In this Q&A with Emmet and Mikael, they answer more questions from you, our listeners. Ranging from topics such as: When to transition to more endurance holds in handstands, what happens to the body in the handstand both acute and long term changes, rating the difficulty of handstand variations and is it worth it? How to transition from tuck planche to straddle planche work and how to correct excessive lean in the press to handstand.
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S1E16 – Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
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Transcript of Episode 16: Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost, Kristiansen. How’s it going Mikael?
MK: Same as last time. I’ve been folding a lot of paper and very happy about the complete mess that I’m working on right now. That is grand. How about yourself?
EL: Pretty good. Just to put it in context, we are about two hours late from recording because Mikael was engaged in what he called the battle of the saw, with a piece of paper.
MK: Origami, yes.
EL: He sent me the crease pattern and, I don’t know if anyone knows origami, but you get a map or piece of paper. It basically looked like if you waved it too fast in front of someone, it would probably cause a seizure. That was the pattern he was working on. Now he has…basically a gun now.
MK: Yeah it looks like…what can I say? I don’t even know how to describe this mess, and I’m sitting with it in my hand. It’s basically like the pre form before it looks like anything. I actually didn’t spend that many hours on getting here, which is surprising me. It’s a mess, and probably the most complex one I’ve done possibly ever. Let’s see if I can actually finish. More of that next time.
EL: So we are doing our normal Q&A episode. I suppose the world is kind of burning down at the moment, but we’ll answer some questions. If you’re listening to this in the future, the Rona is still a thing. We are locked down. Hopefully you’re not locked down listening to this. Or hopefully you are. Who knows.
I suppose we can get in to our listener questions. Thank you all for sending them in. As usual, if you have questions and want to send them in, please do, on Anchor FM as well. We have someone who sent us in an audio question. We just figured out how to get that working and cut it in, and we had to use Anchor FM. If you have some audio questions and want to hear your voice on the telly, the radio, or the podcast, we’ll do it. Feel free to use that as well.
First question. I know everyone is different, but what is the timeline to move from a 10s to a 30s hold? It feels like it took me a year to build up to a regular 10s, sometimes 15s hold. 30s seems far away right now. Are more wall holds needed?
MK: First I would say it’s usually faster to go from 10-15 to 30, because you know what you need to do to balance on your hands. I would say the primary thing to do is shift a perhaps from a more technically focused training to more conditioning focused. At the same time, you can just try to build a strong handstand practice where you practice moving your legs, practice tuck handstand, straddle, so on. Over time, the trip to 30 will start happening by itself.
There’s nothing wrong with pure aiming for nailing it. Start adding in more endurance focused work. What do you think Emmet?
EL: When you get to the point of being able to do 15s, then it becomes time to start critically assessing what actually goes wrong in your balance, then picking your conditioning to suit that. I’ll run through a few common ones. There’s a lot and it’s variable.
Is your forearm or fingers getting tired? If yes, is your placement too far forwards? Are you squeezing your fingers constantly? Then maybe think about getting the weight slightly back into the hand.
Do you find you lose your shoulder push and the elbows bend and you lose it that way? Then you probably need more wall conditioning, tuck work to fix that quickly.
If you find you ditch it into an arch shape or can’t balance and correct fast enough, then maybe start working on heel pulls as more of a strength exercise.
It’s also time to still do balance drills; heel pulls, toe pulls, scissor drills, all these. But start trying to find more moments of balance where you’re choosing to go into balance, then choosing to go out of balance, just to train the actual reactive balance capacity.
A few things to try there. Once you’re breaking 15s, you’ve done all the hard work on the handstand. It means you have the balance, your joints can take it, so it generally comes much quicker, particularly if it was slow to get to that point.
MK: I think that sums it up.
EL: Here’s an interesting one. This would probably be an episode all in itself, actually. What happens to the body during and after both acute and long term handstand?
They’re asking like, what happens when you go upside down? What happens if we do a handstand long enough?
MK: The first thing I think of is the pressure of the fluids change quite a lot, both acute and over time. And of course, more over time, since it has more time to rush all the blood towards your upper body.
