The difference between flexibility and mobility or the argument of mobility vs flexibility often gets summed up with the statement “mobility is active and flexibility is passive”.
Unfortunately, as ingrained as that statement is in our industry, it’s not an accurate one.
To get to the bottom of mobility vs flexibility, we will show you what makes mobility different from flexibility. Let’s first define what each term means.
Flexibility is your body’s ability to move by changing the position of its joints.
Any movement of the joint is by definition, flexibility. Whether it’s you providing the force to move your joints, or someone else moving them for you. It doesn’t matter. It’s all flexibility.
Once we start looking at the type of movement we can then split flexibility into four different categories.
Dynamic vs static flexibility
If the joint is moving, it’s dynamic flexibility. Any flexibility where the joint is going through all or parts of its range of motion is dynamic.
If the joint is staying still, it’s static flexibility. There is no movement in the joint.
Every type of flexibility falls into one of those two categories. Which then gets split into two categories: active and passive flexibility.
Active vs passive flexibility
During the flexibility exercises, your muscles are either contracting to move the joint or they’re resting. If you’re contracting your muscles, that’s active flexibility.
If you’re not contracting your muscles, that’s passive flexibility.
This means that all flexibility is either dynamic and passive, dynamic and active, static and passive, or static and active.
Developing any of the four definitions of flexibility requires exercises that fit into the exact category you’re trying to develop.
To improve dynamic and active flexibility requires dynamic and active exercises. To improve static and active flexibility requires static and active exercises. And so.
With flexibility covered, let’s have a look at mobility.
Mobility has become a huge part of the mainstream fitness culture. But there’s one big problem with the word ‘mobility’ itself.
Outside of scientific literature, mobility doesn’t have a clear definition
Most of the confusion about the difference between mobility and flexibility stems from this. Rarely in science is mobility used to mean the same thing as flexibility. In science, mobility doesn’t mean dynamic or static, or active or passive flexibility.
Instead, in scientific literature, mobility is mostly used to describe someone’s ability to move from one location to another. As in, having the mobility to move from the kitchen to the lounge room.
But we, the fitness industry, took the word ‘mobility’ and started using it for whatever felt right to us. Without first agreeing on a specific definition. Add some brilliant marketing from various companies giving their own definition of mobility and you’ll have a fully-cooked bowl of confusion.
Mobility vs flexibility boils down to this…
Strictly scientifically speaking, flexibility is about the joints and the muscles that move or don’t move them. Static stretching, PNF stretching, dynamic warm-up, FRC drills… that’s all flexibility.
Mobility in contrast is about having a mobile base of support to physically move from one location to another. Ever walked from your front door to the mailbox and back? That’s you doing mobility.
All that being said, we don’t really care what terms you use…
As long as you integrate active flexibility training we do not care what you call it. After all, our coaching platform is called Mobility Coach Plus. Because it sounds way cooler than Flexibility Coach Plus.
Mobility Coach Plus is a course created for coaches, trainers, and therapists who want to integrate mobility training into their current approach. You can get started learning about how to integrate mobility and strength with your clients for free today with our webinar.
You can also try our Elite Video Membership with your first week FREE. Gain access to our full list of exercise classes that will improve the way you move.
Start with one of our 12-week programs that give you a structured path towards becoming more flexible, mobile, and getting stronger!