Centerline Rule: Simplify Your Posture
Are there any original thoughts? Have we covered it all or are there thinkers out there who aren’t in the box? I know my friend David Weck in San Diego is changing the game of running, but if we focus on the basics of strength training, do we all vomit the same things as we add our special torch?
The reason I am asking is that while working with my population (13-18 years old) I have had to simplify and streamline a lot of my teaching in order to get what I need from them. Anyone of you who work in this demographic realizes that if you get too scientific, the boys will turn you off. I learned this the hard way.
So it was my job to distill the big words, find ways for the kids to understand the bigger concepts, and make rules. Then the boys can skillfully navigate through a training session and think independently.
Before we begin, let me acknowledge you as the Smarties who are reading this. What you are reading now applies to most of them.
Yes, because of something unique to them and they alone, there will be those who do this coaching inappropriately. Someone with an anatomical problem that forces some change in the rules presented may not be the perfect person for this.
But this teaching is for the masses.
This technique is intended for coaches like me who train large groups at the same time and see between 60 and 150 children per training session, every hour of every working day.
It’s rarely less than 60 bodies, and I’ll be training up to eight groups a day.
- I have to be efficient.
- I have to be precise.
- I need to simplify things where the vast majority can understand what I am asking.
- And I need them to solve problems independently.
Simplicity is the recipe.
Don’t share everything you know.
I know you are not a child, but you would be lying to both of us if you didn’t need permission on some things just yet. We do it with our government, our jobs, the law, even within the confines of our own homes. So what I’m about to tell you could set many of you free.
You have my permission not to share everything you know during the coaching.
“I see this all the time with young coaches. They are so excited about all the science they are consuming and all the new technological know-how that they want to vomit peacocks and words to vomit it all into their clientele.”
And what I’ve learned after almost 25 years is just telling them what they need to know to do what you want, how you want and nothing more.
If I need one of my high schoolers to pry their knees while squatting or pulling, I don’t have to give them a dissertation on why.
- Yes, I could write books about why it makes everything better, safer, and more powerful.
- I could give them the anatomical pros and cons and explain why it is structurally a superior approach to others on a clinical level.
- I can give detailed reasons and justifications that the innervation of the gluteal muscles first protects the spine and then drives the work into the motor of the hip.
But why should I do that? Just get your damn knees out – each rep.
If I can simplify, qualify, and streamline things so that my children know what I want and apply it at the right time, why go further? This article is just that.
It’s a lot of experience and over two decades of careful distillation into the simplest explanation that works 99% of the time.
All the goodies are in the middle line
In the center line are the goodies – eyes, throat, lungs, heart, diaphragm, viscera, and reproductive devices.
Any structures that are worthwhile and responsible for keeping you alive run along your center line.
The further you are from the center, the less critical it is.
If you’ve spent time practicing martial arts, especially Chinese styles, you will quickly learn to attack the center line.
If you want the fight to end, immediately crush somewhere on the center line.
Remove an eye, mash a throat, punch your knee in the diaphragm, or rake some testicles and watch your opponent pull back quickly.
There is also movement in the center line, especially sporting movement.
The best movers have uncanny control over their core (as much as I hate that word). Again, I use martial arts by default. Watch high-ranking fighters kick, throw punches and attack their opponent. As you slow down the video, you’ll see the middle section initiate winding and spiraling to create speed, power, and precision.
I trained the Chinese internals for a long time.
“The movement is based on the idea that an etheric pole runs through the body from the center of the top of the head, through the perineum and out of the perineum – the taiji pole drills to the center of the earth and anchors itself in the sky.”
Woo, woo sounds, I know. Once you get a feel for it and understand that it is very similar to one of the horses on a carousel and that you are effectively a kabob with a bar going through it. Your movement becomes cleaner, and your root becomes sturdy and powerful.
That control is why, when you see senior tai chi players move through their sequences, one of the things you notice is how balanced they look, how wonderful their posture is, and how they gain otherworldly control seem to have – it’s because they do.
If that’s too imaginative for you, consider your focus. As long as you have your center of gravity, things like balance become a little more under your control.
So we pan, crouch, push and pull the way we do. Remember to catch a clean one. Why is it so important to move our elbows through and up when catching a clean one? Those in the know know that there are probably dozens of possible answers.
