Core strength is vital for fitness, injury prevention, and movement.

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

This article breaks down the hollow hold, allowing you to add this core exercise to your fitness program, even if it’s your first time training this skill.

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The hollow hold is an isometric core exercise that strengthens the abdominal muscles that stabilize your spine.

With proper form, both beginners and experienced fitness enthusiasts can safely perform this exercise and reap the benefits of a stronger core.

The hollow hold also forms the base core strength needed for more advanced bodyweight and gymnastic exercises.

Additionally, hollow holds train your abdominal bracing skills. Abdominal bracing, or simply “bracing,” is the act of stabilizing your lower spine by contracting your abdominal muscles.

A proper abdominal brace will slightly pull your ribs toward your pelvis. Your stomach muscles will flex, and the natural arch in your lower back will gently flatten.

Compared with traditional ab exercises like situps, abdominal bracing techniques like hollow holds may be more effective for activating certain deep core muscles (1).

However, traditional ab exercises may be more effective at activating other core muscles. So, an ideal core exercise program would include both bracing and traditional exercises (1).

Muscles involved

Coaches typically utilize the hollow hold as a core-strengthening exercise.

However, this exercise works many muscles across the entire anterior chain, which are the muscles on the front side of your body.

These muscles include:

  • hip flexors
  • quadriceps
  • rectus and transverse abdominals
  • internal and external obliques

The hollow hold is utilized as a core-strengthening exercise, but it works many muscles on the front side of your body. It may be more effective at activating certain deep core muscles than traditional ab exercises.

To perform the hollow hold, lie on your back and extend your arms overhead. Straighten your legs with your feet together and toes pointed.

From there, tighten your core by drawing your ribs toward your pelvis and flexing your abdominal region.

Then raise your feet, legs, and shoulders off of the ground and flatten your lower back against the floor. Start with 3 holds lasting around 15–30 seconds each.

Throughout each hold, the only point of contact should be your lumbar spine region, roughly encompassing the bottom third of your spine from the tailbone to the mid-back area.

If you struggle to keep your lumbar spine on the ground, modify the exercise and start by keeping your feet planted on the floor and extending your arms toward your feet rather than overhead.

For a detailed breakdown on working your hollow hold, check out this video.


Follow the above instructions to perform the hollow hold. You can also modify the exercise and slowly work yourself up to a proper hollow hold.

The hollow hold offers many benefits for both experienced athletes and the general fitness population.

Improved spinal stability

The hollow hold helps strengthen the muscles that stabilize your lower back during athletic and everyday movements.

Evenly strengthened glutes, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles help keep your spine in proper alignment and avoid stress to the vertebrae and discs.

Overall, core strengthening is one of the best ways to holistically address lower back pain (2).

Additionally, the posterior pelvic tilt and drawn-in rib position of the hollow hold are great for relieving pressure across the entire length of your spine.

The drawn-in position is among the best ways to activate the transversus abdominus muscle, which is a deep core muscle that provides spinal stability (3).

Functional core strength

The hollow hold stabilizes the center of your body.

A stable core allows you to generate powerful motions with your upper and lower body while keeping your spine safe.

Progression into advanced calisthenics

The braced position of the hollow hold forms the foundation of many advanced calisthenics movements.

Calisthenics is a broad category of bodyweight exercises that include common exercises like pushups and pullups, planche holds, and advanced gymnastic movements like muscle-ups, handstands, and backflips.

The vast majority of calisthenics movements rely on the abdominal bracing technique you’ll develop through practicing hollow holds.


The hollow hold may improve spinal stability and core strength, which in turn may allow you to perform more advanced exercises, such as planche holds, handstands, or pullups.

The hollow hold allows for several progressions and variations. This means that anyone — independent of their fitness level — can benefit from this exercise.

The following movements are just a few of the variations.

If you find the basic hold too difficult, you can try a simplified version, also called a regression.

Once you can comfortably perform the standard hollow hold for about 3 minutes, you can progress to advanced variations.

Dead bug hold and movement

The dead bug hold is one of the easiest hollow hold regressions. If you find this difficult, stay with this exercise until you can comfortably hold it for 1 minute. Once you’re comfortable with the dead bug, progress to the standard hollow hold.

Here’s how to perform the dead bug hollow hold:

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent to a 90-degree angle and your feet off of the floor.
  2. Extend your arms straight above you with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling and chin tucked into your chest. Make “blades” with your hands by keeping your fingers together. The thumb-side blade of your hand should be pointed toward your head.
  3. Actively think about slightly pulling your ribs toward your pelvis by squeezing your abdominals and pressing your lower back gently toward the floor.
  4. This position is known as the dead bug. Hold the braced position with your lower back pressed on the floor and core engaged for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat the hold for 3 cycles.
  5. You can also perform the dead bug with your legs straight up in the air for more difficulty. Experiment with the straight-knee variation if the bent-knee option becomes too easy.
  6. If you’re able to comfortably hold the position, you can add movement by slowly lowering your leg and opposite arm 6 inches (15 cm) off of the floor before returning to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for 3 sets of 10–12 total repetitions. Maintain your abdominal brace the entire time you’re moving.

Check out this video for a full breakdown of the dead bug movement and some of its variations.

