Mobility vs. Flexibility

Posted by Aaron Laurence on Sep 23rd 2022

A female athlete performs squat to chest presses with a YBell Arc
YBells are an essential fitness tool for your home gym mobility training. YBell Arcs are great for focusing on form, as demonstrated above for performing squat to chest presses..

Mobility vs. Flexibility

Mobility and flexibility are crucial to your physical health and daily life. Unfortunately, they often take a backseat in strength, cardio, and interval training programs. But whether you're training from a home gym or taking a group class, mobility and flexibility really should be at the top of your fitness priorities. Why?

Healthy mobility and flexibility are what make you more effective at strength, cardio, and interval training. Mobility is what allows you to squat deeper and lift heavy. Mobility is how you run faster and more efficiently. Flexibility reduces muscular tension and improves the mechanical efficiency of your joints. Simply put — Mobility and flexibility help you train harder.

This blog will cover the importance of mobility and flexibility training, how the difference between mobility and flexibility, and mobility exercises you can add to your fitness routine. Let’s get to it!

What is Mobility?

Mobility is an attribute of fitness that refers to how your joints move through their normal and full range of motion with control. Your mobility is a combination of flexibility, coordination, and strength.

Having good mobility and a full range of motion in your joints can decrease your risk of injury and improve your overall health. Increasing your mobility through mobility training allows your joints to bear more load while under stress. Physical injuries often occur when your joints are pushed beyond their comfortable range. Increasing their range makes you more resistant to injury.

Poor mobility in a joint can also cause surrounding muscles and joints to compensate, creating muscle imbalances and poor coordination. One example is when your gait changes to accommodate an ankle sprain. This is called a compensation pattern, which can often lead to further injuries in your knees or hips. Improving the mobility of your ankle can prevent damage to your surrounding joints.

Some benefits of mobility training can include:

  1. Increased range of motion in your joints
  2. Improved muscular coordination
  3. Enhanced circulation
  4. Reduced risk of injury
  5. Improved posture
  6. Better physical agility

Types of Joint Movement  

The range of motion, type of movement, and planes of motion in a joint will vary depending on the type of joint. There are six types of freely moving joints in your body:

  1. Ball and socket joints can move in all directions (forward and backward, side to side, and rotational). Examples include your hips and shoulders.
  2. Saddle joints can move back and forth or side to side but cannot rotate. The carpometacarpal (CMC) joint (at the base of your thumb) is a saddle joint.
  3. Hinge joints only move in one plane of motion because the bones only open and close in one direction. Examples include your knee and elbow joints.
  4. Condyloid joints are modified ball and socket joints that can move back and forth or side to side but cannot rotate. Examples include your jaw and finger joints.
  5. Pivot joints have internal and external rotatory movement around a single axis. The atlantoaxial joint between the first and second vertebrae in your neck, which allows your head to rotate from side to side, is a pivot joint.
  6. Gliding joints have a limited, smooth gliding (or sliding) movement. Examples include your wrist and ankle joints.

What Factors Affect Joint Mobility?

Many people want to know how to increase their mobility without understanding the factors that affect it. Here are some factors that may be affecting your mobility:

  1. Joint Structure — Some joints, like your hips (a ball and socket joint), have a greater range of motion than others, like your knee (a hinge joint). Joint structure can also vary from person to person.
  2. Soft Tissue Flexibility — Proper elasticity in your tendons, ligaments, and muscle tissue is vital for moving through your entire range of motion.
  3. Muscle Mass — Excess fat or extremely bulky muscles can restrict your range of motion.  
  4. Age — Our bodies decline in mobility as we age, especially as we lose muscle strength. However, you can work to increase your strength and mobility at any age.
  5. Overall Health — Physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications or health conditions, and sleep routines can all affect mobility.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility refers to your ability to stretch your muscles temporarily. The more flexible your muscles are, the more easily they can stretch without pain.

Many people have a regular strength, cardio, or mobility training regimen but often lack a proper flexibility routine. Without dynamic stretching or flexibility movements, restricted muscles can cause muscle pain and cramping during daily activities. What's worse — it can also lead to muscle strain or injury during extreme physical activities like working out or playing sports. That's why having a regular flexibility routine in addition to your functional training is vital.

There are many advantages of flexibility training, including:

  1. Decreased muscle pain or tension
  2. Reduced stress and improved mental health
  3. Improved muscular strength and balance
  4. Better posture
  5. Reduced risk of injury
  6. Enhanced physical and athletic performance
  7. Increased joint mobility

What Factors Affect Muscular Flexibility?

