I remember hosting a handstand workshop with my friend Miguel San’tana and he asked 3 questions to the group…
What is strength? Flexibility? And Mobility?
Then there was long silence… You could have heard a pin drop.
The room was filled with people from a range of different movement backgrounds – yogis, personal trainers, etc…
I was surprised by the look of confusion on everyone’s face by these simple questions.
I do however understand where the confusion can come from. Over the years many have attempted to re-define these terms to suit their individual agenda, but in my perspective the essence of strength, flexibility and mobility has, and will continue to, remain unchanged.
Confusion can be a major road block when you’re looking to move better and create a more balanced body, so in this article we’ll focus on simplifying these three jargon terms.
You’ll get clarity and speed up your progress with this simpler way to safely get flexible, strong and mobile.
Chinese whispers and purple monkeys
Have you ever played a game of Chinese whispers? If so, you know how it goes…
One person begins with the intended message and by the fifth person, the simple and original message ends up distorting into something like ‘purple monkey dishwasher.’
This Chinese whispers effect has indeed happened with the terms strength, mobility and flexibility. They’ve been distorted and used to describe each other, to the point where I’ve noticed, they’re beginning to lose their essence.
For most people it’s becoming confusing. And this confusion leads to a lack of practice and progress.
Well I don’t want that for you.
My intention is to help simplify things, so you can experience the freedom you have deep inside your body.
With a little more clarity, you’ll be one step closer.
Strength training: Muscles or movements
Is this it?
Is this it?
Yes this can all be forms of strength training, but this isn’t necessarily the way to build strength, so you can move better in daily life.
Let’s get things clear: Being strong is not just about muscle building. Just because you have strong individual muscles, doesn’t necessarily mean your whole body is strong.
Often disproportionately strong muscles end up working against you. You might be strong at lifting a dumbbell, but what happens when you need to climb over an object, or wrestle an opponent?
To truly become strong we need to embody its deeper meaning.
The Zen of strength and embodying Yang
Physical strength is about the ability to position yourself well and consciously create tension, where it’s needed. It’s more Yang in it’s essence.
To embody strength is to be connected to your body and mind, so they work efficiently as ‘one muscle.’
Strength is as much about understanding leverage and physics as it is about muscular effort. The strongest creatures on earth understand the importance of using minimal effort, for maximum output.
Think of the term, many hands make light work and the process of developing strength will become clearer.
Strength training is simply about preparing you to feel confident while facing varying levels of resistance in your life.
Develop this quality in your body and so you shall in your mind.
Flexibility Training: Stretching muscles, or senses
So what is physical flexibility?
Is this it?
Is this it?
Is this it?
Indeed these can all too be forms of flexibility training, but coming back to the question… Does it help you move better in your daily life, free of pain and with fluidity?
Being flexible is not just about stretching your muscles. You might have long muscles, but that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get flexible from head to toe.
Any ounce of conscious, or unconscious apprehension in your physical, or mental senses can limit you from developing full body flexibility.
- Deeply stored tension, and energy blockages,
Often having only flexible muscles, or other tissues that connect to your skeleton can end up working against you.
You might be able to relax and flop into a position, or hold a certain Yoga pose, but what about when you need to move outside of these static positions?
The Zen of flexibility and embracing Yin
The essence of flexibility is about relaxation. It’s the Yin to the Yang that strength creates.
To be flexible is a way of embracing the present moment and letting go of the resistance between where you are and where you want to be.
Flexibility training is simply about creating enough space in your body for your needs, to move without resistance.
Mobility Training: The frankenstein of movement
So finally we get to mobility, a term that’s also suffering a bit of an identity crisis.
Is this it?
Is this it?
Is this it?
Do a Google search on mobility and these are some of the types of images you see.
So is mobility about devices to help people who can’t move so well, or is it about foam rolling and exercise balls, or is it about flexibility, or strength?
It’s actually a bit like Frankenstein.
When we bring mobility into the context of you moving your body better, it’s essentially about, well… moving your body.
To be able to move a joint or joints freely in a specific range of movement.
So what’s stretching then?
Beyond the dogmas that get projected over the word stretching I see it as a practice to move beyond your current limitation(s), or comfort zone – into newness.
Do this enough and you create new ranges you can move more freely in.
So we’ve now covered some ideas about what strength, flexibility and mobility are when your body is concerned.
All of these parts are important to develop, for a body that moves free of pain and with ease and freedom.
But training these physical qualities separately, can actually become your limitation if they’re out of balance.
Here’s some examples…
For best effect, strength, flexibility and mobility should be trained together – in synergy and balance. In a holistic way.
Strength, mobility and flexibility training can mean many different things, but the most important question to ask yourself is, what do you want it for?
- Perhaps you want to be able to move objects around without the fear of injury?
- Perhaps you want to be able to perform bodyweight exercises, enhance your Yoga or martial arts practice?
- Perhaps you simply want to be able to walk up the stairs without joint pain?
A more simple way to get flexible, strong, and mobile (at the same time)
Whether you want to learn how to handstand, do the splits or something as simple as touch your toes you need a combination of strength, mobility and flexibility.
Sure you can train each of these properties separately. I did this too once upon a time. But I realised it takes a lot more time, and honestly the results leave you moving more like a robot than with fluidity.
After many years of trial and error I realised there is a new and improved way to train these 3 physical traits, at the same time.
The approach is called Rhythmic Strength Stretching © (RSS), and with it you can connect the dots between strength, flexibility and mobility.
It’s featured in the Embodied Flexibility program, along with the 7 Big Strength Stretches I’ve found most effective to deeply mobilise and strengthen your body from head to toe.
With Embodied Flexibility, you’ll discover a process to build strong mobility foundations, so you can:
- Move more dynamically,
- Prepare your body for deeper flexibility goals like the side splits or pancake,
- Greatly reduce your chances of getting hurt.
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- Health Club Girl In A Gym” by photostock
- Man Makes Exercises For Increase In Force Of Muscles. Focus In” by David Castillo Dominici
- Young Gymnasts Training On Rings On A Dark Background” by David Castillo Dominici
- Fitness Girl Stretching Her Legs” by photostock
- Man Doing Yoga” by stay2gether
- Young Kid Practicing Karate” by stockimages
- Experienced Physician Assisting Her Patient In Recovery Process” by stockimages
- Silhouette” by arztsamui
- Exercises Control Basin Trunk With Bobath Ball Fitball Stabiliza…” by Ambro
- Brick Wall” by gubgib
- Coffee Spill Stain Accident White Background” by phasinphoto
- Human Body Mannequin Collection” by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul
- Zen” by dan