In this Episode, Mikael and Emmet answer some more of our listeners’ questions, covering training volume, training equipment in relation to learning the handstand, managing distractions when training, internal/external rotation in the hips for side split, managing and preventing injuries and advice for the one arm handstand.
Want to have your say on the Handstandcast? You can now leave us a voice note here with your Q&A questions for Emmet and Mikael! If you have any specific topics you’d like us to cover, or want to send in questions for our Q&A episodes, please get in touch via our contact form.
S1E14 – Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
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Transcript of Episode 14: Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
EL: Hello and welcome back to Handstand Cast with me, your host Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen. How’s it going Mikael?
MK: Same as last time. It could be worse, so can’t complain.
EL: We’re trapped in what we currently call ‘Wednesday the 94th of March.’ We’ve just been locked down for quite some time. Please send help if you’re allowed out of your place. If you’re not, please break out and send help.
MK: Here we’re out, so I’ve been out quite comfy. You never know how it’s going to go here in Sweden. They have their ways. If it works or not…I’m certainly not a virologist.
EL: You’re the perfect age group where it doesn’t really matter if you get it or not.
MK: Yeah, but I had some friends, really top fit healthy acrobats who are still smashed two months after they got it, physically struggling to get back in shape.
EL: I heard that off a few people, in shape, but got taken out good and proper by it. The next questions in the next months will be, how do I get back to handstands after getting the Rona? Well, you don’t.
The theme of this episode: like usual, we like to alternate our episodes with a serious one and answering your questions. As usual, if you have questions, either DM them to us on Instagram, @HandstandFactory, use the contact form on the website, ask me or Mikael. Hopefully you’ll learn something. Hopefully we’ll get around to answering it.
First question we have today, if I can read my screen here. If I’m just learning to balance on two arms, is it a bad idea to try to balance on blocks and canes in addition to my primary work which is just on the floor? The variation feels good but I’m wondering if I’m just creating confusion, because the push happens in different parts of my hands when using different props. Maybe that confusion is a productive learning path. What has been your experience?
MK: Sounds like there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. My initial thought was, are you able to get up on canes? If you are, that’s good. You’ll likely be learning slightly different things from all three elements and they’ll all contribute.
EL: It’s one of the things I’m quite in favour of, quite early, once people begin to balance. Generally blocks on the floor. My own personal reason for this is tendonitis and overuse injuries come from repeating the same stress on the body without adequate recovery. The blocks and paralletes provide a different stress. By alternating them over the course, you get a significant reduction in tendonitis and elbow owies in my students when I started forcing them to do this. I’m totally in favour of this, think it’s a great thing to do. Keep it up, really.
MK: There’s not much to say about that as long as you feel that all three are contributing. It’s definitely not going to make things worse. It will prepare you for being able to use all of them at a later stage.
EL: First you have to learn to balance on them. Then there’s all the drills and techniques using the actual objects that are unique to the object. Block walking, transitions, arm drills, and all the stuff on canes. The more comfortable you are by the time you need to use them for training, you’re already set.
Next question. Hey guys, something I wanted you to discuss. It’s been really hard for me and my training partner – what is the correct amount of training needed to make process until you just train for hours for hours, and it can be the same as an hour a day? We just don’t know when to stop and call it a day. It’s almost an obsessive thing happening.
Someone has got the obsessive compulsive handstand disease, it seems.
MK: A very normal symptom of doing handstands. It is literally impossible to answer. It depends on so many factors that we need to know your entire training history, what you’re working on, so on, to accurately say anything. It depends, there are many ways of tracking progress as we spoke about before. If you feel you are learning, and that incrementally over the months you are getting better, then you are likely doing enough. It’s easier to know what it’s a good idea, so that is doing way too much.
On average, that is not a very good idea to train 7 days a week for 4 hours a day. It is not going to end well for anyone.
EL: It’s also one of those things, it depends what level you’re training at. If you have the capacity for, on the extreme end, doing one arm for multiple sets and shapes, and multiple reps of press. Taking a day where you train for six hours and only do two arm handstands, working on your refinement and shapes, or choreography, exploring potentialities – then you’re kind of safe. On the other side, if you’re trying to learn a one arm and haven’t got the capacity yet or the strength, but decide to keep doing more and more, 100 minutes of one arm attempts, then you’re likely to blow something. There is this relative capacity and how hard the skill is for you, versus how hard you can work.
