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March 09, 2023 7 min read

Hollow holds are an essential exercise for any workout routine and are great for improving core strength, stability, and body awareness. Not only do they help improve posture, but they also help build overall strength and stability throughout the body.

This article will discuss the importance of hollow holds, their benefits, how to perform them, and how they can help improve your overall fitness.

What is the Hollow Hold Exercise?

The hollow hold is an isometric exercise that helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles. An isometric core exercise involves holding a static position to challenge the core muscles, such as a plank or wall sit.

This exercise can be done as part of a warm-up or as part of a strength training routine.

Core strength is vital for fitness, injury prevention, and movement, and hollow holds teach you to create stability in your trunk.

Hollow Hold - Image from Shutterstock

A hollow hold is a bodyweight exercise providing a great way to practice and improve your ab bracing abilities, which is essential in most exercises. It involves contracting your abdominal muscles, which helps to stabilize your lower back and keep it in its natural arch. This action slightly pulls your ribs towards your pelvis, while flexing the muscles in your stomach.

Benefits of the Hollow Hold Exercise

Hollow holds are an effective exercise for strengthening and stabilizing the core muscles. This exercise can be done in a variety of ways and has a range of benefits, including:

Improved Core Strength and Stability: The hollow hold exercise strengthens your core muscles, which helps stabilize your spine and torso and improve your overall body strength.

Improved Balance and Posture: The hollow hold exercise helps you maintain good posture and balance while performing other exercises.

Improved Flexibility: The hollow hold exercise can improve your flexibility by stretching and strengthening your abdominal muscles.

Improved Body Awareness: The hollow hold exercise helps to increase your body awareness, which is important for improving your overall performance in physical activities.

Improved Endurance: The hollow hold exercise can help improve your overall endurance and stamina by strengthening your muscles and improving your breathing efficiency.

Activates Deep Core Muscles: The hollow hold is one of the most effective methods of engaging the Transverse abdominus muscle, which is a deep core muscle that gives the spine stability, in the drawn-in position.

Lumbar Protection: A strong core provides a secure base of support which enables you to produce powerful movements with your torso and limbs while at the same time protecting your spine.

Progression: Mastering the technique to properly brace your core by performing a hollow hold is essential for many of the more advanced calisthenic movements. It gives you the base to begin progressing in calisthenics, from the more basic exercises like pushups and pull-ups to one-arm pull-ups, front lever raises, planches and planche push-ups, and other advanced calisthenic movements, and also the more difficult gymnastic movements like muscle-ups, handstands, and backflips.

The hollow hold exercise and its progressions are a safe and effective way to build deep, functional core strength.

Best part? It targets every layer of your trunk muscles and more!

Muscles Targeted when Performing Hollow Holds

The hollow hold exercises several muscles on the front of your body in addition to strengthening your entire core. It might be more effective than conventional ab exercises at triggering some deep core muscles.

Rectus Abdominis: Located in the anterior abdominal wall, it helps to flex the trunk and maintain abdominal wall stability during the hollow hold.

Transverse Abdominis: Located in the lateral abdominal wall, it helps to stabilize the pelvis, compress the abdominal contents and resist spinal extension during the hollow hold.

Internal Obliques: Located on the lateral abdominal wall, it helps to flex the trunk and resist spinal extension during the hollow hold.

External Obliques: Located on the lateral abdominal wall, it helps to rotate and flex the trunk, compress the abdominal contents and resist spinal extension during the hollow hold.

Core Muscles - Image from Shutterstock

Hip Flexors:  Located at the front of the hip joint, they are responsible for flexing the hips, which is what is required during hollow hold exercises. The hip flexors bring the knees towards the chest, while the glutes and the hamstrings extend the hips, allowing the body to stay in a tight, hollow hold position.

Hip Flexor – Image from Shutterstock

Quadriceps: The quads are a muscle group located in the front of the thigh and are made up of four muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. The primary function of the quads in hollow hold exercises is to stabilize the body, particularly the core and lower back while keeping the legs and hips extended. The quadriceps also assist in controlling movements and transitioning between positions.

Quadriceps – Image from Shutterstock

Erector Spinae:  Located along the posterior spine, it helps to resist spinal extension during the hollow hold.

Erector Spinae – Image from Shutterstock


How to do Hollow Holds

A hollow hold involves lying flat on your back with your arms and legs extended, then lifting your arms, shoulders, and legs off the ground, forming a hollow body shape. The goal is to maintain this position for a certain amount of time, typically 30 seconds to 1 minute. However, beginners may want to seek the guidance of a certified personal trainer to ensure they get the basics right.

