The hollow hold is a core training staple — but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?

For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a simple, essential movement when done properly. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Before you drop down to the floor to get going, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the position here. You’re not just lifting your legs and arms up with no other cues—you’re going to have to pay attention to more than just your limbs. That will make even more sense as you apply the position elsewhere in your training, since the fundaments of the move will teach you how to position your body for gymnastics moves like the handstand.

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Lower Back Presses to the Ground

Eb says: This is the key to the hollow body. Even if you modify the move to make it easier, what makes the hollow body work is the act of pressing your lower back aggressively into the ground. You can only do this by aggressively flexing your abs, and never letting that flex go.

Some ab moves, like situps, can cause a level of spinal flexion, but don’t worry about that in the hollow body. The flat ground upon which you’re lying will prevent your spine from over-flexing. Use that to your advantage and really flex your abs into the ground.

Shoulder Blades Off the Ground

Eb says: When it comes to upper body position, don’t think arms off the ground—focus on shoulder blades off the ground. It’s easy to get your arms off the ground, but that doesn’t create any tension on your core.

To create tension on your core you need an upper-body lever directly connected to your core. You get that by raising your shoulder blades off the ground. You don’t need to elevate your shoulder blades a lot; a millimeter will do. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re cruising through the hollow body—because your shoulder blades are comfortably on the ground.

Don’t Tuck Your Chin

Eb says: It gets tempting to tuck your chin to your chest on this one, because you might think it’ll help you keep your shoulder blades off the ground—but you need to resist that urge.

There are multiple reasons for this. First off, you’re taking your neck out of its normal, neutral alignment. Keeping it in place will reduce any chances of neck strain. Secondly, by tucking your chin, you reduce the strain on your core, which suddenly has a little less weight to balance. Don’t shortchange yourself like that. Keep your chin in neutral and look upwards as you hollow body.

After you master the basic form, give these variations a shot.

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