MK: I think you should rethink a bit, make sure what you’re working on is contributing towards what you want to be learning. This is kind of a common thing. “I have established a hand balancing practice. First I start with 3 sets of 2min, 2 arms. Then I do tuck up 15x, straddle up 15x, then fingertip shifts one side, other side, one side, other side, legs together, blah blah blah.” Is this helping you with what you want to achieve? Or is it busy work that you are doing because it seems like a good idea?
Make sure you choose drills that actually bring you closer to the target thing you’re working on. I used an example of people working on one arm. For such a routine, I say, you don’t need to waste a ton of energy and time standing on two arms. Spend that energy wisely working on drills that are closer to your technical limit where you need to work. Occasionally you can do more on the basic elements, but it’s very easy to throw away a lot of energy.
EL: Yeah, basically. It also comes down to workout pace. How much are you resting? How spread out is your work out? To quote a Mikaelism, handstand training should be like a tea party. If you’re doing a handstand, checking your phone, doing a bit of stretching, going back, chat with a friend, ask what they’re doing, give some feedback, ask for some feedback, trying something else out…then your workout pace is slow and casual and it can be long at that pace.
If your workout is 60s, 60s off, with the clock, then you’ll burn yourself out very quickly. To relate to my students, I had two come visit. They were training in the states. They were getting good, getting to one arms. It was Josh and Morgan, two of the models in the programs on Push Harder. They came to train with me in person in Berlin.
This was just about the time they were getting the one arms. They needed some tweaks, but beginning to get good. They came over to train with me. They were saying they were training 4h a day for the sessions.
I brought them to the pace I workout at, and maybe encourage others to. It’s brisk but not too brisk. By the end of an hour they were dying on the first couple of days, because they weren’t used to working at the pace I was getting them at.
For me it was interesting as a coach to see the effect of two conditioned athletes, changing the pace slightly, and have it trash them. That’s one thing to consider in this. Is my handstand training a social session as well? Am I having a lot of fun?
MK: It’s not a question we can answer with any type of accuracy. It’s kind of more a general suggestion around how you practice, rather than saying what is enough. It is way too unspecific a question in terms of the knowledge we can have about any person we don’t work with.
EL: From the same guy, he’s getting greedy with two questions. The self imposed pressures of timing/training every week, five days a week. The pressure is stressful.
Yes, I would agree with that. There is a tendency, particularly when you get really into something, to start putting pressure on yourself. You hear the stories of, this person trains 6h a day, 5 days a week, and then on weekends he does 12h a day because of some extra time. Blah blah blah. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure to train a lot. What we really are looking for is productive training, not quantity. Sometimes it’s better just to take a day off if you’re feeling a bit wrecked and know, I have allowances I can give myself. Just take a rest, it’s much better long term for your physical development, your mental health development as well.
MK: All that beating yourself up thing to create a superhero schedule is usually nonsense. Yes there are people that train a lot. There are people that train extreme amounts. It is easy to assume that this person trains 6h a day, that’s why they’re good. Or did they develop to become very good, and now they’re spending an enormous amount of time, maybe more than necessary, on their training. It doesn’t mean you need to put in that much time.
If this pressure is making you not feel great about your training, then it’s obvious. It’s making you not feel great about your training; you should change it.
One thing I’ve seen, perhaps more consistency than anything else in the years I’ve done various physical practices, in breaking and circus and so on, and not only my own discipline. The people that get really good are the people that don’t fuss or stress way too much about every single little detail. It’s what I call optimizers, the people who have to control every tiny variable about their training or else they go crazy. They spend a lot of time controlling all these variables. They should spend the time training and practicing inside.
Most of the ones I’ve seen get very good have a more relaxed approach to it, meaning they don’t freak out if they miss a day of training. I’m very guilty of being exactly that guy who tries to train. I fucking trained 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 7 years. It didn’t help at all. I did that, I performed through that period. It’s a miracle I didn’t get fully destroyed. I never, ever rested. The last time I had 5 days off was in 2012. Not kidding. Yes I do have a high capacity, but I learned. It helps me nowhere, and won’t you either.
Building a better relationship with what you enjoy to do is definitely the way up.
