live strong. live healthy. live happy.
There’s nothing more fundamental than the hollow body position.
Proper hollow body position is critical in both gymnastics and weightlifting. The problem is that it’s also commonly overlooked in many boxes, or worse, it’s taught incorrectly.
It’s important because it enables the body to act as one big solid piece of muscle. To achieve that effect you have to focus and engage the entire body, achieving active tissue tension from your fingertips all the way down through your toes.
Work on extending the arms overhead while hugging the ears. Keep the shoulder blades elevated above the floor, the ribs tucked towards the hips, and your belly button pulled towards the spine. The pelvis should be posteriorly tilted, which will pull the lumbar spine into the floor. Squeeze the glutes hard, straighten the legs, and make sure the heels stay together and elevated with the toes pointed.
Why point the toes?
Pointing your toes is not just for aesthetics. It keeps the rest of your body in check. If you have “dead fish feet” hanging off the end of your legs, chances are you’re not as tight as you should be. Always remember to point and squeeze!
At my gym, Dynamis CrossFit, we have some strict but obtainable standards for the most basic movements like the push-up and pull-up. The goal isn’t to be mean or discourage, but rather, we’re trying to keep our athletes healthy and help them build the prerequisite strength that will carry over to more advanced movements.
Remember, one thing follows the next. Get as strong as you can on the basics and real progress will follow.
A lot of emphasis is placed on upper-body strength and gymnastics moves in competitive fitness. That’s great, but many athletes are under-developed and imbalanced from neglect of their lower-half.
You might squat and clean heavy every week, but you need more specific work if you want to fully develop an explosive, dynamic, and strong lower-body. Incorporating more lower-body gymnastics movements into your programming might be just what you need to take your performance to the next level.
I remind my athletes that our number one job is to get them strong, healthy and happy, and then keep them that way. When they are aware of that goal they trust the process more, which makes my job much easier.
One of the biggest milestones for us is when an athlete can perform three to five strict hollow body pull-ups. By that time they’ve earned both physical and mental strength. They are ready to take on more complicated movements with confidence. That’s priceless.
If you haven’t mastered static holds, start now.
Holding positions is a great way to improve stability and performance across all gymnastics and weightlifting movements. It’s also a tremendous way to improve posture and overall back health.
Remember, the more time you spend under tension, the more strength you will build. This higher the tension the better. Try adding some static holds to your weekly programming, slowly increasing the frequency of practice as you go. I think you’ll get a lot of benefit from it.
Here are my top 8 positions. The first 4 are all on static planes – the floor, bars, parallettes, etc. Move on to 5 when you feel ready for the dynamic plane, the rings. Practice these positions as much as you can to build comfort and proficiency. Take your time, it will come.
From the foundation up:
Hollow body hold
Tight Arch Position
Tuck-Hang/ L-Hang/ Tuck-sit/ L-Sit
Ball-ups/ Pass-Throughs/ Back & Front Levers
V-Ups/ Tuck- Ups
Strict Straight Legged Raises/ Strict Toes to Bar
This are simple drills that are worth mastering. If you put in the time you’ll perform at your best.
Use Static Holds to Improve Performance
By Nicole Zapoli
Published November 2014
You can read this article on Barbell Shrugged right HERE!
5. Squat Jumps
Set up again just as you would for the gymnastics squat. As you move down to the bottom of the squat, let your arms come down to your side, hands reaching for the floor. Jump as quickly and forcefully as possible, pushing hard and fast off the floor all the way out of the ball of the foot, extending at the ankle, and pointing the toes as your feet leave the ground. Your body should hit a tight, controlled hollow body position with arms hugging the ears at the very top of the jump.
Don’t forget to stick your landing on each and every jump! You should land light, first on the ball of the foot then down to the heel. Stay tight and maintain control throughout your body. This is one of the easiest ways to build strength and lower body control quickly.
6. Mat Jumps
Take a broken down, worn out, thick mat and put it on top of a foam pit. If you don’t have access to a foam pit, just give the mat a try to start. Simply jump on this for reps or time to induce muscular fatigue. This will really help you develop explosiveness in the legs by teaching you to absorb and reverse force. Make sure to pay attention to maintaining solid form with a tight and controlled hollow body throughout this drill. This one is killer!!
If you are limited to a pit-less CrossFit box many gymnastics academies will sell their old, worn out mats and gear from time to time. Or, just check on Craigslist. You’d be amazed at what you can find there.
7. Broad Jumps
Perform these while staying tight and controlled throughout, pushing hard and fast off the floor all the way through full extension of the leg, to the ball of the foot, extending through the ankle, and pointing as your feet leave the ground. Maintain a tight, controlled hollow body position with arms hugging the ears throughout the jump with legs and glutes engaged. Jump off the ground as quickly and forcefully as possible.
