The Optimized Gentleman

Flexibility Vs. Mobility Vs. Stability: What’s The Difference?

Flexibility-Vs- Mobility-Vs-Stability

As a guy into fitness, movement, and building strength in your body (beyond just static, compound movements)… You may’ve come across the terms flexibility, mobility, and stability. You’ve probably wondered what these terms actually mean, and whether there’s even any difference between them. If you still haven’t found the answer, don’t worry – we’ll compare the three in this article!

Browsing fitness blogs, or working out at the gym in traditional fashion can spark a certain curiosity. But you may be wondering if there’s more, or how to improve upon things like range of motion, static holds, unconventional fitness, and overall well-roundedness.

Here’s the definition of the three terms, and their similarities and differences:

Essentially, flexibility is how much your soft tissues can move and extend. Mobility is your joint’s ability to move freely through a full range of motion. Last but not least, stability is how well your soft tissues support your joints as they perform their movements.

Flexibility-Vs- Mobility-Vs-Stability

So, now that you understand the basic differences between the three, what will you gain from knowing this stuff?

Well, actually, learning how to utilize and increase your flexibility, mobility, and stability can significantly improve your athletic performance – as well as decrease the possibility of getting injured!

What Do Flexibility, Mobility & Stability Really Mean For You As An Active, Optimized Gent?

Since that was the introductory level, let’s break this down a bit more…

Flexibility, mobility, and stability can be confusing terms. Many people use them interchangeably, without understanding their true meanings. You should begin by understanding what each term means, so you can know which you’re dealing with.

First of all, flexibility is the ability of your soft tissues (aka tendons, ligaments, muscles, and other connective tissue) to increase in length passively as you go through any kind of motion.

As you can probably tell, flexibility is related to mobility, but it’s not the same thing. It also doesn’t automatically indicate the presence of good mobility.

You can actually be very flexible while still having poor mobility.

So then, what exactly is mobility?

Quite simply, mobility indicates your joint’s capability to move freely through a full range of motion – with no hindrance or restriction. This restriction mainly comes from the tissues surrounding the joints. So usually, the more flexible the tissues, the better your mobility.

But other things can impact mobility, such as:

  • neuromuscular control,
  • joint health,
  • range of motion, plus
  • muscular strength

Consequently, being flexible isn’t the end-all-be-all of mobility.

Finally, stability is the body’s ability to support itself (particularly the joints) either at rest or in motion. Basically, it’s how well you’re able to control your joint movements. In a word, good stability permits desired movements and prevents undesired ones.

Flexibility-Vs- Mobility-Vs-Stability-2

Generally There Are Two Types of Stability – Active & Passive

Active stability is when your muscles contract to brace your body, when it’s performing a particular move. For example, if you stand on one leg or do a squat, you must brace certain muscles, in order to stabilize your body through its movement.

This is the type of stability you should be aiming for. When your muscles aren’t strong enough to support your joint through its range of motion (ROM), other structures must compensate for that lack of stability.

That’s when passive stability comes into play.

Simply, passive stability is when you depend on the surrounding tissues of a joint to provide support, and control bodily movements. Here, the ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue all work in tandem to provide and maintain stabilization and coordination of the joints.

Unfortunately, this type of stability isn’t optimal. Why? Because as the connective tissue grows thicker and more rigid to stabilize your joints, you end up limiting your flexibility and mobility. This ultimately hinders your activity, and puts you at a greater risk of injury.

Now, you can start to see the detailed interplay between flexibility, mobility, and stability – and how to ideally optimize all three.

Why Are Flexibility & Mobility Even Important? 

Your body goes through numerous movements and motions every day, and every single movement affects multiple locations in your body. If you don’t have sufficient mobility and flexibility, your body will start compensating by recruiting other areas to provide the necessary movement.

Keep in mind, not all joints are built to provide mobility. Some are designed to be more stable, while others focus on being mobile.

For example, the shoulder, wrist, thoracic vertebrae, hip and ankle joints are primarily intended for fluid motion. Conversely, the cervical and lumbar vertebrae, as well as the knee and elbow, contain proper structure and strength needed for stability and injury prevention.

Now, if you demand something other than what a certain joint can provide, you’ll eventually strain it – along with other various joints and tissues. Eventually, you’ll experience a change in its function. After a while, these overexerted joints and tissues will get injured.

This will drastically decrease your overall range of motion and total activity!

So, in a nutshell, the better mobility and flexibility you hold, the more functional your body will be. Also, the less chance you have of injuring yourself while performing a specific exercise or activity.

Once you find yourself struggling to perform a particular move, you should look for what’s causing the hindrance and try to improve it. It may be a lack of mobility, flexibility, or muscle strength – discover what that is, to prevent any detrimental injuries.

Mobile Joints 

Stable Joints

Shoulder Joint 

Cervical Spine 

Thoracic Spine

Scapulothoracic Joint 

Wrist Joint 

Lumbar spine 

Hip Joint 

Elbow Joint 

Ankle Joint 

Knee Joint 

Which Should You Optimize For: Flexibility or Mobility?

Now that you understand the importance of flexibility and mobility, it’s time to know which one is better to focus on.

For athletes and fitness Gents, mobility should be the area to focus on and improve.

Sure, both are important, and increasing your flexibility can improve the quality of your movements. However for optimal performance, you need to focus on mobility – so you can perform a wide range of movements, pain-free, and increase your load tolerance on each.

