Midline Stabilization Part 1

By Kelly Starrett

In ExPhysiology, Videos

December 25, 2008

Video Article

Midline stabilization is essential for effective functional movement. Kelly Starrett, of San Francisco CrossFit, explains the essential anatomy and physiology of it in this excerpt from his one day seminar at CrossFit Santa Cruz on November 9, 2008.

The midline is the entire spine, and its stability is dependent not just on the core, but also on all the prime movers of the body, including the hip, glutes, and hamstrings. Excessive tightness in any of the prime movers will affect the core muscles, often resulting in low back pain.

Another key point of the lecture is that it’s essential to develop competency in ideal movement so that we establish a functional tolerance to remain safe in the compromised positions that real world activities often require.

This is the first of a series from Kelly on the theory and practice of stabilizing the midline in functional movement.

9min 43sec

Free Download


19 Comments on “Midline Stabilization Part 1”


wrote …

Love his clips. He's got a real talent for teaching and explaining concepts. Good stuff.


wrote …

He mentioned tight hips leading to lower back pain. Can anyone suggest ways to loosen the hips? Not necessarily a pre-workout stretch, but maybe stretches and/or exercises that will loosen the hips progressively and permanently.


replied to comment from Robert Laken


Hurdle walks...set up about to hurdles at a height right below your waist (or as high as possible), and then walk over them. Do this methodically and try to maintain proper posture (avoiding leaning). WARNING! There is a risk to the jewels bumping a hurdle, be cautious.

One other thing that has really helped me is self myofascial release. Sit with one cheek on a firm foam roller or small, firm med ball. Gently, roll the area. You are trying to roll and stretch the pirifomis here. You can find a lot of information on the web about this. Hope it helps. It has done wonders for my SI issues.


wrote …

Louie Simmons recommends pushing your stomach out into your belt when power lifting. Is he wrong?


wrote …

Amazing bits of information there. More K-Star please!


wrote …

K-Star always delivers quality content. I second the motion for more K-Star!


wrote …

Great stuff! I am currently preparing for a National Cert that will go un-named. While I don't put a ton of value on the cert itself the good thing about it is I am finally buckling down on the foundational science behind what we do (Anatomy, Kinesiology, Bioenergetics, Biomechanics, etc) and am actually really beginning to nerd out over it. Just what I've picked up so far has made me a better trainer and a more conscious athlete. So this video is SUPER exciting and throw my voice in support for more vids from Kelly! His seminar sounds awesome!

Btw, if you aren't checking the Crossfit San Francisco blog you should as Kelly posts some great stretches and articles there. He has a great one on quads and their relation to knee pain right now and his recent article on calf stretching has been incredibly helpful.

Happy Holidays


wrote …

As one of his athletes, I can honestly say that he is awesome. Incredibly talented individual who is just a brilliant coach and an even better PT. I feel extremely lucky to work with him.


wrote …

This looks like what I need. Thanks to Crossfit and some dedicated Friends, I have dropped 80 lbs in the last year. BUT now dealing with lower back pain and sciatica , I have backed off from working out and started gaining weight again. Hopefully, I can focus on proper form and power on through to next level of fitness...and yes, food intake issues...


wrote …

Kelly sounds like a CHEK Practitioner. I do not agree/dis-agree with his lecture. The concept of co-contraction is what I try to teach to my students. By drawing in the abdominal wall you create segmental stabilization in the Lumbar spine via the lateral pull on the Thoraco-lumbar Fascia which inserts to the transverse processes of the Lumbar Vertebrae. Their is a trade off with the hollowing out(drawing in) versus bracing concept. Bracing is a contraction of the Rectus Abdominus, which has no attachments to the spine. If you could imagine a ship with guy-wire system supporting a mast and attaching to the Bow and Stern. If you were to anchor the guy-wire attachments closer to the mast(drawing in the abdominal wall) there would be less support. The more obtuse the angle of the triangle, the more stability the system will have. I think you need co-contraction of the TVA and the Rectus Abdominus for maximum support. 10% contraction of the deep stabilizers to ensure Lumbar Stiffness and A good strong Bracing of the Rectus and External Oblique for High Tension Lifts. Martial Arts always teaches a brace during transference of force during Punching,Kicking, and Defending. This should be a heates debate