Standard hollow hold

The standard hollow hold begins similarly to the dead bug. However, with the standard hold, you’ll straighten your legs and begin lowering your legs and arms toward the floor.

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent toward your chest and feet off of the floor.
  2. Extend your arms straight above you with your fingers pointed toward the ceiling and chin slightly tucked in toward your chest. Make “blades” with your hands by keeping your fingers together. The thumb-side blade of your hand should be pointed toward your head. You can also place the back of your hand on top of the other palm so that your top palm faces the ceiling.
  3. Actively think about slightly pulling your ribs toward your pelvis by squeezing your abdominals and pressing your lower back gently toward the floor.
  4. Straighten your legs, point your toes, and begin lowering your heels toward the floor.
  5. As your lower your legs, lower your arms toward the floor overhead.
  6. Continue to lower your arms and legs until they’re around 6 inches (15 cm) off of the ground. Ensure your shoulders and upper back do not contact the floor. Work to hold the position for 3 cycles of 1 minute each.

Note that you can modulate the difficulty by increasing or decreasing the distance of your arms and legs to the floor. The closer your limbs are to the floor, the more intense the hold will be. Begin by lowering your legs toward the floor first, then begin lowering your arms.

This video provides a breakdown of how to transition from a straight-leg dead bug to a standard hollow hold.

Common error: Arched low back

Don’t allow your lower back to arch off of the floor. This is called lordosis, and it can add strain to your lumbar vertebrae.

A main goal of the hollow hold is to counteract the tendency to arch the lower back.

If you cannot hold the posterior pelvic tilt with your back against the floor, raise your arms and legs higher off of the floor or regress to the dead bug.

Common error: Hyperextended neck

It’s vital to keep your chin tucked in toward your chest.

If you find yourself unable to keep your head from falling back toward the floor, take a rest or decrease the difficulty.

Performing the hollow hold without keeping your chin tucked can cause strain in your neck.

Hollow body rock

Once you can maintain a standard hollow hold for 1 minute, you’re ready to perform the hollow body rock.

  1. Assume the hollow hold position.
  2. Maintain the hollow position and slowly rock back onto your upper back. If you’re properly maintaining your hold, your lower back should elevate off of the floor.
  3. Reverse the rock in the other direction until your tailbone area is the main point of contact with the floor. Your mid and upper back should completely lose contact with the ground.
  4. Repeat the rock for 3 sets of 15–20 repetitions.

All the additional tips and errors regarding the hollow hold apply to the hollow body rock.

For a quick breakdown on the hollow body rock, check out this video.

Hollow plank

Once you can comfortably perform hollow hold and rock, the hollow plank is the next step. You can start experimenting with this hold in conjunction with the rock as well.

The hollow body plank is superior to traditional flat-backed planks for activating the deep lumbar stabilizers (4).

  1. Begin facing the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Extend your legs back until you’re in a pushup position with your legs straight and toes in contact with the ground.
  3. Push through the floor until your shoulders are fully protracted.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and draw your ribs toward your pelvis by contracting your abdominals. This should cause your lower back to go from being slightly arched to slightly rounded.
  5. Point your feet as much as possible without your toes slipping off of the floor.
  6. Hold this position for 3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute per cycle.

Other than being in a plank hold, the same form tips apply. Avoid arching your back or straining your neck. Your eyes should be focused on the ground the whole time.

Check out this video for a hollow plank demonstration.


The dead bug is an easier version of the hollow hold. Once you can comfortably perform the standard hollow hold for about 1 minute, you can try the body rock or hollow plank variations, which are more advanced.

People with a history of back injury should always consult their healthcare provider or physical therapist before beginning an exercise program.

For healthy individuals, the hollow hold is generally considered safe provided you follow proper form.

Here are a few specific considerations to remember when training hollow hold variations.

Arched lower back

An arched lower back during a hollow hold can cause or exacerbate any stiffness or disc issues in the lumbar spine.

If left unaddressed, underlying arched-back tendencies can lead to bulging discs and other back issues.

Hyperextended neck

Hyperextension in the neck during hollow holds can lead to stiffness in the neck.

Ensure you maintain a semi-tucked chin when performing hollow body exercises to avoid this issue.

Vertical loading and hollow body

Movements that direct a load directly through your spine, such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses, require a different bracing technique.

Rounding in the lower back can place extreme pressure on the discs in your spine when there’s a heavy weight pressing down. Proper vertical loading mechanics should maintain a neutral spine (4).

To avoid any issues, practice your hollow body strength separately from your heavy lifting or after you’ve completed exercises that load the spine.


Avoid arching your back or hyperextending your neck when performing the hollow hold. Also, ensure that you practice your hollow body strength separately from heavy lifting exercises.

The hollow hold is a core-strengthening exercise suitable for beginners and experienced athletes alike.

If you struggle to perform a proper hollow hold, start with a simplified version like the dead bug.

Alternatively, if you’ve mastered the standard hollow hold, you can experiment with more advanced variations like the body rock or hollow plank.

You can add these exercises to your preexisting core-training routine or perform them in a separate session.

In addition to strengthening your core, the hollow hold exercise may benefit spinal stability, making it a worthwhile addition to your fitness routine.