EL: That, and the lymph fluid is one of the first things to move. It’s quite interesting, you see this a lot in beginner hand balancing. One of the long term adaptations nobody talks about, but you see it in beginner balancers, little burst blood vessels around the face and eyes. You see that a lot, but it goes away. It comes from the blood pressure building up. The body either adapts via tissue adaptation or circulation and that goes away.
At the same time, the joints themselves have a bit of fluid build up, the same way warming up would in a workout. I can feel it happening myself, my joints inflate.
I always wear wrist straps when training. Not for balance, but just for the support. I feel when I put them on, once I done my warm up and are getting into heavier sets. I feel my joints pushing out against it, I have to loosen the wraps a small amount. That’s an interesting one.
MK: Long term…I know people that have stood on their hands for very long periods of time, I’m talking up to an hour. I don’t think it’s particularly comfortable. The way it has been described hasn’t been exactly the most joyous feeling to come down. Essentially what you’re doing is turning your body upside down. Things will be more or less the same as on the feet, but the fluid shift will have gone on for a longer period of time.
I’m not sure how significant other differences would be.
EL: One interesting one I see in people who are more hyper mobile is, and I have no body scans to back up what I’m seeing, but you see some peoples’ chest and stomach shape. It looks like they perform a stomach vacuum. Their organs have been displaced into their chest.
You see it with people who have focused on abdominal withdrawal. You see it, I think our friend Sammy has it a bit. You see it more in high level people with that hyper mobility. Mainly the organs are getting down.
MK: It does make sense they move to a degree.
EL: That would also lower the centre of mass. Some people are good at circus..these would be acute effects. Now, the long term effects of doing handstands…
MK: I’m thinking that, one thing is long term being more like what adaptations happen to the body? Of course you’re putting a lot of pressure on the skeleton. So I assume the bone density will increase. The muscles will strengthen. As we’ve talked about before, there’s almost a trademark shape to the upper back and shoulders of hand balancers. Most people in higher levels have similar mobility in the shoulders, but also the muscles are built in a similar fashion.
EL: They hypertrophy in a similar way.
MK: Certain muscles are favoured to grow more than others, obviously, because of the work you do. One thing I’ve been wondering is, people always say that I’m good at hand balance, I must be good at balancing like this or that…not really. Tightrope walking etc, sure I can do what anyone can do. But I don’t have any specific abilities within it at all, just because I’m good at standing on my hands.
EL: If we look at the research on balance, we see it is very context specific. Tight rope walking is one of the things I’m naturally very good at, and I’m not naturally good at most things. I could walk on it first time, easy, could do tricks, walk and turn, juggle. On a slackline, I can’t even stand. I just fall off it. It’s comical to watch. If you put one beside each other, or even a slack line or rope as a circus discipline….in tightrope I’ll walk up and down and stay on it as long as I want unless I make a serious mistake. Slack line, my legs just start shaking and I can’t even take a step.
MK: The funny thing with those two elements is a tight rope is tight. You move your body on top of the rope; you adjust the body on top of this quite solid object. On the slack line or rope, the rope is moving and you adjust the rope under you by the pressure of the foot to the rope. You swing the rope underneath you.
Similar to normal handstands versus handstands on rings or straps, where you constantly have to move the ring or straps underneath your centre of mass. It has a different thing. I’m not great at balancing on rings. I can do it, but it’s a very different thing. If I stay up for a long time on rings, I get shaky, and I get afraid. I don’t know how to make the large saves when I tire in the same way I can as on the ground.
EL: One personal thing I had, and everyone who’s ever been into bodybuilding has read this: if you measure your wrist thickness below the sticking-out bones, and you multiply it by a number, it gives you your maximum natural muscularity potential. So I measured that, and then I did circus school, and was a bit into bodybuilding and aesthetics…for aesthetic reasons, I suppose. Not so much anymore.
I measured my bones, and was like, this is my maximum muscularity. Then I really started training handstands as a more serious focus towards the end of circus school, the last half and third year and onwards after that. After about a year and a half of training one arms, I measured my wrist again to find out how much muscle I could gain, with whatever formulas I was using. I gained like 2cm on my wrists measurements. That was meant to be genetically fixed. My wrists now are quite fat from this. There’s interesting handstand specific adaptations. If you want to be more jacked, do handstands, I suppose. How to get natty muscle!