Unfortunately, being flexible alone isn’t enough!

You also need good control over your movements, healthy joints, muscle strength. Add to this, good balance, body awareness (proprioception), form, posture, and range of motion. Once any of those factors decline, your mobility and performance take a downturn, even if your flexibility is top-notch.

How to Improve Your Flexibility, Mobility & Stability Together

First off, you need to understand that your flexibility and mobility are primarily determined by your genetics. Basically, your DNA influences your joint anatomy, proprioception, neuromuscular control, etc.

However, don’t think it stops there – it doesn’t! Other factors outside of genetics impact your flexibility and mobility… ones that you have control over. These include exercise formats, muscle strength, injuries, form, posture, sleep and recovery, to list a few.

So as you can see, there are things you can do to improve your overall mobility and flexibility, even if your genetic predisposition to mobility isn’t that great.

So, how can you improve those areas?

1. Stretching

Stretching is a great way to enhance your flexibility and, consequently, your mobility.

There are two main types of stretching – static and dynamic stretching.

Static stretching is staying in a stretch position for a certain amount of time. You can use various accessories like a reliable stretch strap, or even a wall or a workout partner to help you with the process.

Generally, this type of stretching is known for increasing flexibility, and you should ideally do it after finishing your workout. The logic here is that your muscles are warmed up after exercise. They’ve been executing various exercises and ranges of motion, so you’re reducing your risk of injury and strain.

Alternatively, dynamic stretching (also known as mobility drills or a dynamic warm-up) means performing specific movements that take your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. This type of stretching prepares your body for your actual activity and exercise. This is because it’s more focused on warming your body up, to avoid accidentally injuring yourself.

2. Mobility/Myofascial Tools & Techniques

These techniques include using things like foam rollers, lacrosse (myofascial release) balls, muscle scraping tools, etc.

At The Optimized Gentleman, these are a serious favorite of ours, because of how damn effective they are.

One huge key of investing in and using these powerful tools, is hitting pain points from various angles – with unique purposes for different areas of the body.

First off, a foam roller can improve your flexibility, mobility, and stability, altogether – depending on how you use it. For example, you can use it to massage and move your muscles and soft tissues, similar to a lacrosse ball. You can also use it to further extend a joint’s range of motion, which is what happens during thoracic spine extension.

Secondly, balance pads and Bosu balls are more focused on enhancing strength, stability, and balance – which will decrease your risk of injury. Last but not least – as mentioned, muscle scraping tools can improve your mobility by boosting your range of motion.

They do this by removing any tissue adhesions or scars between muscles and fascia. This decreases the pain you feel while moving about, and eventually improve your range of motion, if for only a short while.

3. Breathing Exercises

Believe it or not, deep breaths during any activity can actually make your mobility better! Breath work is a major part of getting the most out of every exercise or lift.

It can help protect you from injury, and push out the last 5-10% of a lift or challenging movement. You may’ve noticed that when you’re tense and wound up, you can’t actually utilize your capabilities to their fullest – especially your flexibility.

You’ve got to fully relax your body before you start moving around, and that’s best achieved by slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Deep breathing engages certain muscles like the diaphragm, which work to stabilize the body.

Elliott Hulse, renowned fitness and strength coach YouTuber has a hilarious but helpful method he calls “breathing into your balls” – for guys who hold inefficient breathing patterns.

Consequently, you should add activities that teach and encourage deep breathing techniques. These include yoga, tai chi, pilates and more – so you can ensure maximum mobility, stability, and flexibility.

4. Other Methods

  • NEVER perform an exercise, without knowing its correct form and reviewing that form with a trainer.
  • GO THROUGH each joint’s full range of motion as often as you can. The more your joints move, the better you can maintain them – and you have a higher chance of detecting any abnormality. If you do find an issue, catching it in its primary phase will prevent any major, irreparable problems in the future.
  • DON’T just focus on flexibility and mobility exercises. Build your overall fitness, balance, and strength by including strength training – in addition to cardiovascular, proprioceptive, and balancing exercises.
  • IF you’re suffering from an injury, make sure to work with a physical therapist to resolve or at least decrease any pain or limitations you have.
  • REMEMBER: everyone is different; what works for someone may not necessarily have any effect on your mobility. So, it’s best to work with a personal trainer and physical therapist to ensure you do what you truly need to improve.

Related Flexibility, Mobility & Stability Questions

Does Flexibility Increase Mobility?

Yes, but not always. Flexibility only makes up a small part of what goes into mobility. So, while having good flexibility can help to increase mobility, there are other things you can work on, that are just as (or even more!) effective than flexibility, for a mobility boost.

Can You Increase Your Flexibility?

Yes, but not to a drastic extent. Genetics mostly control the flexibility of your soft tissues’ length and shape. So, if you’re naturally a very inflexible person, you can slightly increase your flexibility with exercises. That still doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to do the splits one day, though.

Conclusion to the Difference Between Flexibility, Mobility & Stability

Flexibility, mobility, and stability are essential components of doing any activity. Each one means something different, but they all work together to achieve the same thing – producing flowing, well-controlled, pain-free movements.

Of course, if you’re lacking in any area of the three, you risk injuring your body in the process. Work on improving your deficiencies and take care of yourself!

Recognize the important interplay of these three. This way, you can continually push yourself, grow in well-rounded fitness, and achieve more with a strong and limber body.

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