There are many reasons why people work their core besides the goal to get and flaunt chiseled abs. We all use our core muscles daily in lifting, walking, or simply standing upright, which means working on your core is imperative. So if your goal is to lose weight or get fit, you need to add core exercises to your workout plan. One of the best core moves in most trainers’ plans is the hollow hold. It is a staple amongst gymnasts and fitness gurus. In this article, we dig deep to better understand the hollow hold crossfit staple move.
What Is A Hollow Hold?
A hollow hold is an example of an isometric exercise that entails flexing your abdominal muscles while maintaining a static position (1). In a nutshell, you perform this move when lying flat on your back. Then, you lift your arms overhead and your shoulder blades off the ground. After that, you lift your lower body with a posterior pelvic tilt. All along, you are required to actively engage your core, even during the hold.
What Muscles Do Hollow Hold Work?
The hollow hold is mainly performed as a core-strengthening exercise. It is an intermediate to advanced level exercise that primarily works your core (1). However, it also works the following muscle groups (2):
- Hip flexors
- Rectus and transverse abdominals
- Internal and external obliques
- Inner thighs
- Erector spinae
What Are The Benefits Of Hollow Body Holds?
For several reasons, the hollow hold crossfit move has become a staple in most crossfit classes.
Some of these include:
Great Way To Build Core Strength And Stability
You need to look no further if you are looking for core-strengthening workouts. It primarily activates the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques (2).
The hold stabilizes the center of your body and the lower back muscles. A strengthened and stable core and lower back make it easy to perform everyday activities like carrying your groceries. Additionally, stability boosts your athletic performance when performing activities such as running.
Paves Way For Compound Movements
Hollow body holds are also effective if you are looking to ease your way to performing compound movements like the handstands and pull-ups. By strengthening and stabilizing your core, the hollow hold forms the foundation of these more complex moves.
Builds Strong Hips
Although a hollow hold is not a hip-focused move, it helps strengthen your hip flexors. The hip flexors are the muscles that run across the front of your pelvis. They play an integral role in the stability of your spine and pelvis.
What happens is that during the hold, your hip flexors are thoroughly worked to help keep your legs elevated and stable in mid-air (3). Although it seems effortless, it is pretty challenging, especially for those who spend many hours sitting. This is because, with time, these muscles become tight and weak.
Improves Your Posture
Most guidebooks on how to improve your posture recommend developing strong hip flexors and core stability. This is due to the reason that these two muscle groups play a vital role in posture improvement.
For example, strong abdominal muscles help support your spine and align your hips properly. So, when you perform a hollow hold, you actively engage these muscle groups. As a result, you build stability in your pelvis and back, helping you maintain a good posture when sitting or standing.
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Do Hollow Body Holds Build Abs?
Yes, they do. Most evidence suggests that hollow holds are a core-strengthening workout (1). It primarily builds strength and stabilization in your abs because you actively engage your abdominal muscles throughout the exercise.
You exert so much pressure to press your lower back to the floor in the move. As a result, maximum tension is experienced through your abdominal muscles, which helps you build a steady core (4).
How To Perform A Hollow Body Hold?
To get the most out of this workout, you need to focus on the correct form and technique.
Here is a step by step guide detailing how to perform a hollow body hold (1):
- Start by lying down on the floor with your legs fully stretched and your arms by your sides. You are also advised to lie on something comfortable like a yoga mat.
- Press your lower back into the floor to make sure there is zero space between your back and the floor.
- Contract your abdominal muscles, then raise your legs 2 to 3 inches above the floor. The height may vary, so make sure you adjust as needed without lifting your lower back off the floor.
- Raise your head about 1 to 2 inches off the floor, then stretch your arms overhead and behind you. Make sure you do not tuck your chin into your chest. Additionally, be sure to press the lower back into the floor.
- Maintain the hold for 10 to 30 seconds, or as long as possible, without disrupting your form.
- Slowly lower your legs and shoulders to the floor, rest for seconds, and then repeat.
Do You Need Any Equipment To Perform A Hollow Hold?