The best thing, however, is to raise your elbows with the humerus parallel to the floor. Functionally, this puts the load of the bar right in the center of your body.
- In 90% of error-free failures, the charge is forward.
- 90% of these failures can be attributed to elbows pointing down.
The bar itself is in the front center of the body and effectively moves the lifter’s center of gravity in front of the body. The entire event results in the lifter either deflating or tumbling forward to regain balance.
It’s a hot mess that the lifter could have avoided if the lifter shot their elbows up as fast and as high as possible.
The importance of foot biomechanics
I’m not the type of guy who’s really into how the foot works, but I do know a few things. Anyone who disregards their feet, glazes over their role or doesn’t know how important the feet are, puts on handcuffs in every training situation.
I’m not saying you need to buy those creepy minimalist shoes or take a course on foot anatomy and biomechanics, but there are a few things you need to admit if you want to get the most out of your workout.
Yes, it would be helpful if you considered your shoes for the job in front of you.
No, you wouldn’t wear ice skates to run sprints, so you shouldn’t be wearing the new balloon shoes from any of the top dog shoe manufacturers for lifting.
Any closed chain exercise requires you and the floor to work together. The floor is your partner, and the more lint you have between the floor and your foot, the more separation you have between the mover and the movement.
The position you choose for your foot for a particular exercise sets the stage for the entire body moving up the chain.
Toes out, toes in, toes dead straight, all affect the structures, muscles and joints up to and probably beyond the thoracic spine. So a quirky approach to the position of your feet in space is like wearing flippers for hiking. Okay, I’ll stop the stupid analogies.
Your feet relate to the center line
Over the years I’ve had to simplify things so my lifters can move and solve problems and answer their questions. Sure, I don’t mind my athletes’ questions, but I won’t stand next to them every repetition for their entire life.
So part of my job is to help them develop a problem-solving toolkit for themselves.
“Coach, how much can I have for this exercise?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
The centerline rule is simple if you have your feet on or as close to the centerline where both feet touch. The toes should be straight.
The further you are from the center line, the more turnout you will get.
A great way to show them this is actually with your arms.
- Place your arms in front of you with your thumbs touching, then slowly move your arms to the sides without moving your wrists.
- At the beginning (* pressed on or directly into the center line) the fingers are absolutely straight.
- The slower you extend your arms, the more your fingers will tilt (from your point of view, where they are in space).
- And when you stretch your arms straight out to the sides (iron cross style), your fingers should be pointing directly outward.
This is the same thing with your feet in many ways. When I keep your feet together, your toes are practically straight ahead.
- When I take you to where we teach RDLs, the feet are just below the hips, almost straight and with a slight angling.
- When you crouch, your feet are just outside your hips but inside your shoulders and expand a little. We allow even more going out – 10-30 degrees is the permissible range.
- Then jump to a sumo stance. The feet are far apart and there is considerable leakage.
From feet together to the other end of the spectrum to sumo, the pose the exercise calls for instructs the lifter how many toes are allowed.
What I tell my kids about posture for a particular elevator is as follows:
- When you hear the word sumo in the name of exercise, it’s a broad stance that sticks out a ton.
- If it’s kettlebell ballistics, it’s between your sumo and your squat.
- When you hear the word squat in the name of the exercise, your posture in your preferred squat position begins with the toe rules already given above.
- Unless it’s kettlebell ballistics, or you don’t hear the word sumo or squat in the name of the exercise, you are almost always right to use the narrow feet below the hips with almost dead toes. This applies to RDLs, cleanses, deadlifts, and lunge variations.
It’s that simple. I give the children enough information to navigate the elevator. They have some firm but straightforward rules to remember.
I preoccupy them with the idea, “I’ll tell you once, and then you will be expected to apply this to everything.”
If you come to me and ask me where you want your feet to be, my answer is, “What is your centerline rule?”
If you paid attention to the explanation the first time and you know that the name of almost all the exercises gives you the answer to your question, you can answer it yourself.
I know I know it seems like a lot by the time you read this. But once you understand and accept the centerline rule, you can get into a room with 125 14 year olds approaching every set of every elevator in the correct posture – just like me.