Updated: Jan 15
Before any sporting event, you’ll see coaches taking their players through warm-up routines. Walk into any gym, and you’ll see someone pulling their arm across their chest or trying to touch their toes before their workout. What are they doing exactly? They are trying to become more flexible and mobile before their athletic activities, but are they doing it right? The words flexibility and mobility seem to be interchangeable these days, but what’s the difference? Simply put, flexibility is the ability to fully lengthen a joint or muscle, and mobility is the ability to move a joint through a full range of motion. In this blog, I’ll break down each one, help you figure out when you should be doing them, and tell you why they are important not only for athletes but for everyone.
What Is Flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability of a joint or a group of joints and muscles to move through an unrestricted and pain-free range of motion. Flexibility is specific to individual joints, so it is possible to be more flexible in certain joints and muscle groups than in others. Flexibility varies from person to person and is heavily influenced by factors such as age, gender, anatomical structure, genetics, injury history, and level of activity. There are several types of stretching techniques one can use to help improve flexibility, but the most commonly used are static stretches and dynamic stretches.
Static stretching requires movement into a position that aims to fully lengthen the target joints and muscles and holding that position for a certain amount of time. An example
of a static stretch would be a standing toe touch with straight legs held for 30-60 seconds. Holding static stretches for shorter amounts of time, such as 30-60 seconds, will increase flexibility only temporarily, whereas longer duration holds lasting up to 2-5 minutes will have longer-lasting effects.
When To Do It
Static stretches are best to do when the body is warm. An analogy I like to use is if you put a rubber band in a freezer, took it out, and tried to stretch it, it would break. Applying static stretches to cold joints and muscles increases the risk of strain or damage and limits the range of motion of the stretch. Performing static stretching alone prior to participating in a sporting event or high-level physical activity has also been shown to reduce power output in athletes. Therefore, static stretches are best to do post-activity or following a quick warmup.
Dynamic stretches are movements in and out of a position that moves the target joint through a full range of motion and lengthens the target muscles.
An example of a dynamic stretch would be walking hamstring kicks, a common pre-activity warm-up drill. Dynamic stretches can be done slowly or quickly, but the endpoint of the stretch is never held.
When To Do It
Dynamic stretches are best to do before activity. A pre-activity dynamic stretching routine will help to increase muscle length, joint range of motion, and get the body warm before engaging in intense exercise, competition, or a static stretching flexibility session.
What Is Mobility?
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely through its intended range of motion. Let’s use ball and socket joints as an example, specifically the hip and shoulder joints. Ball and socket joints at the hips and shoulders allow our arms and legs to move up and
down, side to side, forward and backward, and in circles. Simply put, if you can do all of these movements, you have good mobility. If you cannot do all of these movements, you have poor mobility. A few examples of basic mobility exercises would be arm swings, arm circles, leg swings, hip circles, and deep bodyweight squats.
When To Do It
Mobility exercises can be done at any time. If engaging in strenuous activity or competition, it’s recommended that you throw some mobility exercises into your warmup routine.
Why Are Flexibility & Mobility Important For Athletes?
Power is the speed at which force is produced. The longer the movement, the more speed is generated, and will therefore produce more power. Without the ability to move through a full range of motion, movements will be shortened and less force will be
applied. A great example of this would be a baseball player’s swing. A baseball player with great thoracic mobility and the ability to rotate the torso through a full range of motion will have a long swing capable of picking up more speed and will make contact with the ball at a high velocity. More movement equals more power!
The most common sports-related injuries, strains, and sprains are caused by joints and muscles being stretched or moved beyond their range of motion to a point where they can no longer support the tension of the movement. In more extreme cases, tendons,
ligaments, and muscles can be completely torn. If an athlete is put in a compromising position, they must have the ability to get out of it before an injury occurs. It is also important that they are able to stay out of these compromising positions in the first place by having great flexibility and mobility. Flexibility and mobility are paramount in preventing these types of injuries and prolonging the career of any athlete.
Is This Type of Training Only Beneficial For Athletes?
Flexibility and mobility training is not limited to athletes alone. Anyone and everyone should work on increasing their range of motion. Whether you’re trying to increase your athletic performance or accomplish everyday tasks pain-free, remember to start slow, make sure you’re warm, and be consistent. Starting a flexibility/mobility routine may be time-consuming, uncomfortable, and difficult at first, so start slow and go at your own pace if you need to. Begin with a couple of movements a day and build up over time. Warm-up before you stretch, and be consistent. The more you do it, the better you’ll feel. Thank me later.
How Can I Determine If My Flexibility & Mobility Is Within Normal Limits?
Great question! The only tried and true way to do this is to get a thorough assessment performed by a trained professional. Similar to having your blood pressure taken or getting regular blood work done at the doctor’s office, certified health professionals can regularly assess your musculoskeletal system and movement patterns to ensure they are within optimum ranges. That’s where Aviator Sports Performance & Rehabilitation comes in!
Aviator Sports Performance and Rehabilitation is deeply rooted in the scientific study of human movement and the innovative integration of technology into practice, ultimately aiming to help patients, athletes/clients in maintaining healthy, fit lifestyles, reduce injury risk, and achieve higher levels of sports performance. Our highly trained staff (Composed of Doctors of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists & Biomechanic Specialists) & state-of-the-art movement screening services can help identify any significant abnormal movement patterns or strength limitations present, and work to provide our clients with a fully customized corrective action plan to mitigate injury risk and help improve performance.
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