Flexibility vs. Mobility | What’s the Difference?

Flexibility and mobility are two important aspects of proper form and effective training. While both are important and often used interchangeably, they have quite a few differences. Athletes may choose to brush off the importance of these, but they both contribute to how well we can avoid injuries. Let’s explore the differences between flexibility and mobility, determine where our focus should lie, and look at how to develop both.

What is Mobility?

Athletes often suffer from stiffness and reduced range of motion after workouts and training sessions. Boxers are no exception. Mobility refers to the ability to move freely without stress on the body. Mobility training can improve our range of motion and reduce restrictions to functional movement. It is an important factor in any sport at any level.

Essentially, mobility is how joints move and rotate. When you have proper mobility, your risk of injury is dramatically lower. Mobility work also corrects muscle imbalances caused by tightness. It’s important that boxers understand that mobility has a significant impact on both form and posture. Your form and posture impacts effectiveness when throwing jabs, rolling and pivoting, or simply maintaining a boxing stance during your training session.

Assessing Your Posture

Try the following exercise to assess your posture:

  • Take a full-body, upright photograph of yourself from the front, side and back.
  • Place a dot (either digitally or manually) between your feet for the front and back views, and directly on your ankle for the side view.
  • Draw a straight line vertically from these dots and determine whether or not your stance is symmetrical. If not – you may have a weak posture.

What is Flexibility?

Flexibility falls under the umbrella of mobility and pertains to how well your muscles stretch. Being flexible can help with high-intensity training and various sports. If you experience tight neck muscles, it may be difficult to fully rotate and move your head. Depending on which part of your body is inflexible, you may experience the same effect in your wrists, legs, and arms. Trainers should ensure that their flexibility is at a sustainable level to fully take advantage of their boxing training. If you ignore these tight muscles, you may strain your tendons which could result in long-term damage.

As flexibility is a subset of overall mobility, it is important to focus on mobility development in its entirety. Flexibility, in particular, speaks to the ability to stretch your muscles and can be developed through yoga and stretching exercises. However, flexibility techniques such as those found in yoga cannot be used to release the tension and knots that cause bad posture and mobility; this is why it is important to look at the bigger picture.

How Does Flexibility & Mobility Affect Training?

Both flexibility and mobility can help you achieve your training goals. One of the biggest mistakes people make while training is deprioritizing the mobility component of their plan. Mobility training is integral to regeneration. In the ring, the overall impact on your range of motion can mean the difference between winning and losing. Having the extra mobility or flexibility in your wrists, shoulders, and hips means you can seamlessly duck and roll without the added joint or muscle pain.

Why do Boxers Need Flexibility & Mobility?

Boxers benefit from mobility training by being able to perform exercises and moves with little or no joint or muscle pain. Systems such as the FMS (Functional Movement System), developed by Gray Cook, assess your mobility and movement patterns. Functional movement screening can help determine where problems lie. From there, the following activities can be integrated into training to improve mobility and functional movement:

  • Hip Mobility Drill – stand with palms firmly on a wall at shoulder height with your feet pointing forward. Swing your right leg back in forth like a pendulum. Switch legs and continue for ten reps on each leg.
  • Ankle Mobility – ensure you are in the plank position with your hands and feet firmly placed on the ground. Cross one leg over the other and let your foot that’s still on the ground to take all the weight. Gently rock forward and backward from your feel to your toes and back.
  • Wrist Flex – wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every position that’s comfortable. When finding a direction that may be a bit tender, hold that position for a few more seconds to stretch it out.
  • Paloff Press Variation – affix a power band to a rack or other stable object. Stretch outwards as far as you can and rotate your wrist joints in a motion that feels comfortable to you. The Paloff Press is a powerful core, arm, and back exercise.

Stretching and Self-Myofascial Release

Dynamic stretching before a workout and static stretching after can help improve mobility and assist in the reduction of muscle injury. Practicing soft tissue work, known as self-myofascial release (SMFR), can be used to improve mobility and regeneration. SMFR is achieved using equipment such as lacrosse balls and foam rollers to stretch the connective tissues of the body; doing so can increase our collagen levels. Collagen is a protein your body uses to resist stress on tendons and aid in muscle repair, essentially making them less susceptible to injury. SMFR can be used before or after training sessions.

Time to Flex!

Working on areas that you know are tight and have a history of limited movement is highly recommended in your training. Consider having an expert in Functional Movement Screenings assess you for any potential mobility issues. Alternatively, if you notice a problem with your range of motion, talk to your coach or a physical therapist.

Common issues with mobility and flexibility occur in areas such as the hips, shoulders, knees, and back. If you are aware of your weak points, work on them during your training sessions or while you warm up and cool down. Get started on improving your mobility by talking to one of our skilled Gloveworx Coaches and book a session to get moving! Doing so will help you ensure that mobility issues will not prevent you from reaching your goals.