Mobility vs flexibility

Jamie Verwey

Have you ever seen a difference in people in the box? One person might be stretching his shoulder by use of a band from the rig and the other person will be doing a T-spine opener. Both seem like they’re trying to gain range of motion right?
In a way both of them are, one is working on their flexibility the other on their mobility.

Now let’s define this;

Flexibility, the range of motion a joint has and can move within.
Mobility, this is the flexibility of a joint combined with tension.

Why do one or the other?

In Crossfit, we do a lot of activities…
A lot of the activities aren’t always that similar to what we do in our everyday life. Can you think of the last time you did a thruster at the office or you snatched the remote of the floor? Even though all the movements have their functional benefits in our day to day life we aren’t always able to do them. Mainly because of our day to day life, the human body is designed to move, run, swim etc. Most of us stopped properly moving once we hit primary school, being bound to a desk starts a very young age and therefore you will move less from a very young age.

It is because we move less we tend to ‘stiffen’ up, and then when we go to CrossFit and do all of these awesome activities we see ourselves not being able to do some of them because we can’t move the way we want our bodies to move.

In this blog, I want to give you an insight in the science behind passive and active stretching and you will be able to make your mind up next time you’re in the box whether you grab a band or do a T-spine opener for example.

Passive stretching, this is the manor of stretching in which you relax. You let an external force say gravity, a band or even your workout partner bring you to a ROM (range of motion). You try to relax and we tend to hold these stretches for a while, 30-90 seconds. Now what are we actually doing during this type of stretching and what are the benefits.
During static stretching we are trying to stretch the muscle fibres, elongating the muscle filaments. Now there is no real evidence stating that we actually do elongate these during static stretching and we’re able to maintain the newly gained ROM after the stretching[1]. Studies have shown that static stretching prior to exercise can increase the ROM during the exercise but over time you will lose it again.
Best way to describe this as typing a document without saving it.

Active stretching is a way to work on your true mobility. During this type of stretching we are looking to engage muscles whilst trying to lengthen them, the reason we want to utilize this comes down to one main goal;
-Trying to gain strength and stability in a position which is not in our current ROM.
This is a big thing, for example, take your overhead position, when you put an object over your head (e.g. barbell, sandbag, dumbbell etc.) are you able to stabilize it with the correct tension? Are you able to produce force in that position to make adjustments?
These are all questions of which you want to able to answer with YES! This is what active stretching combined with the correct technical execution will give you!

The beauty of active stretching is that this time you saved that document, active stretching forces your body to create longer muscle fibres, therefore, giving you the ability to engage muscles in a longer manor than previously.
Now does this mean passive stretching isn’t effective? No most definitely not!
It depends on the intention of using it, although there is no strict evidence for the use of passive stretching and the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (your ability to relax in a nutshell) nor has there been sufficient combined but there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence stating that people experience this. Maybe you even have experienced this, a RomWod before bed or doing your own routine on a chilled afternoon can be extremely relaxing which has its own place in health and fitness. Think of the recovery benefits (get more #gainz) or reducing your stress level.
Taking a moment for yourself even if it’s ‘just’ 15 minutes in which you just move and hold position and breath can have great benefits.


The take away of this blog;
If you want to able to create tension in new positions try using a form of active stretching, this can be done by simply raising an arm and trying to keep your pec and lat engaged (see previous blog, do a T-spine opener, KB hinge opener, using a band for a stretch and try to see if you can keep tension, use a lat pulldown and try to keep tension and challenge you’re current mobility by going further each rep. There is a multitude of ways and creativity goes a long way.
Or if you want to just move and relax, passive stretching is a beautiful way of doing this. The internet is you’re biggest friend here! (


[1] Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ (2011). “Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev