Wed the spine and the hips.

In my first post on this site I detailed some assumptions. I want to explore the first one and look at some tools I have found useful.

Assumption One: The spine should be as unchanged as possible in a loaded movement. This is introduced in CrossFit as midline stability (see the L1 training guide Page 49 click here for the guide)

As CrossFit trainers we have a knack for blurting out jargon, ” Don’t lose your midline”, ‘Squeeze your lumbar”, “Get tighter”, “Not so much Psoas!” These are verbal cues directed at keeping the line that trisects the spine and bisects the hip straight (or neutral) and stable.  There are no wrong cues if they get your athlete into a better position. Verbal cues are the quickest and easiest to deliver especially in a high stress situation like a heavy lift or a WOD. They need to be short, sharp and actionable in an effort to avoid them becoming distracting rather than beneficial. Verbal cues rely on an understanding of what is required in response to the cue so be sure to set yourself and your athletes up for success.

My favourite verbal cues to maintain a stable and straight midline are “Chest Up” when the spine is flexed and I want the athlete to return to neutral and “Ribs Down” or “Squeeze the abs” when the spine is hyper extended and I want the athlete to return to neutral.

Visually the “Two hand Rule” that KStar and Coach came up with is awesome for setting these cues up.

First I like to get people to put the hands in place; thumb of one on the sternum and little finger of the other on the belt line. To find the correct distance I encourage athletes to close their eyes and squeeze their butt and their belly as if they are in a prison shower and about to be punched in some way or another (too much?).

Then we bring the hands together by relaxing the core muscles or by flexing the spine. From there I can cue “Chest up” to return to the start position.

To bring the hands apart the lower back muscles are squeezed and the athlete pokes their belly forward. From there I can cue “Ribs Down” to return to the desired position.

Tactile cues are often a bit touchy in the area of midline stability so I came up with this simple tool which I think is awesome.

Essentially use a straight stick and some tape to give someone an idea of when the position is good or not. In the video I just used one run of tape and a 30 cm ruler but in the past I have been more elaborate and used a ruler on the front and back and 3 three runs of tape, depends who pays for your tape. This tool may help you come up with verbal cues specific to the athlete eg., “I felt the ruler digging into my back until I pinched my belly down” “Ok so when I see you over extended I am going to say Pinch your belly down.”

I find the isolated hip hinges are great tools for identifying broken midline positions. Often people have wiring issues that make their back erectors fire up too much when mainly their glutes are wanted for action.A couple of isolated hip hinges are the glute bridge with shoulders on a bench or a box (hip thrust) or hip extensions with either straight or bent legs. If you don’t have a GHD or a Back extension apparatus you can use a partner and some plyo boxes as demonstrated in this video.

Hip Thrusts and Hip extensions are awesome exercises to slip into your warm ups or as finishers post WOD. Slightly closed hips all the time or tightness across the anterior aspect of the hip is a limiting factor for most people when hinging. The Couch stretch from KStar is very useful in addressing this tightness.

So there are my go to tools for teaching midline stability. For more info check out  Kelly on maintaining an organised position: here. or read about core stability from a CrossFitting Aussie Physio here.

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