There are many different “shapes” in gymnastics like “pike,” “straddle,” and “tuck.” But before achieving these body positions there are some important foundational shapes that take precedent in training and are utilized often in fitness and sports outside of gymnastics. Two of these essential foundational shapes are the hollow and arch positions. Each is important on its own, but it’s also essential that an athlete be able to transition from one to the other rapidly and efficiently. This carries over into generating power in skills like tumbling, kipping pull ups/muscle ups, calisthenics and other acrobatic and explosive movements.
As with anything, achieving proficiency in these positions requires first breaking things down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The Hollow Hold
This position entails segmental flexion along your entire spine so that your torso and low back become concave and you appear “hollowed” out, like an object might be. Your arms and legs can be included in this concave hold, but keep in mind those are elements incorporated at a more advanced stage of your hollow hold.
To understand the hollow position, begin by laying on the floor with your knees bent. Tuck your hips under into posterior pelvic tilt (PPT), pressing your low back flat into the floor. Hover your arms by your side reaching your hands towards your feet until your shoulders pull slightly up off of the floor (kind of like a crunch). Holding your low back against the floor while keeping your shoulders slightly off of the ground, lift your feet off the floor and hold. This is a tucked hollow position. You can challenge your hollow position by slowly straightening your legs. Don’t go past the point where your low back starts to leave the floor and your “flexed” position breaks.
The Arch Hold
The arch hold is the opposite of a hollow hold. Where the hollow hold is full body flexion, the arch is full body extension. To get into an arch position, start by laying flat on your stomach with your legs together and straight. Straighten your arms overhead and squeeze your glutes. From this position lift your arms, chest and heels up off the floor like the superman position. A common mistake people make is arching the low back only. Concentrate on full body tension. This includes abs, glutes, quads, shoulders, etc. The result should be a tight arch and not a hyperextended arch. This is important for when an athlete moves into shape changing and ballistic exercises (e.g. kipping, tumbling, callisthenics) because prevents the low back from lighting up during training.
Move Effectively From Hollow to Arch
I’m going to cover two basic shape changing drills. The focus of these drills is to assess how well you can move from the hollow to arch position and vise versa. You should look to see if you transition smoothly from one position to the other without unnecessary movement. Examples of improper transitioning include losing glute tension, bending at the knees, having more trouble getting into one position quickly than the other, and so forth. This is all showing inefficiency.
This exercise is almost exactly what it sounds like. The difference is that while you’re rolling from your stomach to your back, you will be alternating between the arch and hollow, respectively. Start by finding your hollow position. Then roll left or right, transitioning into your arch position. Once in the arch position roll back left or right transitioning back into your hollow position. The goal is to be able to snap from one position to the other.
Minimize excess movement outside of the hollow and arch as much as possible. Your legs should remain glued together and you should continuously squeeze your glutes, abs, and quads throughout the movement. This drill is something I start everyone on when learning to shape change. It is a staple at my seminars before we ever move to the bar or rings.
Hollow Arch Pulls
These are much more challenging than log rolls. An athlete must have a strong hollow and arch position before moving onto an exercise like this. Set up two benches parallel from each other, far enough apart that you can have your legs resting on one bench and your arms resting on the other.
With the benches set up, position your arms and legs as stated. Once positioned, hover between the two benches in a hollow body position (PPT). From here extend your body into an arch position then pull back up into a hollow position. It is important to focus on extending into the arch position through the upper and mid-back, not the low back. Also, remember that the benefit in this exercise comes with purposeful, controlled movements.
These Drills Will Benefit You
These are two challenging and effective drills, and there are many drill variations in between that can be trained. Some examples include: static hollow and arch holds between the benches, long hollow holds, pulsing supermans, and hollow rocks. The ultimate goal of these is to get really strong, controlled, and comfortable moving from one position to the next.
As discussed in many of my previous articles, take the long slow approach to training. I emphasize proficiency in the hollow and arch positions because it helps in this approach and transfers over into more explosive movements. Often the opposite approach to training is taken and an athlete uses speed and momentum first to assist in an exercise. This can lead to plateauing and possible injury. If you take my approach however, it will lead to control and mastery. This in turn will open up many more doors in the long run and even allow a “long-run” to be possible. Arm yourself by mastering the hollow and arch positions. These two drills are fundamental shapes for control, strength, well-roundedness, and sustainability.