THE HOLLOW EXTENSION...

Arguably, this should be called 'The Hollow Flexion'. You're working your abs in the hollow position, but the 'extension' refers to the knees. A lot of tight hamstring folk struggle with this knee-extension move. If that's not you, this will still be one hell of an abdominal move for you.

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HOW TO DO HOLLOW EXTENSIONS:

HAVE A NICE LIE DOWN – And think happy thoughts about how ripped your abs are going to look this summer.

BRING YOUR KNEES TO ’90’ – and squeeze them together, gently point your toe things.

CRUNCH AND REACH – sucking your belly-button in, focusing on the move coming from your abdominals. The bottom of your shoulder blades should be touching the floor, but your head, neck and the rest of your shoulder blades should be off the floor. Tap your abs a bit to make sure they are rock-hard and contracting.

EXTEND LEGS VERTICALLY – without moving your knees, feeling the movement initiated from your quadriceps, and your knees locking out.

SQUEEZE THEM TOWARDS YOU – that’s right, towards your head thing. Now, nothing moves except the angle of your hips and possibly a tiny exaggeration of your posterior pelvic tilt.

HOLD! – and by hold we mean squeeeeeeze — actively (but smoothly) keep pulling your thighs towards your happy face — if you’re super flexible you’ll actually be really close, and you’ll find this easy; if you’re not, this should be tough! Squeezing in as hard as you can should cause great interest to your abs, hip-flexors, quads and probably your stretching hamstrings! Hold this position — or rather, WORK this position — for 20 seconds.

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THE NEXT LEVEL

ONCE YOU ARE READY TO PROGRESS FROM THIS FIRST MOVE — After you can hold for 20 seconds in perfect position, but feel you need a different challenge (or if you’re too flexible and the first progression is easy for you), move on to this dynamic version…

FROM THE TOP POSITION — with straight legs close to your head and all the work in your abdominals, hold for 2 seconds, then…

CONTROL ALL THE WAY OUT TO HOLLOW POSITION — slowly and smoothly, while keeping your torso still, your back flat to the floor and your abs in charge of the move the whole way. Then pause at the bottom as close to the floor as you can while still in perfect command of proceedings.

THEN BACK TO 90 — then, don’t relax, but bend your knees as you come back to the original ’90’ position.

THE NEXT, NEXT LEVEL

Too easy still? Got all your reps with perfect form and more in the tank? Great, the next move:

FROM THE HOLLOW BODY POSITION — after a second or two holding it here ‘showing the position’…

DON’T BREAK FOR A SECOND — keep your Hollow Position, your legs locked and squeezed together and all the work still in your abs.

AND GO ALL THE WAY BACK UP — with legs straight and the same intense two-second contraction at the top. Six reps like that is a whole new ball game compared to the last two progressions.

THE PROGRESSIONS

KNEES AT 90 -- just controlling the crunch

STRAIGHT LEG STATIC -- controlling the crunch, but focusing on keeping your knees locked-out and drawing towards your head.

ECCENTRIC REPS -- lowering all the way down with straight legs.

MOVING REPS -- keeping the legs straight and the hollow position all the time while working the legs up and down.

HOW YOU PEOPLE MESS IT UP...

YOUR BACK HURTS — as with all lying ab exercises, if you are too ambitious, if you can’t hold your flat back and posterior pelvic tilt and if you have weak or uninterested abdominal muscles, your back is going to hurt. This exercise can actually be a cure for this as the movement encourages the posterior pelvic tilt and the shortening of the abs — which makes them more likely to contract harder, but it can still go wrong. The Fix: Regress (make the move easier), then work to increase awareness and understanding of the move, and if all else fails see a good therapist to check there’s nothing stopping you.

YOU STICK YOUR NOSE WHERE IT DOESN’T BELONG …your nose or your chin actually. This happens all the time: if you can’t get any more movement, but feel you should and you want to do more, you fake it — on purpose or otherwise — but you’re not fooling me pal!…and you’re not getting any stronger either, you’re just doing it wrong--shifting the emphasis of the exercise and wasting effort. It’s classic on these — as it is in the ‘Gymnastic Style’ Leg Raise — you stick your nose or chin forwards towards your legs when they stop coming back towards you!

The fix: work on your strength patiently and your hamstring flexibility (diligently) and you’ll do it better, then resolve to keep your head and neck still and to derive the movement from the abs and the torso, with the legs coming towards your chest, not your face shooting towards your legs.

YOUR LEGS AREN’T LOCKED – if you haven’t done many gymnastic style moves before, and you're not used to training with attention to detail, you may well cruise through this with legs nearly straight, but not quite straight. Naughty! The fix: focus on locking the knee, feeling your quads solid and contracting, and keep your mind on holding that throughout. You’ll get it with practice.

