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S1 Episode 12: The Future of the Handstandcast plus Q&A


In this Episode Emmet and Mikael discuss about the Handstand cast and their plan for the future. As well as answering questions from listeners, covering topics ranging from how they learned all they know, developing endurance in the handstand, building multiple reps in stalders, rebalancing strategies for one arm handstand and more. If you want your questions answered then shoot us a message or complete the form on the Handstandfactory website. We hope you enjoy!

S1E12 – The Future of the Handstandcast plus Q&A

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Transcript of episode 12: The Future of Handstandcast plus Q&A

EL: Hello and welcome back to the Handstand Cast.  I am Emmet Louis, here with my cohost Mikael Kristiansen.  How’s it going Mikael?

MK: Not too bad, finally got back to Sweden.  Been in Norway for like 2 months.  I was actually in my home town for the longest since I moved out when I was 19.  It was kind of funny to actually be there for an extended period of time, even though it was pretty boring.

EL: If you’re listening to this some time in the future, we’re still in the midst of the Corona outbreak.  Mikael fled to the North to escape the virus, while I locked myself in my apartment in Dublin.

MK: It’s not that far north, just in the mountains.  There’s still snow there, it’s still below 0 at night.  Back in Stockholm, I’m looking out the window and there are leaves on the trees.  It hasn’t even started in my hometown, so I was happy to get the hell out of there.

EL: I think one of the videos you posted, it was 20º in Dublin, and Mikael was hacking away ice from his driveway with an axe.

MK: The ice is there still, it’s thick.  If you go 20 minutes from my ‘city’ area, there’s still metres of snow.  It never ends.  Happy to have left.

EL: Let’s get on with our topic.  This is meant to be a minisode, but as usual, they probably always run over.  Who cares?

It’s also meant to be the last episode of season one.  I have to say, we set out saying we were going to try the podcast as a bit of an experiment.  The uptake and everyone out there in listener land has been fantastic.  We can tell you guys are enjoying it, so we decided to keep rolling and not finish season 1.  We’re just going to have indefinite season 1 until we need to take a break.

We had a bit of a chat today about all the other topics and stuff to cover.  If you’re listening out there and you have an idea for an episode, or questions as normal, you can send them in to us on Instagram or the contact form on the main website.  We’re open to suggestions, we need to keep things fresh.  We’ll keep going until we get bored, I suppose, then take a break and come back.

What do you think of the whole podcast thing?

MK: Of course, first of all, you and me were basically the highest risk group of making a podcast.  We’re both white dudes in our 30s, it has to happen.

EL: I seen somewhere online, when I run into people I haven’t seen in a long time, I just ask them how their podcast is going.  So far I’m at 100% of, oh yeah, going good.

MK: It’s interesting.  I’ve never thought about doing a podcast.  I like to talk obviously, but it’s been turning out better than I thought.  It’s a stream of consciousness kind of thing anyway.  We take up things we have thought about a lot for many years, and I’m surprised on all the positive feedback.

Many people got back saying, this thing you said was great!

That’s cool, but I never even listened back to anything we actually did.  I’m just happy people are finding it more alright than terrible.

EL: Our podcast has been rated by spotify as not very terrible.

With the theme of the minisodes, we have a few questions as usual.  We’ll ramble a bit, but let me pull up our questions today.

Our first one, and this is good so I put it first – where does all the knowledge come from?  It’s so well structured and thought through.

MK: I guess our information processors…

I think that between us we have many years of experience, both as practitioners and teachers.

EL: Between us, there’s about 20-25 years of coaching experience.

MK: When I look back on my teaching experience, teaching is a people job.  It has to do with relating to other people.  The specific wordings and theory is important, but also being able to see people as humans, where they are in their process is important.

I started my first teaching when I was doing Karate.  I started at 14, became absolutely obsessed.  I was doing that for a few years in my hometown.  I was so obsessed and into it, it was the first thing I discovered.  That and magic cards.