wrote …

A better example is the box description. Suppose you were to kick in the front of a box as you were putting weight on top of it, Do you think the box would be able to support that weight? Probably not. Look in to Stuart McGill. He seems to be an authority on the issue


replied to comment from Luis Figueroa

If you're using a belt pushing out increases intra-abdominal pressure resulting in a more stable spine (or so the theory goes). If you are looking for max lifts or power lifting I’d go with Louie’s advice. If you’re looking for purely “Functional” strength I’d go without the belt (raw lifting). Stuart McGill speaks and writes about “bracing” the spine not pulling in (think about bracing for a punch), stiffen all the muscles in the midsection prior to a lift and maintain position to protect the back. The tranverse abdominus is used in this but don’t concentrate on “pulling in” instead keep it stiff.

Powerlifting - max strength using a belt. Raw lifting max stength without a belt (lower than Powerlifting). It all depends on your goals, are you competing in Powerlifting or maximizing strength for other activities.


replied to comment from Robert Laken

For Robert:
We have a hip movement preparation piece in the pipeline.
There is a ton of good hip preparation stuff out there. Hurdler walks are certainly a good start. Start thinking about how you can spend some active movement in all your available hip ranges prior to your workout. For example:
Duck walk (pigs-on-ice-skates), groiners, High step ups, extreme range walking lunges, hurdle walks and ducking the same hurdle, overhead squat bottom holds with torso rotation, dynamic leg swings. etc.

Good luck,



replied to comment from Michael Arseneau

Hi Mike,
I agree absolutely that we should be teaching peak trunk co-contraction/bracing during movements that require maximal stabilization. While near limit trunk tension/bracing isn't practicable for longer than a few seconds, being able to quickly cycle in and out of that tension is vital.

It is a mistake to focus soley on TA recruitment and doing so should be left to the realm of low level back retraining in the clinic. My belly button to spine cue is only one portion of our trunk stabilization stategy, along with peak belly contraction, breath holding, etc.

We are interested here only, in increasing our athlete's work capacities by way of a more efficient and stable spine. I see countless examples however, of athletes that use abdominal/trunk wall, prime mover co-contraction in lieu of very dysfunctional deeper layer stabilization. Do we require rectus/external-oblique/etc recruitment for high power functional movements? Absolutely. Do we also want the deeper layer muscles to co-function with those big prime movers? You bet.
Cueing a belly button in position at the very least accomplishes several tasks (and I don't mean I'm sucking in my belly like I'm at the beach):
1) It renders the leverage of the rectus to be more advantageous.
2) It facilitates a smaller trunk cyclinder which allows for more intra-abdominal pressures during valsava/breath lock/etc.
3) It ties down the other end of the thoraco-dorsal fascia. This is why we cue lat retraction during glute hams for example.

But you are correct in that too many people make too much of the TA. It's only one part of the greater trunk stabilizing system.
Kicking in the "front of the box" metaphor refers to a poorly stabilized anterior trunk.
TBut try having the front of the box bulge OUT and see if it will also collapse. . You bet it does. This is the problem with a push the belly out cue. The belly will naturally bow out during full compression as in the bottom of the squat. God forbid there is no belt stopping it. Good abdominal bracing causes the spine to lengthen, not shorten as what happens in an active belly out movement. Cueing abdomin in AND tight is not any different than cuing the active hip in the squat. How many times have we seen the correction of rib cage in and down during overhead movements?

