You know an exercise is extremely challenging when one of Hollywood’s top trainers struggles to do it.
Don Saladino, celebrity trainer and co-founder of Drive495 gym whose clients have included Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and Hugh Jackman, among others, posted an Instagram video last week of himself demoing a core move—the hollow body hold—and a progression called the hollow body rock.
Take one look at Saladino’s facial expression—or simply listen to his groans—and you’ll get the gist: This move is tremendously tough.
You can check out the video, via @donsaladino, here:
The hollow body hold originated in gymnastics and is “entry level for the sport,” Tony Vidal, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist and master trainer with fitness app POPiN, tells SELF. But for the general population? “It’s very difficult,” he says.
This move is so damn difficult because it requires an immense amount of core strength.
With the hollow body hold, think of your body like a teeter totter, Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF. Your core is the fulcrum and your arms and legs are the levers.
The primary challenge comes in keeping your lumbar spine (lower back) pressed flat against the ground, explains Vidal. This positioning in and of itself can be difficult to achieve based on the level of core strength it requires, and it becomes more difficult the more that you lengthen your levers, or extend your arms and legs farther from your core.
As your body works to support the weight of your arms and legs, your back naturally wants to arch to alleviate the tension. Yet the whole point of the hollow body is to maintain a flat, or neutral, spine. “That’s the reason it’s so hard,” says Mansour.
If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll work several major muscles in your core—plus others in your upper and lower half.
If you do the hollow body hold as Saladino demos, with your arms raised overhead and your legs extended straight out and parallel to the ground, you’ll work essentially “the whole front surface of the body from toes up to the fingertips,” says Vidal.
The major workhorses will be in the core, specifically the transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscle that wraps around your spine and sides) and rectus abdominis (what you think when you think abs), says Vidal. You’ll also challenge your quads, hip flexors, inner hip muscles, and lats, he adds, as well as your glutes, inner thighs, and erector spinae (the muscle that wraps around the spine), says Mansour.
Doing this move on the reg can help your core muscles work together more efficiently. Bonus: It can also help you nail a handstand.
The hollow body hold “teaches you how to train your abs,” says Mansour. Many basic exercises, like squats, lunges and planks, are properly performed with a neutral spine. “You have to pull your abs in in order to achieve that,” says Mansour. Other core-centric moves, like sit-ups and crunches, teach you how to engage your abs while moving, while the hollow body hold focuses on stabilizing your midsection without moving, explains Mansour. “This teaches you how to connect multiple core muscles together,” she says, which will help your core be more powerful and efficient as a unit.
On top of that, hollow body holds can train your body to better execute inversion movements, says Vidal, like handstands. That’s because a handstand requires overhead hand positioning, intense core strength and a straight, stacked spine in order to stay still—which is the exact body positioning that the hollow boy hold demands. Both moves require many muscles to be working synergistically, says Vidal.
Here’s how to progress up to the hollow body hold:
- Lie face up with your legs raised, knees bent in tabletop position, and arms extended along your sides, hovering several inches above the ground.
- Contract your abs to press your low back into the ground. Squeeze your thighs together and squeeze your glutes.
- Lift your shoulders off the ground (making sure they are pulled down from your ears and not hunched up) like you're doing a crunch, and keep your head in a neutral position so that you're not straining your neck. Your legs and mid-back should both be off the ground.
- Try to hold this position for 30 seconds, keeping your low back continually pressed against the floor.
Once you can hold the position correctly for one minute, try progressively extending and then eventually lowering your legs until they are parallel to the ground and hovering just several inches above, keeping all of the form cues mentioned above. Place your hands under each hip for extra support if you need it.
Once you can correctly hold this position for one minute, progressively extend your arms over your head and down until they are parallel to the ground and hovering just several inches above. You should be in the shape of a banana with just your low back and hips on the ground. This is the full hollow body hold.
When—and only when—you can hold both your arms and legs out straight for at least a minute, you can up the ante by attempting Saladino’s rocking progression, keeping your low back pressed down into the ground as you totter back and forth. The momentum should come from your core, says Mansour. Your arms and legs aren’t instigating the motion and should remain as still as possible as just your torso moves, she adds.
No matter where you are in the progression, remember the most important element: keeping your back flat and pressed into the ground. Think about pulling your low ribs down and knitting them together “like a corset,” says Mansour. “The second your back starts arching, stop,” says Mansour. You should also stop if you experience any pain, especially in your low back, adds Vidal.
The one thing you should feel? Intense activation in your core. “If you do it correctly, you should be shaking like [Saladino] is,” says Mansour.