MK: Your natty potential increases, by wrist thickness.
EL: I’d be quite interested in dissecting out some hand balancers and just seeing what happens. So far nobody has let me do that. But a man can dream.
To answer your question, we don’t really know besides the obvious things, like muscles get bigger and bones get denser.
MK: The rest is rambles.
EL: Cool. Next question, and this one is a good one. Can you rate the different shapes on one and two arms, by difficulty? You guys are awesome.
Thank you, we are awesome. Well, we think so.
MK: You can. This is one of the things where people who come from sports are very interested in this. Of course, it’s a lot in the circus world as well. This one is harder than that, and this kind of competitive sense around what’s the hardest and who can do what, and all that.
Yes, to a degree you can, but there is a very high level of body specificity to these things. You’ll find some people that are just absolutely batshit good at certain things because they have some type of physical capacity that suits a certain movement or position or whatnot. Then you have others that will struggle like hell to learn even the easiest version of some type of thing. Let’s say they’re not flexible, or let’s say you want to learn planche, but you’re 1m93 tall. It’s going to be a pain in the ass.
I would say that on two arms, most things that are basic vocabulary – tucks, straddles, pikes, so on – the pike is usually hardest, but I know people that learn pike before straight.
Then we should also include handstand push up. Is a bent arm handstand harder or easier? Loads will depend.
For example, you can ask someone who’s a mega beast at handstand pushups to bend their arms, they’re going to chill. Then you have people that can do crazy one arm flags, but can’t even bend their arms a bit in handstands.
So it will be very, very specific.
EL: I think, for the most basic way we could rate it is under balance strength – how much of your legs are in under balance?
So tuck handstand is harder than a straight handstand, in strength demands. Pike handstand is harder than a tuck handstand, because it’s more leverage in the under balance direction.
Other than that, one of the things we have to ask ourselves is, what are we quantifying as hard? Is a tuck difficult? Is making a tuck handstand look nice difficult? Are we rating things by aesthetics? Once you can do the shapes, these are the types of battles you have to face.
Oh, I thought my split handstand was flat, and it looks nothing flat, one leg is twisting out compared to the other side. These things are also very difficult, but not rated as difficult, because they’re not just strength focused.
MK: I think on one arms, you can say a little bit more, because you have a larger variation, and different shoulder positions.
The basic things you can say is, on average, flags are harder than straight one arms. Figas are harder than straight one arms, but then again I know people that can do flags very well but their legs together shapes are not so good. Legs together shapes will place lots of demand on the balancing in the hand, and shoulder rigidity in your placement, because you can’t move your legs a lot.
You could kind of say all legs together positions of their respective kinds will be hardest, since they send the centre of mass furthest away from the body, such as a legs together flag or one arm, or legs together figa will all be harder than their straddled, or slightly straddled variants.
They’ll require a lot more strength and stability to balance.
I was thinking about that many years ago in circus school. I made this arbitrary..not scoring, but difficulty system that I later discarded. One, it will be very different for different people, as I said 100 times now. But also because, what’s the point?
If hand balancing were a sport then it could be. I’m sure some people would think it’s awesome as a sport until they see every single person would be doing the exact same things. If you only judge it on difficulty, then you can look at sport acrobatics, and they all kick our asses anyway.
EL: Those six year old girls are better than you will ever be.
With the shapes, something we talked about before was making a Final Fantasy style skill tree. I really think we need to get on that. There are certain shapes that are entry gates to other shapes, but then branch off to completely different directions.
Simple things like: you want to learn flags on one arm? You got to be able to do straddle on one arm.
You could probably never in your life do a flag one arm, but you could do a Figa, something like that. There’s loads of things like that. I suppose a branching difficulty tree is more applicable than a straight up linear one.
MK: We need to get on that skill tree.
EL: I have it partly done.
MK: I also drew up something a while ago but never actually made it.
EL: Did you ever see the Final Fantasy X skill tree? You walk around the globe. Or the Skyrim one is pretty good. You put your stats into various constellations that have branching pathways in themselves.
MK: Just wait nerds, we’re going to make the skill tree.
EL: Next question. Views on training towards straddle planche when stuck on flat tuck, for basically ever?
