We Don’t Do Abs, We Do Midline Stabilization
Greg Glassman, CrossFit Founder and CEO, was quoted saying “We don’t do abs, we do midline stabilization.” It sounds kind of snobby and elitist, but really, Glassman is making an important distinction. Your ‘midline’ does not just include your abdominals, or six-pack muscles. In reality, ‘core strength’ means spinal stability, and this goes far beyond our abs.
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 awareness and control of all these muscles to keep the spine stiff and stable, from the top of the head to the base of the sacrum. The ability to maintain a stable midline goes the other way too; it allows you to utilize the prime movers more efficiently.
I’m commonly asked, “what do you do for abs?” My answer; everything, and we don’t stop at abs. Almost every movement you perform at CrossFit requires you to engage your midline and maintain a neutral spine. This is far easier said than done, particularly for those that are just starting to develop body awareness or who lack mobility. Our marker of core strength is not a six-pack. The reality is, healthy or not, anyone’s stomach muscles can be visible if their body fat is low enough. This can be achieved through diet alone. Our standard is midline stabilization, and crunches and sit-ups will not give you this.
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. Hold this for 10 seconds and tell me you don’t feel it in your core, and everywhere else. We throw in accessory midline stabilization exercises every now and then too, but you are (or should be) working your core the whole time you train. If you can’t maintain a stable spine, regardless of how strong your legs may be (and how defined your six, or eight-pack), 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. Stabilizing 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. Squeeze the abs. Squash your lower back into the ground. Chest up. Shoulders back. I say these things probably one hundred times a day. All directly relate to maintaining a stable spine.
So how exactly do you activate the core musculature to create a stable midline in preparation to lift?
- Pull your belly button towards your spine
- Pull up on your sphincter (or pull up like you are trying to stop from going to the bathroom)
- Take a deep breath in to the diaphragm and hold. Your stomach should tighten, not expand. Breathe equally in to your chest, ribs and stomach.
Check out this video of Kelly Starrett on midline stabilization, and watch him describe the method above.
If you have mobility deficits, particularly in the thoracic, hips, shoulders and glutes, you are going to struggle to maintain a neutral spine through range of motion, as those tight muscles will literally pull you out of position. Mobility is the first step to sounds mechanics. Check out the videos available on MobilityWOD, and come to Mobility class at 11am on Saturdays to learn how to mobilize.
Practice midline stabilization inside and outside of the gym, before, during and after WODs. CrossFit Southbay has a great video of exercises you can do to help train midline stability. Check out the video at the end of the article here. Hit a plateau on your jerk or overhead squat? Is your midline staying stable or are you losing it during dynamic movement? Mindfulness, and some extra midline accessory work could be the ticket.
Be mindful of what your back 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.
This article was written by CrossFit Bloomfield
25 MB Abmat Sit Ups (20/14)
10 Shoulder Press (95/65)
20 Abmat Sit Ups
10 Shoulder Press 75/55