Two Tips for Improving Your Hollow Body

Do you still hear the cue to draw your ribs “in”, “down”, “more hollow” while you’re hanging in the air or balancing in your handstand? Maybe it’s a bit easier when doing simple skills and harder to draw the ribs into a hollow when working on the more physically taxing skills. We’ve all been there. Read on for some tips for improving your hollow body for all your circus endeavors.

Where to Begin

Our hollow body begins with rib cage depression. For many of us, when we find good rib cage depression, we suddenly feel how ‘closed’ our shoulders have become. Generally what follows is a loss of good proper core engagement/rib cage positioning because of the need for our arms to be able to flex 180º (straight up over head). As I have written a few times, this lack of 180º flexion especially with core activation, creates a hinge point in the spine and places a lot of stress and shear forces on the spine, which could lead to injury down the road. Thus we need to work on core positioning and shoulder positioning.

If you are one of those people who when you find great rib cage depression and core stabilization that your shoulders no longer flex to 180º, then give my blog posts on Improving Shoulder Mobility a read. This would be a really good start in helping to improve your shoulder mobility. There are 4 post: 1234 and the movements can help improve your shoulder mobility for circus.

How To Perform Rib Cage Depression for Your Hollow Body

All of our abdominal muscles are attached to the lower portion of our rib cage. The abs most responsible for rib cage depression–that drawing in and together feeling–are your external obliques (see photo).

The best way to begin to feel these muscles activating and depressing  your rib cage is to place your hands on your lower rib cage and then inhale deeply and on the exhale, through pursed lips, blow out all the air and feel the ribs depress as the abs contract. **This is not a sucking in of your stomach, but a contraction over the lower ribs.** I often tell people image it’s your 100th birthday and all 100 candles are on the cake and you are trying to blow them out in one breath.

It’s generally a little easier to activate those external obliques to create rib depression when our arms are not raised overhead, but becomes more of a challenge, or can even feel impossible, once the arms raise up. Some of this can be because for many of us, we are in a bit of rib flare in our everyday posture and that will make it hard to get into a good hollow position when training any circus discipline(s).

One way to fix this is with breathing techniques, just briefly mentioned above and discussed in deeper detail below.

Tip #1: Breathing Exercise

Below is a how-to video of the 90/90 breathing exercise for practicing your rib cage depression. It’s great for many other reasons too, which I have highlighted in other posts, but for this post we’ll focus on activation of the external obliques to draw the ribs in and down in to depression-into your ‘hollow body’ placement.

If you are finding it challenging to feel the contraction of your external obliques with this breathing technique, then try the breathing technique demonstrated in the video below. It incorporates a balloon which generally people find helpful.

In the beginning using the exhale is a great place to begin to find the activation of your external obliques to draw the ribs together and down. Eventually you will want to find how to contract the deep core and the obliques without needing to do a big exhale. However, in the beginning this can seem challenging and that is why using a balloon or hand placement can be good feedback for your understanding.

Next steps

Once you have rib cage depression on the exhale, begin practicing activating rib cage depression on an inhale, holding your breath, lying down, sitting, on all fours or standing. Try it relaxed and then under some physical exertion-because this is when you need it most.

Tip #2 Challenging the Curl of Your Hollow

Once activating your core into rib cage depression becomes second nature in various stances and directions, we want to add a strength component to that positioning. Because again your hollow body begins with rib cage depression and then the slight curling of the thoracic spine.

As an aerial coach I often find people, even after years of participating in a circus discipline, they still struggle with their hollow body. I often talk about the progression of finding their ‘true hollow’ in my classes with students or with my circus training clients. If your hollow body is still looking like the photo on the left and not the photo on the right, then what does your hollow look like when you take it from horizontal to vertical? You know when you’re hanging? Or trying a handstand?

In the video below I demonstrate the various progressions you can use to work up to finding a correct and functional hollow body.

Things to remember while training your progression in hollow body

  • Begin by engaging your deep core with a pelvic floor lift to activate your transverse abdominals (TA).
  • Use your external obliques to draw rib cage together and down into depression.
  • We don’t want to see any abdominals push out (you’ll see your stomach push up). This means you lost your deep core contraction and you’re trying to stabilize your core with your rectus abs (6-pack abs) which are only meant for flexing your spine.
  • Breathe laterally. (If you don’t know what this means or you are still struggling, watch my video about it here)
  • Squeeze glutes to elongate legs out straight. Do your best not to have it only be your hip flexor resisting the weight of your legs as you straighten them.
  • Again make sure that when you elongate your legs your abs don’t push out.
  • Work on holding each position for 30-45 seconds consistently before trying the next progression.

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments or contact me via the contact form below. If you want more individualize assistance or training I am available for in-person or online training sessions.

Train happy and healthy, ~~Theresa