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The Key Differences Between Mobility and Flexibility, Explained

The terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different from each other—and have their own specific benefits.

By Emily LaurenceDecember 21, 2023


Mobility and flexibility are both important for moving your body with ease, whether it’s during an intense workout or when doing everyday tasks, like housework or shoveling snow. But it would be a mistake to use the terms interchangeably. While mobility and flexibility are connected to each other, there are differences between them. 

It’s important to know how mobility vs. flexibility stack up, how they differ, and how to improve both to keep your body moving comfortably—especially as you age. Keep reading to learn the differences between the two, why they are each important, and exercises to improve both.

What Is Mobility? 

Peloton instructor Hannah Corbin explains that mobility is how joints move through their normal range of motion. “Mobility refers to the ability of an individual to move freely and easily, encompassing various aspects such as flexibility, range of motion, strength, coordination, and balance,” adds Nicki Evans, DPT, a physical therapist and the owner of Stride Physical Therapy and Wellness.

Being able to move your shoulders with ease as you do arm circles during a warm-up or cool-down, going up and down the stairs without experiencing knee pain, and swinging a tennis racquet without shoulder or elbow pain are all examples of good mobility. 

Why is mobility important?

Hannah says that mobility is important for many reasons. She explains that, without mobility, it’s impossible for joints to move freely and easily. When you think about how many joints are in the body (which is about 350, if you’re curious), it makes complete sense that, without mobility, it would be pretty difficult to move at all. 

Mobility is important for basic tasks like sitting, standing, and walking. Poor mobility can lead to injury, according to Evans. For example, if someone has poor mobility in their knees or ankles, they are more likely to fall. Poor mobility can also lead to degradation of the body and reliance on others in old age. 

Having good mobility is also key for athletic performance. If you’re able to move more freely and without pain, you’ll definitely perform better than someone with limited mobility who isn’t able to move as freely. 

What Is Flexibility? 

While mobility refers to the body’s ability to move through its full range of motion, flexibility is the ability to stretch, which involves body tissues including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. “Flexibility is lengthening the muscles where mobility focuses on range of motion and joints being able to move freely,” Hannah says. 

Flexibility is the connective tissues’ ability to elongate and stretch, explains Evans. When you reach down and touch your toes, that’s an example of testing your flexibility; it’s your ability to temporarily stretch a muscle in order to complete this task. The same goes for reaching to grab a glass on a high shelf. This is another task that requires flexibility, or temporarily lengthening a muscle.  

Why is flexibility important?

As with mobility, flexibility is important for being able to perform various tasks efficiently and easily without causing injury. Evans adds that it’s also important for maintaining proper posture. Scientific studies show that flexibility training can help protect or correct posture imbalances that become more common as we age and also increase the range of movements in older adults.  

Flexibility is also important for circulation and blood flow. This is because stretching your muscles helps them receive more oxygen. Since more oxygen to the muscles means better athletic performance, this means that flexibility training can also lead to an improved output during your workouts. 

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between Mobility vs. Flexibility? 

Both mobility and flexibility are important for moving well and avoiding injury. They are intricately related to each other. “Flexibility is considered a component of mobility,” Evans says. She explains that this is because flexible muscles affect joints’ range of motion. If the muscles surrounding a joint are too tight, it limits a joint’s range of motion.

While it’s clear that flexibility and mobility are connected to each other, they are different concepts. While mobility refers to one’s range of movement, flexibility refers specifically to the ability to temporarily lengthen connective tissues (aka muscles, tendons, and ligaments)—that’s the difference, Evans explains.

Mobility and flexibility are both important for aging gracefully and also not waking up in the morning and feeling stiff or achy, Hannah says. “A big part of my approach is not feeling terrible each morning and evening. That’s where [flexibility] stretching and mobility come in.”

