Learn The Gymnasts' Secret Exercise For A Stronger Core

Ab exercise for a stronger core

Hollow Body Hold: The Absolute Best Exercise For Your Abs

Next up in my “Exercises You Should Be Doing” series is the Hollow Body Hold. At first glance you may just think of this as a simple core exercise, but after you give it a shot I’m sure you’ll want to make this one a staple in your regular workout routine!
The Hollow Body Hold (sometimes also referred to as the Hollow Rock) comes to us from the sport of gymnastics. Gymnasts are taught early on how to perform and utilize the Hollow Body Hold to brace the abdominal muscles and create tension throughout the body, which then carries over to many of the movements in the sport.
While the Hollow Body Hold may not be known as a common gym exercise, I would rank it above the more popular core-focused moves such as crunches, planks and sit-ups. The HBH not only does a great job of building overall strength and stability through the core area of the body, but it also carries over to help you perform well in other movements.
Hollow Body Holds allow you to efficiently transfer force from your upper body to your lower body. So, as you become stronger and better able to perform this exercise, you’ll notice a big carryover into your overall performance on movements such as running/sprinting, squatting, pushing, pulling, throwing, hitting, and kicking. So not only is it a great move for the general fitness enthusiast, but also for the competitive athlete.

How To Do The Hollow Body Hold:

Before jumping right into the full Hollow Body Hold position, I typically have clients use a 3 position progression so they can master some of the key components of the HBH.

Level 1:

Level 1 has you starting on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your arms extended to the outside of each thigh. The key to level 1 is learning how to push your low back into the floor and create tension throughout the abdominal area of your body. I like to refer to this as “setting the abs.” Once you push the low back into the floor (set the abs) you want to be sure to maintain that position and not allow any space to develop between your low back and the floor. When you can hold this position for a good 30-60 seconds it’s time to progress to level 2.

Hollow Body Hold Level 1

Hollow Body Hold Level 1

Level 2:

Level 2 has you extending your legs straight out while still maintaining the same arm position you used in level 1. Again, focus on keeping that low back pressed into the floor and packing your ribs down toward your hips. Once you can hold this position for 30-60 seconds, you’re ready for the real thing – the full Hollow Body Hold.

Hollow Body Hold Level 2

Hollow Body Hold Level 2

Level 3:

Level 3 of the Hollow Body Hold now has you adding in the overhead reach with the arms. This will obviously make it much tougher to maintain that low back into the floor position, but you have to really squeeze your middle and stay tight throughout the duration of the exercise. At this level your body should have a slight U shape….very much like the bottom of a rocking chair. Hold for 30-60 seconds and be sure to maintain that good solid squeeze throughout the middle of your body.

Hollow Body Hold Level 3

Hollow Body Hold Level 3

Here are a few key points to focus on when performing the Hollow Body Hold:

  • Holding the HBH for 20-30 seconds will be very difficult at first, but you will quickly build endurance and strength.
  • Shoot for holding the position for 30-60 seconds…be sure to choose the level that’s appropriate for you and then progress when you’re ready.
  • HBH’s can be done between sets of other exercises (squats, bench press, etc.) or you can perform 4-5 sets in a 30 seconds on/30 seconds off format.
  • Try to exhale deeply as you first go into the packed position and “set the abs.”
  • You can make the exercise a bit more difficult by trying to point the toes out when the legs are extended.
  • Once you master the full Hollow Body Hold, you can take it to a new level of difficulty by adding a slight rocking motion (like a rocking chair).
  • If you’re looking to strengthen your core area and move better, I challenge you to give the Hollow Body Hold a shot during your next workout. You’ll quickly benefit from this simple, but highly effective exercise!

About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.

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