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The Relationship of Mobility, Stability, & Flexibility

Written by Erica Walters, Pilates Fit Studio Owner, B.S. Exercise Science, Certified Classical Pilates Teacher, Host Studio Instructor Trainer for Real Pilates of NYC. M.S. Exercise and Sports Sciences (projected graduation from Tulane May 2024).

Understanding the difference will give you more purpose in your workouts.

Early on, we learn that there are three fundamental building blocks of fitness: Strength, Flexibility, and Cardiovascular Endurance.

Mobility is often confused with Flexibility. Once you understand the distinctions between the three, you will appreciate that Flexibility, Mobility, and Stability work together, and you need all three.

Mobility = Movement: Your Range of Movement (ROM). Mobility denotes the ability to move well with coordination and lack of restriction.

Mobility training combines exercises that improve the range of motion, strengthen the body, and help you move more efficiently. Working mobility exercises help maintain joint health, improve balance and stability, and reduce the risk of injury.

Stability = Control: Stability is maintaining control of joint movement. When the surrounding tissues of a joint and the neuromuscular system work together, they create stability.

Stability training benefits strength by creating a solid foundation of underlying stabilizing muscles, promoting better balance and controlled movements.

Flexibility = Length: refers to stretching and lengthening muscles.

Flexibility is essential because we must have enough to execute movements in daily living. Flexibility will help improve your ability to do physical activities and reduce your risk of injury.

How does this correspond to strength?

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

You can have chronically tight hamstrings and spend time working to increase your Flexibility by stretching. Your hamstrings are not the problem; the problem is that there is a lack of mobility at the hips, and this lack of mobility is causing the hamstrings to tighten to create additional stability across areas more prone to weakness, like the knees and the lumbar spine.

Your body wants to protect you from injury. Recognize that tightness and stiffness can be compensation symptoms (in addition to over-recruitment) as your body seeks to remain in coordination between mobile and stable joint systems. Finding that coordination is the key to proper body mechanics.

What does coordination of the body look like?

Ankle – Mobility
Knee – Stability
Hip – Mobility
Lumbar Spine – Stability
Thoracic Spine – Mobility
Scapula – Stability
Shoulder – Mobility
Lower & Middle Cervical Spine – Stability
Upper Cervical Spine – Mobility

Of course, this is not always the case, and there are always exceptions.

  • If your ankle is too mobile, it can lead to possible knee pain or an injury.
  • Loose hip mobility can cause lower back pain.
  • If the lumbar spine is too stable (or stiff), the body will recruit movement from other parts not designed to work with the lumbar spine.

The relationship between mobility, flexibility, and stability is the foundation needed for a balanced and well-functioning body in daily activities and sports.

Erica Walters is a force in the Pilates industry. She is a nationally known fitness expert, instructor, trainer, and author. A multi-time entrepreneur, Walters is the Owner of Pilates Fit Studio. Her Pilates studio is Kentucky’s only Authentic Pilates Studio and teacher-certification center for Real Pilates of New York City. Erica is the author of The Better Back®, Pilates for Osteoporosis, which is based on her in-studio class format. Walters also mentors and certifies the next generation of Classical Pilates Teachers with Real Pilates of New York City.

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