Midline Stabilization
By: Mat McQueen-Crawford


What is midline stabilization and why is it critical to functional movement?

There are several different ways to define midline stabilization. Some of the more common definitions are;

  1. The capacity to maintain a neutral spine under load
  2. The ability to control the muscles around your spine so that you make it stiff and immovable
  3. Stabilizing the muscles that surround the line running through the core of the body which trisects the spine and bisects the pelvis.

The last of the 3 refers to the midline not simply being our spine but rather the integration of the spine AND pelvis and their alignment during movement.

Coaches often refer (just about every class) to a neutral or flat back when engaged in a loaded position. This is where midline stabilization comes into play. Before an athlete moves into a loaded position, whether under their own body weight (i.e. air squat) or with a loaded bar, they want to engage their “core” in order to maintain correct posture from head to hips. The disengagement of this stability can potentially lead to movement dysfunction, less force production, or worse; spinal injury.

The understanding and practice of midline stabilization isn’t just important to the newer, less experienced athlete but to the most seasoned veteran as well. How many times have you witnessed someone (or experienced yourself) hyper-extend their lower back when weight is put overhead? How about their mid AND low back when performing a clean? This happens because of a break in midline stabilization and therefore loss of control.

How to brace your spine for stabilization:

  1. Set your pelvis in a neutral position. Do this by screwing your feet into the ground while they’re stationed directly under your hips and squeezing your butt.
  2. Align your ribcage with your pelvis by pulling your lower ribs in. Imagine your pelvis and ribcage are two bowls full of water and they must remain stacked in this neutral position to avoid spilling.
  3. Place one hand on your waist with the thumb of that hand digging into your lower back. Take a quick breath and tense your abdomen as if you were anticipating a punch to the stomach. You should feel pressure against your thumb driving it out of your lower back. This is the bracing pressure that secures your spine.
  4. Lastly, squeeze your glutes (buttocks) to finish setting your spine in a neutral position.

Sound too complicated? Just practice and seek advice from a coach if you’re unsure. Also, there is an in depth 10 part series on midline stability presented by Dr. Kelly Starrett online at the CrossFit Journal. Many people are visual learners and there are plenty of videos to help guide you through the practice.

Don’t hinder your progress or stunt your fitness by setting yourself up for dysfunction or injury. Remember, practice makes permanent so take the time to set proper position before eachlift to reinforce good habits.

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