If you are looking to increase the intensity of this move, you may be interested in incorporating some weights. However, can you perform a hollow hold with weights? If so, which ones?
Evidence shows you can, but remember that a hollow hold is an excellent home exercise that requires no equipment. So, you can perform it without weights and still reap all the associated benefits of a hollow hold.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that weights are not recommended for beginners. Instead, they are advised to perform the regular variation without weights until they master the correct technique.
But, if your trainer agrees, you can add the intensity of your hold by holding a kettlebell or dumbbells during the exercise. Be sure to use comfortable loads to avoid excessive straining as it is injurious (5).
Read More: Agility Exercises At Home For Beginners
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing A Hollow Hold
Why can’t I do a hollow hold? That is a question you will find yourself asking if you cannot do a hollow hold. However, are you not doing the right thing or you simply cannot do it? It has to do with not maintaining the correct form in many cases.
Unfortunately, some people “modify” this hold and do the wrong thing. As a result, they risk injuring themselves or experiencing pain in different areas. It is worth noting that you should not modify any exercise without consulting a professional.
Moreover, learn the correct technique before trying out any variations.
With that said, here are the common mistakes to look out for when performing a hollow hold:
Arching Your Back
A hollow hold aims to target the anterior part of your core or the front part of your body by holding your body in a static stance. So make sure you resist arching your lower back. But again, this is easier said than done amongst most people. You find that most people arch their backs, especially when they get tired from the hold.
The effect of arching your lower back is lower back pain (2). In order to avoid this, you are advised to keep your body in a static position without arching your back. If your back starts to arch during the hold, slowly bring your knees back in– one leg at a time. The idea is to get both legs out and give you a starting point for correcting this.
Hyperextending Your Neck
The other common mistake that you will find most people making when performing a hollow hold is hyperextending their necks. This is wrong! The correct technique requires you to keep your chin tucked in towards your chest.
Therefore, if you find yourself extending your neck or unable to control the movement of your head from falling towards the ground, stop and rest for a bit. The more you continue with the hold, the more you risk straining your neck.
Fixating Your Shoulder Blades On The Floor
The other highly ignored aspect when performing a hollow hold exercise is the shoulder positioning. Unfortunately, most people keep their shoulders on the ground throughout the movement. However, the correct technique requires you to lift your shoulder blades off the floor (4). It will require you to contract your core muscles enough to get this momentum. So, contract them until getting your shoulder blades off the floor is easy. Nevertheless, remember that the lift is not a significant gap between your body and the ground.
Holding Your Breath
You find that most people hold their breath when performing exercises requiring you to stay in a static position for a while, such as planks and hollow holds. Unfortunately, holding your breath during such moves does you no good.
Instead, when you hold your breath during a hollow hold, it makes it more challenging to brace your core correctly. As a result, you do not thoroughly work your abdominal muscles or sustain the tension in your abs.
So, instead of holding your breath, you are advised to focus on taking deep breaths (3). Again, avoid shallow breathing as it has the same effects as holding your breath. On the flip side, deep breaths make it easier to engage your core muscles and hold the hollow hold for a longer duration. Additionally, it makes your muscles work harder and demand a consistent oxygen flow, which is what you want.
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Hollow Hold Variations
Once you have mastered the regular hollow hold crossfit move, you may need an extra challenge from the same exercise. Luckily, there are more intense variations that you can perform to be further challenged.
Like the standard hollow hold move, the key is to maintain the correct form. So, focus on keeping a neutral spine regardless of the variation. Please stop performing an exercise if you experience any pain.
When you have mastered the hollow hold, try these progressions. If you rotate too much or flex your torso, you’re not ready for that particular exercise.
Weighted Hollow Hold
As the name suggests, you perform the weighted hollow body with weights. Adding weight to any exercise makes it more challenging due to the increased intensity. Additionally, it makes your muscles work more– and the extra straining makes the muscles develop to their full extent.
However, do not expect the exercise to be as easy as the standard hollow hold. The extra loads will throw off your stability, making your core muscles work harder to stabilize. So, to perform this move, you will need a weighted plate.