The two teachers at the club saw I was really into it.  They needed an assistant trainer, when they couldn’t, since they had families and were older than us kids.  When I was around 16, they asked me to be assistant teacher.  I knew all the theory and stuff past my level.

I was teaching the group, not very advanced things, but the things I could.  I got used to a teacher’s role from early on.

Then I was teaching breakdancing in Oslo to kids.  I think that has led me to be very analytical about how things actually work.  When I got into circus school, I was 23.  I felt the classical thing you do in your 20s: oh no, I teach too late, I am probably never going to get good.

I was stressing about it; I started reading and nerding out to figure out how to optimize it.

Optimizing is good to a degree; I’m not a big fan of it anymore, since you stress out over things you can’t control.  It did teach me a lot of things.  Having done that, I taught my first handstand workshop in 2010.

There were no workshops around.  There was a guy from Helsinki who invited me to teach at a yoga studio.  I put together something, and when I look back at it, some of it was alright.  But I was sharing way too much information.  Maybe those people needed to hear 50% of what I said.

They liked it, so I got to teach a couple more workshops there.  I expanded beyond that, then met you and Elise, and Handstand Factory, and so on.  It took off more then.

Having done it a bunch of times, it’s a classical science.  You have a thesis, an antithesis, then you create your synthesis.  Then you keep going until you come up with more efficient ways, on average.  It’s been primarily the drive and interest in figuring it out – how do I experience it?  How do others?  How can you come to some sort of conclusion on how to practice, through meeting others?

EL: There’s the technical knowledge I picked up in circus school, my own personal training, and desire to get better.  Then in terms of actually structuring and teaching methodology, it’s one of those things.  I had this realization one day that people just don’t learn the same way.

It came myself through dance classes in circus school.  Dance classes are only taught with one method.  The teacher does the thing, and you have to copy it within about 15s of watching it.  No breakdown, no technical discussion.

For me, I need to technically understand something to the minutia to be able to replicate it.  Once I understand it, like when making routines, I have a strong visual kinaesthetic capacity.  I can just sit down and do something in my head very strongly.  Then I can replicate it physically.

If I don’t understand what I’m doing I can’t go through my process.  That came from realizing, hold on, people can just internally visualize something and replicate, to I can’t do that, to seeing there’s different types of people.

Understanding that, then putting that into the practice of coaching and aiming to…and this is egotistic, but I like being right.  I like proving to other people that I am right.

When I say, I can teach you to squat, or get you splits or handstand, I want to be right.  It’s not for the other person.  Well it is…but it’s to satisfy the ego, that I am right, could teach this person better than they were taught before.  That’s definitely a driver.

There’s a general dissatisfaction with myself in the crossover and cross pollination of fields of coaching.  Some schools of coaching are very good at doing one specific thing, other places haven’t recognized this and taken it over.  They can be stuck in their ways.

I’m fortunate to personally straddle the realms of strength and performance coaching, technical acrobatics coaching, and just technical artistic coaching, and can draw from all these sources.  This gives me a unique perspective.  I’m not a strength coach, or acrobatics coach.  I’m somewhere..something a bit different.

MK: One thing you said that reminded me, re visualizations and stuff.  Of course, very powerful tools.  It reminded when I was younger, just getting into this.  You’re super hyped and you learn something and think this method is the world…the classical NLP stuff.  You learn you just need to do these secret tricks, then you’re about to learn much faster than everyone else, all that crap.

I was never really into that, but I had some friends who presented it as if this was the way forwards.  I dabbled with a few of these things.  It certainly helps me understand what I’m doing, but what I say with this visualization is it works to a degree.  But for some time I became the guy who spent a lot of time thinking I had to understand and micromanage every little detail.  If it wasn’t good enough, there wasn’t any point training it.

The idea that the first repetition has to be perfect, or else you’re training bad motor patterns, wrong technique, and all.  There’s certainly some merit to it, but I spent so much time on that, especially back in my breakdancing days, learning regular flares.

