In the realm of sports, the terms “flexibility” and “mobility” are attributes that are commonly referred to and highly coveted. Flexibility, which refers to the ability to stretch and manipulate your body, is undoubtedly helpful in many sports and activities, whilst possessing high levels of mobility, which refers the ability to actively control a wide range of motion, is also essential to athletic performance. However, we’re not all born with the same degree of flexibility and mobility – these traits actually vary from person to person. So how do you determine which of the two you require more of, and what you can do to achieve it?
In order to ascertain what your flexibility and mobility needs are, the most crucial thing is to first assess your abilities. For instance, if you find it easy dropping into a deep squat, which is indicative of natural flexibility, but are lacking on the mobility side of things such that your torso tilts forward excessively to compensate for the lack of hip and ankle mobility, then it would perhaps be useful to focus more on isolating movement at specific points. Honing in on a specific position by lowering into a squat on a slow count of eight each time, for example, can help build on strength, coordination and improve force development.
In fact, isometric contraction, which means holding a position in a manner that causes you to feel a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, can also improve mobility. When you exert muscular effort, proprioception – which refers to your unconscious perception of bodily movement – is enhanced, thereby improving your ability to sense your body’s movements and increase overall mobility.
However, if you’re not naturally flexible and often feel stiffness in your muscles, then it will take concerted efforts to loosen your muscles such that discomfort is removed. For instance, learning how to relax and breathe properly can provide you with access to a greater range of motion. Another way to reduce discomfort for those who are hypersensitive to new positions is to gradually move in and out of certain positions via progression and regression instead of diving into them straightaway.
Additionally, since your muscles are like an elastic band, doing these stretches long enough and for a substantial number of times will increase their elasticity such that your overall flexibility is improved. Consistent practise will also help to improve muscle memory, allowing your body to recognise that the range of motion you’re trying to access is “safe” instead of triggering protective stiffness.
While many purport that the best way to enhance both your flexibility and mobility is to simply move more, this will only assist you in your endeavours to a certain extent. Ultimately, there is no cookie-cutter method to improving your flexibility or mobility, or both. Every individual must find an approach to works best with their body. However, a few steps you can take to get there include assessing what you’ve been endowed with biologically, as well as evaluating your fitness needs based on the activities that you frequently partake in. Most importantly, be patient – change takes time!