Coach Glassman defines midline stabilization as “…rigidity along the spine during functional movement.” You’ll hear coaches at any CrossFit, in any part of the world, in all languages tossing out similar cues to remind us sweaty fitness heathens to keep our midline stable and engaged while doing any physical activity. I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “Stay tight!”, “Engage your core!”, “Squeeze your stomach!”, “Arch your back!”, “Oh dear God, what are you doing!?”, etc so on and so forth. I believe this is the first, and one of the most important skills, any CrossFit athlete should master. Why? It’s all about safety and efficiency. Anytime we let our head and spine come out of alignment during exercise, we increase the potential to injure ourselves. It’s pretty obvious to see how poor midline stabilization can lead to injury. We’ve all witnessed someone pull a deadlift with an ultra-rounded lower back, do a back squat and it looks like the barbell is going to fold the person in half, a handstand pushup and their back is doing a reverse S against the wall, a pushup where the arms are magically near lock-out yet somehow the hips haven’t quite got off the floor yet, and the list goes on. You’ve all seen it, and you know it just doesn’t look right, and guess what, it’s not. Beyond the safety and proper mechanics involved when we have midline stabilization, it also allows us to be more efficient and powerful. This is the good stuff! I like to equate our midline to a transmission of a car, whereas our sexy butt and legs (throw in our shoulders and arms too) are our engine. A rock solid midline allows us to transfer all the power from our prime movers to whatever heavy, nasty object we are trying to sling around, including just your body. If you look like Sloppy McSloppyPants, that force you’re generating from your sexy parts will instead go to folding, bending, or moving you in ways that aren’t conducive to power output or holding your mortal enemy over your head before you body slam him onto the mat at Wrestlemania.
Great, the points been made, so how do we get there? Easy! Follow these simple steps before you do anything ever, for all eternity…
- While standing, gently squeeze your butt, your pelvis should tilt slightly.
- Arch your back as hard as you can, your ribcage should move upwards.
- Take a giant breath, focus on the belly not the chest.
- Squeeze your tummy like you are trying to bring your belly button to your spine -OR- imagine baring down as hard as you can after a post-Superbowl party bathroom break.
- As you’re squeezing/baring down, your ribcage should drop.
- Lock your head into place, imagine you have a metal rod going through your head and out your tailbone
Whoop there it is, whoop there it is! You have achieved midline stabilization. While in the midst of a workout, I like to cue folks to “breath and squeeze”. For example, while doing air squats you would take that big breath and stabilize, do the squat, at the finish you exhale-inhale and resqueeze/bare down. It’s an easy way to set a rhythm and cadence when doing high-repetition movements. The heavier the load gets, the more you’ll have to squeeze/bare down. It’s also helpful, as you are squeezing/baring down, to exhale a little air through your teeth (or yell/scream/kiai). Allowing some of your breath to be forced out allows you to squeeze/bare down a little bit harder. Not too much though, or that front squat you’re trying to complete will fold you like a cheap K-Mart deck chair. Sorry K-Mart.
So, there you have it, now go forth unto the world and stabilize!