In one big fat nut-shell:
Flexibility: your ability to be moved or bent
Mobility: Your ability to move or bend
Consider your hip as an example, or someone else’s if that gets your imagination flowing, flexibility of the hip into extension means how far the joint can move into extension via an external force, whether it’s a physio moving you or gravity. You were expecting something else then weren’t you?
Mobility of the hip into extension is how far you can extend the hip without external forces acting on it and instead, generating the required forces internally to move your hip into hip extension.
While improving mobility is the ultimate goal because that’s what’s most useful in life, the gym and sport, flexibility may need to be addressed first.
Flexibility limitations typically result due to two types of structural issues:
- Shortened/tight tissues like muscles, fascia, the joint capsule or ligaments that restrict joint movement.
- Degeneration of passive tissues like cartilage or menisci or bony adaptations that block proper movement of the joint.
Any of these problems will restrict both flexibility and mobility.
So if you have a hip flexibility limitation, but you perform hip mobility exercises like lunging or overhead reaches, it won’t give you the gains you’re after because it doesn’t address the root cause of your restriction, which is structural.
If flexibility limitations are present, mobility will be restricted too. This is by definition. No exceptions.
If you can’t passively be bent to 90°, there’s no way you’re going to be able to actively bend to 90°. It can’t happen. Now we know you’re really concerned about that now.
This is why it’s necessary to clear flexibility (structural) issues before working to improve mobility (neuromuscular) – because mobility exercises will not necessarily fix all of the issues restricting flexibility.
We’re not going to leave you hanging without the foggiest on how to bend in all shapes & sizes so here are a few of the best exercises to improve your flexibility:
- Yoga. Sounds obvious but it really is good for boosting your flexibility. Just don’t go the night after a big curry
- Keep your warm-up dynamic & incorporate multiple muscle groups like multi directional lunges, bridges with an arm extension and a high knee skip
- Vary your stretching. Rotate lunges, hugging your knee to your chest and arm circles, these are all good options
- Dancing. Yep, sorry macho men. A cheeky Zumba session will do wonders, trust me
- Pilates. Similar to yoga but probably more of an active version. Pilates has a great focus on core strength and posture which allows a fantastic stretch all over
- Tai chi. Whilst a little embarrassing when you haven’t a bloody clue what you’re doing at first, it’s a great childhood dream come true when you nail one of the routines. Dubbed meditation in motion, the continuous, flowing practice of moving from one posture to another makes tai chi an excellent choice for improving flexibility