Before we jump into ways to increase your muscular flexibility, let's take a look at some factors that may be affecting your flexibility:

  1. Age — Much like mobility, your body will become less flexible as you age, but flexibility training can help to counter the loss.
  2. Injury — Injuries that leave you with joint or muscle pain, scar tissue, or nerve damage can limit your muscular flexibility.
  3. Muscle Mass — Hypertrophy and flexibility are both essential to healthy muscles, which is why it’s vital to have a stretching element in your strength training.
  4. Skeletal Structure — Your skeletal structure also impacts your flexibility. For example, people with long arms can touch their toes more easily than those with short arms.
  5. HormonesStudies have found that estrogen relaxes collagen and the function of musculoskeletal tissue, which can increase overall flexibility.
  6. Gender — In general, women tend to be more flexible than men because they have lower muscle mass and higher levels of estrogen.

Mobility vs. Flexibility

What is mobility vs. flexibility? Mobility and flexibility are vital to your body’s ability to move with coordination. Mobility is active and flexibility is passive. Joint mobility requires muscle flexibility, as well as muscle strength. Flexible muscles allow your joints to move through their proper range of motion. So if your muscles aren’t flexible, you’ll have decreased mobility.

Mobility vs. flexibility examples:

  1. Thinking of the knee to chest stretch — Flexibility is when you can stretch your glutes and erector spinae by pulling your knee to your chest with your hands. Mobility is when your hip and knee joints can achieve the same range of motion without needing your hands to aid the movement.
  2. Mobility training for your shoulder also requires flexibility in the deltoid muscle. One way to do this is to clasp your hands behind your back and lift your arms to lengthen the anterior deltoid. This flexibility stretch helps you to achieve mobility in the shoulder joint when performing range of motion exercises in all three planes.
  3. Another example for shoulder mobility is stretching your rotator cuffs. Many shoulder flexibility stretches involve using the opposite arm to help guide your elbow across your body to ensure a full stretch of the rotator cuff. Continued stretching can help you to improve your shoulder mobility.

Your flexibility and mobility significantly impact your quality of life. This is true whether you're playing sports, exercising, or doing everyday activities like pushing a shopping cart or picking up a bag of groceries. Lack of mobility can impact your movement and posture and increase your potential for injury.

While there is a difference between mobility and flexibility, rather than thinking about mobility vs. flexibility, you should be thinking about mobility and flexibility!

Keep in mind that healthy physical mobility isn’t about individual joints or muscle groups. It’s about your entire body moving fluidly. Functional fitness is about your joints stabilizing and supporting each other, keeping your body balanced with each movement.

How Can I Improve Mobility and Flexibility?

If you have restricted movement, you could have poor flexibility, mobility, or both. Below are five ways you can improve them. However, I always recommend speaking to your doctor or physical therapist to discuss your personal needs.

1. Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching improves mobility by lengthening and shortening your muscles, which activates viscoelastic properties that help you to achieve an extended range of motion. Studies have shown that regular stretching helps your muscles to tolerate that extended range of motion better, making it more permanent.

2. Static Stretching

Static stretching helps your muscle recovery and flexibility by reducing muscle cramping and cooling down your body. That's why it's beneficial to do it after a workout. Static holds can lengthen your muscles that got tight during your workout by allowing the muscle to adapt to the increased elasticity and joint range of motion.

3. Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is a type of physical therapy used to treat muscle pain. Slow, deep pressure manipulates and elongates the fascia (the connective tissue that holds nerve fibers and muscles in place), which releases the tight tissue in your muscles. Massage and foam rolling are two common ways to perform myofascial release.

4. Strength Training

Strength training (AKA: weight training or resistance training) involves exercising against resistance to increase muscular endurance and strength. Strength workouts can also help to improve muscle imbalances, increase your bone density, and reduce your risk of injury. It’s also great for your cardiovascular health.

A common misconception of weight training is that you need heavy equipment, like selectorized machines or barbells and plates. The reality is you can use exercise bands or no weight equipment at all — body weight is still weight.

5. Mobility Training

Adding mobility training, like the list of mobility exercises below, to your workout regimen can go a long way to improving your range of motion. Whether you perform regular mobility workouts or add a few mobility movements to your routine, you'll find that mobility training will significantly increase your flexibility, mobility, and overall health.

