Simplification of complex topics is a good thing when it makes things easier to approach, but when simplification makes the answers inaccurate, the end results might be unwanted. This is what has happened with Stretching. Many coaches out there are claiming it to be useless and even though they mean well (don’t do only one type of stretching…), many people take this too literally and stop doing good things that would improve their flexibility. But that is another topic and in this article we will review what mobility is.
Originally the word Mobility refers to a joint mobility, also known as Arthro Kinematic Motion which basically means “the motion inside a joint”. That can be any kind of rolling, gliding, or spinning and probably needless to say, you cannot actually see this, as it is motion between joint surfaces. There is also Osteo Kinematic Motion and this is the movement you actually see when people are moving their body, like moving their hands.
The word Mobility is also used to describe “The ability to safely and independently move from place to another”. This is why rollators and walking sticks are called a “mobility aids” and if you get flat tire while driving, your car manufacturer might have installed TMS (Tire Mobility System) that you can use to be able to continue driving – which is safely and independently move from place to another 😉
So Mobility is NOT synonym for Flexibility and it is NOT “active stretching”.
Mobility is the sum of all motor abilities
Mobility is the sum of all motor abilities and it determines the quality of movement. Flexibility is one important part of the equation and when you get positive results on your flexibility, you are most likely improving your mobility as well (= quality of movement).
What are human (bio)motor abilities?
There are some differences in science literature of how to categorize them but this one is pretty solid and very often used:
- coordination (combination of balance & motor control)
- agility (combination of strength, speed, balance and motor control)
If any of these suffer from significant decrease, it might affect your mobility(the quality of the movement). Many times, first you see some mild compensation, but if the situation is not handled correctly, actual physical problems might occur that can affect your ability to move freely.
In this kind of situation the Degrees Of Freedom (DOF) is compromised by reducing the number of possibilities of how to move. This can happen in one joint or in the level of how you move your body. Pain and injuries affect on your mobility very much. If you sprain your ankle, it is pretty darn difficult walking normally. In other ways of saying the same, your quality of walking is decreased.
One big factor is your skills.To make sure there is no misunderstanding, you cannot make more of joint’s Degrees Of Freedom that is anatomically possible, but you can become a better mover by learning new skills and becoming better at controlling your body. You can also improve your biomotor abilities. Strenght, flexibility, coordination etc.
What is Mobility training?
Whenever you practice flexibility, in other words do any type of stretching, this has some level of influence on your mobility as well. Most often positive, but of course sometimes too much of something good can turn against you. If nothing else, you invest all your time to one thing and don’t have enough time for other things and this will create unbalanced situation.
But what is mobility training? This is a very good question. Let’s start with an easier answer. Usually when mobility is tested, the test is subjective, which means there is not an accurate and objective way of measuring it. Because there is no objective way of measuring it, can there be actually any precise way of practicing mobility?
If mobility is the quality of movement, it can be nothing less than the sum of ALL motor abilities that a human body possesses. In this perspective, any kind of training that has a positive effect on you, could be termed as ‘mobility training’. Quality is pretty darn difficult to measure objectively but subjective measurements are not any less important.
Mobility Training could look like this 👇 but it could as well show you walking in the forrest while enjoying birds singing. 😍
Modern views for doing Stretching
These days ‘mobility training’ is usually used when people are actually referring to Dynamic Active Flexibility, or Static Active Flexibility. Static Active Flexibility is further divided into agonist and antagonist flexibility. (There is also Dynamic Passive and Static Passive Flexibility.)
If your goal is to improve your flexibility, the actual practice is called either a flexibility training or you can as well call it stretching.
And to the followup question: yes, it probably will work on your mobility, but why not use the right name for it? If your goal is to become very strong, you probably do some kind of heavy lifting and you most likely call that a strength training, right? 💪
So there you have it. By all means use the word mobility training if you like it more than stretching, or flexibility training. But please do not make such claims like “stretching is useless” or “mobility is better than flexibility”. Those claims are incorrect and we really shouldn’t spread any false claims as a fact.
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