Here's the Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility

Flexibility

When you’re flexible, that means your muscles and fascia are able to fully lengthen. Fascia is like a cobweb that ties everything in the body together, and this lengthening ability is governed by your nervous system. Think of your nervous system as an orchestra conductor here. It’s in charge of coordinating the "stop" and "go" and fine tuning of everything in between.

Stretches are easy to identify because they often have familiar names like "hamstring stretch," or "calf stretch." When you perform them, you feel a gentle line of pull. While we often think of stretching as the only way to increase flexibility, this is not true. Instead, we can combine stretching with additional techniques that signal your nervous system to say, "Go! Yes! Muscles and fascia, you can lengthen more!"

Next time you work on your flexibility, instead of just stretching, follow these 5 steps to see how much further you can get:

1. Warm up

Have you ever tried to stretch cold taffy or another stretchy candy? It’s so stiff and brittle that it will break before it fully lengthens. Your muscles and fascia are no different. If you want them to ease into new lengthened configurations, you need a 5- to 10-minute warm up first.

2. Use a ball, roller or vibration device

Use a ball, roller or vibration device to find tender spots/trigger points in the muscle you’re about to stretch. Try to find two to three spots and then hold gentle pressure directly on those spots for 30 seconds. Gentle pressure means an intensity of three to five out of 10. More is not better. When you use these prolonged gentle holds, parts of the nervous system start to relax. This allows your muscles to lengthen more.

3. Perform stretches in sets and reps

If you have strength and physique goals, would you stop all of your lifts at one set? No! You know you need more sets if you want to see actual improvement. The same goes for stretching.

Hold each of your stretches for three or 4 sets of 30 seconds. These repetitions and holds give your nervous system time to learn that you want something different for them. Like the trigger point release, aim for an intensity of 3-5 out of 10; more will only signal the body to tighten up and stop your efforts.

4. Breathe

Many of us hold our breath when we work out or stretch, but breath holding tells the nervous system to go into "fight or flight" mode. In this mode, the muscles cannot relax and lengthen.

Instead, back the intensity of your trigger point release or stretch down a few notches until you can exhale comfortably at least two to three times during each exercise.

5. Use it or lose it

How many days per week do you stretch? Flexibility declines faster than strength or endurance. You really do have to use your newfound flexibility every day. You can use it by including stretching in your daily routine, or by finding ways to incorporate your new motion into your everyday activities or workouts.

Key points:

  • Combining breathing, trigger point release and low-intensity 30- to 60- second gentle stretches in specific positions that lengthen muscles will improve flexibility.

  • Stretches feel like lines being lengthened or gently pulled.

  • Dedicated daily flexibility work is best after a warm-up, or at the end of a workout.

Video

Start Committing The Time

Photographer: noor Younis | Source: Unsplash

Dr Jason: I will say this, I’m going into my 43rd year of life and I made a realization about three years ago. I recognized that as we are heading into our mid thirties and beyond, recovery and paying attention to flexibility and mobility, it becomes increasingly important. And I think that Dr. Michael and I have the benefit — good and bad — of seeing people who have committed to activity and stretching and those that haven’t that are in their sixties seventies and eighties or beyond.

And I can’t speak enough about how you really have to program this into your life like it. Yes, it’s important to go to the gym and lift weights. Yes, it’s important to to get some cardio and go for walks, but you hit that 35 year old threshold. It’s really, really important to start dedicating time, hours in the course a given week to making sure you can move because you just don’t realize you’re losing it.

Dr Jason: Like you just don’t feel it until it’s too late and it just takes little daily practice of 5 or 10 minutes of stretching, maybe an hour yoga class or working with a massage therapist or a stretching expert, one or two days a week, but it will pay dividends. I know I’m speaking personally, I’ve seen it in the last two years putting more focus into my flexibility and I’m not as sore. I can just only speak to that to everyone commit some time each and every day to improving your flexibility and then maybe a larger chunk of your day to an activity that forces you to become more flexible. Motion is life.

Scar tissues and microtraumas

Dr Bryan: So you said two really important things and maybe Dr Jason, you could expand on these as well, He referenced immobility, which you talked about a minute ago, but he also said the word scar tissue. And scar tissue is, is like that. You know, we’ve all had scars. We skin ourself and when we develop a scar that that is a thicker sense of tissue. But when you have an injury underneath there, such as to your soft tissue, can you speak on the type of scar tissue that we don’t see, which happens underneath the skin and the muscle tissue and how that actually can create a problem for somebody.

