much more conducive to flexibility training and you will get better results.
When Should I Do Mobility Training?
Mobility training is a perfect warm-up. It has the exact opposite effects on your body when compared to passive stretching. It enhances your neural drive, warms up your muscles more efficiently and gets your joints ready for exercise. When you warm up by moving your joints and muscles through a range of motion actively, you are stimulating your nervous system and enhancing the signal between it and the muscles. This in turn, leads to a better power and strength output, greater joint range of motion, and overall a much more efficient performance. You also get the synovial fluid (fluid in your joints that helps cushions and lubricate) going in your joints, greatly reducing joint friction.
Flexibility is important, and it’s definitely not all bad. We need to have a passive range of motion through our joints in order to be able to have the active range. If you perform mobility before exercise, you are going to enhance your performance output, and reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries and ongoing joint problems. If you stretch after your workout, you will relax your muscles and nervous system and get them ready to recover for the next session. Both are important, you just need to know when to use them.