Passive vs. Active Range of Motion

Updated: Apr 14

With more and more people learning about mobility training and Kinstretch, I wanted to dive into a concept that directly relates to mobility, which is range of motion. As I mentioned in my last blog, my definition for mobility is, "The body's ability to control itself in each individual's range of motion and it determines how much movement there is in that particular range". So what exactly is range of motion and how can we improve it? Let's take a look.


Range of motion (ROM), is the full movement potential of a joint, like flexion or extension. If, for example, you can't touch your toes, this means you lack movement in your hips and have limited range of motion. One of the goals with mobility work is to increase that range of motion but also to provide control within it. And that leads us to the two types of range of motion: passive and active.

Passive Range of Motion

Passive ROM is when either yourself or someone else is using an external force to put you into a certain range of motion. There is no muscular contraction or motor control necessary to perform these moves. They require zero strength and control, hence they are passive.

Two examples include:

  • You are lying on your back, and someone pushes your straight leg back toward your chest giving you a big stretch in your hamstrings

  • The classic quadriceps stretch, where you grab on to your foot and bring it up toward your backside, giving you a stretch in the front of the leg

Active Range of Motion

Now, let's look at Active ROM, which is where you're able to do the movement without any assistance. You have control of the movement and over the muscles.

Do both of the original two stretches but this time without any help:

  • Lying on your back, you lift a straight leg and see how far you get

  • Standing, slowly bend your knee so the foot rises toward your butt


With the Active ROM stretches, uou probably didn't get anywhere near the same range of motion as you did previously with the Passive ones and you may have just experienced a wicked cramp doing these. What's interesting, is you probably didn't get a cramp in the muscle you were trying to stretch, right? You got the cramp in the antagonist muscle, (the muscle that needs to contract in order for the other muscle to be stretched). The point right before you cramped is your Active ROM. With the mobility exercises and concepts that we've provided in the Mobility Month Challenge, we are now developing active ranges of motion which better prepare us for what everyday life throws at us.


I'm imagining there was quite a huge gap between where you were able to take the movement with the passive and active ranges of motion. Unfortunately, this is where the problems begin. The bigger the gap, the more issues you will have, and the higher propensity of injuries. This is because you essentially have no control over that gap in range of motion. Now, when moving in space and perhaps under load there is no stability. We wonder why so many people get injured doing the simplest of tasks...there is no control.

The classic example of this, (and in my earlier years I was totally guilty of this), is the barbell squat. I used to think my real depth of a squat wasn't important until I had weight on the bar. Basically, my body weight squat was pretty high, but when I got 135 pounds and above on it, my depth was low where it should be, however, this is horrible. I was young and stupid and didn't know any better. If I can't perfectly squat unloaded then how can my tissues and joints be expected to handle it loaded?

The moral of the story kids....mobility matters....for everyone, especially those lifting under load. Take a look at the gap between your passive and active range of motion to assess where you're at and where there may be room for improvement. You can take care of yourself today so you'll be able to do what you're doing for longer.

Ready to make those mobility gains? Check out the online mobility training programs I've created to help you do just that. All the tools you need are there and it takes less than 10 minutes a day to see results that will improve how you feel and move in the future.

Want more tips? Check out my Instagram and Facebook pages or YouTube channel, for more strength and mobility routines.


Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.


  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

  • Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist

  • Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach

  • Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)

  • Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor

  • Weck Method Qualified

#workout #strengthtraining #mobility