Stacked or Jacked? Mobility vs Functional Joint Centration

Mobility is one of the new fitness buzzwords that has piqued the interest of many competitive and non-competitive weight trainers today. They attend mobility clinics and stretch sessions, blame their inability to perform certain exercises on mobility issues and tightness, and work out through pain they chalk up to residual tightness from old injuries. There are solution to these issues. Focusing on mobility may be one. Training through your pain is definitely not one. 

The major flaw in the common approach to mobilization is that it focuses on increasing joint mobility, but does not optimize motor control and neurological input to the brain. For example, you can be extremely mobile through the hip joint, and, at the same time, extremely unstable while doing a body weight squat. In other words, you are “jacking the joint” rather than “stacking” it. That is where functional joint centration comes in to play. 

Functional Joint Centration

Joint centration considers the mobility you have in a joint when the joint is correctly positioned or stacked. Correct positioning has two parts. It means the joint has a perfect axis of rotation to move as needed while supporting proper disassociation of movement from other joints. The third and most powerful component of proper joint centration is that a properly activated joint will send 100% accurate information from the joint to the brain on proper muscle activation and positioning. In return, this will give you the best mechanical advantage to ensure maximal stable loading – or stacking - of the joint.

Stacking the hip joint properly, for example, means we maintain maximum contact of the ball in socket as we move through full rotation of the joint. Think of it as keeping the hip “truly plugged in” so it doesn’t have to recruit help from the back or pelvis while bending or squatting. Instead, proper joint centration activates the musculature around the hip at a high level, giving stability, strength, balance and long term endurance to the joint and added “mobility” to the movement.   

Don’t get me wrong, high mobility is a great goal. But, without a truly plugged in joint that can move independently from others while using the correct muscle support and sending proper signals to the brain, we are relying on a faulty foundation that will limit our performance in the short and long run. Would you rather send the brain information of strength and stability or weakness and uncertainty?