When performing bodyweight movements like handstands and presses, you need to keep a hollow body position. There's a difference between lifting an external load (squatting) with an arched back, and moving an internal load (bodyweight) with a rounded back, as in a hollow body position. Below is something I came across from a respected gymnastic coach regarding the hollow body position and why it is necessary for mastery of basic gymnastic movements. So if you want to enhance your handstands, presses, handstand walks, etc. this is for you. Not all of the following movements will be for everyone, but maybe you could benefit from just one or a few of them in your training. We do just about all of these in our training at TSS, except #7.
The Hollow Body
One of the most important positions that a gymnast learns is the hollow body. It is critical that the gymnast work hard to strengthen this position as it will make many skills much easier to learn and perfect. The following article will help you to find and strengthen the hollow body.
Finding the Hollow
Sometimes just finding the hollow body can be a difficult task for some people. Once learned, the hollow body is relatively simple to get into but it can be a challenge to a new gymnast who has never tried it before. Here are few different ways to find the hollow.
The part of the hollow that gymnasts have trouble with is the pelvic tilt. The pelvis has a small range of motion and we do not generally think about pelvis movement like we do arm and leg movement for example. Thus, it can be quite tricky for some to concentrate on holding the pelvis in a particular position.
If you will just relax and lay down flat on the floor with the arms extended above the the head, you will see that the body naturally forms an arch in the lower back. While laying on your back, take one arm and try to place it under your lower back. Notice that your hand can go right under your back as if going through a tunnel. The key aspect of the hollow body is to press the lower back to the floor so that little "tunnel" goes away. In order to do this you must be able to tilt the pelvis.
One way to get to the hollow is to start on your back with arms extended above the head. You can then lift the arms and shoulders off the ground slightly as if in an attempt to do a "crunch". (Yes, you are going to have to squeeze those abs!) Continue to lift the shoulders and arms together until you begin to feel the lower back start pressing the floor. At the same time, begin lifting the legs off the ground slightly. You should not have to lift the legs so that the heels are much more than 12 inches off the ground. Keep the legs tight together and point the toes. When you reach the hollow position (like above) you should feel the lower back pressing the floor. Have someone try to fit their hand under your back. They should not be able to. You should be squeezing your abdominals, thighs, and gluts very hard.
For those of you who have trouble getting to the hollow this way, here is another method of reaching the hollow.
Start in a seated position on the floor holding your knees to your chest by grabbing around the legs and hanging on just below the knees. Round your back out and lean back and continue to hang on to your knees. You should keep the knees and chin tight to the chest. Rock back and forth and try to feel the lower back as it makes contact with the floor. Now, with control, bring the rock to a stop on your lower back. You should now be able to feel it pressed tightly to the floor. Notice the position of the shoulders off the ground. Now, while maintaining lower back contact with the floor, let go of the knees and extend the legs until they are straight and about 12 inches off the ground. Then raise the arms so that they are straight and extended above the head as in the picture above.
Congratulations! You have found the hollow!
Strengthening the Hollow
Once you have successfully found the hollow body, it is time to strengthen it. Here are several exercises that will strengthen the hollow body.
1. Static hold -- Once in the hollow body, simply hold the position as long as you can. I recommend working in sets of 5 seconds. Hold the hollow for five seconds then rest 5 seconds. Now hold 10 seconds and rest 5 seconds then hold 15 seconds and rest 5 seconds, etc. Your goal should be to hold the hollow for one minute without a rest.
2. Banana rocks -- Get into the hollow body and hold it tight. Start yourself rocking back and forth. each time you rock towards the head you can count one. (Until you get better, you may have to start rocking and then tighten up the hollow position.) Your goal should be to make 50 consecutive rocks.
3. Hollow raises -- Lay flat on the floor and "snap" to the hollow (get to the hollow as fast as you can) holding it for one second and returning to a flat position. Do these until you can do at least 30.
4. Flipped hollow -- Imagine what a hollow would look like upside down. Almost like a push-up position but the arms are extended and pass "through" the ears, chin is on chest (you should see your feet), and of course we maintain the tightness of abs, thighs, and gluts. Try to achieve the greatest possible distance between the feet and the hands while still being able to maintain the hollow. NO PIKES!! Work on holding this for a total of 60 seconds using the same method described in number one.
5. Hollow walks -- With a raised surface, use a flipped hollow with the feet on the ground and the hands on the raised surface. (a tumble tramp works great for this) Once in the flipped hollow, shuffle the length of the tumble tramp or other raised surface. Depending on the length of your surface, the number of repetitions will vary. Three lengths of a standard 40 foot tumble tramp is good. Again, no pikes.
6. Frisbee walks -- Using a tight flipped hollow, place the feet in a frisbee toes pointed. In this exercise, deviation of arm position is allowed. Use the arms to pull yourself forward. One lap on the floor is good. Now repeat this exercise going backward. One lap. (the frisbee is to prevent rug burn on the toes and for ease of slide)
7. Arch-Hollow snaps -- On the high bar, create a arched position and without swinging, snap to a hollow body and hold for a second or two. Repeat in sets of ten to let the hands rest.
8. Hollow log -- From a hollow position, roll over to an arch position and back to a hollow without letting the legs or the arms touch the floor. Keep going. A couple times down and back on the floor is good.
What is the hollow good for?
Tap swing (see # 7)
Handstands and many skills that pass through the handstand
Much, much more
Strength in and awareness of the hollow body position will greatly increase the proficiency and success of any gymnast. The hollow body is a perfect position to practice at home and during the off season because these activities can all be done safely away from the gym. (except #7 unless you have your own bars at home) I know that if you work hard and strengthen your hollow position, many skills will become much easier for you to master. Think about how much a 10 minute investment each day working on hollow body conditioning could do for you!