If you’ve been practicing hollow holds, as a part of your gymnastics/calisthenics training, or perhaps you have decided to get in shape in the new year and are doing the /r/bodyweightfitness recommended routine (Tutorial HERE), you may have encountered an issue that stops you from progressing your hollow hold.
This is an issue I’ve seen very commonly with people practising the hollow hold, and an issue I’ve had to personally deal with, myself, so I’ve decided to dedicate an article to explaining what it is and how to fix it.
Many people, especially those just starting out with regular exercise who are coming from a sedentary lifestyle, will only be able to perform the hollow hold with their hips piked slightly (meaning in this case that their legs will be slightly further off the floor). As soon as they lower their legs more, their lower back will come off the floor, no matter how hard they try, despite the slightly higher legs being easy. Because their legs are straight, they will think they are in the full hollow position, and believe the reason they can’t go lower is that their ‘butt is just too big’, but in a real hollow you want your hips to be extended so your feet are very close to the floor. Regardless of butt size.
This error is not helped by the fact that many hollow tutorials out there on the internet show bad form of this exact variety, so people think they are doing it right, like in these examples found on the first page of google when you search ‘hollow hold’ (Image 1, Image 2, Image 3). However not all resources out there are bad, and in particular this picture from the tutorial by the guys and gals over at GMB Fitness is a beautiful example of a full hollow.
If you’ve seen my Hollow Hold Tutorial (Found HERE) you’ll know that one of two ways to progress the hollow hold is to progressively lower the legs, so if you are progressing it this way, the topic of this article may or may not be an issue for you, but that is yet to be seen as you are still developing the strength to lower down.
However, if you are progressing from the tuck to straight legs, and you have found the straight leg variation quite easy with your legs slightly higher up, but as soon as you lower them, your lower back comes off the floor no matter how hard you try, this is most likely your issue.
The Cause of the Issue:
What you are attempting to achieve in the hollow position is maintaining a posterior pelvic tilt (explained in my Hollow Tutorial, which I recommend you read first before continuing, if you do not already know this term) with a sufficient degree of ‘hip extension’ (read; making a bigger angle between your torso and your thighs) that your body makes a mostly straight line.
The reason why some people might be experiencing an inability to keep their lower back on the floor at the optimal degree of hip extension (Feet a few cm off the floor), is because when you lack hip extension mobility, your lower back moves to compensate. If you want to stop your lower back moving in compensation, you have to improve your hip extension mobility. Simple.
The reason you have inadequate hip extension, is because your hip flexors are tight. Specifically, the Iliopsoas and the TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae). In this article we are going to attack this issue through stretching these muscles, but also through a handy couple of exercises you can perform alongside/momentarily instead of the hollow position to strengthen the antagonist muscles to the TFL in order to help it release on its own.
Stretching the Iliopsoas:
To stretch the Iliopsoas, assume a kneeling lunge position, with your kneeling thigh perpendicular to the floor. Place your hands on your front knee, and posteriorly tilt your pelvis (in the same way as you would in a hollow hold) by squeezing the glutes (butt muscles) to tuck your tailbone, and crunching your abs, and push your hips forward gently until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip, taking care not to lose the pelvic tilt. You can intensify the stretch a bit by doing a hamstring curl with the front foot to pull yourself forward even more. Hold this for 60s at a time. Repeat as many times as you want. I regularly do it 3 sets at a time.
‘Stretching’ the TFL:
So the TFL isn’t just a hip flexor, its also a hip abductor (read; bringing your leg sideways away from your body) and if it is tight, you may find your self more easily extending your hip when your legs are a bit spread apart, but not so able when your legs are together. Even if not, a tight TFL will just generally limit your hip extension to a reasonable degree and if you discover it is tight, it can cause a whole host of other issues so it’s best to just get that fixed sooner than later.
To perform this exercise, lie down on the floor. Bring your knees up to your chest until your lower back is firmly pressed against the floor, then let one of your legs go (as pictured below)
When you do this, before you assume the position for the actual exercise, the first few things to notice, just as a diagnostic tool for yourself, is to see if your leg drifts outwards from the midline,, or if your knee is higher than your hip. If your leg drifts outwards from the midline you have weak adductors (Which could be one of the causes of your tight TFL, if you do have that) and if your knee sits higher than your hip then you have tight hip flexors and potentially also TFL.
To perform the exercise itself, contract your abs and oblique consciously (on the side of the non-held leg) to more firmly press your lower back into the floor. If your leg has a tendency to drift outwards, then while doing this, consciously bring your leg to the midline, in line with your body. (You will REALLY feel this in your adductors after only a few seconds if you are doing it right) Next, dorsiflex and supinate your ankle (bring the top of your foot to your shin) to put a stretch on the IT band, to improve the stretch on the TFL. This exercise is a triple-whammy, as it strengthens the adductors and internal obliques (which will help release the TFL), gently stretches the TFL
Hold this drill for 30-60 seconds, only 1-2 sets are necessary at a time. Do not expect to feel a strong stretch in your hip flexors or TFL. For most people, this will seem more like an oblique and adductor exercise, but eventually you will feel a gentle stretch. Don’t rush with this one. Once you HAVE reached this point though, you should try to remove the same side arm as the stretched leg, and hold it overhead. That will intensify the oblique involvement.
In one way, you could look at this exercise like a one leg hollow hold, but the tucked and held leg forces you into the hollow position to allow gravity to open up your hips and TFL while strengthening the less directly involved muscles for the hollow position.
Applying it to Training:
These can easily be done every day, and don’t take much time. If you are doing the bodyweightfitness recommended routine, I would do both of these just before your hollow holds, but I wouldn’t replace hollow holds with them.. Otherwise you could just do them every morning. It only takes like 5 minutes, and will not only improve your hollow hold, it will do wonders for your posture.