And mobility exercises don't require gym memberships, bulky machines that take up too much space, or any other fitness equipment. Bodyweight exercises can still be effective. However, as your mobility improves, adding resistance bands or YBells can help you build more strength and keep your workouts fun and challenging.

7 Exercises to Increase Mobility

Here are 10 of the best mobility exercises for athletes and workout enthusiasts alike. You can perform these in a gym or from the comfort of your home gym. I recommend trying these exercises without weight first to get comfortable with the movement and focus on your form. From there, you can add in a free weight — like a YBell — for added resistance.

1. Prying Goblet Squat

The prying goblet squat is an excellent squat variation that trains your legs to stabilize during your squat, safely allowing you to go deeper. By driving your knees away from your elbows, you can stretch your groin, increase your adductor flexibility, and achieve a deeper squat form.

How To Do a Prying Goblet Squat:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes angled outward. Pin your elbows to your side by your ribcage.
  2. Using an under grip, hold a YBell Neo or YBell Pro in both hands just below your chin. Pin your elbows to the sides of your ribcages. This is your starting position.
  3. Inhale, engage your core, push your hips back, and slowly lower yourself into a squat until your elbows touch the inside of your knees. Make sure your feet stay flat on the floor.
  4. Press your elbows into your knees to open your squat wider while keeping your chest and shoulders open. Continue to drop your hips down once you've opened your knees. This movement gently stretches your groin and hip adductors.
  5. Take a deep breath at the bottom of the movement. Then exhale and reverse the movement to stand up, returning to your starting position. This is one rep.
  6. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.

2. Standing Hip CAR

Standing hip controlled articulated rotation (CAR) is an excellent movement for challenging your hips at their widest (end) ranges, where they're often weakest. CARs can improve mobility, joint health, and range of motion by moving your hips through their full range while keeping your body still.

I recommend having a chair or something else to hold onto for this exercise. As you adjust to the movement, you can challenge your balance by standing on one leg.

How To Do a Standing Hip CAR:

  1. Start by balancing on your right leg. Use the back of a chair or anything else as needed.
  2. Lift your left knee and bring it across your body to your right hip, bringing your legs together. Keep your knee as high as possible without rounding your lower back.
  3. Keep bringing your knee higher as you move it back to the front and then to the outside, opening your left hip wide. Keep opening until you hit your end range (when your hip won’t open any further).
  4. Next, keep your knee up while you internally rotate your hip. Your foot will come up to be inline behind your knee. Keep a neutral spine and avoid arching your back during this movement.
  5. Next, engage your glute and bring your leg back. Bring your left leg in until your knees touch.
  6. Now externally rotate your hip and bring your left leg behind your right leg. Avoid arching your back as you externally rotate. This is one rep.

3. Plyometric Ankle Jumps

Plyometric exercises help your muscles reach maximal force quickly. Ankle jumps emphasize the reactive strength of your calf muscles while engaging your ankle mobility. It's an excellent movement for short-distance runners or athletes looking to increase their speed or vertical leap.

Always perform this exercise while wearing exercise shoes with good treads on a flat surface.

How To Do Plyometric Ankle Jumps:

  1. Stand straight with your legs closed and hands on your hips.
  2. Engage your core, then use the strength of your calf muscles to jump up straight. Extend your ankles, but don’t bend your knees.
  3. While in the air, flex your ankles and toes up as high as you can while keeping your back straight.
  4. Extend your ankles back just before you touch the floor.
  5. Push the balls of your feet into the ground and explosively jump again, keeping your contact with the ground as short as possible.
  6. Keep your legs straight with each consecutive jump, and avoid bending your knees.
  7. Start with 6 to 8 reps and work up to 20 reps.

To progress this movement, you can hold a YBell Neo or YBell Pro at chest level using an under grip or double grip.

Pro Tip:

If possible, perform this jump in front of a mirror to check your form. When executed correctly, you should be able to see the soles of your shoes when you flex your ankles and toes up.

4. Reverse Flyes

A reverse fly is an excellent upper-body mobility exercise that can increase your shoulder mobility and target the muscular flexibility of your posterior deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius, and thoracic muscles. It’s also a frontal plane movement that provides stability for your shoulder joints while improving your posture and balance.

I recommend starting with a pair of YBell Arcs or YBell Neos to focus on your form, then increasing the weight as you become more comfortable with the movement.