Dr Jason: So as Dr. Michael alluded to, and even Dr. Bryan has alluded to is when you have trauma, not everyone gets the big trauma. So I took out a knife right now and, and if I cut you on the arm, you would bleed. And eventually former scar, we get that. Or if you had a nasty fracture like Dr. Michael had, where he broke multiple bones and tore a ligament, we already get that you can have some scar tissue around the muscles and the attendants, and it’s the same type of thing that you see on your skin, that really thick material that develops in the tendons and the muscles as well.

Ironically though, when we don’t move and when we have repetitive jobs, like some people who have a job where they’re doing the same motion or similar motions, thousands upon thousands of times in a day, believe it or not, we actually can create microtraumas that lead to more scar tissue.

What Are The Methods To Increase Mobility?

Mobility is important, and flexibility is a part of that. That is not to say that you must work out for one extra hour every day. A continuous flow of flexibility and mobility exercises into your routine can make a world of difference. 

Here are some methods to increase mobility:

Stretching

Stretching allows your muscles room to elongate. When you stretch properly, you increase the ROM that your muscles and tendons can go through (4). 

Dynamic Warm-Up 

Dynamic stretching is a common workout technique made to warm up your muscles and joints before exercise. This type of warm-up will help improve the blood flow in all areas of your body so that you perform at optimal levels during exercise or regular activities.

It can be functional and mimic the movements of the activity or sport you’re about to perform, such as circling your arms if you’re about to go swimming.

Here are some simple dynamic stretches that can improve your mobility:

Hip Circles

To do these:

  • Stand on one leg.  
  • Keep your back straight and your core tensed. 
  • Move the other leg in a circular motion around the standing foot by bending at the knee and rotating from side to side. 
  • Try for 15 seconds in each direction, then switch legs and repeat. 

Arm Circles

To do these:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold your arms out to the side at shoulder height.
  • Circle around your arms slowly, starting with small circles, then working up to larger ones. 
  • Perform 20 circles. Reverse the direction of the circles and perform 20 more.

Lunge With A Twist

To do these:

  • Step your left leg far back into a lunge.
  • Twist to look over your right shoulder. 
  • Then, twist farther to raise your arms toward the ceiling in line with the movement of the shoulders. 
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Repeat ten times on each side.

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Arm Swings

To do these:

  • Stand with hands at sides so that they’re even with your hips.
  • Lift arms in front of you until they are parallel to the ground and form a 90-degree angle with upper arm and forearm, palms facing down for both movement phases (upward & downward).
  • For the upward arm phase, swing forward while exhaling; inhale while swinging arms back. 
  • For the downward arm phase, swing backward while exhaling; inhale while swinging arms forward. 
  • Perform 15 reps in each direction.

Spinal Rotations

To do these:

  • Sit upright, back against the wall, and feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart 
  • Use your abs to rotate your upper body to one side then the other, maintaining a straight spine and keeping your hips firmly against the wall. 
  • Hold for 8 seconds on each side. Repeat three times total. 

Myofascial Techniques

Myofascial techniques focus on working out kinks and other abnormalities in your deep fascia bands and connective tissues (6). These techniques are often used by physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, athletes, dancers, and others who engage in strenuous activities with their bodies. 

Mobility Drills  

Mobility drills help improve coordination, balance, and proprioception. They’re especially beneficial for athletes who perform highly mobile activities such as martial arts, gymnastics, and dance. 

Mobility drills can be as simple as trying to touch your toes or putting your hands on the ground and standing back up. They can also be more complex movements that require coordination, balance, and control of your body.

About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men

Dean Pohlman is an E-RYT 200 certified yoga instructor and the founder of Man Flow Yoga. Dean is widely considered to be an authority on Yoga for Men. He has worked with physical therapists to create yoga programs for back health and spinal recovery. His workouts and programs have been used by professional and collegiate athletes, athletic trainers, and personal trainers; and have been recommended by physical therapists, doctors, chiropractors, and other medical professionals.

Dean is a successfully published author through DK Publishing (Yoga Fitness for Men), selling 35,000 copies worldwide in English, French, and German; in addition to being a co-producer of the Body by Yoga DVD Series, which has sold over 40,000 copies on Amazon since its release in 2016.

Man Flow Yoga has been featured in Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Mens’ Health, The Chicago Sun, New York Magazine, and many more major news media outlets.

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