One of my least favorite moves when it comes to my Pilates classes? The hollow hold. This one sounds relatively simple — sitting on your seat bones with your arms and legs raised, but is an isometric exercise with a lot of bang for its buck, and it really works the core hard.
Like a lot of the best Pilates ab exercises, the hollow hold strengthens the abdominal muscles while also working the lower back muscles. When done correctly, the hollow hold works the transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscles), the rectus abdominis (the outer ‘six-pack’ muscles), and the obliques, as well as the erector spinae, the hip flexors, quads, and inner thighs. To find out more and really drill down into the exercise, I did a three-minute hollow hold every day for a week — read on to find out what happened.
Looking for more weird and wonderful workout inspiration? Read what happened when I drank a gallon of water a day for a month, and when I did 50 walking planks every day for a month here.
How to do a hollow hold
To do a hollow hold with the correct form, lie on your back on one of the best yoga mats, with your arms and legs outstretched. Think about engaging your abs by sucking your belly button in towards your spine, and raise your arms and legs a few inches off the ground, as well as your head and neck, keeping your chin tucked in your chest. Hold here.
Make sure the lower back stays pressed into the mat at all times throughout the hold. If this is too difficult, opt for dead bugs instead. (Here’s how to do a dead bug with the correct form.) Alternatively, if you find your back is peeling up off the mat, hold your arms alongside your body, pointing towards your feet instead.
When hollow holds get too easy, you can progress to hollow body rocks, where you rock back and forth, while maintaining the hold position, or by adding weight by holding an adjustable dumbbell or weight plate in your hands.
This is a challenging abdominal exercise, but if you suffer from lower back issues, it’s worth checking with a doctor or a personal trainer before practicing hollow holds.
I did a 3-minute hollow hold every day for a week — and the results surprised me
To put my core strength to the test, I did a three-minute hollow hold every day for a week, here’s what happened.
Three minutes never felt so long
On day one of this challenge, I questioned why I’d set myself the challenge of three minutes. This was a long time, and on the first few days of the challenge, I broke the sets up into three one-minute holds, with a slight break in between.
I also found I had to really think about my core during this move — get lazy and it’s easy to get sloppy with your form. Your shoulder blades should be off the ground throughout this move, and the lift should be coming from your stomach, not your arms and legs themselves.
2. I learned to find joy in a shaking core
This one made my core shake. By the end of the week, I managed to hold the hollow hold for three minutes without a break, but my entire mid-section was trembling throughout. I could feel my abdominals really working to stabilize my body. The overall goal during this exercise is to hold your body still, and although this one wasn’t one that got my heart rate soaring, I could feel my abs working hard to do so.
3. My core strength improved and my inner thighs got a workout
Of course, doing any exercise for a week isn’t going to make a visible difference to your body — visible abs are a product of a low body fat percentage, not doing endless core workouts. (Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters.) That said, I definitely felt I was able to hold the hollow hold for longer by the end of the week.
Like I said in the intro, this wasn’t just an ab workout. I found my inner thighs also got a hell of a workout during the hollow holds, as I focused on keeping my legs outstretched and my toes pointed.
4. Practice makes perfect (well, kinda)
Do I love this exercise after doing 21 minutes of it over the course of a week? Definitely not. But by drilling down into my form and working on it for a week, I’ve gotten a lot more confident with my hollow holds, and even managed to add a set of 3kg dumbbells on the final day of my challenge. As a runner, core strength is important to help me run faster and stronger, and avoid time off with an injury, so this is definitely an ab exercise I’ll be incorporating into my routine going forwards.
Looking for more ab workout inspiration? Check out this 15-minute dumbbell ab workout, plus this Pilates workout that targets your abs and glutes.