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Flexibility versus mobility

This is an excerpt from Yoga for Runners-2nd Edition by Christine Felstead.

Many runners cite greater flexibility as the number one reason for beginning a yoga practice. From running and other daily patterns, reduced range of motion is experienced along with feelings of tightness.

Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, but they are different.

  • Flexibility is measured as passive end range of motion when using an outside force. For example, while lying supine, how close can the leg be drawn toward the body with the use of a strap or someone pressing the leg? The range is determined by the tone of the soft tissues affecting the joint, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through the joint’s full range of motion. The motion focuses on movement of the joint within the joint capsule. With no external assistance, the muscles are the movers. Using the same example, while lying supine, how close can the leg move with no external force? Active end range of motion is typically less than passive. It is a more controlled movement requiring greater muscular engagement, and is considered to have a more strengthening effect on the joint.

An appropriately balanced yoga practice can include both active and passive work and no doubt improves mobility and flexibility, decreases stiffness, and results in greater ease of movement.