By MISSY ALBRECHT, DPT, CSCS, FMS| Physical Therapist/Coach
When you head into the gym, do you ever find yourself thinking/asking any of the following:
- What do you mean when you say, “keep your midline stable”?
- How the heck do I keep my midline tight and breathe and focus on the WOD?
- When I try to activate my midline, I feel like I just bear down (like going to the bathroom) and hold my breath. Is that right?
- No matter how hard I try, I can’t get my back in a good position.
- When I keep my midline stable and try to breathe, my neck and shoulders get really tight.
Anything along those lines sound like you? If that’s a yes, please read on. If you don’t know what I mean by midline stabilization, please read here first.
Steps to Activating Your Midline
Whenever I teach someone to activate their midline, I always end my instructions with “and make sure you breathe.” This always makes everyone laugh because it sounds silly to have to be reminded to breathe, but everyone holds their breath! I’ve had a lot of comments from athletes at the gym saying it’s difficult to keep their midline active and breathe at the same time, especially during the really high intensity WODs that force you to breathe so hard. I just wanted to let you all know that you’re not alone. It’s really a hard task! It takes practice. So I wanted to share some basic tips on how to get better at this.
Step 1: Fix your mobility
You can try for hours and hours to get your midline stable, but if you’re fighting poor mobility you’re going to lose. I’m sorry to break the news, but those tight muscles and stiff joints are way stronger than your focus and willpower combined.
Areas to target for mobility:
- Thoracic spine: here, here and here
- Ribs: here and here
- Back of your shoulder blade
- Lower back
- Hips: psoas, adductors, quad/hip flexors,
- Neck: here and here
- Make sure your nerves move well too!
*Some of the links above have videos from K-Starr’s Mobility WOD, which now requires a subscription to view most of them. I’m sorry that they aren’t readily available, but I highly recommend the subscription! He does some phenomenal stuff and deserves some reimbursement for his hard work.
Step 2: Learn how to breathe properly
We are all guilty of holding our breath at times. There are a few different techniques on how to breathe correctly. Check out this post here to learn about the diaphragm and breathing techniques. The main goal is to breathe equally into your chest, ribs, and stomach. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed! You’ll feel a huge release in your tight shoulders/neck throughout your day once you really get this technique down.
Step 3: Practice midline stability (while using the new breathing techniques)
We all know that practice makes perfect. You can’t expect to practice this challenging skill once and then jump into a WOD where you’re breathing hard and throwing weight around. Make it easier on yourself and practice regularly and frequently! To learn how, read here and watch the video at the end. Also read this to see how the GHD can help build your midline stability. Don’t forget to practice throughout your daily routines too, not just at the gym.
Hopefully those of you who find yourself struggling with midline stability and breathing will find some of these tips helpful. Remember, it’s just another challenge that CrossFit gives you and the reason we all do CrossFit is for the constant challenges! So practice some patience, keep working hard, and don’t forget to have fun!