How To Do a Reverse Fly:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a pair of YBells at your sides using a center grip.
  2. Engage your core and push your hips back. Hinge forward, bringing your chest almost parallel to the floor. Tuck your chin to keep a neutral spine.
  3. Keep your back straight and allow your arms to hang straight down with your palms facing each other. This is your starting position.
  4. Exhale, then raise your arms out to your sides by squeezing your shoulder blades together while keeping a soft bend in your elbows — avoid locking them out. Stop when your arms are parallel to the floor (about shoulder height).
  5. Inhale, then slowly lower your arms back down to your starting position, being careful not to hunch your shoulders. This is one rep.
  6. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

5. Cuban Rotation

Cuban rotations are an excellent mobility exercise to warm up your shoulders for overhead throwing motions. This movement trains the external rotation of your shoulders and the stabilization of your scapula while the joint is in motion. Cuban rotations are an excellent dynamic warm-up exercise if you plan to do kettlebell cleans and snatches in your workout.  

I recommend starting with YBell Arcs or YBell Neos to focus on your form. You can do one arm at a time or both together.

How To Do Cuban Rotations:

  1. Stand facing forward with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a YBell in each hand with a center grip.
  2. Raise your arms to bring your elbows to shoulder height with your triceps parallel to the floor. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees so your hands are pointed toward the ceiling. This is your starting position.
  3. Rotate your shoulder to bring your forearm down, stopping when it’s parallel to the floor, and your palms are facing the floor. Avoid moving your shoulder blades or elbows — this movement should be entirely in your shoulder joint.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement, then slowly rotate your shoulder to reverse the movement back to the starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Pro Tip:

If you're experiencing shoulder pain during this exercise, try lowering your shoulders to decrease your shoulder flexion. You can also bring your elbows slightly forward to decrease your shoulder abduction.

6. Standing Thoracic Rotation

Your thoracic spine is between your neck and lower back. Having optimal thoracic mobility can open up your chest, improving your breathing and reducing tightness or pain in your neck and shoulders. The standing thoracic rotation is an ideal spinal mobility exercise for incorporating into your dynamic warm-up, regardless of your workout modality.

How To Do Standing Thoracic Rotations:

  1. Start in a sumo position with your feet planted slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be hanging down.
  2. Lower yourself into a semi-squat position. Place your left arm between your thighs with your elbow and wrist touching each thigh just above your knees. This stabilizes your legs and prevents unwanted hip and pelvic movement. This is your starting position.
  3. Inhale and rotate your torso to the right, opening your chest towards the ceiling while bringing your right arm up. Your head and eyes should follow your right arm.
  4. Exhale at the top of the movement, then reverse the motion to return to your starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps, then switch sides.

To progress this movement, you can hold a YBell in your free hand using a center grip.

7. Pulsing Hip Bridges

Bridges are a great foundational compound exercise for building stability in your core. The pulsing hip bridge is a great variation for adding mobility throughout your core and spinal column muscles.

No equipment is needed for this exercise, but an exercise mat can help with comfort.

How To Do a Pulsing Hip Bridge:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart.
  2. Keep your arms by your sides with your palms facing the floor. This is your starting position.
  3. Engage your core and lift your hips off the ground, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. You should feel a contraction in your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
  4. Hold for 2 seconds at the top of the movement.
  5. Next, drop your hips about one-fourth of the way back to the ground and quickly lift back up to the top of the movement.
  6. Repeat for 4 pulses, maintaining a straight spine. Don’t allow your back to slump down.
  7. After the 4th pulse, hold for 2 seconds at the top of the movement. Then slowly lower your hips down to the ground with control. This is one rep.
  8. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.

You can progress this movement by holding a YBell Neo or YBell Pro just above your pelvis using a double grip.

Pro Tip:

If you’re having difficulty with the pulsing movements, start with a standard bridge and hold at the top of the movement for 2 seconds, then lower down. As you feel comfortable with the movement, try adding in a few pulses, laddering up with each set.

Buy the Best Equipment for Improving Your Flexibility and Mobility at YBell Fitness

YBell is a versatile 4-in-1 fitness tool that functions as a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a double-grip med ball, and a push-up bar all in one. Its unique shape and award-winning multi-handle design are excellent for mobility training and flexibility. YBells offer variety, allowing you to increase or decrease the complexity of your workout based on your fitness level or training goals.

The multi-handle, multi-grip design of the YBell allows you to switch from a two-handed grip to a single-handed grip without throwing off the weight distribution, making compound movements seamless. This transition would be harder to accomplish with traditional equipment like kettlebells, where the weight sits in the middle, or dumbbells, where the stress shifts to an isolated muscle group. Difficult transitions like this can often cause injuries during strength or mobility training. 