I eventually got really good flares.  I had a friend of mine who had the world’s most awesome looking flares.  Super long legs, looks like a fucking flying machine when he does it.  I thought I had to do it like that.  I made this mistake that I rationalized, that he can do good flares because his technique is exactly like that.  His technique is exactly like that because he has done so many flares in his life.  He could do 25 flares, of course he could fly.

I could do 5 at my best and expected my first 2 to be perfect.  When I switched that around and went away from visualizing and micromanaging every detail…when I could do 18 flares, I could do it pretty well.

People learn differently, or need different tools.

EL: Don’t get me wrong, I still need the kinaesthetic sense of it.  That’s an interoception based process.  You still need to grind out 1000 reps.  10 000 reps is your mother base of all skills.

You want to juggle 5 balls?  Try it 10 000 times and you will be able to juggle 5 balls.

MK: I remember a friend of mine, he’s actually the musician of the new show I’m going to create with the company we founded about a year ago.  That musician is a circus artist; he’s done a lot of partner acrobatics and dance acrobatics.  I remember he told me when he transitioned out of being an acrobatics stage performer and wanted to do more music, he just said, music isn’t easy.  It’s easier than circus; you don’t get tired.  You can practice all day, every day.

He went from being able to play some chords on the ukulele to composing his own music.  Of course, that’s not saying that’s easy at all.  But you don’t have your shoulders literally busted and you cannot do another rep, while you can play more on your instrument, or work on your vocals, or whatever.

He improved super fast.

EL: Repetition is the mother of skill.  It’s getting to the point where you’re confident enough in your repetitions, I suppose, and getting others to the point where they’re confident to do the skill.

A huge amount of the knowledge and other stuff I have is just to back up the practice, where I can say, you need to do this.  If someone needs 20 pages of reasons, I’ll give them 20 pages of reasons.  At the end of the day, the practices are informed by the theory, not dictated by it.

MK: Circling back to the question, I would say that I feel it’s part of why this stuff is structured reasonably well.  We have a lot of technical knowledge we could explain.  We could put so much more into those programs, fiddly diddly stuff that isn’t necessary, especially for anatomical variations, etc. It’s not necessary; that’s something the internet has made an obsession about – finding out all the details, and thinking once you do you can do it better.  Or, there’s some sort of secret knowledge.  There is very little of that.

There’s a chunk of knowledge you need to have.  What we tried to do is structure it around the idea that you need to be informed by it, and you can’t go into each and every set thinking about those details.  You are literally wasting brain power thinking, while you need to sense what the hell is going on.

EL: If you’re thinking, you’re by definition wasting energy on something that could be spent on the skill.

On a slight segue, what I do with a lot of people I work closely with, is give them cues and sensations they will experience as a cue, not because I expect them to replicate it.  But in that one freak time it happens for a quarter second, they have a vocabulary to describe it.  Not that I expect, say in a one arm, I need them to push up and separate the ear from the shoulder – controversial – and push towards the centre.  When they feel that happen, they realize they were on balance for that one quarter second, and now they felt what I explained and can link the theory with the experience.  You have an actual learning model there.

MK: One thing I often say is you need to keep the weight in the centre of your hand.  People say, is it around the fleshy part or the thumb?  It’s never going to be there.

Several people i’ve even been teaching lately that had an idea about this sensation they’re looking for, that doesn’t really correlate with reality.  That’s where, if you imagine that when I say, you need to keep the weight around the fleshy part of the thumb, an inexperienced mind in that context will say, balancing the one arm means I need to have the weight there.

No, it doesn’t mean that.  It means that this is the average sensation you’re looking for.  The big issue, that we discussed in Push Harder and elsewhere, is that you by definition won’t be efficient the first couple hundred times you do the one arm.  It’s going to travel all over the place.

That person might be feeling they were there for a fraction of a second and it felt right, so they have something to associate it to.  Have that, building the kinaesthetic map, and having certain concepts to connect to those feelings you get is a way forwards.

