Fitness trends can be confusing.
It seems like every few years there’s a new thing you’ve been doing wrong, and only this twenty-part sequence with accompanying protein powders can cure you.
Similarly, you may have heard trainers refer to “mobility” as something different than “flexibility.” Search online, and you’ll find lots of conflicting advice on basic definitions. Now, this is likely because there’s a cottage industry of YouTube videos chasing fitness trends. So we’ve gathered some helpful key takeaways here. Read on for some tips!
Everyone knows that flexibility should be an athletic goal. Even macho young guys who think stretching shows weakness hit their 30s eventually, and then they learn that they have things like “knees” and “shoulders.”
Whether you’re maintaining your fitness goals or setting new challenges, you need to be as driven with your flexibility as you are with any other part of your workout.
The only way to do this is to set aside time for it. Don’t plan a workout without time to focus on your joint health. When you get tight in your muscles or joints, you subconsciously change the way you move, stand or work out. It affects your posture, which causes a cascade effect on every other part of your body.
But to improve the chances of actually stretching, wear the right clothes for the job. We’d recommend almost anything from our Willy California athleisure catalog like The Workout Tee and The Workout Shorts. Our performance fabrics make it easy to stay active, and you won’t tear any stitching!
Good question. The technical definition is simple.
Flexibility is how far you can move a joint through a range of motion. Mobility means the exact same thing.
So why do some trainers use the terms interchangeably, while others say that “mobility” is simply a component of “flexibility,” while others say they are different things entirely? Well, language is constantly fluctuating. If you don’t like that, listen to old English and get back to us. So here’s what’s actually useful to know:
Flexibility is a big topic. The human body is a bundle of muscles, powerful yet delicate (as anyone who’s torn one can attest to). But when it comes to the flexibility vs. mobility debate, when people refer to “flexibility,” they usually mean a passive stretch.
A passive stretch is when an external force pulls a muscle group.
For example, a shoulder stretch using your left hand to pull your right elbow and shoulder down behind your head. You’re pulling the joint farther than it would go under its own power.
There’s a tremendous variety here, involving partners, your own body and gravity. You hold the position for a time, and it helps ease up your muscles and joints. The muscle isn’t engaged, it’s being stretched.
Passive stretching is undeniably good for you — within reason. It’s excellent for cool-downs and helps increase the range of motion by pulling the muscles past where they could go normally. Just don’t go too far.
Active stretching is different. Also sometimes called dynamic stretching, there’s no external force here at all.
Instead of bending over to touch your toes, try standing on one foot and lifting up your other leg as high as it will go. You probably can’t touch your toes anymore, but a ballerina or gymnast can. When people refer to “mobility exercises” they’re usually referring to active stretching techniques.
The key is, you’re never moving a joint past where the muscles, working alone, can take it.
This not only helps stretch the muscle, but also triggers something called a “myotatic reflex” which helps protect and engage the whole muscle group. You’re strengthening the more awkward, forgotten, tiny connective micro-muscles, the balancing muscles, the joint-supporting muscles. This brings strength, control and mobility into your movements.
Active flexibility exercises are increasingly popular for a reason. They’re useful.
Why? Look at the stereotypical gym rat. Take a guy who’s extremely strong in a few ranges of movement, like bench pressing, lat pull-downs and the like. But put him in a tough yoga class and he’s dying, because he doesn’t have strength across all ranges of motion. And, he’s much more likely to get hurt if he tries more dynamic exercises.
This is why most strength training regimens now recommend both active and passive stretching. Remember, as an athlete, tactically avoiding injury is half the battle.
There are many types of mobility exercises. One easy way to find some that work for you is yoga. While yoga isn’t originally designed as a stretching class, there are a number of terrific mobility exercises that challenge your muscles and joints in innovative, yet safe ways.
You could also try a good physical therapist or YouTube routine. In either case, it helps to watch someone go through the movement more than just reading about it. But, with that said, here are a few sample active stretching exercises:
Leg Circles: On one leg, rotate your other leg in gentle circles, swiveling your hip socket. Try both directions with both legs.
Pulsing Lunge: While in a lunge, gently pulse your back knee to the floor, 5-10 times per side.
Arm Circles: While standing, rotate your arms in circles, switching directions after a dozen or so. Don’t build up momentum to do deeper, or faster circles. Always keep it slow and controlled.
Flexibility, mobility, dynamic or passive stretching… whatever you wanna call it, just make time for it. Any little bit helps, but if you’re battling injuries or targeting goals, make it a priority, and do your research.
Depending on your sport, you’ll want to do specific routines. For example, rock climbers have chronically tight backs, shoulders and hamstrings. It’s up to you to build strength in these high-load joints, and build muscle across your body.
There’s a reason some athletes never seem to get injured. It’s not simply genes or luck.
The best athletes are aware of their body holistically, and can stay ahead of injuries before they happen. A few minutes of maintenance before and after your workout makes all the difference.