top of page
Flexibility and Mobility


The Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility


Fitness experts use the term “flexibility” to refer to the total passive & available range of motion (ROM) around a joint.  However, flexibility does not necessarily translate to moving well.  


We use “mobility” to express how well you can express-strength; move yourself through the appropriate functional range of motion for a joint within any given movement pattern.  So, in more common everyday language, mobility refers to moving well.


There is a big difference between someone raising your leg over your head and you being able to use your own leg and abdominal muscles to easily and comfortably raise your own leg over your head.   This is the difference between flexibility and mobility.  Flexibility refers to the quality of your muscle tissue and mobility refers to the joint’s actual movement.


Flexibility is needed to perform everyday activities with relative ease.  To get out of bed, squat down, or turn your head over your shoulder, you need flexibility.  Flexibility tends to deteriorate with age, often due to a sedentary lifestyle.  Without adequate flexibility, daily activities become more difficult to perform.

Mobility and Flexibility Use it or Lose it

Use It Or Lose It


This difficulty and loss of flexibility is not a result of our increasing age, as even your Dr. will miss-inform you.  Then why does it happen?  Loss of flexibility is a result of lack of movement; it is that we have not kept moving and active, we have not made it a priority to have an actual stretching program designed to maintain flexibility.  


The need to keep moving, to avoid being sedentary is because your body is literally designed to get tighter every single day;  This is Davis’ Law.  Basically, soft tissue (muscles) will shorten if you don’t keep them from shortening.


Over years, we create body movements and poor posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints and then joints are compromised and weak.  Staying active, maintaining optimal posture and stretching regularly helps prevent this loss of mobility, which ensures independence as we age.  


Being flexible and having mobility significantly reduces the chance of experiencing occasional and chronic knee pain, lower back pain and neck pain.

Flexibility Training

There is scientific evidence that the incidence of injury decreases when people include flexibility training in their routines.  This is due to the enhanced ability to move unimpeded through a wider range of motion.  


When used appropriately, flexibility training allows people to become more in tune with their body.  It is a form of active relaxation that can improve both mental and physical recovery and has many more benefits.


Flexibility training uses stretching techniques. Stretching should never be painful.  The focus should be on bringing the muscle to a point of slight tension.

Flexibility and Mobility Stretching

Flexibility Training Stretching Techniques


There are several types of stretching used in flexibility training, each with their own specific benefits and differing possible results.  Here are a few broad categories.  


  • Static Stretching: The most common stretching technique is static stretching which is a stretch where move your body into a position and hold for about 15-30 seconds.  Static stretching involves a challenging but comfortable position held, slightly past end of comfortable range of motion and completely still (static).  This is also called Static-passive.


Although productive, beginners may need prolonged holds of 1-2 minutes before achieving a true stretch; lengthening of the muscle fibers.   Static stretching can be an easy way to begin and to work into more challenging stretches.


  • Passive Stretching: Passive stretching requires the use of some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch.  This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device, as examples.  


With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to move and hold you in place.   The movement is the difference between this passive stretching and static stretching described above.


  • Active (Isolated) Stretching: Active stretching is a technique where you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle that is in opposition to the one you’re targeting.  As is kind of obvious, the target muscle refers to the muscle that is the target of the stretch, and the active part refers to the active contracting of the opposite side muscle.  


With active stretching, you do not use any external device, or your body weight, etc.  As an example, with active stretching, you contract one muscle, such as the quads, to move the leg and stretch the opposing muscle, the hamstrings.  The stretch is achieved via the brain realizing the activity of the quad and telling the hamstring to relax;  This is referred to as Reciprocal Inhibition.


  • Dynamic Stretching:  Dynamic stretching involves movements that increase the range of motion at a specific joint to mimic a sports movement or activity.   Most often, with dynamic stretching, a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times.  This is also called Active-Dynamic.


The difference between Dynamic stretching and the previously described active stretching  is that Active is a slow controlled movement and this means it would be very hard to move past a safe range.  


Dynamic has more speed and could potentially move past a safe range.  Therefore, one starts with moderate movements and gradually increases, while maintaining control.


Do not confuse dynamic stretching with the old-fashioned and potentially harmful ballistic stretching.   Ballistic stretching involves high speed bouncing and can be very dangerous, causing harm.  To contrast the two, dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth, and deliberate, whereas ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky.


  • Resistance Stretching: Resistance Stretching is a stretching technique that involves contracting muscles while simultaneously lengthening them.   This technique is based upon the natural way that muscles stretch.  


For more detail on Resistance stretching, click here. Resistance stretching is the most effective and efficient way to gain tissue flexibility and joint mobility safely.  This technique requires a well-trained individual as coach to ensure safety.


  • PNF Stretching: Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, better known as PNF stretching, is a technique that uses contract and relax actions combined with Active Isolated Stretches.  The role of the coach here is to provide resistance as you also resist for 10 seconds.


Immediately the coach guides the limb into the stretch position while the trainee actively does the same.  The movement is very small. Then the trainee relaxes for 10 seconds while the limb is held.   This technique requires a well-trained individual as coach to ensure safety.


  • Self-Myofascial Release:  Self Myofascial release, also known as SMR, is designed to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by adhesions which keep your muscles from working in the way they are supposed to.  This is an effective self-treatment protocol to target the adhesions (knots) that most stretches will not effectively loosen.


SMR involves using very specific pressure techniques typically on a foam roller but also on a sports ball.  SMR can be rather uncomfortable when done with too much intensity, so most people do not continue this effective technique.  Appropriately taught, SMR does not need to hurt or be exhaustive.

To continue reading the second part of this article about flexibility and mobility, please click here.  We will discuss mobility in more detail, which is the part of flexibility and mobility that refers to moving well.  Mobility Training techniques will also be discussed.  Click now


Tags: mobility, flexibility, training, stretching techniques, passive stretching, active stretching, dynamic stretching, resistance stretching, PNF, myofascial release, static stretching, corrective exercise specialist, personal training, anti-aging

bottom of page