Few people would stop to consider the difference of mobility versus flexibility. And yet there are crucial differences and understanding these can lead you towards a healthier, better looking, and more functional body.
Mobility is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. Mobility is multi-directional. Having good mobility means having full range of motion in all the directions that the joint allows.
Flexibility on the other hand, is one-directional. It is thus entirely possible to be able to reach your toes without excessive tension in your hamstrings, but each time you walk, you may experience “tension” or discomfort there. This could be because other muscles, tendons or ligaments acting on the joint are limiting the movement and thus impair your mobility.
What does that mean in terms of exercise? If you want a strong, healthy and functional body, avoid one-directional exercise. For example, if weight lifting, make sure you balance your routine so all joints are being exercised in all directions. Instead of doing static up-and-down lunges, you could do a combo of front-, back-, side- and crossover lunges and squats. Get help from a physio, massage therapist, yoga teacher or personal trainer if you are not sure.
For endurance athletes who spend many hours repeating the same movements in their training, it is important to complement their training with exercise that challenges and extends those habitual movement patterns. I can’t emphasise enough the benefits of yoga when it comes to functionality of movement.