This article is to make sure that in the world of fitness, the terms mobility, stability, and flexibility are differentiated and understood. A better understanding of these terms and how they’re applied can make a world of difference in your approach to training. When you’re done reading this article, you should have a clear understanding of these terms and how they’re applied to the body.
When working with athletes, we have found that these 3 terms are often used interchangeably or misused due to a lack of understanding. One of the most powerful things an athlete can have is education, so here it goes:
Flexibility – Flexibility is the ability to take a joint through its range of motion passively or with no resistance. An example of this is if someone else was able to move your shoulder through full flexion or abduction without any active help from you.
Why is this important? Let’s think about this for a moment. Understanding that there are accepted passive and active ranges of motion recorded for most joints, then we can use that as a baseline to determine healthy flexibility and mobility. The use of flexibility is important in understanding the baseline health of a joint. If the joint is unable to achieve the normal passive range of motion, what will happen to that joint when a load is added? As part of our assessments, we utilize passive and active ranges of motion of joints to determine if the joint is healthy enough to handle a heavier stress/load.
Mobility – Mobility is the ability to take a joint through its active range of motion. This requires the use of the muscles involved to achieve the desired range of motion in combination with the joints flexibility.
It’s important to have both healthy flexibility and mobility of a joint. But what happens when there’s a noticeable decrease in mobility? Assuming flexibility was normal, we must consider the tissues involved in the movement. There are many things to consider at this point such as force production and the integrity of the active tissues involved, but that deserves its own post. However, it is important to remember that there are things that can be trained out and there are things that need to be treated out. The vital thing is to have a team that can identify these issues and correct them with the proper programming.
Stability - Last but not least, stability is the ability to maintain and/or control joint movement and position. In our experience, this tends to be an item that is often overlooked and misunderstood, but is crucial to how we move. For example, when doing a strict press, the focus is typically on the shoulders and their ability to drive the weight straight up in the air using strictly the muscles of the shoulder. However, have you ever noticed that some strict presses turn into a standing incline bench press because somebody is arching their back to compensate for lack of movement in other structures?? What happens to the spine during this hyper extension?
This is an example of how we often achieve 1 rep maxes at the expense of stability. There are joints that are unable to remain stable while the body performs the task we demand of it . At the same time, movement of a particular joint requires a certain amount of stability in that joint to create the proper range of motion. For example, the glenohumeral joint requires a great amount of stability of the humeral head in the glenoid fossa in order to achieve the mobility required for overhead movements.
Each of these terms can be applied to different joints and regions of the body. Understanding these concepts can help an athlete perform at high levels and increase performance by eliminated deficiencies and imbalances.Movement is vital to maintaining a healthy skeletal structure. However, understanding movement and understanding exercise are two completely different things. Here at IronRx we have a team that can help individual athletes with that. Our emphasis on the individual allows us to focus on imbalances, weaknesses, and hone in on current strengths.