Starting Position:

The starting position for a hollow hold exercise is lying on your back with your arms extended by your sides and palms facing inward.

Your legs should also be extended, and your toes pointed.

Brace your core, and press your back flat against the ground. Actively think about drawing your ribs toward your pelvis and flexing your abdominal region to tighten your core.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lift your feet, legs, and upper body until your lower back is flush against the floor.

  2. While holding your legs a few inches off the floor, lift your arms overhead, also a few inches off the floor, thereby shaping your body into a hollow hold.

  3. Your lumbar spine region, which roughly comprises the bottom third of your spine from the tailbone to the mid-back area, should be the only point of contact throughout each rep.

  4. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds, or as long as comfortable, making sure to keep your arms and legs straight and your core engaged.

  5. Make sure to keep your neck and head in line with your spine by slightly tucking your chin toward your chest, or risk spinal strain.

  6. Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat the range of motion, each time holding your arms and legs between two and six inches above the floor, without allowing your upper back and shoulder blades to touch the floor.

You can adjust the level of difficulty by changing how far away your arms and legs are from the floor. The closer they are, the more challenging the exercise will be. Start by bringing your legs close to the floor, then gradually lower your arms.

Common Mistakes Made with Hollow Hold Exercises

It's important to maintain proper form while doing the hollow hold to ensure that you are targeting the correct muscles and preventing injury.

Not Maintaining the Correct Form

Make sure to keep your legs straight, your feet close together, and your arms extended in front of you.

Not Engaging Your Core

A hollow hold requires an active core to maintain the position, so be sure to pull your belly button in towards your spine and keep your spine in a neutral position.

Hyperextended Neck

Hyperextending your neck when performing the hollow hold can cause neck strain and irritation of the cervical spine. This can lead to neck pain and discomfort, as well as headaches and other symptoms. It can also cause misalignment of the vertebrae, leading to further complications such as pinched nerves and degenerative disc disease.

Arched Back

The primary purpose of the hollow hold is to counterbalance the inclination to arch your lower back, which is known as lordosis and can place strain on your lumbar vertebrae. Make sure you keep your lower back close to the floor while doing this exercise.

Lordosis is an abnormal inward curvature of the spine in the lower back. It can cause pain and stiffness in the lower back, as well as difficulty in standing and walking. It may also cause problems with balance and posture.

Not Squeezing Your Glutes

Make sure to squeeze your glutes throughout the exercise to properly activate your core muscles.

Incorrect Breathing

For exercises that involve movement, breathing should happen automatically, such as inhaling as you lift and exhaling as you lower. Since hollow holds are static, there are no clear signs to breathe, so some may mistakenly hold their breath. This can cause a spike in blood pressure, and if you have high BP, it's not a good idea to push it higher. Make sure to focus on taking deep breaths into your stomach throughout the hollow hold to ensure you don’t get lightheaded.

Not Holding the Position

A hollow hold requires you to maintain the position for an extended period of time. Aim for at least 30 seconds per set. The number of reps and sets of hollow holds that one should do depends on their personal fitness goals and experience level. Generally, beginners should do 3 sets of 10–15 seconds of holds, while more experienced individuals can do more sets of longer holds.

Hollow Hold Progressions

Beginners may benefit from following a progression plan to help them master the perfect technique and form for hollow holds.

Keep in mind that the key to maintaining your head and shoulders raised when in any of these positions is to activate your core. Your ankles should be flexed, your ankle muscles should be engaged, and your ribs should be tucked in. Your entire body should be tense.

Wall Sit: This is a great starting point for a hollow hold progression. Begin by sitting against a wall with your feet flat on the ground and your back against the wall. Aim to hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Half Hollow Hold: This progression is similar to the wall sit, except you lift your feet off of the ground. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Full Hollow Hold: This progression is a full-body exercise that requires you to lift your upper and lower body off the ground. Start with your arms above your head and your legs extended. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Single Leg Hollow Hold:  This progression is the same as the full hollow hold, except you raise one leg off the ground at a time. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Single Arm Hollow Hold: This progression is the same as the full hollow hold, except you raise one arm off the ground at a time. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Alternating Arm/Leg Hollow Hold:  This progression combines single-arm and single-leg hollow holds. Start by lifting one arm and one leg off the ground. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds.

Gymnasts – Image from Shutterstock

The Bottom Line

The hollow hold and its variations are an ideal way to increase core strength and stability. As long as proper form is maintained, you should experience a range of benefits, such as improved posture, alleviated lower back pain, and better balance.

If you’re looking to build strength, perfect a headstand, and strengthen your abs for that sought-after six-pack, this exercise should be included in your core workout regimen.