Embrace your Midline

Welcome back to the CrossFit Equator Blog! Yes we have been vacuum for a few months (or years!), we are sorry, but we are also happy to be back and to have you reading back again here. I will continue to write for this blog with the hope to educate and inspire you to live a sustainable healthy and fit lifestyle. 

Today we are talking about the Midline, or the "core" or the "abs" which are the more popular terms.

According to Kelly Starrett on an original CrossFit Journal article:

 "The midline is the entire spine, and its stability is dependent not just on the core, but also on all the prime movers of the body, including the hip, glutes, and hamstrings. Excessive tightness in any of the prime movers will affect the core muscles, often resulting in low back pain." Dec 26, 2008

If you have done CrossFit before or some sort of functional exercise, I am sure you have heard your coach say this: 

"Stomach tight", or "Lock your core" or "Hold your breath under your belly

Yes? If you have heard your coach say something like this in the middle of a functional movement, then one thumbs up to your coach and one thumbs up to you for choosing the right coach. 

These "verbal cues" that was shouted to you in the middle of a movement was to have you stabilize and brace your midline for these purposes: 

  • Safety - Protect your lower back (lumbar curve) 
  •  Technique - Stable midline allows you to lift more weights safely
  • Balance - Stable and tight midline balances the load between both left and right side of your muscles

One of the hardest thing about midline stabilization is ... you don't know if you're doing it right!  

Even if you are doing the movement with mirrors all around you, it is very difficult to see whether you are engaging your midline properly. It requires a coach with experience in providing verbal or tactile cues for you to realize what it feels like to engage your midline. But there are exercises that can help you feel it. Here's a few:

  • Good mornings
  • Deadlift
  • Squats (along with its variations, Back Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats) 
  • Hollow Hold / Hollow Rock

Tomorrow, we are going to work on your midline stabilization through the "Deadlift".  

The Deadlift is a weightlifting exercise where you lift an object (ball, barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell) from the ground to your waist. Many use it to engage and strengthen the posterior chain (hamstrings and gluteus) but in truth, the movement cannot be done properly without proper engagement of the midline. 

Let me say this ... It is unsafe and ineffective to perform a deadlift (heavy or not) if you are not engaging your midline. 

And here's another thing ... a rounded back (or a semi-flat back) is NOT an acceptable way to perform and learn the deadlift.  

An engaged midline is where your bring your stomach muscles (or core or abs) into the back muscles. Literally it is a sensation where you lock your back to your front in the mid-section. Sticking your butt back and bringing your chest up to prevent a rounded back, is a hyper-extension of your back, and is an improper way to perform the deadlift.

Watch this video below and ask your coaches tomorrow to help you engage your midline

When you try this tomorrow, you will realize that it is not easy. And some of you may realize that you have been doing it wrong. But guess what? You are lucky to find out now, not later when you have back problems. You can still fix it! So let's focus on it. 

Remember that Mastery requires time that involves consistent practice in the fundamentals. Do not get distracted with lifting heavy or skipping your progression to movements you are not ready for. Be patient, take your time and enjoy the process of learning. 

Yours Truly, 

Brian Pandji