Most times when people say, “I’m not very flexible” in regards to not being able to touch their toes, inability to get into a proper deep squat or an overall feeling of stiffness throughout the day, in actuality, it is not really flexibility that is the issue.
You don’t need to be more flexible, you need to be more mobile.
Mobility is the umbrella word that includes flexibility. However, flexibility specifically refers to the soft tissues ability to stretch, while mobility is more encompassing of everything involved with the range of motion at the joint –soft tissue, muscle, joint, joint capsule and the motor control.
Someone who has good mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns with no restrictions in the range of motion (ROM). A flexible person may have the ability to get into those same movement patterns but may fail at performing them properly due to the lack of core strength or motor control to do so.
There is much more involved in improving mobility than simple static stretching (think classic sit- and-reach). That’s not to say that static stretching will hurt but there are many more effective approaches to improving range of motion around the joints.
Consider your end game goal…most likely, it is to be able to move a certain way or perform a certain movement. or just make everyday life tasks more comfortable. Simply having enough flexibility won’t cut it. This is where injuries can occur. We think we own certain ROMs that we do not. Simply put, can you actively get into a certain position and do you have any strength in said position. That is where mobility separates itself from flexibility.
Being overly flexible can also have negative effects. We actually want muscles to be elastic like rubber bands, a certain amount of tightness allows for more power production during muscle lengthening and shortening (or contraction). Like an over-stretched rubberband, muscles can become less powerful if they lose some “bounce back” capabilities. In addition, excess flexibility around a joint (think of the term “double jointed”) can be detrimental to the stability of the joint, the less stable our joints are, the more susceptible they are to injury.
Below are four common areas of the body that are susceptible to losing mobility over time due to a sedentary lifestyle (hours of sitting at work for example). For full-body mobility routine check out Key To Longevity .
1. Upper Back (Thoracic Spine)