Mobility vs flexibility – they can seem like the same thing, which we think simply means spending time stretching. Nope. In fact, they are two different pieces of training that can have a big impact on your run.
Are you now telling me to add something else?!! Well, yes, because mobility isn’t the same as flexibility and I want you to be the runner who goes for years, not months.
Mobility vs Flexibility Defined
What’s the difference? I’m so glad you asked :)
I’ve got a few workouts to guide you through and of course some information to help you understand why the difference matters.
Often used interchangeably with flexibility, the two differ and understanding that difference is important to you as a runner. This isn’t mobility vs flexibility as a show down to see what’s better, it’s a discussion of why we need both for different reasons.
Mobility is ACTIVE
The active movement of a joint through an intended range of motion without restriction of pain or assistance from a strap or another person.
Mobility is like a door. The door attaches to the frame and moves open and closed thanks to the hinges. However, the door only opens and closes to a certain point. That is its full range of motion.
Now, say you put a door stopper in the door so that it cannot close fully. If you attach that rubber band to the door knob and try to pull the door shut with the rubber band, it will snap and break.
This is a similar scenario of what goes on in the body when you don’t have full range of motion, but your tendons need to move in awkward ways to get unstuck. This is one reason we see the common problem of Achilles pain while running.
Flexibility is PASSIVE
The passive range of motion available to an individual when they temporarily stretch muscles using an external force, like a strap, gravity, or a physical therapist.
Flexibility refers to connective tissues, like muscles, ligaments, and tendons, whereas mobility is talking about the ability of a muscle to move through its full range at the joint. If mobility is like a door swinging open, then flexibility is like pulling a rubber band.
You can be flexible, but not mobile.
A lot of the confusion comes into play because flexibility is just one part of mobility. Strength, coordination, and soft tissue work are other components of mobility.
Why is flexibility and mobility important?
Now you can see that while the two are different, they work together to allow your body to move with efficiency and ease. A wider range of motion with muscles that can activate in multiple positions means more power when you push off the ground, a better knee drive for speed and of course staying injury free.Understanding how mobility and flexibility are different and why you need to pay attention to the active role of mobility #runchat #fitness Click To Tweet
Why is Mobility Important for Running?
Many of us spend a lot of the day sitting: on the drive to work, at work, eating, watching TV at home, etc. Our bodies become used to this position and cause problems when we want to move.
All that inactivity causes our muscles to tighten, which is bad news for runners and I’ve shared specific stretches to help with those tight hip flexors.
But those stretches are just part of the equation, as you now understand we not only want to help those muscles release, but to work through a full range of motion.
Issues from lack of mobility:
- Injuries due to a change in running form (tight hips cause rotation as you work on speed)
- Reduced speed due to limited range of motion
- Compression and strain on the joints or muscles
- Inability to improve running performance
It’s especially important to maintain mobility as masters runners. As we get older, our muscles lose elasticity, resulting in stiffer bodies and a decline in balance.
How Can I Tell if I Have Poor Mobility?
Mobility moves require continuous movement, which build strength at our end range of motion.
What that means for you as a runner is fewer injuries. With better range of motion you can push off the ground, your muscles are not tight, and you can move more efficiently.
Renowned physical therapist, Jay Dicharry features several mobility tests in his book Running Rewired that will let you know where your body requires more immediate mobility focus and will show you where you are going to be more prone to injury.
You can also checkout a number of videos on PhysioTour to start evaluating right now.
Adding in the moves below will quickly help you see what’s tight or lacking in full range because you won’t be able to do the motion or need to spend some time working in to it.
Mobility Exercises for Runners
Increasing mobility requires focusing on five specific areas of the body that are responsible for movement in everything we do:
- Ankles – force production and correct alignment of the leg
- Knees – improves joint lubrication
- Hips – better stride and reduced twisting of torso causing injuries
- Spine – standing tall for better breathing and prevents rotation
- Shoulders – don’t think you can skip it just because you don’t run with your arms
Without full range of motion in these joints, performance will suffer.
Mobility incorporates a variety of exercises that strengthen the smaller and weaker assistance muscles around the joints that traditional strength training misses.
Here’s some mobility exercises for runners to get you started:
- Frog pose
- Pigeon pose with movement
- Deep squat with rotation
- 90/90 forward fold
See them in action in the video below.
Starting or ending any workout with 10 minutes of mobility work will make a huge difference in running performance.
Tired of trying to put together a plan on your own?!
I started going through the Runner Mobility program by Pippin Performance and was impressed with the way it progresses and tells you exactly what to do!
They graciously gave me a 20% off coupon code to share: RFT20. Click here to checkout the program.
Additional mobility workouts for runners:
- Hip focused mobility workout (great movements for pre-run)
- Improving hip extension
- Ankle Mobility exercises
- Knee mobility exercises
Great mobility is a 3 pronged approach and we’ve talked about many of these components previously! But to quickly touch on them and help ensure you aren’t skipping any of the key pieces.
Again we’re continuing to see the difference in mobility vs flexibility, it’s an active process rather than something passive like a long yoga hold.
Soft tissue work (myofascial)
Foam rolling or using massage balls release myofascial tissue by breaking up scar tissue and stimulating circulation.
Dynamic stretching utilizes momentum to warm up the muscles and increase range of motion. This 5-minute warm up will kick start those muscles into gear and increase oxygen flow and lung capacity.
Strength training for mobility is different from the traditional gym workouts because it focuses on the smaller stabilizing muscles that support movement. These exercises require slow, dedicated movements and focus to make sure you’re hitting the right muscle.
A few of my favorite mobility drills include:
Incorporate these moves before or after your run and I guarantee that you will see a noticeable difference in your running economy.
Do you regularly do mobility or flexibility work?
How has incorporating mobility work made you a better runner?
Other ways to connect with Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish
Don’t forget to pin this image, so you remember the moves later!