So I want to use this blog post to break down something you are all very familiar with and hear us coaches talking about in every session – midline stabilisation. While it is something that most people are aware of, it is surprising how difficult and easy it is to get wrong. So here is a brief run down that will hopefully get us into better shape.
Greg Glassman (Crossfit Founder and CEO), was quoted saying “We don’t do abs, we do midline stabilisation.” Why? Because ‘midline’ does not just include your abdominals. In reality, core strength means spinal stability which involves more than just your spine.
Midline stability relies not only on your core musculature, but on your body’s prime movers too. These include the muscles in your hips, glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors. Midline stability refers to the capacity to maintain neutral spine under load through full range of motion. It takes a lot of awareness and control but also mobility to maintain a stable midline throughout range of motion. But once utilised, with good understanding and awareness – an athletes power, performance and safety can be considerable increased.
Almost every movement you perform in CrossFit requires you to engage your midline and maintain a neutral spine. Our marker for core strength is not a six-pack and therefore crunches and sit-ups just don’t cut it.
Every time you squat, press or deadlift and maintain a neutral spine, you are strengthening your midline. When we handstand, dip, pull-up or push-up, we hold the hollow-body position this is also an expression of midline stabilisation and in my opinion what constituents a functional movement. So don’t think just because you are doing a butterfly kip it is ok to compromise your midline to reach the bar, it is not. Every movement you do, the more stable your midline is the more efficient and safe the moment will be. If you can’t maintain a stable spine, regardless of how strong your legs may be, you will fold in half under a heavy squat.
Better midline stability equals better movement control. This is the single most valuable lesson we teach at CrossFit. Stabilising your spine is a skill in itself. As a coach, it is my number one priority when I look at an athlete. Squeeze the glutes. Ribcage down. Eyes forward. Tuck the pelvis. Belly Button in. Squash your lower back into the ground. Chest up. Shoulders back. I say these things probably one hundred times a day. That is because they all directly relate to maintaining a stable spine.
The image on the left is why I say “Squeeze your butt!” The forward tilt in the pelvis causes the lower back to overextend, or arch. The image on the right is what I am looking for. The pelvis is tucked under and the spine is straight.
So how exactly do you activate the core musculature to create Midline Stabilisation?
Step 1. Position your feet directly below your hips and point them forward, then screw your feet in to the ground.
Step 2. Set you pelvis in a neutral position by squeezing your butt.
Step 3. Engage your abs by pulling your ribcage down and belly button towards your spine. continue squeezing your glutes and take a deep breath in.
Step 4. Stiffen as you slowly exhale
Step 5. To finish, set your head in a neutral level position. (Your spine doesn’t end at your shoulders so a neutral spine is also represented with a straight neck).
Having a good understanding of how to set up before a lift is crucial, but if you don’t maintain this tension and position throughout the lift then the lift will most likely fail – if not look seriously messy.
Check out this video of Kelly Starrett on midline stabilisation, and watch how he walks through the sets and follow along.
Given the diversity of moments that we encounter in CrossFit, if you have issues with your mobility, particularly in the thoracic, hips, shoulders and glutes, you are going to struggle to maintain a neutral spine through full range of motion. Tight muscles will literally pull you out of position. Mobility is the first step to sounds mechanics and if you are in need of any mobility coaching don’t hesitate to ask me (Baz) or your coach for some advice. Also check out the videos available on MobilityWOD.com which is a great resource for self maintenance. If self mobility is not part of your usual CrossFit ritual then its time to get started! A lot of the issues encountered in CrossFit are not related to strength but to mobility.
Body awareness is crucial when performing any movement, so be mindful of what your midline is doing during a WOD and when lifting. A stable midline will increase your power and strength, and is essential for preventing injury. Your spine is too precious to sacrifice for the sake of intensity. Practice midline stabilisation inside and outside of the gym, before, during and after WODs. If you have hit a plateau in any area ask yourself, is your midline staying stable? Mindfulness of your midline, and some extra mobility work could be the cure.