The landing should be light and fast. Begin on the ball of the foot and finish with a light kiss of the heel. Stay tight and maintain control throughout the entire body. Immediately reversing direction and push off the floor through the ball of the foot.
Work these drills until you get comfortable. To make things tougher, just add load to any one of these movements. I think you find that it makes a big difference in your overall performance.
For ideas on how to program these movements in your training just comment below. We can get a discussion going.
Here are my 7 essential drills for balanced, stronger, and more explosive legs.
1. Gymnastics Squat
To begin, set a good foundation. From the ground up pull the heels together, engage the legs and squeeze those glutes, draw your belly button towards to the spine, get your ribs down, your chest open, and pull the shoulders back, down and away from the ears. Just practicing a disciplined set-up will make a big difference in your lifting.
Standing with the legs engaged and feet squeezed together you will squat all the way down while maintaining a straight back with legs and feet together and heels on the floor. This is a prerequisite to the pistol and a great way to identify and correct ankle mobility limitations. Correct those limitations and your performance on just about everything will improve.
2. Kicks in all directions
Set-up in exactly the same way as the gymnastics squat. Keep your legs as straight as possible on all kicks, keeping the shoulders and hips square and stacked. Kick to the front, side, and backwards. This drill will be very, very tough if you have weakness or mobility issues in the hips. Just stick with it. Scale up by adding static holds or ankles weights.
3. Calf Raises…Yes, calf raises!
This movement is highly overlooked and often joked about, but it’s actually a super-beneficial movement. Place your foot on a raised surface so the heel begins below the ball of your foot. Move through a full range of ankle motion, all the way from deep flexion up to full extension. Balance on the balls of your feet while making sure the legs are fully engaged all the way up to the glutes, core, and upper body. This drill will really help to mobilize and strengthen the calf, foot, ankle and achilles tendon. That’s critical for durability during running and jumping.
4. Candlesticks, Rolling Pistols, and Pistols
The candlestick begins while standing at full extension. Move through a full gymnastics squat into a tight tuck roll. Pull your knees into the chest, the heels towards the glutes, and tuck your chin down. Roll onto your scaps with arms extended overhead, pressing firmly into the floor. Get your feet directly vertical, squeezing everything together in a tight hollow, stacked position (ankles over hips over shoulders), then roll quickly back through the tight tucked position all the way back up to full standing position. Everything stays the same during the rolling pistol except that you will stand up on only one leg.
To scale down the candlestick and rolling pistol, roll back onto a mat to shorten the range of motion. To effectively modify and train the full pistol, take a pair of parallettes and set them one cubit length apart (your fingertip to elbow). Stand in between and place one foot close to the front of the parallettes. You’ll squat with this leg.
Raise the free leg out in front as you move down into the bottom of the pistol, reaching with your hands towards the back of the parallettes. This will help you maintain control as you move down through full range of motion. Keep your heel down and weight centered over the supporting leg. Use your arms just enough to help you through your sticky spot on the way back up.
This is my favorite way to modify pistols with my athletes.
7 Essential Lower-Body Gymnastics Movements
By Nicole Zapoli
Published December 2014
You can read this article on Barbell Shrugged right HERE!
The need for immediate gratification in training is a big problem.
As hard working as most gym rats are, the truth is that, deep down, we’re all looking for a quick performance fix. It’s hard to ignore the promise of a shiny new skill or goal. The urge for the rapid fix is always alluring, but the best things are worth working hard for.
Some things need to be earned.
It’s easy to covet the skills of another athlete, but what we often fail to acknowledge are the years of training, discipline and hard work it takes to actually get there. The push for rapid outcome and improvement causes massive amounts of needless frustration.
We get impatient when the quick fixes don’t feel so quick. We think about throwing in the towel too soon. Everyone feels this way from time to time. What you have to do is constantly remind yourself that it’s the journey that carries value, not any particular outcome.
Refined skill is not something you discover. It’s built one day, one session, and one movement at a time. I love gymnastics training because it enforces the importance of hard work, patience, focus, and process. One thing must follow the other, and at no point can you abandon your roots or your fundamentals.
If you can keep refining the basics as your skills improve then you can achieve an optimal result. BUT, it takes time and close attention to detail to get there.
This is how we teach movement.
We start with a strict hollow body push up with the elbows in, making sure the chest is the first thing to touch the floor and the last to leave. Of course, full hollow body position has to be maintained throughout the entire movement. If an athlete is not able to hold form we simply raise the height of the hands to a bench or a box without ever altering position.
For kipping pull-ups we’ve set a prerequisite set of five strict, hollow body pull-ups with the elbows in. This frustrates some, BUT it is my job as a coach to keep my athletes safe and make them strong before adding unnecessary strain or risk. Their desire to achieve quicker GAINZ doesn’t matter.