You will follow the steps detailed above to perform a standard hollow body hold (1). The only addition is that you will be required to hold a weight plate with your arms fully extended.
Hollow Hold With Chest Fly
This variation is recommended for advanced exercises only due to its complexity. The extra challenge is due to the incorporation of the chest fly exercise. It makes it challenging to maintain your stability as you open your arms out to the side, hence the increased complexity. However, it further targets and works your pectoral muscles.
To perform it:
- Lie on your back with your chin pointing towards your chest. Take deep breaths, and then push your abdominal wall into the floor.
- Stretch your legs straight and position one foot or both off the ground. Make sure your legs are close together and your toes are pointing out.
- Stretch your arms straight to your sides but maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
- While maintaining the hollow hold, bring your hands together above your chest. Remember to also maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
- Open your arms to the sides, then slowly return to the center.
Who Can Do Hollow Holds?
Hollow holds are mostly recommended for individuals in the advanced fitness level (1). This is because it demands intense core contraction to sustain and hold the move, which some beginners may lack.
However, some beginners can perform the hold, but under the supervision of their trainer. Unlike intermediate and advanced exercisers, beginners cannot hold for an extended duration.
So, beginners are advised to start by lifting their legs slightly higher or bending their knees and holding their shins parallel to the floor. It makes the exercise easier yet more challenging to perform. With time, you can lower your legs to perform the standard hollow hold technique without any beginner modification.
Are Hollow Holds Better Than Planks?
If you are looking for the best core-strengthening exercise, you might have come across the debate of the hollow hold and the plank. There are numerous online and offline questions and discussions about the best core workout between the plank and hollow hold.
Typically, the two exercises are different, but they help with the same fitness goal– strengthening your core. The difference between the two exercises lies in their technique. You perform front planks while facing down, but a hollow body hold when facing up (3).
Additionally, although the two target your abdominal muscles, the hollow hold also targets muscles, such as your hip flexors and transverse muscles (3). Typically, planks are considered easier to practice than hollow holds when assessing the difficulty level.
How Long Should You Hold A Hollow Hold?
Although the hollow hold has numerous benefits, it can be challenging to hold, especially for beginners. Due to this, fitness experts recommend that beginners start with short holds. These holds can last from 5 to 10 seconds, or more, so long as you maintain the correct form (3).
However, if you are in the intermediate or advanced level, you may maintain the standard hollow hold for a minute. Talk to your trainer to determine such a duration instead of formulating one yourself. Again, remember to rest in between sets.
Key Pointers About The Hollow Hold Crossfit Move
Here is a summary of what you have just read about this killer abdominal exercise:
- A hollow hold is a static abdominal exercise.
- It mainly targets your core muscles but also works your shoulders, lower back, and leg muscles.
- You must perform it when lying on your back, but never arch your back during the hold.
- Training frequently with this hold can improve core stability and posture, build strong hips, and make the transition to compound exercise easier.
- You must switch to an easier modification if you cannot maintain tension or engage your core muscles during the hold.
- You can add weight or try more challenging variations, preferably after mastering the basic technique.
The Bottom Line
The hollow hold crossfit exercise is one of the most challenging yet rewarding core exercises. However, it has been modified for all fitness levels if you want to give your core an intense workout.
Doing it thoroughly can help you build core stability, stronger hips, and improved posture. It also makes it easy to transition to more demanding exercises. It would be best to consult before adding this move to your workout plan. Moreover, take your time and learn the correct technique before trying any variation.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Best Exercises for Men’s Abs (2020, webmd.com)
- Comparison of the Effects of Hollowing and Bracing Exercises on Cross-sectional Areas of Abdominal Muscles in Middle-aged Women (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Influence of Abdominal Hollowing Maneuver on the Core Musculature Activation during the Prone Plank Exercise (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Move of the week: how to strengthen your abs (2021, theguardian.com)
- Physiological and Fitness Adaptations after Eight Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training in Physically Inactive Adults (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)