When it comes to stretching, most of us use these two words interchangeably but it’s useful to know the difference between flexibility and mobility.

Many of us use stretching exercises – and the best foam rollers for post-workout recovery – to improve our general mobility. But doing so also helps us become more flexible. We often treat these two abilities as one and the same thing. There are, however, subtle differences between them – and understanding those will help you get a handle on your training needs and how best to meet them. It might also help you stay injury-free.

What’s the difference between flexibility and mobility?

The key takeaway here is this: mobility is to do with joints; flexibility is all about muscles and connective tissue. So mobility is about how well you can move your body freely – that means freedom of movement of joints and limbs. It’s essential to our quality of life, especially as we get older.

When we talk about flexibility, we’re referring to our bodies’ connective tissues – so that’s muscles, ligaments and tendons. Flexibility essentially means the connective tissues’ ability to temporarily elongate. Developing your flexibility means you’re less likely to suffer from muscle injury due to overuse or overextension.

The best way to explain the subtle differences between flexibility and mobility is to let fitness professionals do the talking:

James Staring, founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last:

“Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through a full range of motion. Flexibility is a muscle’s ability to passively stretch.

“Joint mobility is an important part of exercising with correct form, and it’s an essential part of moving well to maximise the benefits of exercising. In the same way, inflexible muscle tissue will also impede moving well and thus can also limit exercising effectively.

How to stay flexible and mobile

“While mobility and flexibility mean different things, they both have an important role in getting the most out of daily movement. By getting into a consistent routine of stretching and joint mobility work, along with regular hydration and recovery, you create a foundation through which you’ll maximise your training efforts, while also avoiding injury.”

Cody Mooney, Director of Performance for the mobility and recovery app pliability:

“Flexibility is usually measured by one’s ability for muscles, ligaments and tendons to stretch. Passive stretching is one of the best ways to improve flexibility.

“While mobility is measured more on one’s ability to have the full range of motion within a joint, our corrective movements help increase mobility.”

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