For as long as people have been working out there have been two goals that everyone has tried to achieve. Get shredded abs, and alleviate back pain. Countless infomercials have promised us beach bodies over the years (we all had an ab wheel in our cart at some point); but what if I told you there were three easy movements that will not only build super strong abdominals but also help to save you from back pain?
To truly understand how to strengthen our midline we need to first understand what the purpose of that group of muscles truly is. All of the muscles that surround your spine have the main purpose of keeping you upright and protecting your organs. If you had no midline musculature you wouldn’t be able to sit or stand upright and you would collapse like a sack of potatoes. Knowing that fact, we need to get out of our head that the folding, sit-up motion is what those muscles are made for. In fact, there are well-documented studies that show that doing a ton of that flexion/sit-up motion over time will actually be detrimental to the spine and eventually cause irreparable damage (if you don’t believe me google McGill pig spine experiment). If we want to truly train our torso the right way we need to think about movements that will force us to stabilize, in the way the muscles were intended to be used.
The hollow hold is what I consider the next-generation plank hold. We’re taking the stability aspect of the plank and literally flipping it by getting in the all-important hollow position. The “global flexion” aspect of the hollow position, paired with the minimal ground contact makes the hollow hold the perfect way to engage all the muscles of your midline without putting undue stress on the spine. Some key points of performance for a great hollow position are to make sure your shoulders and hamstrings are off the ground and think about pulling your rib cage down towards your hips while simultaneously pointing your fingers and toes away from each other.
The inverse of the hollow hold, the arch hold (or Superman hold) is a great way to get all of the benefits of the hollow hold for the posterior portion of the midline. Some folks may be limited by mobility here, but regardless of the range of motion, performing arch holds are vital in lower back health.
Possibly the least known of the big three midline super-moves is the Pallof Press. You may be wondering how we work the obliques without putting stress on the spine from twisting? The Pallof press is how. If we think back to what we said earlier about the true purpose of our midline, another job they have is ANTI-rotation. Stopping us from twisting around and snapping our spine is a pretty important job, which is why it pains me to see people do a million weighted twists in the gym to work their abdominals. You’re literally fighting against science! Instead, let’s work that anti-rotation with the Pallof press. There are many variations but the easy way to set this up is to tie a band to something fixed on either side of you, and hold that band out in front, mid-chest, without letting it twist you laterally. That’s it. Strengthen those oblique muscles the right way, without having to twist. If you do nothing else for your abs, start with these three exercises
– Coach Mike