Position: Hollow Body – Sun 4.30.17
Another good article on a very necessary position from the Crossfit Journal by the CrossFit Gymnastics Team. I would argue, it’s not just for gymnastics movement, but for good position while lifting heavy weights as well:
The hollow body position in gymnastics is like air to a human.
It is the lifeline for gymnasts, and once mastered at the basic level on the floor, it is revisited in numerous skills at all levels and on any apparatus. If shortcuts are taken and the position is not mastered, weaknesses will quickly be exposed in more advanced movements.
“Athletes who demonstrate proficiency in the hollow tend to find all other core and stabilizing activities exceedingly simple,” said Jeff Tucker, CrossFit Gymnastics subject-matter expert.
At the very foundation of CrossFit, we focus on “functional movements,” which are in part defined in the “CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide” as exercises “performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity.” As with any movement, the hollow body position must be trained to allow an athlete to transmit force through the core, and variations of the progression below are helpful.
In the hollow body position, the athlete’s lumbar spine is in slight flexion (rounding) and the pelvis is tilted to the posterior (tailbone tucked under). As such, the position is great for combating the overextended posture commonly seen in athletes, and it teaches athletes how to maintain a more neutral spine-pelvis relationship. The importance of this relationship has been previously discussed in the CrossFit Journal article “The Hip and Athletic Performance,” which also contains a more detailed review of the anatomy involved.
As with all gymnastics positions and movements, control should be prioritized initially. Each step should be mastered in a static position because the early addition of momentum will only create insufficient movements and positions.
“Gymnastics elements are very technical, and practicing them without regard for correct positions will stunt your overall growth. The need for instant gratification needs to be tempered,” Tucker said.
The following steps will allow for athletes of all abilities to work the position at appropriate levels, and they build upon one another to create strength. As a general guideline, athletes should be able to hold each position for 20 seconds before attempting the next position in the progression, with rest as needed between sets.
Hollow tuck—The athlete should tuck the knees toward the chest, extend the toes, and lift the upper shoulders and shoulder blades off the ground as the hands “reach” toward the heels. The lower back is pressed into the ground while the ribs are pulled closer to the belly button. The gaze should be at the knees, not the ceiling, because we don’t want to open up the chest.
Hollow with one leg out—Once the tuck is mastered, the athlete can extend one leg. We want to roll the pelvis under to create a “banana” shape with the body. As the athlete’s leg extends, he or she should “reach” for the heels further so the lower back continues to press into the ground.
Hollow hold with hands by the sides—Once the one-leg-out position is mastered and the athlete shows a strong command of the rib cage with no pike in the hips, he or she can bring the other leg out. The athlete should continue extending through pointed toes and squeezing the glutes. Once again, think of a banana-shaped body.
Final step—To add difficulty, we extend the body/lever to a full stretched-out position in which the hands go overhead. If the athlete breaks the position at any time—i.e., the lower back starts to arch or the hips start to pike—bring the athlete back to the last successful stage of the progression. Master each stage before moving on.
A video example of each position in the progression can be found here.
Static First, Then Dynamic
These steps progressively challenge the core by increasing the length of the lever arm. As the legs and arms are extended, increased demands are placed on the core musculature to maintain the hollow body position. In the same way, holding a bag of groceries close to your body is easier than holding the bag with an outstretched arm.
Knowing these simple progressions will allow the coach to properly load the hollow position when instructing athletes of various levels, much as other CrossFit movements can be scaled simply by changing the load on the barbell.
Once a static position can be maintained, we can begin adding momentum at each step. Athletes can establish the position, then start rocking in that position—but the athlete must move the body as one rigid unit. The spine and pelvis must not change position during the rocking.
Athletes who have not mastered the position commonly alter spine-pelvis positioning when rocking, introducing a pike at the hips or an arch of the low back as the core musculature disengages. The spine and pelvis need to stay immobile so force can be transferred. Think of a see-saw: As the chest goes up, the lower body see-saws back down. A see-saw has no “break” in the middle, and the body must also appear as one piece, not two disjointed parts.
A video example of hollow-body rocking variations can be seen here.
Continued work on the hollow position has significant fitness benefits even for more advanced athletes. To add difficulty for those who have mastered the progressions above, add external loads, such as ankle weights or small weights held in the hands.
Once the hollow is mastered on the floor, we can then work on a static hanging position. This step will be discussed in the next article as we move to the pull-up, and we’ll revisit it later when talking about skills including the kip and muscle-up.
While the hollow seems simple, it is a fundamental position that must not be ignored. If the position is not developed and athletes rush to other positions and movements, they can expect progress to stall when working on more advanced skills. In gymnastics, shortcuts do not exist, so master the fundamentals first.