What is the difference between flexibility and mobility?

“I keep stretching, but my tightness never goes away.”

That is one of the statements I heard most often from new patients over the years as director of the Aspen Back Institute. As chronic back pain and tightness are so common in golfers - and so easy to treat with the right approach - it was also one of the most frustrating statements I heard. 

The misconception about tightness and stretching is very prevalent in the golf community, and America in general. To discuss the misconception, it's first important to understand the differences between flexibility and mobility. 

Flexibility and mobility are not the same thing. Most people understand that flexibility is the degree to which a muscle can be passively moved through a range of motion—like when stretching. Mobility, on the other hand, is not as commonly understood—despite being more important for your general health and your golf game.

Mobility is the degree to which you can actively move a joint through its range of motion—like during a golf swing. Mobility in the feet, hips, upper back, and shoulders is crucial for a great golf swing. But many people mistakenly rely on stretching to try to increase and maintain mobility, and that alone won’t do it.

While flexibility is mostly dependent on the length of a muscle or muscles and associated tissues, mobility is dependent on healthy strength, tone, and firing patterns of muscles around a particular joint. This means that if a particular muscle around a given joint - the hip for example - is weak compared to other muscles, it won’t be able to “pull its weight” in relation to the other muscles. The result is often pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in the hip. Since this is essentially a weakness issue in a particular muscle, stretching isn’t going to solve the problem. A stiff hip often leads to damaging stresses placed on the low back during the golf swing, which shows up as back pain. What is the end result of all of this? Chronic low back pain because of a weak muscle around the hip. This is very, very common. 

To achieve—and maintain—maximum mobility, you first have to identify any muscles that are weak and unhealthy around important joints. Weakness is often the result of poor posture, lack of resistance training, or past injury. You then need to put your body through a routine that restores a healthy level of strength to that area and then creates an active range of motion. The GolfForever Fundamentals Routines combine the most efficient and effective movements in a simple 15-minute exercise routine you can do virtually anywhere. Yes, we’re saying you can maximize your mobility in just 15 minutes a day!

Remember that stretching alone will not improve your flexibility or mobility. Muscles around a joint need to be strong and balanced enough to support the joint while you move to allow it to safely and painlessly move through its full range of motion. If the muscles aren’t strong enough, or are imbalanced, a limited range of motion and/or pain will occur.

By following the proper strength training routines with GolfForever, you can improve both your flexibility AND mobility the right way. The result will be major improvements in your ability to move more freely and generate more power in your swing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Flexibility and mobility are not the same thing.
  • For golf and health, mobility is more important.
  • Flexibility = the degree to which a muscle can be passively moved through a range of motion.
  • Mobility = the degree to which you can actively move a joint through its range of motion.
  • Mobility and flexibility cannot be achieved by just stretching alone.

Dr. Jeremy James, DC, CSCS, Founder & Chief Experience Officer, GolfForever