EL: Unless you have the super obsessive compulsive personality type that will stay engaged with something, having a bit of freedom…it’s such a shame when you see it in people. They get too obsessed with their practice and mentally burn themselves out before they reach their wanted level. Then they can’t do it anymore and lose the enjoyment. There’s a phrase I heard somewhere that passions are cultivated. You can’t just get a true passion overnight. You have to slowly grow it like it’s in your garden, grow it, trim away. Over the years it will grow and be a passion. If you get it too fast it burns itself out. It doesn’t have a foundation.
If you have high aspirations for anything really, doing too much at the start is detrimental.
MK: Take your time. The only ones that really need to stress much about it are in circus school and want to go to the big circus festival next year, do all their crazy shit, because they’re still young and in that level. Even they…just relax. It’s definitely a better solution.
EL: Next question. As a beginner I find it hard to practice with distractions. People walking around me etc makes me lose focus, the leg or shoulder drifts, and I fall out of the handstand. When does it become second nature?
MK: Good question, I haven’t experienced that in many, many, many years. It’s the first time I’ve thought about that possibly being a problem for someone in a very long time. If you’re distracted, maybe it’s good for a while to find somewhere there are less distractions? Especially if working on technical things. At one point, when the- some people will also be more susceptible to being distracted by certain things over others. If you are in close proximity to such things and are working on something demanding high concentration, you will likely be distracted. If you work on something that doesn’t, it won’t be an issue, I guess. What do you think Emmet?
EL: Yeah. I’m definitely one of those people where depending on the day, it wrecks me. You’ve been to the gym I train at over here. It’s a cluster fuck of PTs shouting. Some days I can train through it perfectly, other days are literally hell to get any training in. Many times I’ve walked out of the gym, going, I’m not training today, fuck this shit. It goes back to taming your passions.
I think concentration and focus are cultivatable skills, but also finite skills. You can concentrate, train it as a mind quality just by itself – like meditation, but not quite. You pick something to pay attention to. People I work with on the other Daoist training I take people in, they get a red ball. It’s traditional. Focus on this, train yourself to get a cone like focus on this object so it’s the only thing in your sensory awareness.
You first start doing it and can’t concentrate for 20s even. Eventually you’re able to hold the ball with nothing else leaking in for 30-40 minutes. It’s this idea of pulling these things out, the concentration. You can also find that in handstands.
One thing I do a lot to activate the cone is finding one spot on the floor and locking my eyeballs onto it to the point where they aren’t even moving. This kind of activates the cone for me to block out the distractions. The only thing that exists is the bit of dust I’m looking at on the floor. It’s something to try, but also, as Mikael said, fuck it and try to find somewhere else quieter to practice if you can.
Right now in the grips of the Rona, it might be hard, but maybe get up at 4am to do your training.
Five, think this one is a bit more for me. Is it important to develop internal and external rotation in the hips for splits and pancake? Is it a limiting factor?
If we think about the side splits, which I assume you’re referring to over the front split, the legs will be, if you check the angle, between 70-110º of anteriorly tilted pelvis. Somewhere between 45-70º of external rotation is where the split will happen for you. How this looks depends on how you set up your splits. If you externally rotate to the max and slide the legs out sideways, as you would do in ballet with the knees up to the ceiling, then you obviously need a lot of external rotation to get into it. If you go a bit more horse stance where the knees look like they’re going forward, it’s the same amount of external rotation, but loading a different segment of the muscles through the angulation.
Internal rotation is a weird beast in these. You don’t need internal rotation per se, to do a split, though it might look like it in some people depending on how their knees are bending, but it can be very beneficial to train it in terms of comfort. It’s training balancing movement planes. If we train pushing movements in the body it’s generally a good idea to train pulling, and vice versa.
If we’re training side splits, it’s generally good to train internal movements, internal rotation movements. There’s a bit of a fetish for internal rotation at the moment, saying that if you’re lacking it you’re a bad person and will have all these problems. Well, a lot of people who don’t have these problems have zero internal rotation. It’s questionable, you have to look at science and what it says about structures and non conforming structures…
In summary, train it a bit. Train it if it’s a limit. Try it out for yourself. Does it work for you? Great, keep doing more. If it doesn’t impact anything, you probably don’t need to do it at that moment.
