Hollow rocks look easy. That is until you sit down, try one and realize you’ve got the core strength of a jellyfish. You’ll need full-body tension to resist loading and rotational forces on your spine, which will carry over to your big movements such as back squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and explosive movements like the snatch and clean and jerk.
Here, we will get into how to do hollow rocks, benefits, muscles trained and sets, reps, and progressions.
- How to Do the Hollow Rock
- Benefits of the Hollow Rock
- Muscles Worked By the Hollow Rock
- Who Should Do the Hollow Rock
- Hollow Rock Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Hollow Rock Variations
- Hollow Rock Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
Hollow Rock Video Guide
For a more in-depth analysis of the hollow rock, check out our video. You’ll gain more knowledge, tips, and insight into this stellar core move.
The beauty of this exercise is in its simple execution. While more is going on below the surface than it may appear, performing the exercise is a simple two-step process.
Step 1 — Setting Up the Hollow Position
Lie faceup on the floor, feet together, and bring them four to six inches off the ground. Then bring the arms overhead, so your biceps are next to your ears. Press your lower back into the floor, contract your core, and raise your arms and legs off the ground. You should immediately feel your core contract.
Form Tip: Tuck your chin to help keep a neutral spine.
Step 2 — Initiating the Rock
While in the strong hollow position, gently rock forward as you continue to suspend your arms and legs off the floor. When you feel comfortable in the position, try to increase the range of motion of your rock. Make sure to maintain constant tension in your core — neither your hands nor heels should touch the ground.
Form Tip: Don’t rock too far. Neither your heels nor hands should touch the ground. If you feel any tension in your lower back, reduce the range of motion a bit.
Below are two benefits of performing hollow rocks, which will primarily transfer over to more complex strength movements.
Many ab movements — like, all crunches and sit-up variations — have you flex your spine. The hollow rock is unique because, like a plank, it forces you to keep a neutral spine as you hold the position. As a result, the core will be trained to support that spine in this specific neutral position as your muscles fight to stabilize your body and prevent rotation. And you want to keep a neutral spine for moves like squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts.
Prerequisite to Other Complex Movements
The hollow rock challenges not just your core strength but your ability to balance and stay stable. This unique challenge has better carryover to more nuanced exercises such as pull-ups, handstand push-ups, and dips. Essentially, you’re building more functional core strength.
The hollow rock predominately trains your anterior chain — the muscles in the front of the body. These include your abs, hip flexors, and quads. However, it’s important to remember the core is more than just ’abs’ Your entire core musculature will be trained by hollow rocks. We break that down below.
The rectus abdominis is your six-pack muscle, and its main function is to flex your torso forward. This is the main muscle you activate when you brace during a set of deadlifts or squats.
Think of the transversus abdominis is a belt you tighten your loose pants with. The TA plays a vital role in maintaining abdominal tension. It sits under your rectus abdominis.
The obliques sit on either side of your midsection and are primarily involved in rotation and anti-rotation. During the hollow rock, this muscle is working hard to prevent your torso from falling too far to either side.
Their mobility plays a key role in allowing you to squat and deadlift, but the hip flexors need to be strong, too. They’re specifically working to suspend your legs throughout the movement.
Hollow rocks train the rectus femoris, which is the only quad muscle to cross the knee and hip joint.
The Hollow Rock will strengthen and improve core stability because they require your core muscles to engage for a long period of time Plus, it’s an exercise you can easily regress or progress — every lifter from the beginner to advanced can benefit from this exercise.
The hollow rock will strengthen the muscles around the spine under compressive and shear forces during compound movements. Remember, a stable spine is a safe spine. The hollow rock will grant strength athletes more control and possibly stave off injuries.
We suggest performing hollow rocks for reps, not the time, since it’s generally more practical than trying to eye a timer while rocking on your back. Count each rock — back and forth — as a single rep. Hollow rocks are versatile exercises added to one’s warm-up or after workouts to finish off your core.