The Importance of Mobility and Flexibility In Your Fitness Journey

Hannah says she regularly sees—and experiences first-hand—how mobility and flexibility impact fitness. She says people often come to her saying that their body is achy and that their muscles are tight. Almost always, she says, it’s because they neglected flexibility and mobility exercises. “Not only do you feel better, but your numbers go up on the Peloton Bike or on the Peloton Tread,” she says, of when mobility and flexibility exercises are done regularly.

In fact, Hannah says that often when someone has a lull in their output, it’s because they aren’t prioritizing flexibility and mobility. This is because both are important for being able to move with ease—and not being able to move easily will absolutely impact how well you’re able to do a workout. Hannah says that once someone starts adding mobility and flexibility exercises into their routine, their output numbers start flourishing again.

Not only do mobility and flexibility play a role in how well you perform during a workout, both are also key for staying injury-free. This is because with proper flexibility and mobility, the body is able to move easily during a workout without any strain. “By improving mobility and flexibility, individuals can enhance their fitness levels and reduce the risk of injury. Having a wide range of motion allows individuals to perform exercises and activities with proper form and efficient muscle recruitment. This, in turn, can improve muscle power, speed, and endurance during workouts or sports activities,” Evans says. 

Evans says that the role of mobility and flexibility in active recovery is often overlooked. “Engaging in flexibility routines promotes easier breathing patterns, leading to relaxation, stress reduction, and overall improved recovery,” she says. Good flexibility also helps the body recover faster because it helps with circulation and blood flow to the muscles, which is key for recovery and not feeling sore.

How to Improve Mobility and Flexibility

Now that you know what mobility and flexibility are and why they’re important comes another big question: How can you improve them? It’s certainly an important question, especially since both mobility and flexibility naturally decrease as we age. This is because as we age, the amount of fluid within the joints decreases, which can make joints stiff and lead to reduced mobility, explains Evans. On top of that, she says that as we get older, connective tissue tends to lose its elasticity, leading to decreased flexibility.

There are many different factors that can impact how mobile and flexible someone is. Age, genetics, past injuries or surgeries, muscle imbalances, and posture all play a role in someone’s mobility and flexibility, according to Evans.

Nutrition plays a role too because the body needs certain nutrients (as well as hydration) to stay flexible and mobile, says Evans. For example, collagen (a protein found in meat and fish) supports healthy connective tissues while calcium and vitamin D play a role in bone and joint health. Psychological stress can impact mobility and flexibility too. This is because feeling stressed can cause the body to tense up, causing joints and muscles to become stiff.  

If you want to improve your flexibility and mobility, it can be helpful to get an idea of how well your flexibility and mobility are so you know what areas of the body could benefit from a bit more attention. Evans recommends working with a physical therapist to get an idea of what your mobility is, however there are tests you can do at home on your own. One common test is a sit-to-stand test. To do it, sit in the middle of a chair that doesn’t have arm support. Then, time how long it takes for you to stand up and sit back down again while keeping your arms crossed in front of you and your feet flat on the floor. Those who need help getting up are at an increased risk for falling as it’s an indicator of poor mobility.

Another way to test your mobility is to do circular motions with each arm. If you are able to move your arms in full circles without any pain, that’s a sign of good shoulder mobility. Want to test your hip mobility? Try to see if you can squat deeply. If you can do it without any assistance or feeling any pain, it means your hip joints are in good shape according to Evans.

There are easy ways to test your flexibility too, though like with mobility, Evans recommends seeing a physical therapist because they receive training on how to accurately test one’s flexibility. One common flexibility test that can be done on your own at home is the sit-and-reach test. To do it, sit on the floor and place one hand on top of the other. Then, reach forward. Hold as far as you can reach for a few seconds. The farthest you can reach without experiencing pain, the greater your flexibility is. 

To check your shoulder flexibility, you can try the shoulder reach test. To do it, raise your right arm over your head. Bend your right elbow and reach down your back. Bend your left elbow behind your back. If your left and right hand touch or overlap, that is a sign of good shoulder flexibility. (The same applies for when you reverse the stretch, reaching with opposite arms.)

