Flexibility is the absolute range of movement in a joint or series of joints and muscles that is attainable in a momentary effort with the help of a partner or a piece of equipment. It is a term for the ability to easily bend an object or the ability to adapt to different circumstances. However, in various professional fields, more precise terms are used.


In materials science, the amount of deformation an object can be bent, twisted, lengthened or compressed due to a force or stress is called the strain.

  • Plasticity is a property of a material to undergo a non-reversible change of shape in response to an applied force.
  • Elasticity is the ability to deform under stress (e.g., external forces), but then return to its original shape when the stress is removed.
  • Ductility is the physical property of being capable of sustaining large plastic deformations without fracture (in metals, such as being drawn into a wire).
  • Malleability means the material can easily be deformed, especially by hammering or rolling, without cracking or breaking.

Systems theory

In systems theory, which has applications in diverse fields including biology, ecology, psychology, economics, and management, the flexibility of a system is related to its adaptation to a new environment or its resilience in recovering from a shock or disturbance. Individuals within an organization also demonstrate flexibility with their ability to adapt to the environment or troubleshoot while in the field.

One example is the attribute of flexibility in engineering.

In Business

In Business, flexibility is the ability to adapt to both internal and external business changes. It can also apply to staff being required by their management to "be flexible": to adapt to and work with the company's ever-changing needs. The term in the UK when applied to staff is, in the opinion of many, often over-used or is sometimes viewed as a "one-way street". That is to say that staff are required to be flexible towards changes in a business and occasionally their working hours, but some businesses will not be flexible towards their staff in return. These companies are, however, in the minority.

Workplace Flexibility

When speaking about workplace flexibility it used to only mean working a different schedule or telecommuting. But now flexibility is a whole new way of working and thinking. Flexibility offers more choice in when you work – to adapt the hours you work to fit you or how many (fulltime or less-than-fulltime) hours you would like to work. This style of work allows for choice in where you work – the option to work from places other than the office all or some of the time – occasionally or on a regular basis. A flexible job should provide more autonomy about how you work – you figure out the best way to get your job done. The employee has the ability to customize their own career path – to take time out or slow the pace (to take 10 years instead of 7 to earn partner, for example) without jeopardizing reentry or growth. An organizational culture and climate that considers flexibility the new 'normal' and beneficial for the organization and doesn't penalize people who work flexibly.


In the physiology of vertebrates, including humans, the measurement of the achievable distance between the flexed position and the extended position of a particular joint or muscle group is called its "flexibility", but this is more properly called its range of motion or range of movement. In this sense, the flexibility of a joint depends on many factors, particularly the length and looseness of the muscles and ligaments due to normal human variation, and the shape of the bones and cartilage that make up the joint.

Flexibility, or suppleness, is also a more generalized term used to compare the relative range of motion of all joints of an individual with a standard. The ability to achieve a full range of movements – to turn, stretch, twist and bend – without any stiffness, aching or suffering a spine or joint injury is defined as suppleness.

Medical conditions such as arthritis can decrease flexibility, while Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome can increase flexibility. Exercise increases the amount of flexibility in a joint, while decreasing the amount of resistance. Different sports have different flexibility requirements, which can be increased further through training and practice of the sport. A person training for gymnastics would develop more flexibility than a shot put thrower.

Those who practice gymnastics (especially rhythmic gymnastics), dance, figure skating, martial arts, body toning, yoga, cheerleading and contortion rely on functional flexibility (increased range of motion with strength and control) to perform their actions.

Relative flexibility

Since muscles which go through growth in size but not in length, when one muscle grows through hypertrophy its opposite side muscle (the antagonist) will have to lengthen, and absolute flexibility is the term to describe a muscle's length, in and of itself, where relative flexibility is the flexibility of a joint, as compared to its antagonistic movement.

For example, the calf muscle extends the foot towards the ground (plantarflexion) and the shin muscle flexes the foot in the opposite direction (dorsiflexion). If a person's calf is overly strong it will not be as flexible as the opposite shin muscle, and plantarflexion will be exhibit relatively inflexible as compared to dorsiflexion using the person's weaker, but more flexible shin muscle.


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