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June 8, 2020

Flexibility, Mobility and Hypermobility

It's common for people to think that flexibility and mobility are the same thing. But, they are actually different, yet still related.

So, what's the difference? Flexibility is the ability of a muscle(s) to lengthen. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion with tension.

Many people think, as long as they stretch, they will be mobile. However, this isn't the case. You can be very flexible and still not able to move well through range of motion, aka display good mobility.

Muscles are like rubber bands and they can stretch - flexibility. However, mobility will allow you to move correctly in all directions. Take the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder. It should be able to move your arm forward, backward, side-to-side, in circles and overhead without restriction.

Most people believe, if they have a tightness, ache or pain, they need to stretch. For instance, people with rounded shoulders are often told to stretch their pecs in order to free up their shoulders. Sometimes this is appropriate, but many times the pecs aren't the issue.

Now, in order to have good joint mobility, you must also have flexibility.

Cara Ann Senicola, physical therapist with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City said it well, "Muscles can have good flexibility but be overactive (hypertonic) because they are trying to make up for a lack of stability elsewhere,” Senicola says. “Muscles that cross multiple joints are muscles that tend to move us. Stabilizing muscles tend to cross only one joint. When the stabilizers are not doing their job well – or a person's posture does not allow them to do their job – mover muscles try to stabilize. But because they cross multiple joints, they end up limiting joint mobility.”

To improve mobility, it’s important also to train the body’s stabilizing muscles (such as those of the core), perform exercises that take your joints through a full range of motion and consciously work to improve your posture, Senicola says. 

You're never going to gain mobility in certain positions if you don't actively work those positions, even enacting progressions. We regularly encounter people that are unable to squat correctly, but through specific exercises and tools, they can eventually get full range of motion.

Now, let's discuss hypermobility. This means someone's joints are more flexible than other people's - there is an increased range of motion. Everyone has that friend they refer to as "gumby!" This can cause issues, as oftentimes these people are unable to maintain tension at the end range of movements. Again, take the squat. There are people who can drop down and literally get them bums to the floor. However, there is no tension to control load. These people benefit from tempo work so that they build up strength and tension in the proper positions.

So, what's the take away here? Flexibility gained through stretching is important, but you must gain mobility through working proper positions, strengthening support muscles, minding your posture and creating tension.

By focusing on your deficencies and doing the "unsexy" work, your performance will improve and you will FEEL better.

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