Here are two examples of how to integrate them into your routine.
For Core Strength and Size
If your goal is to increase core strength and muscle, you want to do these after your workout. The reason being that your abs will still be fresh enough to work hard, and taxing your core with more volume will fatigue you for the rest of your training session. Do four sets of 10 to 15 reps. If you can’t do 15 reps, then work your way up to that number. Generally, abs respond well to more volume, so if doing 15 reps is too easy — do more.
As a Warmup
Work your core too hard, and you risk feeling weak for your strength work. As a part of your warmup, do two sets of 10 to 15 reps. This should be enough to engage the abs and work up a sweat, but not enough to impact your workout negatively.
When you mastered the hollow rock and need to be further challenged, try these progressions. The key here is not to lose a neutral spine, regardless of the progression. If you find yourself rotating too much or flexing your torso, then you’re not ready for that particular exercise.
This increases your anterior core’s tension, hip flexors and engages more of your core stabilizing muscles to keep your spine neutral.
Even though you’re literally rolling, this variation is all about anti-rotation. Yes, we know that sounds crazy. However, the whole goal is to keep your arms, torso, and legs in a straight line during the roll.
To achieve this, you need to ensure that your obliques are tight and your core is majorly flexed. Otherwise, you’ll look like a fish flopping on the mats.
Weighted Hollow Rock
It seems logical, right? Adding weight makes a move harder. The extra weight will throw off your stability even more, and therefore, your core will need to work harder to stay stable. Holding a weight plate with your arms extended will seriously tax your shoulder muscles, and most gym-goers wouldn’t turn down more shoulder mass.
You have a variety of methods for load here. You can use either a weight plate, light dumbbells, or kettlebells. Due to the long lever of this exercise, you’ll not need much weight here. You’ll require more core tension to rock forward and more core control when you rock backward.
Whether they’re uncomfortable or you want to change it up, here are three exercises that aren’t hollow rocks — but are as effective.
You’re in a similar position to the hollow rock, but the main difference is you’re continuously raising and lowering your arms. This up-and-down motion really engages your six-pack, more so than the standard hollow rock since the rectus abdominis is what’s facilitating your body to crunch up.
If you’re having trouble getting your legs and arms up, start with a more limited range of motion and, over time, aim to reach higher. You’ll get it eventually. This move is as much about mobility as it is ab strength.
Extended Front Plank
Planks are hard. Most people will agree with that. Do you know what’s harder? The extended plank — which, as the name implies, has you reach your arms forward to place even more tension on your core.
Take a look at the thumbnail in the video above. Now imagine that guy upside down. He’s essentially in a hollow hold position!
This plank variation has you add an element of forward movement to decrease your body’s stability and, in turn, increase how hard your core needs to work to remain stable.
If you’re yet to perfect your hollow rock, doing it prone with the body saw will strengthen and provide the endurance to the same muscles without putting too much pressure on your lower back.
Who can benefit with hollow rocks?
Pretty much everyone can benefit with performing hollow rocks on regular basis. They require no equipment and one’s own bodyweight. In addition, they’re easy to progress for every fitness level!
Can beginners do hollow rocks?
Yes! Beginners can begin to doing hollow holds, then slowly progressing to rocks once they’ve build strong midline stability.
Why perform hollow rocks?
Hollow rocks are a great exercise for improving core strength as a whole and teaching midline stability.
My back hurts a little during hollow rocks. Why is this and how can I fix it?
If your lower back hurts during Hollow Rocks first get your training partner to check for flaws in your form. It could be due to a lack of endurance in your midsection. If you have no flaws and your lower back still hurts, regress to the hollow hold position for time.
I've also seen results with just crunches. Why should I add these into my plan?
Crunches have their place, but all that flexing and extension of the spine without knowing neutral spine can be dangerous to your lower back. Hollow rocks will strengthen your core and teach you what a neutral spine feels like.