Hollow out your core routine and train like a gymnast

There is a fairly good chance you’ve never heard of the hollow-body position. There’s an even better chance you’re core training consists of performing sit-ups, crunches and planks during the frenetic 5 minute conclusion of your workouts. I’m going to gently suggest you drop your current core routine and rebuild it, along with your body, starting from the hollow-body position.

The hollow position is the fundamental neutral position in gymnastics, providing a base of static and dynamic stability for the impressive movements and physiques we’ll see strutting about in Rio later this month. The hollow position should be afforded equal regard in resistance training as it permits proper force transfer from upper to lower body, static and dynamic inner unit core stability, thoracic flexibility & mobility, injury resistance & resilience, proper motor sequencing & control, increased strength and effective diaphragmatic breathing patterns. Proper hollow positioning not only improves, but is necessary for proper pull-ups, jumps, handstands, squats, running, pushing, pulling, front levers, planches…nearly everything you can do with a moving body.

Male gymnast on the pommel horse in hollow body position. © Galina Barskaya - stock.adobe.com. Baetyl Wellness Systems, Princeton, New Jersey.
You may finally get to ride the pony

The hollow-body hold activates the stabilizer muscles of the spine, ribcage and pelvic girdle. Activation of these deep muscles stabilizes the spine along the different segments of curvature and the sacroiliac (SI) joint.  They include the transversus abdominis (TVA), the posterior fibres of the obliquus internus abdominis, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles, the multifidus and lumbar portions of the longissimus and iliocostalis.

Activation of the deep abdominal wall, transversis abdominus (TVA), and the internal obliques increases intra-abdominal pressure and pulls the connected thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) laterally, locking the lumbar vertebrae in a more secure position. In other words, you’ve built your own weight belt.

More traditional core training with a spinal flexion component (sit-ups, crunches, etc) works the more superficial rectus “6-pack” abdominus muscle. This results in posterior pelvic tilt, movement of the rib cage downward and mimics kyphotic posture that places the shoulder girdle in a compromised position. The hollow position and subsequent progressions posteriorly tilt the pelvis without spinal flexion, rib cage depression and as such permit proper thoracic and cervical extension; mobility and stability as proficiency increases. To put it more simply, if you’re one of the 25% of gym-goers with some form of shoulder pain, get yourself hollowed asap.

How to Set-Up

Start in a supine position. Draw your knees into your chest and feel your lower back seal to the mat. Reach your arms straight above your head. Position your head such that your ears are in line or slightly ahead of your arms. Keep your neck neutral to avoid straining from excessive flexion. Straighten your legs, keeping them gently pressed into each other, point your toes away from your torso. Elevate your shoulder blades slightly off the ground, keeping a straight spine. Imagine your belly button being drawn down towards your spine as you tighten core and glutes. You should be able to take deep diaphragmatic breaths in this position.

The initial goal of the hollow progression is resisting extension of the lumbar spine. As you get progressively stronger, lower your arms and legs closer to ground while keeping your lower back sealed to the mat.

Progressing From the Hollow Position

1. Hollow Knee Tucks
2. Hollow Leg Lowering
3. Hollow Arm Pulses
4. Hollow Ceiling Reaches


Just Starting Out

  1. Tucks your knees in as demonstrated in “how to set-up” above.
  2. Fix your gaze on a point on the ceiling and try to keep a neutral neck.
    • You may feel some mild straining in your neck from excessive cervical flexion at first.
    • Rest your head on a yoga block or foam roller until you’re able to keep your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine.
    • Lower your legs to the point just before your lower back starts to arch. This will probably be substantially higher than in the demonstration photos.
  3. Focus on keeping the position tight and immobile.
    • Take very deeps breaths and exhale deeply through your mouth.
    • Embrace the shake.
  4. Your first target is to hold the position for 30 unbroken seconds.


Hitting Your Stride, Intermediate

Tuck & Pulse
  1. Hollow Knee Tucks x 8
    • Rest 45-60 seconds
  2. Hollow Arm Pulses x 8
    • Rest 45-60 seconds, repeat 2-3 times
Lower & Reach
  1. Hollow Leg Lowering x 8
    • Rest 45-60 seconds
  2. Hollow Ceiling Reaches x 8
    • Rest 45-60 seconds, repeat 2-3 times


Advanced Hollow Circuits

Tuck & Pulse
  1. Static Hollow-Body Position, 20 seconds
  2. Hollow Knee Tucks x 12
  3. Hollow Arm Pulses x 12
  4. Static Hollow-Body Position, 20 seconds
    • Rest 45-60 seconds, repeat 3-4 times
Lower & Reach
  1. Static Hollow-Body Position, 20 seconds
  2. Hollow Leg Lowering x 12
  3. Hollow Ceiling Reaches x 12
  4. Static Hollow-Body Position, 20 seconds
    • Rest 45-60 seconds, repeat 3-4 times


Polished gold hexagon medal in a gray circle © molaruso - stock.adobe.com. Baetyl Wellness Systems, Princeton, New Jersey.

5 thoughts on “Hollow out your core routine and train like a gymnast

  1. This is a great post which I enjoyed reading as I have forgotten much of my teenage gymnastics training and this helped jogged my memory.Definitely going to be incorporating some of my old training into my new training. Hopefully, strengthening my hollow position will also assist in correcting my posterior pelvic tilt issue which (if you’re interested) you can read more about at:


    Liked by 1 person

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