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Mobility vs Flexibility

Most of my recent studying has been related to movement patterns - as you saw in my most recent blog post "Posture" - alongside the kinetic chain / human movement system (HMS) it can be really important to understand the importance of mobility and flexibility within everyday life. This isn't just a concern for those who partake in regular exercise, or for dancers / gymnasts / athletes; having good mobility and flexibility across all walks of life can help to relieve general aches and pains, or more importantly to help try and avoid them in the first place!

Mobility and flexibility are defined as different things but go hand in hand in both training as well as our everyday movement habits. Mobility is related to the range of motion (ROM) available at the joint, for example, the amount of rotation around the shoulder when you circle the arm backwards or forwards. Flexibility is the ability to lengthen the muscles that surround the joints, for example, if you are able to reach your toes from standing with straight legs, then you would be considered to have good flexibility down the backs of the legs (hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus, among other muscles).It's also important to remember here that although you might have good flexibility, you may still have poor mobility since the structure of the joints may be limited whilst the tendons and ligaments holding the joint together are weak.

It can sometimes be seen that someone has "good" flexibility, when in fact they are overcompensating for poor posture or technique - from a dance background this can be seen when someone may be good at the front splits (right or left), but have limited mobility at the hips so struggle to do the side (box) splits. To put this into perspective from an adults point of view, when we regularly sit at desks, the hip flexors can become tight, whilst the gluteals/hamstrings become elongated and weakened due to not being used - an adult may be able to touch their toes due to better flexibility down the back of the legs, but struggle to stand up completely straight since the body is used to having the legs flexed from the hips in regular seated positions. Joint structure within the hip socket may limit this upright position further.

So...why is it so important to have a good range of mobility and good flexibility?

Not only can tightness across the body cause aches and pains due to the repetitive nature of our daily movements, but in some cases it can also cause injuries - muscle strains, tendon or ligament damage, and in most cases, distortions in movement patterns and the kinetic chain. Improving your mobility and flexibility will help to reduce your risk of injuries. I'm not talking crazy splits and acrobatics either - just improving the way in which you move, and undoing the bad habits that we create through work and lifestyle (sitting at desks, heavy lifting, or looking at our technology!).

Classes such as yoga / pilates / Barre / Stretch and Chill (sorry for the self-promotion, but you should really try it out, 8pm Thursdays via Zoom!) can help to provide guidance to how to improve your flexibility and mobility safely. You don't always have to join a long class; sometimes just even short stretch breaks throughout the day can help to undo those daily habits. Just a few minutes each hour of walking about, rolling the shoulders back, reaching down to the toes with slightly flexed knees, or shaking/kicking the legs and arms can help to relieve tension as well as mental stress that may occur throughout the day. It can help us to re-focus on a task and in the long run become more productive and less anxious.

With regards to our own training sessions it can help to improve movement patterns, and engage muscles more efficiently, as well as avoiding the chance of injury and over-compensation from other muscle groups. Movements will be much more fluid, and workouts become more effective, thus helping us to achieve our goals. Ensure that you stretch when the muscles are warm - there are different stretch methods you can use (we'll discuss this further in another blog post), or you can use mobility movements as part of a warm up to take joints through their normal, and then an extended, ROM.

Whether you are a regular gym-goer or just need to relive some tension, start to include more movements and stretches into your day. It doesn't have to take long, but your future self might just thank you for it...

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