EL: I think we lost focus on the question, but covered some of it.  As I said, we ramble.  We like the sound of our own voice.

I’m going to move on to the next question, to keep us running.

This one’s a straightforward one.  Endurance.  What are good ways, or the best way, to build handstand endurance?  Currently at 45s max hold free standing.

MK: What would you say, Emmet Louis?

EL: What would I say?  It comes down to endurance in this zone.  You are still slightly in a strength endurance zone.  If you’re doing a straight handstand, you have to start looking at shapes to push your under balance capacity: tuck, pike, these kinds of things.

Building the upper back strength to have more raw strength will translate to more endurance.  It’s also, you have to look at how hard you’re using the fingers.  Are you doing 45s, squeezing the ground with all your life for that 45s?  Is your placement too far forwards, leaning onto the fingers?

Is your line stacked nicely and you’re just using the fingers as, and when, you need it?  These will make your balance more efficient.  Then you will balance longer.

Other than that, it comes down to doing more work.  With endurance, you have to fatigue yourself a bit in your sets.

MK: There is one thing I find kind of nice.  It works better for two arms, maybe it doesn’t really work for one arm.  For two arms, like you said, if you figure out, is it your shoulders that start sinking that move you too far into under balance, and that is where your weakness lies?

Or is it a grip strength, your forearms burn too much and you lose it from there?

Figuring that out could be a good baseline for knowing what you need to work on.  One thing I like to do: say it’s your under balance where you struggle, and your shoulders drop too much in the end, you do your endurance set with a stomach to wall.  You set up in a freestanding handstand, a little bit away from the wall, not too far.  You’re in full balance for as long as you can.

As you start to cave in, shoulders start dropping and you can’t hold anymore.  Then you let your feet go on the wall, and you’re able to stay up there and fatigue yourself slightly more.

You can do the exact same thing if it’s your forearms that get too tired.  Do back to wall instead, do your endurance set.  As you finish and can’t hold balance, push slightly further by letting yourself fall to the wall and working on heel pulls.  You add 5, 10 heel pulls to your actual endurance set, to get into that overload stage.

When it comes to endurance, there are two more important things.  One is you need to think about why you’re doing endurance.  It’s a classic, I need to have the minute, because the internet says the minute is a nice number.  This is kind of questionable.  Of course it’s a good baseline, but 59s isn’t a failure.

Endurance is important, but don’t waste all your time pushing it.

EL: It’s one thing, when you’re getting to the stage of doing 30-45s handstands, you should look at expanding your balance capacity, working on different shapes, press preparations, moving in shapes.

A lot of the time, this is the stage where we introduce all this stuff.  They just send me a video one day going, I can hold for 60s and didn’t even notice.  We just don’t make it a thing.  But we increased their horizontal capacity on balance, the pyramid gets higher, the total endurance.

If you chase it directly it can be an indirect path.  If you chase it indirectly, it can be a direct path to it.

MK: It ends up being an accidental result. I would say rather than chase the minute, when you pass 30-40s, build a strong handstand practice.  Learn the various movements, move on to complicated things like pressing.

You’ll suddenly see you’re at 50s, then you just need a couple of sessions to do it.  If you only keep pushing for this certain time, you’re constantly fatiguing yourself.

Now I remember my other point i was going to make, which is really obvious and blatant.  If you’re working endurance you need recovery, because your body, by definition you’re wanting to put yourself into fatigue.  Don’t make the mistake of having a 6 day a week handstand practice, then work loads of endurance on day 3.  Then you’re dead on day 4, still training.  You’re training day 5, then day 6.  Your opportunity for recovering from that is going to be decreased.

EL: On that note, to plug a book, there’s a book by Thomas Kurz.  I can’t remember the exact title.  It’s about training for athletes and how to lay out the training week.  Here we go, Science of Sports Training: How to Control and Plan Training for Peak Performance.