McGill has some excellent thinking on this stuff, true. However, the bulk of his time is spent in clinic, not in gym. He also calls the back extension machine the "herniator". Additionally, he is also an advocate of serious abdominal retrainnig/conditioning/movement-regrooving prior to beginning any exercise.
His thinking about spinal dysfunction is excellent, the application towards elite level fitness may leave something to be desired. Our movement screens are the movements themselves. We don't need to test your abdominal bracing capacity on the floor, I need to see you perform any of the elemental Crossfit movements.

Bottom line, I think it is great that you are talking about abdominal bracing with your athletes. For the record, I'm not a Chek practictioner (I'm not ever sure what that means besides being certed by Paul Chek). I started San Francisco Crossfit in 2005, and THEN I got a clinical doctorate in physio-therapy from a school that teaches the Australian approach to manual therapy.

More importantly, I'm not really interested in arguing about techniques and theories. Like you I am only interested in observable, measurable, and repeateable outcomes. I don't really care about protecting the spine, I care about increasing work capacity. Fortunately these things are one and the same.

Please give me a call anytime to discuss these ideas.


Kelly Starrett


replied to comment from Thomas Meehan

Mr. Meehan implies that there are either competitive powerlifters who wear a belt, or there are functional strength lifters who don't. This is a rather artificial and arbitrary distinction, one that ignores the fact that under very heavy weights the trunk musculature works harder with a belt on than it can without one, because the belt provides a surface against which the abs can react to produce a harder contraction. It cannot work without the active participation of the trunk musculature. Does Mr. Meehan actually think that the abs go to sleep under 405 x 5 with a belt on? Is there a case to be made that strength gained above the level at which a belt is worn is not "functional" strength? If a firefighter takes his squat up to 505 x 5 with a belt, is everything above 355, where he puts his belt on, wasted and useless to him in the field? I respectfully suggest that until one has squatted heavy weights both with and without a belt, not all the information necessary to evaluate this claim is available. I personally wear a belt above 225 due to several decades of accumulated back injuries, and if only competitive powerlifters wear a belt, I guess I can either stop squatting or enter a meet, neither of which I choose to do. And if you have a client that wants to wear a belt on heavy squat day, would it be prudent for you as a trainer to insist on pristine functional beltless training under all circumstances - especially if the client hurts her back that day after your insistence on purity of function? Black/white thinking is seldom useful in nuanced situations, and this is one of those.

I recently saw a similar comment regarding Bill Starr's recommendation that a belt be worn during heavy presses. I assure you that there is a good reason to wear a belt when heavy weights are lifted, and arguing against this is simply arguing against the safe lifting of heavy weights. If there is a reason to lift heavy, there is probably a good reason to wear a belt too. And if your argument is that we do not need to be stronger than the weights we can lift without a belt can make us, because we don't wear a belt when we use the strength "functionally", I would say that this reflects a poor understanding of the merits of strength.


wrote …

Midline stabilization is a key component in hatha yoga as well. Years ago, yogis learned about the importance of certain areas of the body which spread energy along internal pathways. These 3 nodes called bandas are areas to engage during the entire practice of a series of postures. The description of pulling in your belly button to the spine equates to engaging the Uddiyana banda. Pulling the anus up into the pelvis is analogous to the Mula banda. The third banda is Jalandhara banda or chin lock. The yogic reason to focus on the bandas is to not only protect the spin and musculature but to serve as a pump to radiate prana (energy) throughout the rest of the body. I find that I experience a "brightness" of the mind when I squat heavy weight that is probably a combination of blood rushing to my head as well as an opening of internal energy channels.


wrote …

Quick question on the "contraction/breath holding" concept for moving heavy loads: I recently had a inguinal hernia repair and the doc said holding your breath during heavy lifts could lead to hernia in any athlete. This isn't how I was injured, but he recommended not to do this. Was he incorrect? Or should only people prone to this injury avoid this technique?


replied to comment from Luis Figueroa

three word...Dr. Stuart McGill


wrote …

is it just me or does the ipod file seem corrupted?

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