by Michael Plank

You already have abs! They do the incredibly important work of supporting your trunk, protecting your spine, providing stability and balance, and protecting your organs.

But you probably didn’t come here for that first answer! What you probably mean is either a) How can I get visible muscle definition in my mid-section? Or b) How can I make my abs strong? (They’re not necessarily the same thing).

How can I get visible muscle definition in my mid-section?

When we’re talking about visible muscle definition, we’re talking about body composition. In general, visible abdominal muscle definition starts to show up at about 20% body fat for women and about 15% body fat for men. Body composition is determined by things like activity level, genetics, stress, environmental factors, and above all, nutrition. If your goal is to change your body composition, nutrition coaching is absolutely the best place to start (you can pick a time HERE). However, the reason changing body composition can lead to visible definition is that with a thinner layer of body fat, the muscle definition that is already there get’s revealed. So building that muscle definition leads to question b…

How can I make my abs strong?

There are a million ways. But in our opinion, there is one that rules them all: The Hollow.

The Hollow Body Position refers to a shape adopted in gymnastics in which there is a high amount of tension generated throughout the whole body. The Hollow (along with The Arch Body Position – basically the opposite), is the foundation of almost all powerful gymnastic movement. But you don’t need to be able to do back flips and handstands to get tons of benefits from variations on the hollow position!

If you want to start building some serious abdominal strength, begin by finding a variation from the video that you can hold for 20 seconds (If the bent hollow is too challenging, start with a plank off your elbows, or off your hands, or leaning on a box, or leaning on a wall). Then, 2-5 days each week, do a Tabata of static holds. That is, whichever variation you’ve chosen, hold that position for as many seconds as possible in a 20-second interval, then rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 7 more times for a total of 4 minutes. (To make it easier, use an online Tabata timer like this one.)

Once that gets easy, move to the next variation. When you can do a Tabata of full hollow holds, drop back to bent hollow holds and start holding the position for as long as possible. Once you are able to hold the variation for 2 minutes, move to the next variation. An unbroken 2-minute full hollow hold reflects elite levels of core strength! This is just a few sentences, but it represents months, or even years of strength training!

(Note: There are a lot of ways to do gymnastics movements that are almost correct, but not quite. Details matter here. It’s much more effective to do a perfect variation that’s “easier” than a sloppy version of a more advanced variation.)

Whatever your physical goals are, whether aesthetic or performance, a stronger set of core muscles will help. And best of all, the hollow variations don’t need any equipment at all and you don’t need more than a few minutes to work on them!