Fitness Training For Youth Flexibility vs. Mobility




Fitness Training For Youth

What is the difference between Flexibility and Mobility?


Well, sometimes this is a confusing issue, as these terms are often used interchangeably. Mobility (also known in some circles as active flexibility) is where we’re talking about CONTROL of the body through a larger range of motion. The muscle group says “I want to move, and I can.” The contrast is passive flexibility, where an outside force will be asking the question, “Can I stretch you?”, and the muscle says “Yeah, I guess so”. There is no skill here, and it is my belief that those who are hyperflexible (too flexible) without motor control are just as prone to injury as those who are Hypomobile / flexible (not mobile or flexible enough)



Are both important for Fitness Training For Youth or is one more important than the other?

I think that, all things being equal, mobility is a far more valuable goal to pursue for our young ones. However, if there is a physical limitation in a certain body area / muscle group, flexibility can certainly be addressed as part of an overall mobility program.



When should young athletes train Flexibility?


Again, flexibility should be the goal when there is a specific area that is tighter proportionally than the rest of the body. Although, the first question should be “Why?”, with regard to the cause of the tightness. Many times, we are just dealing with the natural growth process during a growth spurt, where bones outgrow muscle and connective tissue, and there is temporary tightness. We may need to train flexibility here through focused stretching, but always in the context of a well rounded mobility program.



When should they train Mobility?


Unless there is a debilitating injury. Always. Throughout development. Period.



Are there different kinds of Flexibility, or is ‘bending over to touch my toes and stretch my hammy’ what all young athletes should be doing?


Absolutely not. The young body should be able to MOVE, and the body should interact smoothly and naturally with the nervous system, not just accept and yield to forces passively.



What is the single greatest mistake or myth people make when it comes to Flexibility training for fitness training for youth?


The greatest mistake people make when it comes to flexibility is to force a passive stretch. When you force a passive stretch, there is circuitry in the spinal cord that will respond by tightening the muscles. Wait, weren’t we trying to RELIEVE the tightness in the muscles? I have seen utterly sadistic attempts by uninformed, performance / ego driven coaches where they would take a young athlete and stretch him or her to the point of tears, actually saying that they wouldn’t get flexible unless they fought through the pain. This doesn’t create athletic mobility, it injures, tears, and forever alters the tissue.



Want to learn more on Fitness Training For Youth?   www.IYCA.org/youth-fitness-certification



11 Responses

  1. Great interview, Brian! I think mobility training is greatly underused today, and it should be adopted by more trainers and coaches.



  2. Joe Haefner says:

    You mean we’re not supposed to have our basketball players (or any athlete) do some passive stretching at half court, and throw them out on the court and expect them to compete at a high level? 🙂

    Wish I would’ve known this stuff in high school, I might’ve actually been warmed up before halftime.

  3. Mark says:

    Glad you brought this up Brian. I have seen plenty of very flexible people with unhealthy structure and function. Some young people have remarkable restrictions in certain areas as well. Preparing to move is more important that being very flexible. Being balanced and flexible enough and moving correctly are most important. How often do we actually need to reach beyond normal active range anyway in the real world? Mark

  4. ben says:

    I have to agree with Brain 100 percent all the way. althought, i do the PNF stretch where you can do the one leg lift. have a client or an athelete to lie down on the floor and lift one leg up and ask the person to relax and close the eyes. the leg must be relax not contracting the muscles. I move the leg forward to where the chest is ( the leg must be straight), but the client will tell me to stop and will hold it there for as long as 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. that will increase more flexiblity and moblity.

  5. Sensei Alex Heyman says:

    Good comment Brian –

    BUT – YOGA is many time practiced as a passive stretching exercise – when one incorporates the mind properly,then we can control the spinal reflex or “tightening response” and virtually let go of tense, tight muscle resulting in a more relaxed flexible body – 🙂

    Give some thought to the use of the mind when spekaing about passive flexibility albeit I agree there is a plce for warmups and a plce where we need to increase flexibility…

  6. Shawn says:

    what is “normal active range” and what is the real world?

  7. Frederick Smith says:

    I have seen a lot of youth who are very flexible and mobile but they are very weak,bcause they think if they do some strength training it would prevent them from being flexible and mobile.All i am saying it would enhance their performance.I believe strenth training should be a key factor in all of this.

  8. Scott Sonnon says:

    When Brian offered me a position as IYCA Advisor, I knew that mobility would be one of the primary contributions I could make. I published an article detailing the science behind STRETCHING VS MOBILITY here: http://tinyurl.com/cr7ewq

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Scott Sonnon

  9. Scott Sonnon says:

    OXYGEN Magazine (March 2009) just featured a very intelligent article “Mobility: the New Flexibility”!


  10. I love the passive stretch idea, I have been stretch past my limits for a while. I will now incorporate yoga into my routines. What is your take on pilates for basketball?

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