In functional fitness, one of the foundational areas of training is gymnastics.
This doesn’t necessarily refer to flipping and tumbling, but rather the basics of gymnastics – controlling your body in time and space. In many movements, this starts with the arch hold and hollow hold body positions.
Our ability to control our own body weight is essential to many other areas of training.
What’s most important?
As you can see from the diagram below, gymnastics is actually above weightlifting.
Yep, that’s right – if you want to lift heavier, you need to work on your gymnastics movements first.
Think about it – we need to be able to have full body control of our own bodyweight before we add external weight. We can’t control external weight before we can control our own bodies.
Two of the most basic gymnastics shapes we need to make with our bodies to learn full body control are the arch hold body position and hollow hold body position.
These are very simple positions in concept, and if you master them in practice, they will aid you greatly in your ability to move well and handle weight.
How to do an arch hold
An arch hold is the first essential shape you need to be able to make with your body. This is sometimes also referred to as “Superman.”
Lie on the ground, face down. Stretch your arms overhead, and then space them about shoulder width apart. Now stretch your legs out long and space them also about shoulder width apart.
With your eyes down, facing the floor, lift your chest and thighs off of the ground, making your body into a nicely curved “U” shape.
When you’re in the top of this position, you should be squeezing your glutes and your upper back should remain tight. The tighter you can stay, the easier it will be to hold the position.
You should now look like this:
How to do a hollow hold
The inverse of an arch hold is called a hollow hold. This is a much more difficult position to hold, but you can work up to it gradually.
Lie on the ground, face up. Stretch your arms overhead, and then space them about shoulder width apart. Now stretch your legs out long and bring feet together until your ankles touch (or as close as possible).
Draw your belly button into your spine, by sucking in your belly, and then perform a small crunch to lift your shoulder blades up off the ground, while keeping your biceps next to your ears. At the same time as you do your crunch, lift your heels off of the ground about six inches to a foot, while staying as long and straight as possible.
You should look like this:
When in a hollow hold, there should be no gap between your back and the floor. If you feel your back raise off the floor, pull in one (or both knees to your chest.
This is called a bent hollow hold. As your core gets stronger, you’ll find you’re able to slowly work towards extending one and then both legs.
When arch hold and hollow hold are used
Arch hold and hollow hold are used in many gymnastics and bodyweight movements. Here are just a few:
Hanging Knee Raise
Toes to Bar
Arch hold and hollow hold also make an appearance in many weightlifting movements. As your body moves quickly, you may not notice them, but you are making both an arch hold and a hollow hold in a number of lifts. Here are just a few:
Now consider that the basic “braced” position for most any lift, requires a balance of these two arch hold and hollow hold positions as seen here:
So now you can see even more value from strengthening these muscles.
Need to make it easier? Can’t hold this shape for long?
The key part of these holds is the trunk portion of your body from your shoulders down to your hips.
So no matter how we change the arch hold or hollow hold to make it easier, those pieces should always have a nice, regularly curved “U” shape to them.
- If you are having trouble holding your legs up, then try bending your knees closer to your chest. Vary up the amount you bend the knee to make it harder or easier.
- If you are having trouble holding your shoulder blades off of the ground, then try bringing your hands closer to your hips, but keep those arms straight! You can also vary how close or far your are from your hips to adjust the difficulty here.
So how do I get good at this?
Practice! Take 10-15 minutes before or after your workout to spend some time in these positions. The idea is to accumulate time while holding this position WELL. If it starts to break own or get sloppy, then stop, and start again only once you can hold it well again.
A simple way to do this is to do a maximum length of time in a quality arch hold position, followed by a max length in a quality hollow hold position, and then take a 1-2 minute break.
Do that for 4 rounds, and if you practice it 3 times per week, you’ll start to quickly strengthen these holds!
Have a buddy or coach spot check your form from time to time, as it can be hard to tell how you are doing while struggling through the hold.
4 Rounds for Quality:
Max length arch hold
Max length hollow hold
2 minutes rest