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Limbering, mobility, and stretching: what do these terms mean? How to best use?

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Very interesting. I use all of the above methods, and others, in my goals. For myself, I like the definition of mobility 'consciously controlling a range of motion with strength' - so very similar, if not identical to what you mentioned above. I do some mobility and movement patterning stuff every single day.

Stretching (neuro-muscular stretching with contract-relax and hold-relax techniques) I use the ST stretching techniques plus a few creations of my own, and use the definition above.

I do once or twice a week as a designated session for 'flexibility training' aka filling in/expanding my body map; working on specific restrictions and soft tissue re-modelling.

I approach it the same way I would for a strength and conditioning workout, but the attribute worked upon is flexibility - more specifically a permanent increase in flexibility (new range of flexibility). Like Kit said, I leave about 4 - 8 days between these sessions very often.

Limbering is what I do in the morning (along with joint mobility); Contract-relax based stretching I find unpleasant, and more importantly not optimal, in the morning. I know some people love doing like a vinyasa style flow-stretch with holds and the like, in the morning.. I haven't played around with that too much in the morning. I love joint mobility in the morning too - especially rolling, rocking and ground based mobility work.

The difference for my mind between joint mobility and limbering is partially vectorial. When I do Joint Mobility the patterns are almost exclusively circles; figure '8's' (and infinity symbols) and clover leaves.

When I do limbering it is more linear; or beginning in a standard linear stretch - then I add a 'squirm factor' to this, or add spiral movements to the standard pose...like wringing out a towel. It's more organic and explorative - with a broken rhythm.

Joint Mobility, for me, is always a constant movement (whether circle or infinity or whatever.. it can be very slow, but it's always moving).

In limbering I will also sometimes stop completely, and working with adding breathing enhancers to the stretch position (which can be done in neuro-muscular stretching too, obviously).

Another difference is the Intent and body awareness in the exercise. In joint mobility I focus on sensation from joint and bone moving in a smooth, flowing motion (focus doesn't mean it is flowing..sometimes it is crunchy and unco; but you've got to start somewhere! The goal is smooth, flowing motion).

In limbering I focus on the soft tissue (fascia and muscle), and try to keep tension in larges sheets/channels/strips of tissue as I move either (or both) ends of the channel, or, add in other vectors to enhance the wringing effect. Both limbering and joint mobility have a kind of moderate and restorative quality about them, where as the flexibility/re-modelling work can be quite intense (though it doesn't have to be) and has more of a structural re-working intent and feel.

In stretching too, there are lots of sub-sets. Thomas Kurz - Stretching Scientifically and Mel Siff's - Supertraining both go into these in depth. Dynamic stretching; static active; static passive; etc..

Cool. Let's see what others come up with.


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I should say too, that the vectors mentioned (circles, figure '8's', etc.) are only really for basic joint mobility. More advanced joint mobility exercises are full bodyweight (or weighted) exercises and movement patterns, in and of themselves.

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  • 3 years later...

I hope the people here will not be annoyed from my writting in old topics.

For me stretching is what both K and D said. But I don't separate mobility and limbering. If it isn't a new ROM I just start with some light movement (limbering) and after that (if I want) explore a bit more strengthening exercises in this ROM (which for me means mobility). But if I'm not sore I could start right away with the tougher exercises. Just doesn't see any benefit to add one more term here- stretching and limbering, I think are quite enough.

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Nick, I agree completely, and this is what I used in all my books (stretching vs. limbering, with the definitions I restated above). But mostly due to the fitness world's input, "mobility" has largely replaced "limbering", which had a specialised meaning in the dance world, and a generally understood meaning in the larger world. I still find the distinction, and the two terms, to be perfectly sufficient. And as Dave points out, there are plenty of exploration points where these intersect.

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  • Kit_L pinned this topic
  • 4 months later...

Hi Folks,

I think limbering and stretching are sufficient terms.


I have always disliked the term mobility.  It seems to me to confuse many definitions and roll it into one for the latest fad / craze.  But, much like the word “irregardless” - as much as it annoys me, it seems to have become part of the mainstream vocabulary.  As such, I have come to understand what mobility means in relation to how it is used in practice - at least how I see it used in practice.

I have come to understand this definition of Joint Mobility
“The freeing of joint restrictions with the intended purpose to express the joints fullest current available active strength through ROM.”

I have come to understand  the definition of Mobility
“The freeing of restrictions with the intended purpose to express a movement pattern through its fullest current available active strength through ROM.”

Once you factor out Limbering from the current mainstream definition of Mobility I see the following remaining:
Mobility allows one’s body to reach its current (i.e. what is possible today) ultimate expression of the desired application (stretching or limbering).

From my perspective Mobility can be used as a term that applies as a pre-cursor to both  limbering and stretching and simply implies removing restrictions for either application.

Typical tactics for addressing mobility might include:

  • Passive Joint Centration Exercises (e.g. Banded distractions to remove bony impingements or lubricate the joint)
  • Massage / Myofascial Release techniques  (Trigger Point / Active release etc.).  
  • Nerve Gliding / Flossing
  • Joint Stabilisation Exercises
  • And others

Whereas, the tactics for limbering and stretching are decidedly different.
Further, you cannot truly get a good stretch - for example - on your calves, if you have an anterior impingement of the ankle.  So Limbering & Stretching are not necessarily fully productive in this state.

The same can be said if you have a very tight facial restriction or trigger point - like commonly occurs with the Gracilis during pancake preparation.  You could stretch endlessly, but until you address that specific restriction - you will not move forward and you may even lose yesterdays ROM if you do not address it.  Sometimes it is possible that limbering or stretching alone resolves this restriction, but not always.  Oftentimes Mobility solutions are needed.

This for me is the ultimate application of Mobility.

Once “Mobilized" one can then begin a fuller practice of either….
“limbering” attaining yesterdays ROM
“stretching” achieving a new ROM

I do not like how the societal definition of Mobility focuses only on biomechanics.  For me, there is a certain ritual to preparation of joints, muscles, fascia, blood flow etc. for sure that is needed.  But there is also a need to get into a proper psychological- emotional state as well.  This also impacts the ultimate expression of the application of my current state.  I typically include this in my warmup as a sort of “mental mobility”.

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