This is an excellent book for people more into coaching out there.  It gives a layout to how to structure things in the week, in terms of where your heavy skill work goes, where you’re working on really high skill things.  Where does your skill work that still requires strength go?  Where does your strength and endurance work go in your training week, how much rest you need between them, and how they kind of affect the other and decrease performance or not.  It’s an excellent book.  Anything by Thomas Kurz is excellent.

For coaches, it’s invaluable to get an idea of what to do in a week, particularly for when looking at things like physical capacity, skill capacity, and other things we’re working on.  If you do too much of something then you can’t train the other thing later in the week.

I think that covers it.  Let’s move on.

Here’s a question: head position.  Could you please discuss head position in handstands?  I thought the ideal would be to keep the cervical spine in alignment with the rest of the spine, but often on your photos, heads are right back, presumably to see the floor and help with balancing.  Elsewhere, I’ve seen the recommendation to look at the ground through your eyebrows to avoid putting the head back.

MK: That’s a classic question.  Stop making the head position such a big deal.  That is my first thing to say.  You need to view the entire thing about the head from a completely different perspective.

Looking at the floor is the default setting for hand balancing at any higher skill.  That is the main thing that matters.  Then you put your head in a comfortable position where you see the floor and don’t need to think about the head.  This is the primary thing.

The looking through eyebrows thing, I think that was popularized in gymnastics.

EL: That one is just for people going in to handstand forward rolls, stuff like that.  The head is already actually almost in the curve, and it’s a very small movement to get it out of the way.

MK: I assume it also makes sense for flips and all that shit, back handsprings – you don’t want to throw the head first, all that stuff.

EL: It’s a cue that gets shifted over.

MK: Looking through your eyebrows is fine.  To me, that is a more strenuous position; I’ll have less view of the floor and will need to actively tuck my head a bit in between my arms.  I see no point in it.

You hear loads of people tell you that if the head is in front and you look down, by definition it is bad.  Well then I highly recommend you look at hand balancers like Miguel Santana, Andrei Bondarenko, Andrey Moraru, Yuval Ayalon, me, etc.  Almost all pro hand balancers have the head in front to have a good view of the floor.  All these people I mentioned have really great lines and technique, so it’s no problem.  It’s even to the degree that when I was teaching in a circus school in Rotterdam.  One girl had the head in, look through eyebrows thing on one arms.  She’s really good, and I was like, oh damn, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.  It’s that rare.  She’s serious high level, and does that.  It’s fine.  It’s definitely not a necessary thing.

Find the position you’re fine with, and the idea that the head in front of the body should make you arch – then stand on your feet and look to the ceiling.  Notice how your head is an independently moving unit from the thoracic spine.

EL: With the shoulder position we try to coach into people based off the principles, the head movement should be able to dissociate from the shoulder positioning quite freely.  Either forward or backwards, or the more advanced chin on chest work.  You have 3 base head positions which are slightly different from everyone: look at the floor, look at the wall through your hands, and look up to your toes.  We work with these 3 a lot.  We do them to train the closing of the shoulders, the shoulder position, and also to dissociate it.

The shoulders develop their own platform.  They’re the base of the pyramid, and everything should be built on top of it.  Once you have a good shoulder position you should have freedom in the legs, the head.  It messes with your visual balancing system a bit, but in general, as Mikael says, what works for you and what’s comfortable – do that.

MK: In terms of the 3 head positions.  The head through, like the chin on chest when you look into the ceiling, this has a lot to do with the fact that you move the weight of the head into under balance, forcing your shoulders to flex slightly more to keep the alignment.  It has a lot of mechanical uses in that sense.  It’s a good tool to develop alignment, and so on.

Looking forwards like in Capoeira, I find that the least useful.  It’s fine to do, you can do it on one arm, but it doesn’t contribute anything significant other than making it slightly harder to balance.  For artistic purposes, like Capoeira or breakdancing, fine.  For the purpose of balancing, looking at the floor will give you the most information or where you are at.  Perhaps most importantly, it means that when you fall, you don’t need to move your head to see the floor and orient yourself in space before putting the legs on the floor.  You see it immediately.  You will have the coordination to bring yourself safely down when you’re a beginner, compared to, if you’re looking up and forwards and your weight starts to go over, you need to reorient your head and then legs.  It’s a slower process for you to be safe.

