Mobility vs Flexibility
Written by: Coach James
Mobility and flexibility often are used synonymously, but they’re quite different. In a recent article in Mens Fitness magazine, they were asked “What is the difference between mobility and flexibility?” Their response was, “A person with great mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns with no restrictions in the range of motion (ROM) of those movements. A flexible person may or may not have the core strength, balance, or coordination to perform the same functional movements as the person with great mobility. There are a host of possible muscle imbalances that cause this, but these problems can be fixed with a combination of what I call the three S’s: soft-tissue work (foam roll), stretch, and strengthen. It’s important to recognize that flexibility is a component of mobility, but extreme flexibility usually isn’t necessary to perform functional movements.”
In other words, flexibility refers to the range of motion around a joint, whereas mobility refers to range of motion within a joint.
So what does this mean for us common CrossFitters and athletes? You can be flexible but have bad mobility. Flexibility applies to muscles, specifically length of muscles. Mobility applies to joints and is used to describe motion. If someone lacks flexibility, stretching is recommended. A lack of mobility naturally calls for mobilization of the joint. While most of the fit world normally talks about flexibility from day to day, they neglect mobility, which is not good. A lack of mobility causes pain in other areas of the body because you are unable to compensate for the lack of mobility. Normally everything happens from the ground up. What I mean by this is, if you have poor ankle mobility this can cause knee pain. A lack of hip mobility can cause you to have low back pain. Poor thoracic mobility can cause problems in the neck and shoulders. All of these can lead to injuries that can keep you out the gym.
Now, let’s look at two exercises/tests that can be applied here. First, let’s test your thoracic mobility via “The Seated Rotation”, created by physical therapist Gray Cook as part of the Functional Movement Screen.
Sit cross-legged on the floor, catercorner to a door, one foot on each side of the door frame, with your back straight, and leaning slightly forward. Hold a PVC above your chest, touching the collarbone and in front of the shoulders. With your back straight, rotate to each side, attempting to touch the PVC to the door frame. Maintain an upright position and limit leaning toward the door or bending the spine. The goal is to touch the PVC to the wall while keeping it level and in contact with your chest, with the spine remaining straight and upright.
The second test is simply a deep overhead squat with a PVC pipe.
This is also part of Cook’s FMS, and it tests mobility throughout the body, including the ankles, hip and thoracic. Stand in front of a wall, facing it, with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel to each other, making sure your toes are pointing straight and two inches away from the wall. Hold the PVC overhead, so that your elbows and shoulders are fully extended and locked out. Descend slowly into a full squat position, as deep as possible. Your heels should be flat and your feet should not turn/slide out as you descend. None of the following should touch the wall: the PVC, your face, your chest, or your knees. To pass the test, your heels must remain on the floor, your head and chest must face forward, and you must press the rod as far overhead as possible without anything touching the wall.
Fail any of those? If so, hit me up in the gym and we can discuss!