Mobility is often a buzzword that is thrown around in training, rehab, and sports performance settings. Here, we are going to look at what it means when an athlete is hypo-mobile (less mobility) and what it means when an athlete is hyper-mobile (more mobility), and if one is better than the other.
First, it’s important to get some definitions out of the way; what does mobility even mean? Is it the same as flexibility? How does it relate to stability?
Mobility: the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion.
Flexibility: the ability of a muscle to lengthen passively.
Stability: the ability of the body to maintain posture and support joints during movement.
While mobility and flexibility are related and can affect each other, the terms are not interchangeable. For example, the hip joint’s flexion mobility may be restricted because of poor hamstring flexibility. But mobility can also be affected by other factors, including joint surfaces, weakness, pain, or issues with other structures (ligaments, cartilage, etc.).
Stability vs. mobility:
These two can be thought of as being on either end of the spectrum. The more mobile a joint, the less stable it is. The more stable a joint, the less mobile it is. So when an athlete is described as being hyper-mobile, it usually means that there is lower stability. This can lead to a range of motion beyond the joint’s capacity and can put you at a higher risk of injury. An example of this would be a hyper-mobile athlete over-rotating through the trunk, causing stress on the spinal column and potentially a stress fracture. On the other hand, a hypo-mobile athlete cannot reach full range of motion and this can also increase injury risk or affect their performance. For example, an athlete cannot rotate the trunk fully, putting a higher demand on the shoulder, and causing excessive wear and tear.
So is one better than the other? Not necessarily. But it does change how you train, highlighting the importance of treating each athlete individually and meeting their specific needs. A hyper-mobile athlete is going to need more stability work while the hypo-mobile athlete is going to need more mobility work. It varies by joint, as well. For instance, the shoulder needs a lot of mobility to do its job while the hip needs a lot of stability.
The main takeaway? A happy medium between stability and mobility should be the goal.
Jenna Janadi is a certified Athletic Trainer at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Lake Forest, CA.