Pick up a set of YBells today, and check out the YBell Fitness App or follow us on Instagram for more YBell-specific mobility exercises and workouts you can do from your home gym.

FAQs About Mobility, Flexibility, & YBells

What Is Mobility vs. Flexibility?

Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, but they aren't the same thing. Mobility is your ability to move your muscles and joints through a full range of motion.

Mobility is dynamic. Flexibility is your ability to lengthen your muscles by stretching and applying pressure. Flexibility is passive.

Think of the butterfly stretch. Flexibility is when you can press your knees to touch the ground with your hands. This applies pressure to and stretches your inner thigh muscles. Mobility is when your hips have a full range of motion, and you can open your hips so that your knees can touch the ground without pressure from your hands.

Flexibility is achieved by stretching and holding your muscles in that position for an extended period. This reduces tension in the muscles, which relaxes and lengthens them.

Mobility is achieved when you can control a movement through a full range of motion. Mobility incorporates flexibility and strength.

Why Is Mobility Important?

Adding mobility exercises to your fitness routine can go a long way to improving your health and lowering your risk for injury. Mobility training as a regular habit can reduce pain and improve your posture, physical strength, and athletic performance. Moreover, it'll make your daily activities easier to perform.

The point of physical training isn't just to become lean and muscular but also to restore and maintain your body's normal function. Being mobile is crucial to being healthy. Improving your mobility gives you the foundation to be fit and active without facing constant pain or injury.  

Why Is Flexibility Important?

Flexibility is vital to your fitness goals and your daily life. Whether you’re focusing on a new PR for pull-ups or reaching to grab dishes out of the cupboard, your muscles need to be lengthened and limbered to complete your goal without pain.

If your muscles aren’t able to lengthen, relax, and stretch, your body’s biomechanics will change. You could develop muscle imbalances, causing other muscles to strain to pick up the slack and potentially become over-dominant. A muscle that can’t lengthen properly will hinder your mobility.

Flexibility can also improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and physical endurance. This is vital to your body’s range of motion and overall mobility. When your mobility is limited by tight muscles, your ability to safely and comfortably perform the tasks of your daily life diminishes. By adding flexibility movements into your daily routine, you can increase your mobility and decrease or prevent muscle pain and injury.

Is Yoga for Mobility or Flexibility?

Activities like yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi improve flexibility because they focus on stretching and lengthening your muscles. Flexible muscles increase your mobility by increasing the range of motion of your joints. Along with boosting your muscle flexibility, there are specific Hatha and Vinyasa yoga poses that can help you to strengthen and tone your muscles. Here are some poses to try:

  • Head to Knee (Janu Sirsasana)
  • Reclining Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
  • Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
  • Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
  • King Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)

Can YBells Improve Mobility and Flexibility?

YBell is a multifunctional 4-in-1 fitness tool that acts as a dumbbell, kettlebell, double-grip med ball, and push-up stand. Its unique shape and award-winning multi-handled design offer new layers of challenge to your mobility and flexibility training. YBells offer variety, allowing you to increase or decrease the complexity of your flexibility exercises based on your fitness level.

On top of that, we have plenty of YBell-specific mobility exercises you can try from the comfort of your home gym. More advanced strength trainers can try the crossbody clean to cross-catch rotational press, reverse lunge to pass-through, or YBell narrow stance swing.

For those new to mobility or flexibility training, we’ve got YBell-specific mobility exercises for you, too! For example, halos are traditionally performed with kettlebells and are great for your shoulder and upper back mobility. However, a multi-handled YBell can turn the halo into compound movements, like YBell cross halos for lower-body mobility or pick-up cross halos and drop lunge cross halos.

The ability to transition your grip mid-exercise makes YBell ideal for your stability and safety while performing functional fitness and flexibility exercises.

Aaron "Az" Laurence, Co-Founder, YBell Fitness

As a certified personal trainer and the inventor of the YBell, Aaron "Az" Laurence loves motivating people to become better versions of themselves. He enjoys designing challenging workouts for himself that he can use with his clients.
Az developed the YBell to replace the multiple pieces of equipment he was using in his group training sessions. He enjoys seeing his clients' reactions when they realize they only have to change grips on their YBells to change equipment. And he loves being able to dial up the intensity of their workouts with just one training tool.
Seeing clients progress both physically and mentally as a result of training fuels his passion for the fitness industry.