Okay, so number six. New question. What’s your approach to injuries, both in coaching and practicing? Keep up the good work.
MK: Injuries. First of all, trying to avoid them by ensuring that the amount of load you’re able to handle, or keep, in general to what you’re able to handle. This is a lot easier said than done. When you’re coaching people it feels almost easier to help others than yourself. That’s why in sport people do have coaches. As an athlete, you will be emotionally bound to what you do, so it’s easy to overstep that. When you work with a coach it’s easier to follow that, speak with that person, get opinions.
In a coaching context I feel it’s easier to deal with. I always ask people I coach to tell me, inform me how your wrists and shoulders are, so I have an idea. Even today, one guy told me his wrist is a bit too sore, and it’s been like that for a week. See in the next few days how it’s feeling, and do the lower numbers in the program. Then you reduce the risk of what can happen. If you need to take days off, take days off. It’s always better to just scale back before you end up with a more significant injury. It’s definitely difficult. Having had injuries and currently still rehabbing an injury myself, it’s a difficult and bumpy ride.
Injuries are also very specific. Right now for example, I have a shoulder issue that goes up and down that I’m handling. I know this is something I need to specifically take care of. Today in my practice I pulled some muscles around my ribs on the left side. I know this will be fine, because I’ve done the exact same thing many times and stopped practicing after that happened. Tomorrow I will likely feel 90%. If I don’t feel that good, I’m going to not do certain movements. It’s something you really need to learn to deal with over time. Experience is the key factor there, and listening to other people with experience.
EL: It depends on the injury. The Goldilocks problem with healing injuries is you need to rest, but not too much. You need to move, but not too much. You need to reintroduce the movement that caused the initial injury, but not too much. It’s a balancing factor, where when you’re coaching yourself it’s easy to do too much. It’s one cause of injuries dragging out too long when people are coaching themselves. If you’re trying to rehab yourself, you do too much instead of a little bit.
If it’s something small you’ve had before, like a certain wrist tweak, and it’ll be fine in a week, you know what to do. If it’s something new or something you’re even concerned about, it’s better to have a second opinion and see a physio, to get a roadmap. You can do this, this, this, and build your capacity back up. Having someone you trust and following the plan, actually following the plan. Don’t just say, it’s a great plan. Do it until you feel better. If they say do it for 6 weeks but you feel better on week 2 and stop, no. Keep going another few weeks. That’s when you get the benefit from it. There’s no real one true way. You have to blunder through it yourself. Don’t panic, I suppose. Keep going.
Next question. This one leads into our next episode ont he podcast about the one arm handstand. I’ll put this up so we can get to it. I would like to know the difference in benefits between practicing flags, and transfer of weight to one arm with finger supports.
MK: I assume we’re talking about the terminology of Handstand Factory programming, with deep side flexion here.
EL: Maybe we should define the flag. We have the term side flexion flag that caused some confusion for people not used to our terminology. Flagging and side flexion are basically the same. Flag is shifting into a side flexion, going deeper into more of a classic deep flag.
But if you’re setting up a one arm, people think you don’t flag into it, you just shift the weight over. Maybe this is what the person is getting at. In the one arm handstand, practically all cases you have to have the hips at a diagonal angle. This is a flagging action. All that happens is when you start shifting the weight and pushing correctly, the spine starts to straighten out. It’s a two stage process the way we teach it. Other coaches will teach these things to come at once. There are arguments for and against it. You have to do both.
In terms of flagging from centre and out, centre to one side and back to centre – this is your lateral rebalancing action in a one arm handstand. So you have to practice it, same you would heel and toe pulls. At the same time, there’s a range…let’s make up numbers here. If you need 45º of hip tilt, if that’s your max flagging capacity for a one arm, 55º will make you fall out to the side. Whereas if you can flag 65º then when you hit 45º you have some leeway before you drop your handstand. It’s definitely an idea of building capacity here.
The other thing is, in a two arm handstand flagging, there’s two different shoulder configurations we have to look at as well. There’s a flagging action where the weight will shift to one arm, similar to a one arm handstand. Then there’s a flagging action where the weight stays centred on the hands, nearly 50-50, 60-40, something like that, due to a lateral translation of the shoulders where they stay level and don’t come up to an angle. You have to be able to do both in my opinion, to MASTER hand balancing.