YOU CAN’T EVEN GET STRAIGHT! — Unlike the above error — which I see as a mental problem, solved by awareness and practice — this one is for those who can’t physically get erect. Not a nice problem to have I’m sure. This is common though, mainly with gentlemen, purely because their hamstrings are too tight. For now, straighten on an angle that is slightly easier to manage, but work hard to loosen up those iron rods you call hamstrings on the back of your thighs. If it’s really bad, you might want to perform this exercise with bent knees while you’re still learning, but please oh please, work on your mobility a tad!

YOU RELAX IN THE MIDDLE — or any part really. With these Hollow Extensions--whichever progression you are currently enjoying, it’s vital to maintain tension and control of your mid-section throughout, even when transitioning betwwen different positions — whether that’s from the top to back to the start position, the full Hollow Position or from the start to the top position. Never ‘break’; never lose position.

YOU CRUNCH TOO FAR — we only need to crunch off the floor until the top of our shoulder blades are air-born, the bottom of the shoulder blades stay down. Crunch too far and you’ll struggle to do this well and miss the emphasis. Not the worst error in the world, and a flaw of the athletic, but it’s not the time and place for too much spinal flexion. The fix: use a mirror or handsome stranger to tell you how far to come.

YOUR NECK HURTS — which can happen on any of these abdominal moves. Make sure your chin is tucked, and consciously avoid tensing your neck during the move, but if that doesn’t help seek a decent physio who can help to re-balance you. If it stops you doing the exercise well, put your efforts elsewhere.

WICKED CUES!

LEGS TOWARDS HEAD — this should remind you not to push your head towards your thighs. Rather, imagine your torso is frozen and the only movement can come from the legs moving towards you.

SMOOTH STRENGTH — people love to jerk these babies. We mustn’t though, we need smooth strength. Thus this cue seems appropriate.

FEEL YOUR RECTUS ABDOMINUS CONTRACTING — this tends to help those who relax or start to feel their back arch. If your abs are contracting well enough, you probably won’t lose position.

QUADS AND ABS! — feel them work!

TUCK PELVIS UNDER MORE — if you lose shape, your back extends or hurts, it’s basically going to be because your pelvis is not posteriorly tilted enough. Control that, with great strength, and you’ll own these.

ONE UNIT — too many moving parts will mean that something ain’t right. Try to stay tight: feet squeezed together, lower back flat to the floor, spine still, head still and move only from the waist and you’ll dominate these. Feel as if your entire body is ONE UNIT, not a random collection of parts with their own agenda.

STATIC SPINE! — don’t let the lower back extend.

WHY DO IT TO YOURSELF?!

BETTER ABDOMINAL STRENGTH, CONTROL AND AWARENESS — which leads to better looking abs, less risk of injury and will make you better at other stuff in the future.

GET ABS! — the human beings who can perfectly control 8 reps of the most advanced progression of these is going to have a pretty tasty set of abdominals. Make sure their not under a lid of fat and you’ll generate much interest in members of the opposite sex.

GET BETTER AT LOCKING-OUT THE LEGS — in many moves like the L-Sit and leg-raises, one should have totally straight locked-out legs. Yet, if you haven’t trained this before, you might not be very good at doing this. For those of you who struggle, whether it’s lack of flexibility, lack of ‘teardrop’ muscle (quads by the knee) or simply the fact that you’ve never done this sort of move before, this is an easy way to learn. Extending your legs vertically is a lot easier than having to fight gravity by holding them directly out in front of you like in the L-Sit. Once you’ve mastered it here, it will transfer much more smoothly to other manoeuvres.

GET BETTER AT HOLLOW BODY POSITION — this is the real reason I’m so very fond of this drill. The act of driving those legs of yours towards you (rather than lowering your legs towards the floor), is not only hard work, but it naturally aids in posterior pelvic tilting. If you struggle to keep your back down or resist arching your lower back on these hollow position exercises, you need to boost both your strength and your body control. This drill really helps with both.

GET BETTER ABDOMINAL ACTIVATION — because you’ll get into better posterior pelvic tilt, your Rectus Abdominus will be in a shorter position, due to this you’ll be able to get a stronger contraction in your abs — you’ll really feel it. This feeling/learning to contract the abs hard – it transfers well to other stuff too, which makes this a great activation and awareness drill (as well as being great for strength anyway).

IT’S A NICE LITTLE HAMSTRING REMINDER — can’t pull legs very close to you? I blame your hamstrings. Every time you do this they will remind you that your hip flexion is not good. Hopefully this will serve as a continual reminder to you that maybe you should remedy the situation.

ALTERNATIVES...

The only real reason I see for not doing these is if you are one of those unfortunate individuals who just can’t feel your abs when in this position and all you can feel — even after patient practice (and a trip to the physio hopefully) — is your low back.

If that’s the case, I’d swap it out for one if the following, in order of preference:

—> Extra L-Sit Practice

—> Extra Hanging with body position emphasis work

—> Just more focus on the other stuff

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