Especially when you’re high up on things, you really want to see where you’re at so you can orient in case of falling.

EL: I think that covers it. Next question, a straight forward one.  How long would you recommend holding a straddle L sit to have a good base for stalders?

I’d say, I can probably find you people who can hold a straddle L sit for 10s, but can do a few reps of a stalder.  They have a very good high straddle L that’s been set up with the correct protraction and depression of shoulders, and have strong compression, but it’s very heavy for them.

Generally I’d say 30s is pretty good though.

MK: 30s is a safe bet.  It’s not that hard to build.  Then you know you have more than enough to be able to do it.  What you need to look out for when you do that straddle L is you want to sit high on the arms with the legs, so the inner thighs connect just above your elbow.  If you’re sitting low, your shoulder blades will be popping out and you’ll be in the type of position where you can’t really exert, or you’re lower in the range in the straddle L, where you’re pressing from.  30s in a good straddle L is more than enough.  10s should be enough if you the rest of the press is very strong.  But 30 is a good baseline.

EL: Here’s a stalder question to link up with that one.  Once you’ve learned to make one rep of stalder consistently, how would you recommend to get more reps in a row?

This kind of depends on how you got your stalder press.  In the Press program we divide it into 2 distinct motions; the standing high pressing, then the press from the straddle or L sit, the low pressing.  If you come to where you got by linking them, you’re probably able to do 3-5 repetitions of each section.  Then it’s a matter of building endurance in it.

The way I would program this most of the time is, once someone can do 1 sufficient quality rep of a stalder, and it’s not an all out, I can do this once a month when completely fresh and the moon cycle is correct and I’m blessed by the priests of the internet.  Once I can do it every now and then, I would generally set a 15 min AMRAP.  What we’re generally looking for on this is once people get up to the stage of doing 12 reps in that 15 min, then I can start setting programming.  Say, I want you to do 3 sets of 3-5 repetitions –  2-3 normally, actually.

Say they’re doing 12 reps in 15 minutes, I set a program which is 5 sets of 2-3 reps, giving us 15 reps over the target time, but now you’re beginning to link them together.  That would be my way, I’m sure other people have other ways.

MK: One thing in terms of specific exercises, is the funny thing with getting more stalders is it’s a really fatiguing…it’s a long motion.  You’re getting out of the straddle L into the planche part, past your hands, still getting to straddle handstand, closing the legs, opening the legs, going all the way up and back down.  It takes a while to do one.

A few things that I’ve been employing, when I was working to get past 10, was I would do…where I would fatigue is the lift from the straddle L into the standing position.  So I would stop closing my legs on the top.  I would press to a straddle handstand and go back down again.

It saved me half a second, or say 2 per rep, and by rep 12 it starts mattering quite a lot.  That was one thing that helped me.  Also I think for people that are just getting their second one, smashing through one, get to handstand, then do a ROM press on the second rep.

On the second rep, if you’re able to lower past your hands slightly, and back up, then you’re starting to get close to doing 2.

As you said it depends entirely on where your weakness in the press is.  If you’re able to crack the mid part of the press on the second rep, you’re really starting to get close to it.

Also as we do in the Press program, with the L to standing exercise, I think if you’re able to do 10 in a row, it’s a very safe bet, if you can also do one stalder, that you can easily do 2 stalders.

EL: One exercise I like to throw in there when people can do 1 stalder, but can’t do 2, is do 2 eccentrics per set.

How this works in practice is you press from standing into a straddle handstand.  Lower down into an eccentric stalder, press back up, then lower down again.  We get 2 high presses, 2 eccentrics, 1 stalder in a set.

