How to Do the Hollow Body Hold for a Stronger, More Stable Core

illustration of a woman doing a hollow body hold on a light blue background
The hollow body hold targets the deep stabilizing core muscles, as well as the hip flexors, quads and lower back.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com

Whether you have big goals of rocking pull-ups or hanging leg raises, the hollow body hold is one of the best core exercises to have in your ab arsenal. As one of the hardest ab exercises, this deceptively difficult move torches your core through an isometric hold (no movement). The good news is that it can be modified for all fitness levels, making it a great option for those who want to really hammer their core.

  • What is the hollow body hold?​ It's an isometric core exercise that's done lying on your back and lifting your legs, arms and shoulders off the ground for a period of time.
  • What muscles does the hollow body hold work?​ Your core gets most of the action, especially your transverse abdominis — the deep abdominal muscles that stabilize your back. But it also strengthens your hip flexors, quads and lower back.
  • Who can do the exercise?​ It's best for intermediate and advanced exercisers because it requires being able to sustain intense core contraction by lifting your legs, arms, and shoulders off the ground for a period of time. Beginners can hold their legs higher or start by bending their knees and holding their shins parallel to the floor in a tabletop position (see below), says Sarah Louise Rector, CPT, a certified personal trainer and founder of the SLR Life, an online fitness program.
  • How long should you hold the hollow body hold?​​ Start with 30-second intervals and work your way up as you get more comfortable with the exercise and build strength.

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How to Do the Hollow Body Hold With Perfect Form

Hollow Body Hold

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Skill Level Intermediate
Body Part [ "Abs", "Legs" ]
  1. Lie down on your back on the floor or on an exercise mat and press your lower back down into the ground.
  2. Squeeze your navel down toward the floor to activate your abdominal muscles. Make sure your legs are glued together as you gently raise them up off the ground.
  3. Float and extend both arms overhead and gently raise your head and shoulders off the floor, keeping your arms by the side of your face.
  4. Keeping your lower back flush against the floor, hold this position for 30 seconds. Think about pulling your bellybutton into the ground.

Tip

"The lower your legs are to the floor, the more your core will be working, so be sure that you are not overcompensating with the movement by letting it go into your lower back," Rector says.

3 Hollow Body Hold Benefits

1. Core Stability

It fortifies your transverse abdominis — the deep stabilizing core muscle — which helps protect your back and hips from injury. When you press your lower back into the floor, your obliques are also enlisted to maintain a strong, stable hollow hold, Rector says.

Core stability is not only important for athletes, such as runners, swimmers and weightlifters, who rely heavily on their trunks to power their performance; it's also key to carrying out everyday tasks with strength. Every time you push a door open or lift something heavy off the top shelf, you are using your core to stabilize your body.

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And because the hollow body hold keeps your core muscles under tension for an extended period of time, you'll also improve your muscular endurance while boosting your strength.

2. Strong Hips

Although it's not a hip-focused exercise, this move strengthens your hip flexors, a group of muscles that runs across the front of your pelvis, according to Carolina Araujo, CPT, a California-based certified personal trainer and founder of Fit With Carolina. When you do a hollow hold, your hip flexors work to keep your legs elevated and stable in mid-air.

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For most people, these muscles are a problem area because spending a lot of time sitting causes them to tighten and weaken over time, she says.

3. Better Posture

Stronger core muscles and hip flexors mean better posture, too, according to Araujo. By strengthening these muscle groups, hollow body holds build stability in your back and pelvis so you can stand (or sit) up tall. In the long run, this can also help minimize back pain and hip tightness.

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5 Hollow Body Hold Tips

1. Press Your Lower Back Into the Ground

It's important to keep your spine 'imprinted' on the ground with no gap between your back and the floor, according to Rector. If your back floats off the ground, you miss out on the core-building benefits of the exercise and put your lumbar (lower) spine at risk for injury.