Improving mobility

Though mobility and flexibility go hand-in-hand, exercises specifically geared toward improving mobility are different from those aimed at improving flexibility. “When it comes to mobility stretches, the focus is on enhancing movement patterns, joint mobility, and functional abilities,” Evans says. She explains that mobility stretches are dynamic movements that prepare the body for specific actions. 

“By engaging multiple muscle groups, joints, and connective tissues, mobility stretches aim to improve overall movement efficiency and control. Additionally, they strive to enhance the body's stability and strength while moving through different planes of motion,” Evans says.

Improving flexibility

While mobility exercises are dynamic, flexibility exercises are typically static, involving holding a position that elongates a muscle to improve its flexibility. This is because the goal of flexibility exercises is to increase the length and elasticity of specific muscles or muscle groups. 

“The primary objective of flexibility stretches is to expand the range of motion of individual muscles or joints,” Evans says. “By alleviating muscle tightness, increasing muscle elasticity, and reducing the risk of injury, flexibility stretches enable muscles to elongate and move more freely.”

Mobility Exercises

Below are three mobility exercises to try at home that Evans recommends, aimed at enhancing movement and supporting joint health.

Thread the Needle Pose

Thread the needle 

This exercise is especially good for spinal mobility. 

1. Start on all fours, with your hands and knees on the ground and your back flat. 

2. Lift your right hand up and turn your gaze in the direction of your lifted hand. 

3. “Thread” your right hand between the left side of your body and left arm, following the movement with your gaze. 

4. Place your chest and right cheek on the ground and hold the pose for five seconds. 

5. Slowly come back to the starting position and switch sides.  

Half-kneeling Dorsiflexion Stretch 

This exercise move is helpful for improving ankle mobility. You need a towel to do it.

1. Start by sitting in a chair. 

2. Place the towel under your foot grabbing the ends of the towel with each hand. 

3. Gently bend your toes toward you, holding for five seconds before relaxing. 

4. Repeat three to five times and then switch legs.

Cervical extension

You will need a towel for this mobility exercise too, which can help improve neck mobility. 

1. Sit in a chair and place a towel around your neck, grabbing each end of the towel with each hand. 

2. Look straight ahead. Bring your arms out straight in front of you. 

3. Gently pull the ends of the towel and bring your head back so that you are now gazing toward the ceiling. 

4. Repeat three to five times.

Flexibility Exercises

Hannah says that recovery can be a great time to focus on mobility and flexibility. Stretching elongates the muscles, helping to improve flexibility. She adds that foam rolling can also help because it prevents muscles from becoming tense and tight. Below are three flexibility exercises recommended by Evans to try at home, which can be part of your recovery.

Hamstring stretch 

If you have tight hamstrings, this stretch can help. 

1. Start standing up straight in front of a wall. 

2. Step your right leg forward and gently flex the foot, pointing the toes up and against the wall while keeping your heel on the ground. 

3. Slightly bend your left knee and gently lean forward, placing your hands on the wall.

4. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Then, switch legs.

Pectoralis stretch

This stretch helps with shoulder flexibility and can improve posture. 

1. Stand in an open doorway. 

2. Bring your hands to either side of the doorframe, bending your elbows at 90-degrees. 

3. Lean forward, resting your palms on the doorframe. 

4. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. 

yoga childs pose

Child’s pose

A common yoga pose, child’s pose supports hip and thigh flexibility. 

1. Start by sitting on your knees.

2. Lean forward, keeping your butt on your heels and resting your forehead on the floor. 

3. Stretch your arms out in front of you. 

4. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

In addition to these moves, Evans says that Pilates, yoga, and tai chi are also all types of exercises that help improve mobility and flexibility. Hannah reiterates that foam rolling is another way to support flexibility because it helps relieve muscle stiffness. 

If you spend at least a few minutes each day doing flexibility and mobility exercises, you’ll likely see improvements in your workouts and also feel more comfortable in your body, able to move through the day easier. Prioritizing flexibility and mobility will keep your body functioning as you age so you’re able to keep doing the activities you love. 


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