By the time you get to stalder, your standing press should be quite strong – hopefully.  It kind of gets you a bit more of everything.  Next question.

For you, one arm handstand and falling towards the support side – how to save your arm: lift or lower?

MK: Falling towards the flagging direction?   I think he means falling inwards.  I would assume support side is where the supporting arm is?

EL: I think it means the straight arm.  This is the thing.  In the concise terminology, we should put out a manifesto on the internet that everyone must refer to the one arms in this exact manner, as the only acceptable way.

MK: I’ll cover both then.  Just to be sure.  If you’re falling towards the flag side, that is the least complicated part in a sense.  It’s just about power, really.  If you are on one arm and your legs start going too far into a flag motion and you start losing it outwards, there’s a couple of strategies you can do.

The main one you want to do regardless is keep the pressure in the shoulder, and exactly the same way as when you’re standing on your hands and your legs start dropping into a press, you keep pressure in the shoulders, pike at the hips, catch the legs, bring them back up.  That is the same you do when falling outwards.  Outwards in a one arm, the legs start dropping a bit too much towards the floor, you press hard in the shoulder to reestablish the hand to hip connection, then you bring the legs back up.

Some people would want to bend the arm there, to bring themselves back under.  Usually people with a lot of muscle want to do it that way.  Some people who are very flexible keep the hand to hip line much straighter, and flex it in the sides much more.

There’s another, what do you do with the free arm if falling that way?  You really want to reach away from you with the free arm, because you want weight on the other side.  Let’s say I stand on my right arm, legs drop towards the right.  I want to reach to the left with the left arm to counter balance the weight of the legs moving outwards.

It’s a rather simple procedure, definitely not intuitive at the beginning.  It takes a long time to establish into the body.  Sometimes those wobbles are very large, sometimes they’re microscopic.

Falling inwards, the other way, is a problematic one.  I’ve seen, and experience, you stay.  If your legs drop too far towards a 2 arm handstand; the hip moves from a diagonal and into a horizontal alignment and you drop inwards, if you then…there is very little you can do to save it.  The primary thing you do, and again if I stand on the right arm, legs go too far inwards, what I need to do is push the right arm really high to again establish that under my hip.  Then I need to squeeze my left obliques, pulling my legs towards my body.  It’s similar to moving into a Figa, if any of you have tried one, you know it’s a rather complex position.  Doing this kind of counter balance and control is really difficult.  That is why we advocate having the diagonal hip placement, depending on your body, because you’ll have a range in both directions.  In a horizontal hip position it’s super hard to catch it.  The thing is, if people are in this diagonal placement, and everything is going well, and they bend the free arm – I call this waving to the Queen, when people stand around and wave the hand back and forth.  The idea then is that if you bring the arm inwards towards the arm you’re standing on, you’re moving the weight of your forearm and shoulder slightly that way.

People who are inexperienced have the tendency to move more weight to the right, tending to shoot the right shoulder out towards the right, then making the hips go too much into horizontal placement, and they fall inwards.  It’s very confusing.  What you want to do to avoid all these things is not move that arm.  Keep the free arm calm, don’t let it be a reaction thing where it flails back and forth, waving to the queen.  You want this arm to be calm and collected to the degree you can.

The only time you should move it for balance, ideally, is when catching on the outside, when you fall into a flag.  Then you will need it while, on the inwards balancing, you don’t need it.  You need to learn to control this in the shoulder and not let the free arm be a reactive mechanism.  It creates a feedback loop that easily sends you out when you move with the hip.

That’s a very long and complicated answer, but I hope it helps.

EL: Just to throw a counter point to this one, it’s a technique I never used.  I met this guy when I was doing an audition for a circus company in Belgium many years ago.  One of the hand balancers, or flyers, either auditioning or in the company already, he’s pretty good and stable on one arm.  I’ve forgotten his name.  His technique with the arm was to keep the arm high, but all his corrections happened by bending the elbow of the free arm.  It was working like a pendulum, going from saluting yourself to out to the side.

