When it comes to calisthenics the hollow body position is often overlooked in the beginning or laughed at. What are a tensed core and pointed toes worth – despite maybe reflecting some weird dudes’ tastes on aesthetics?
Fortunately, it’s not purely aesthetics. If that was the case, I better spend my time more wisely, than writing a thousand words about it.
There is a reason high-level gymnasts, professional performers, and acrobats put such an emphasis on it.
This post shall clarify why the hollow body is beneficial for your training, even if you have absolutely no ambitions on competing, what this position should look like, and how to incorporate it into your training.
You see, after us walking through it, you are a hollow body pro.1 So let’s not waste much more time with this intro and get to work!
What does the hollow body hold look like?
You will look like a dish plate from the side – that’s why dish is another name for this exercise.
The hollow body is a position of tension. Your whole body is tensed – not that strong that you think you might pass out, but comfortably tensed.
It should look somewhat like the image on the right.
Ribs and Pelvis in
These two motions tense your abs and consequently your arms and legs rise slightly upwards:
- I like to think of pulling both, your pelvis and ribcage, towards your belly button.
- When doing so you should feel your lumbar spine evenly touching the ground.
- Later on, this cue will get second thought.
When straightening your legs and getting your arms overhead you want to avoid losing that tension and arching your low back at all costs. It is an indicator of missing strength or your mind being somewhere else.
This is the most important part when it comes to the hollow body hold.
If this position is too hard – bent legs or straddled legs are totally fine, as long as you pull your ribs and pelvis in.
Legs squeezed together
By squeezing your legs together you additionally create more tension by using your adductors.2 As previously, this shouldn’t be an all-out, its-soon-going-to-cramp squeeze. Rather, squeeze with intent.
There are variations when this cue might not be valid – take dynamic or straddled versions for example. In these cases, this is not doable. In all other cases where your legs stay together – squeeze them.
The godfather of all cues.
If you don’t point your toes, you are a wasted example of creation walking the surface of Earth. A shame creeping the eternal face of reality.
Alright, after we’re ready self-pitying ourselves let’s get on…
Pointing your toes creates some additional tension. But more important it looks aesthetically pleasing. That’s why you shouldn’t overstress this cue. Later on, it can help you stay onto your hands as one solid unit.
Arms elevated overhead
The same as above also applies here. If getting both arms overhead is too hard for you, you can decrease the angle of them pointing upwards.
Getting your arms overhead in a lightly tensed and controlled matter completes the hollow body hold. One thing to watch out when getting your arms overhead is to avoid arching your lower back and losing the core tension created there in the first place.
Why is the hollow body hold so beneficial?
Learn to create core tension throughout the entire body
The hollow body hold teaches you how to use your abs properly to create stability. Besides rotating in various directions and compressing, stiffening is another important function of your entire core.
Being stiff is important for a lot of reasons. Think of tumbling moves, handstands, deadlifts, or even carrying groceries. You really don’t want your abs to fail and while carrying a barrel of precious ale up the stairs.
Prerequisite for many more advanced moves down the line
The hollow body is a pretty basic position. It is easy and accessible to anyone. That’s why it is a great position to really own for more complicated moves:
- Think of the front lever – it is the same position just with the additional challenge of pulling yourself in this position.
- Or the handstand – same, but more vertical. By staying tensed3 you secure that staying on your hands is doable.
- Or dragon flags, and many more…
More tension = More power
Here comes the most interesting point:
- More tension equals more power upwards and downwards the chain.
In theory, you should be stronger when performing pullups, while being in a hollow body position with proper core tension, compared to when just hanging there relaxed.
The theory goes as follows: when the joints above or below the one you wanna use are tensed you can create more force there.
Great hollow body = more gains? Might be worth a try!
Fairly easy to train
The hollow body is variable as ***. There are TONS of variations:
- perform simply the hollow body hold progressions suiting your ability for hold time
- use some dynamic variations: like Jackknives, Lying Leg Raises, Candlestick Rolls, getting from a Hollow Body into an L-Sit, Crocodile Rolls
…and there are TONS of uses, too:
- as a core exercise itself
- as a stability warmup to prime these muscles
- as a finisher to try killing yourself
Let’s take a detailed look at the different hollow body holds
Basic Hollow Body Hold Progressions
First off, there are the basic progression levels, all aiming at increasing the difficulty through added leverage4:
- These would be the Tuck, Straddle, One-Legged and Full Hollow Body Hold.
By extending your legs and arms further your core has to work harder to maintain the pelvis in/ribs down position. If these get too easy – added weight with ankle weights* or holding weightplates* with your arms is a great alternative, too!
Second, you can compress. By compression, I mean trying to get your legs all the way to your belly. Here you will find most of the different exercises. There are a LOT.
- Jackknifes, lying leg raises or single-legged variations
Last but not least, there are more complex combinations. These are what I call dynamics because they simply cover a wide range of positions – that’s why I separated them.
Great examples are:
- Candlestick to Hollow Body Hold to Pike Compression
- Pancake to Straddle Hollow Body Hold to Inverted Straddled Pike
- Crocodile Rolls
Not your entire life has to happen hollowed…
The hollow position is just a rough framework. Of course, it is beneficial, but you don’t have to beat yourself up if your it breaks when trying to hit harder hollow body hold progressions or being fatigued as ***.
Think of the strict hollow body on each rep as the top of the iceberg for those really serious. The additional 2% of performance. The proverbial cherry on the top. As long as you aren’t a competitive gymnast-to-be or wanna go on stage it isn’t THAT super-duper important.
Nonetheless, I would incorporate it as early as possible until it gets second though. Problem solved.
What are your thoughts on this basic position – the arch holds partner-in-crime? Any ground I haven’t covered yet, but you wish I had?
Leave me a comment – I am open to suggestions and opinions!
Until then and stay hollowed,
Sources and further reading:
- I really like these two YouTube Tutorials by Sid Paulson and GMB Fitness on the hollow body hold. Each shows slightly different things – one more strictly gymnastics-focussed, the other more on the average Joe.
- The most common mistakes can be found in this Video by FitnessFAQs.
- My own experience and pain holding this exercise for hours.
- *Vanity off*
- In fact, tensioning your adductors creates a lot of stability up the kinetic chain. It is also a great cue for handstands, too!
- There is no need to stay insanely tensed in a handstand – you wouldn’t do that if standing upright on your feet, wouldn’t you? Why do that while standing on your hands? But some tension is needed to not be a wobbly mess.
- Manipulating the Lever is a common technique to make calisthenics exercises harder or easier – most of the time the only one you can use