Hollow Holds: Your Cheat Code for an Oh-So-Strong Core

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When it comes to core strength and stability, few exercises rival the effectiveness of hollow holds. As a personal trainer, this deceptively simple exercise is my go-to core-builder for any client, whether they’re a total beginner or a seasoned athlete.

Hollow holds engage the entire core, back to front, working the muscles responsible for maintaining a stable and strong midsection. With a solid hollow hold in your repertoire, you’ll see transferrable benefits to just about any other power movement, from levers to muscle-ups to kettlebell cleans.

Now, let’s get rocking! In this article, I’ll go over the mechanics of hollow holds, discuss the skills needed to perform them effectively, and highlight the numerous benefits they bring to your overall fitness routine.

How to Perform Hollow Holds

Executing a hollow hold requires proper form and body control, but most have a hard time finding it. Here’s my rule of thumb: if the hollow hold feels “too easy,” chances are good you have not sufficiently tapped into your deep core. 

Follow these steps to perform hollow holds with precision:

  • Starting Position: Lie on your back with your legs fully extended and arms reaching overhead. Keep your arms and legs straight, forming a straight line with your body.
  • Engage Your Core: Begin the movement by engaging your core muscles. Press your lower back into the floor, ensuring there is no gap between your lower back and the ground.
  • Lift Legs and Upper Body: Simultaneously lift your legs and upper body off the ground, creating a slight “U” shape with your body. Your arms should be reaching toward your feet, and your shoulder blades should be off the ground.
  • Maintain Form: Hold the position, focusing on keeping your core engaged and your lower back pressed into the floor. Ensure that your arms and legs remain straight and that your body maintains the “U” shape.
  • Hold and Breathe: Aim to hold the hollow position for a specific duration, such as 15-30 seconds initially. Focus on controlled breathing throughout the hold.
  • Lower and Rest: Lower your legs and upper body back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Rest briefly before repeating the exercise for multiple sets.

More advanced athletes may find that this exercise is a bit too easy for their liking. Although I find that this exercise is beneficial for everyone using only their body weight, you can ratchet up the difficulty by adding small handheld weights to the movement, or by holding a weight between your feet.

Skills Required for Hollow Holds

While hollow holds are suitable for individuals at various fitness levels, a foundation of core awareness and strength is crucial. Here are the skills required to perform hollow holds effectively:

  • Core Activation: Developing a strong mind-muscle connection with your core is key! Practice engaging your core muscles in isolation before attempting hollow holds to ensure proper activation during the exercise. A great way to practice your hollow hold is in a plank position: 
  • Body Awareness: Hollow holds require bodily awareness and control. Pay attention to your body position, ensuring that you maintain a straight line from head to toe throughout the exercise.
  • Stability: Building stability in the core is key. Incorporate other core-strengthening exercises such as plank holds and leg raises into your routine to complement and enhance your hollow hold practice.

Benefits of Hollow Holds

  • Comprehensive Core Engagement: Hollow holds target the entire core, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. This comprehensive engagement contributes to improved overall core strength and stability.
  • Improved Posture: Strengthening the core muscles with hollow holds can positively impact your posture. A strong core provides the necessary support for maintaining an upright and aligned body position.
  • Enhanced Athletic Performance: A strong core is fundamental for various athletic activities. Hollow holds contribute to improved functional fitness, helping you perform better in sports and other physical endeavors.
  • Reduced Risk of Lower Back Pain: By promoting a neutral spine and strengthening the core muscles, hollow holds may help reduce the risk of lower back pain. This exercise is particularly beneficial for individuals with sedentary lifestyles or those prone to back issues.

Hollowing Holds for Pregnancy and Postpartum Individuals

Developing your core after carrying a baby is so essential. Studies have shown that post-partum core exercises yield “highly statistically relevant improvement” in the mother’s quality of life after giving birth.

The hollow hold can be an advanced hold at first, but the dead bug and the breathing techniques used to execute a hollow body hold will be a great place to start. 

With the approval of your physician, I recommend performing these exercises a few times per week for a couple of minutes per day to reinforce the muscles needed for birthing or recovering from the delivery process.

How to Perform the Deadbug

  • Starting Position: Lie on your back with your legs stacked on top of your hips at a 90-degree angle and your arms outstretched like you’re going to shake someone’s hands. 
  • Engage Your Core: Begin the movement by engaging your core muscles with your breath. Exhale by pulling your belly button towards your spine and inhale when you reach your arm back behind you. If you’re not strong enough to keep your low back on the floor with the extension, keep all limbs stacked. Once you build the strength to extend limbs without your back coming off the floor, you can start to advance the movement. 
  • Hold and Breathe: Aim to hold the hollow position for a specific duration, such as 15-30 seconds initially. Focus on controlled breathing throughout the hold.
  • Lower and Rest: Lower your legs and upper body back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Rest for 20 to 30 seconds before repeating the exercise for three to four sets in total.

Hollow Holds: Your Go-To, At-Home Core Builder

Hollow holds are a fundamental and effective exercise for building core strength and stability. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or someone new to core training, incorporating hollow holds into your routine can lead to improved posture, enhanced athletic performance, and a stronger, more resilient midsection.

Start with the basics, focus on maintaining the proper form I outlined above, and gradually progress as you build strength in your core stabilizer muscles and become more confident in your ability to perform this important exercise.

For more key exercises to add to your core workout routine, here are some other mind-blowing movements to get your abs in top shape:

Thanks for reading, Gymless Heroes, and good luck with this fairly simple yet super effective ab exercise. If you need any further assistance with building your core strength, or simply want to get more personalized advice for developing your fitness skills, feel free to book a 30-minute consultation with me today.

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