MK: The way that’s ideal, you’re able to easily touch the floor in a wide straddle, and bring it back up to centre. That is something to strive for if you’re learning the one arm. Then you’re sure you have the ability to flex a lot in the side, still controlling the hip from the upper body. You should have quite some range towards the floor. The more power you have, the better you are off. You don’t need an extreme amount to learn one arm, but as Emmet mentioned, some is very important.
What is important there is you find…the amount a person will flag and do their one arm shape in will be up to the person, their structure, how high they prefer to push their shoulder. On average, a low shoulder position in one arm will equal a flaggy looking one arm, where hips are hanging on the side. If you look at B-Boys, they often do that. Arms bent, shoulder position far from head and very low, hip is very far out. The opposite is someone with a very high push in the shoulder, almost no tilt in the hip. You need to find what works best for you. On average you want to set up this diagonal and push high through the shoulder. Most of the time this gives the best of both worlds in terms of being able to balance, both on in and outside of the one arm handstand.
EL: We’re basically talking about the same thing. Different skills you need to master to achieve the one arm. Last question, a good one that will appeal to a lot of people. Muscle hypertrophy or building muscle with handstand training. Question mark.
So, how do we build muscle while handstand training? Well, can you do it with handstand training? Probably not directly, though I suppose you can build the hand balance muscles, jacked forearms.
MK: You train a lot of handstands, you’ll get some upper body muscle. But it’s not going to build at the same rate or anything as if solid gym split, or calisthenics. One thing I’d like to say about that; a few too many are chasing too many goals at the same time. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go with hand balancing, the more time it will take. If you try to do your one arm chin up, and increase your bench, all at the same time, it’s going to be rough. The recovery and amount of time you spend on it is going to likely exceed your capacity.
If you’re taking your hand balancing training seriously, generally past the two arm handstand, I think the hypertrophy of upper body muscles should be not that big a priority.
EL: With my hand balance specialist trainees, even if they need to gain a bit of muscle, they generally only train bodybuilding type movements – bodyweight or weight – once a week. The capacity for hand balance training takes up so much time. One interesting strategy I will throw out there is very difficult to implement without someone overseeing your program such as myself, or someone who understands these concepts. But we can use weight and cyclical cutting and bulking diet to reinforce the structure in hand balance training.
What this would mean is, we spend some time gaining skills. I’ll throw some numbers out. Say a person can do a 10s one arm for multiple sets. Then we take their weight up on a bulking diet, gaining mass, gaining mass. At that time I will not let them push the duration or volume of training, measured in seconds. They’ll be maintaining, but because they’re increasing mass, their body is getting stronger in these positions, essentially. That’s working on our progressive overload. Then we cut, that’s when we start introducing new elements to the repertoire, or increasing time. Say we’ve gone up 5% bodyweight, then we cut the fat, start introducing elements. Now we get to a lower bodyweight, that’s when we increase the hold time and elements, get them up to a stabilization phase of 4-6 weeks, then start bulking again. This could be quite successful, but you have to be all in. You have to be tracking, tight on these things. It’s very easy to mess up, but a very effective approach.
If you’re interested in reading about it, I remember I picked it up from the Australian Sports Institute, something like that, a national sporting body in Australia for athletics training. They were talking about cycling with their women competitors, cycling the body weight and fat levels over the year. They bring them down to the optimal weight for the event, and optimal body fat leading up to the peaking season. Over the rest of the year, they use the bodyweight to a more hormone friendly sustainable level, to keep performance and accumulative fatigue at bay.
I’ve implemented it with a few people over the years. It’s how I got Josh and Morgan so jacked for the photoshoot. It took about a year to do. It’s difficult to do. You have to be all in on your training, not wanting to have a social life. Social life…who needs it?
Right, that is the end of our questions for today. A good 40 minutes in, excellent. Mikael, shall we say goodbye?
MK: I guess it is time.
EL: Thank you all for listening in, listening to us ramble. If you want to train hand balance, listen to our glorious voices more, with video, you can pick up our programs at HandstandFactory.com.
Other than that, thanks for tuning in. If you like, tell your friends you like it. If you don’t, tell your enemies you like it. Have a good day.