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Hold your legs in a higher position or bend your knees to 90 degrees if you struggle to keep your back flat against the ground. To ensure your back is in the right position, try slipping your hand under your middle spine. Ideally, there shouldn't be any space between your body and the floor.

2. Tuck Your Pelvis

If your butt sticks out during this exercise, it's harder to engage your deep core muscles. Plus, you risk raising your lower back off the ground.

"The slight tuck of the pelvis provides deeper engagement in your core region and is a great mindful workout technique when performing an exercise that uses your abdominal muscles," Rector says.

Before you raise your legs, think about tucking your pelvis to create a straight line along your entire spine down to your butt. You can glance at a mirror to check that your hips are tucked properly.

3. Take Deep Breaths

Shallow breathing or holding your breath can make it difficult for you to brace your core properly and sustain the tension in your abs. Instead, release your breath as you squeeze your muscles to bring your body into the hollow hold position.

From here, take deep, steady breaths throughout the duration of this isometric hold. Remember, your muscles require a consistent flow of oxygen to work at their best.

4. Keep Your Neck Aligned

To avoid muscle imbalances or unwanted strain on your upper spine, keep your neck in a neutral position as an extension of the spine. There should be no backward tilt (chin pointing up) or forward tilt (chin tucked in) of your head to reduce unwanted compression or stress on your neck and spine.

5. Activate Your Lower Body

Squeeze your lower-body muscles, including your quads and inner thighs, throughout the exercise. Think about lengthening from your hips all the way through your toes to maintain the hold and keep your body stable on the ground.

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2 Regressions to Work Up to the Move

Move 1: Tabletop Hold

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Skill Level Beginner
Body Part Abs
  1. Lie down on your back and press your lower back flat into the floor. Bring your legs into a tabletop position with your knees stacked above your hips and feet in line with your knees. Your legs should form 90-degree angles.
  2. Brace your abdominals and raise your head and shoulders off the floor as you reach your fingertips toward your feet.

The tabletop position is the best practice for perfecting core contraction and learning to naturally press your lower back into the ground. As you get stronger, you'll be able to extend your legs out in front of you.

Move 2: Elevated Leg Hold

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Skill Level Beginner
Body Part [ "Abs", "Legs" ]
  1. Lie on your back and extend your legs straight out in front of you, pressing your lower back into the ground. Lift your legs off the floor to a comfortable height (the lower your legs are to the ground, the more core action you will feel).
  2. Reach your arms straight up in line with your shoulders so that your eye line is aligned to your fingertips.
  3. Gently lift your head and shoulders off the ground.

Once your core strength improves, your lower body can be tossed into the mix by extending your legs out. This will prep your body even further for a full hollow body hold.

2 Progressions to Make the Move Harder

Move 1: Reverse Plank With Swing

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Skill Level Advanced
Body Part [ "Abs", "Butt", "Shoulders" ]
  1. Sit down with your legs extended in front of you and your feet hip-distance apart. Your fingertips should be facing your hips flat on the floor.
  2. Dig your heels into the floor and lift your hips up toward the ceiling.
  3. Swing your hips through your arms, pulling your abdominal wall into your spine as you exhale. Return to the starting position.

The movement from the reverse plank into a swing activates your abdominals even more and keeps your glutes floating off the ground, Rector says.

Move 2: Hollow Hold With Chest Fly

Skill Level Advanced
Body Part [ "Chest", "Abs", "Arms" ]
  1. Lie on your back with your chin pointed toward your chest. Inhale, exhale and push your abdominal wall into the floor.
  2. Extend your legs straight with one foot or both off the ground. Zip your legs together and point your toes.
  3. Extend your arms straight out to your sides, keeping both elbows slightly bent.
  4. Maintaining the hollow hold, bring your hands together above your chest, maintaining the slight bend in your elbows.
  5. Open your arms out to the sides, then return to the center and repeat.

This variation works your pectoral muscles, thanks to the chest fly, and gives your core the extra challenge to maintain stability as you open your arms out to the sides.

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