The arm was at 90º, and you know, he was like a hand to hand flyer, but pretty good on one arm on the floor and on blocks.  Wasn’t the highest, highest skilled, but was very good.

I asked him about it when we had some time.  He said this is how his teacher taught him.  I’ve nicknamed that the French Correction, but not certain what school, how he learned, or if it was even sports acro.  Just an interesting thing to try.  I don’t endorse it fully, but if it works, it works.

MK: This reminds me of one guy in my class at circus school.  He’s a French acrobat.  In my class everyone could do free headstands, without arms.  I think of 17 people, 14 could do a free headstand.  Whenever anyone was injured, they would go to the Mongolian teacher, or to Sacha, my Russian handstand coach, and ask for some exercises.  They would get some rather straight forward ones to build the headstand.  So in the end, most people could do it.  The technique for it, usually what people would do in a free headstand is, the arms would be straight and the legs would be straight.  To balance sideways, they move from a straight arm and kind of bend it a bit at the elbow to help them reestablish balance.  Of course, the better you are, the less bending at the elbows or movement at the shoulders and so on.

One guy would do it on his own.  He was a super high level acrobat, and would do it intuitively.  He would do the opposite; he would do a headstand with bent legs and bent arms.  Instead of bending an arm towards him to counter balance, he would go from the bent arm and just straighten it, or do the same with the legs.  He would have the polar opposite balancing technique, and it worked.  He could do a free headstand on the floor.  Wasn’t great, but he could do it.  It shows you can achieve the same thing doing it with a totally different approach.

EL: On the free headstand, a group of my more dedicated hand balance people have been training this the last month or so.  I decided to make them all learn it, because why not?  I was reviewing some of the popular old school Vaudeville, when headstands were really a thing.  If you look at the technique a lot of them were doing, like Bobby May, is they had this bent arm and leg technique, even though they were all super flexible.  They could do straight lines.  There’s a bit of an aesthetic thing as well, but they would hold and using this kind of semi sumo squat inverted position, straightening the legs like you’re saying as the main correction.

To put it in context, these people were juggling 5 balls off drums, passing clubs between 2 people, doing it on tight wires, on elephants, each other.

You can’t say we’re better now, as is our technique.  No, no.  They were objectively better than most people who do the skill nowadays.

Maybe just because it’s elegant looking, the technique isn’t better.

That was the end of our questions today, and we’re getting on to about an hour.  I suppose we should wrap it up.

If you survived listening to us this long, thank you so much.  I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped make this a success and encouraged us along the way with the podcast.  It’s been great.

MK: Speaking into a microphone is never something I’d been doing before, but hey.  If you’re enjoying, we’re more than happy to keep going.

EL: Shout out that if you want to learn how to handstand, one arm, press, do anything we do, please buy some of our programs from Handstand Factory.  It’s what keeps this thing running.

To finish this season, I’d like to say thank you to all the people you don’t see behind the scenes.  Thank you to Elise, our chief whip cracker/producer/everything really.

MK: Without Elise, none of this would have gone on air.

EL: None of this would have happened, so big shout out to Elise for that.  Shout out to Isaac for doing all our audio and editing.  He’s also one of our models you see in some of the programs.  He’s always charmingly befuddled.  Thank you Isaac.

Shout out to Sophie who does all the graphics and these things.  Thank you Sophie.  She’s fantastic, came on as an intern and now works for us.  She’s great.

Who else do I thank?  Jordan, who does the transcripting.  Shout out to Jordan, he’s a friend of mine from a different school of training and does transcripts there, so I co-opted his fourth treasure of keyboard skills.

Who else? I can’t remember, think I’ve covered everyone.

Shout out to Mikael and me.  MIck Exotic and Vagabond Emmet.  Elise told me not to say that but she’s away.

Other than that, it’s been great.  Thank you for listening, we’ll wrap it up there.  Anything else you want to say?

MK: Speak with you next time.

EL: Speak at you next time.


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