I was reminded of this way of saying core stability when talking with some CrossFit coaches the other day. I like it, it makes sense. I also recall it being sort of a "catch phrase" back at my CrossFit Level 1 certification a few years back, and one that you'll read and hear all the time on articles and videos posted up by CrossFit HQ. Again, I like it because it does a great job of depicting exactly what the goal of the exerciser should be: stabilize your mid-line! The core is a catch phrase used in the fitness industry that I feel gets very overused. The core is a theoretical area of your body that is made up of a large collection of muscles at the "core" of your body. Mid-line makes sense as it sort of helps to visualize where that is in your body and gives you a great image of what should be happening while lifting: your body should hold on to a "line" form through the middle; as in, a straight spine. Using the phrase "stabilize your core" is vague enough that it needs much more explaining for most people to actually understand what the heck you are talking about.
OK, now that that's over with, I want to talk about what is really on my mind about mid-line stability. What constitutes "good" mid-line stability? This is an interesting topic as it;s pretty subjective based on what your view of what's important in life. I'll try to stay as objective as I can (I know, I know, I can be pretty damn opinionated, but I'll do my best here). Here's what I believe:
1) Mid-line Strength/Stability: one should be able to lift a load that the strongest muscles in the body can handle for 1-3 repetitions while maintaining mid-line stability. This means that you should be able to deadlift, or squat or pick up an object of any kind, 1-3 times without losing stability through your midsection. The weight should be heavy enough that even your legs would come close to failing under the load for those same rep counts. This would show balance in your full body strength. If you can reach max loads in any manner (what I mean by that is both in the gym with a bar, or out of the gym in life) without "breaking form", you are probably pretty balanced in your strength. This also means you are putting yourself at the lowest risk of injury while moving heavier loads. Sweet.
2) Mid-line endurance: one should be able to hold stability throughout their body while performing high volume, very light loaded work. And when I say light load, I mean like walking, running, sitting, moving around, carrying bags or other things over distances and so forth. If you can stand for a few hours without your torso getting fatigued and needing to lean up against something, you're probably in a good spot. If you can't handle that, you may need to work on things to learn how to engage all those muscles while "doing life". I make these points in reference to what is important to train. It's a touchy topic to go into good and bad programming (a topic I jump all over ALL the freaking time) and I've found some common flaws in the way coaches choose to program for focused mid-line stability. Best ways to build mid-line strength? Heavy loads performed at low reps. If you are doing these exercises correctly, your body will react by becoming very strong and very balanced. This is about as commonly accepted a practice as I know in the fitness industry. But it's the mid-line endurance that is debatable. It is my theory that the best way to do this for the average person in the world, is to move your body under light loads for different periods of time.
But not any load, and not any movement mind you. For example: sled pushing and pulling is probably one of the best ways to build this strength/endurance, while extended deadlifitng and Olympic lifting is probably the worst. Does this mean you should never do high rep deadlifitng and/or Olympic lifting? Well, in my opinion, yeah, what the heck is the point? You can build the same level of gains by doing things that don't put your body at an incredibly high risk, so why not do all those? Deadlifting for more than 10 reps as a strength/stability/power exercise seems more like an attempt to try to hurt oneself rather than get stronger. You could row then plank then KB swing and get mostly the same effects while not putting your spine at such an extreme workload and risk. Instead of 30 clean and jerks for time, you could broad jump and push up and be training practically the same functions of the body while not demanding such extreme form breakdown and incredibly high risk. In the end, if your goal is general heath and fitness with the smallest risk of injury possible, it's not that hard to pursue. And you can do "CrossFit", or any other style of training that suits you. The main thing is simply paying attention to the work you're doing and asking a simple question: "why?". Why high rep Olympic lift? Why high rep power lift? Why kip certain movements? Why scale? Why focus purely on mobility rather than lifting heavy weights? Why lift heavy weights? Athletes should be asking this ALL THE TIME of their coaches. Coaches should be asking themselves this every single day they program something for someone.
And remember, not being able to clean and jerk 135# for 30 reps while putting yourself at an extremely high injury risk does not make you a bad athlete or person. And not being able to deadlift your body weight 45 times does not mean you are weak. If you are a competitive CrossFitter, yes, you need to do those things. If you are the average person, there really isn't a great argument for doing them in my opinion. Make one about power output, about increased work capacity, about mid-line stability over a 5 minute time domain, and I'll simply argue for a program that works the same muscles and functions without the risk. In my head it really does seem that simple.
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