MK: How tall are you? And how big is your straddle?
EL: These are definitely two things to factor in.
MK: I was thinking about that the other day. One thing that’s kind of miserable with bodyweight training, referring to things like planche, handstand pushups, pressing strength movements, is in weight lifting sports, you put more weight on the plate. It is “more impressive.” You are stronger because you lift the 50, then the 60. With bodyweight skills, one thing you can do is lose weight, which by definition makes what you’re doing less impressive. Last month I weighed 80kg. Let’s say I weigh 74; I’m doing the same, but with 6kg less. It’s actually doing less work, but it looks more awesome. It’s kind of a scam.
EL: You hit the nail on the head, there. Just to give some actual strategy on this one, one thing I use for people stuck at this point, or just as a progression, is the closed hip straddle planche.
What you do in this motion is you need to, depending on how good your straddle is, and most of us mortals need to set up quite raised off the ground. Maybe knee height.
You do your tuck planche. Set up really nice, make sure to press forward into the lean. Make sure the shoulder position is pulling down and protracted. You open your legs downwards into a 90º with the hips. You’re keeping a flat back, but your legs are down and open. This can bridge the gap a lot. It’s not super harder than a flat tuck, but it’s infinitely easier than a straddle if it’s very difficult for you.
You can kind of get used to that, build up more weight. Use that to overcome the barrier then work on the full straddle itself.
Other things to try is just straddle eccentrics. If you’re training statics for so long, start training some kind of dynamic movement. I can’t remember who it is. One of the street workout calisthenics guys on YouTube recently, who is very good at planche – who’s that guy with very little lean in the planche? He’s very good at planche. He posted a video on YouTube of 50 different exercises to train planche. He has a lot of dynamic exercises in there.
It would be worth going away from the statics for some time, just training dynamics combined with pauses. Very useful, good to try that.
MK: That planche you referred to, that kind of pike straddle – I remember in circus school we had a gymnastics coach who would refer to that as the A. You’re kind of piking the ass up. I use that quite a lot, and has left me with a piked planche, sadly, because I’m weak.
It’s a very hard barrier to overcome. Don’t let what I said in the beginning about your height and weight be the end and all of your planche training forever. But it is certainly a factor.
I think with stuff like panache it’s actually very important to be realistic. It takes a long time, and past a certain level, it is really hard for some people to actually go substantially further.
Usually, with a straddle, most people with hard people can get away with it. For full planche and stuff like that, like with everything the higher up the hierarchy of difficulty you go, the more “talent” will start mattering. It’s important to remember planche is a very demanding exercise.
You see so many people throwing out planches on YouTube and Instagram left and right, but you never get the actual proportions of people when you look at that.
On average, there are taller people that can planche. Have you seen that Israeli who’s not the heaviest guy in the world, maybe 180, but he does busted full planches, malteses. It’s nasty. He’s super duper good. It’s certainly possible.
Towards the higher echelons in terms of weight and height and stuff, you need to start specializing significantly to be making progress.
EL: There’s an interesting point there you made. If you look at all the guys who are busting out sick planches, which is popular in calisthenics, just look around at all their calisthenic crew as well. There’s probably about 20 in the background training with them, and none of them have as good of a planche.
MK: You will tend to see the guys that can. That is important to say. I think planche is especially guilty of that. With handstand, people will be very happy about that, and prefer to show their handstand when they can just stand on their hands. Planche doesn’t have that empty grab effect, as long as you’re in some sort of tuck. It’s only when the straddle comes out that people are proud of it.
Remember you are building strength and learning while working on other variations.
EL: Next question. Regarding the press episode, how would you go about correcting an excessive lean, slight arm bending (what you call the egg shape)? Depending on my exhaustion and the press variation, I find myself implementing one or both on occasion – actually, most of the time.
So, this is a very simple one. You probably just don’t have the conditioning at the level you’re trying to work at. You need to do more regressions. It depends on a normal press, or stalder.
It’s basically the same thing. If every single press you do is sloppy on form, you’re just working too hard. You need to go back and master some of the earlier progressions.
MK: At least to a degree. You did mention arm bending there and that is the one that has a slight red flag. Something we also talked about is you don’t necessarily need a perfect press to be working on it. If you are bending the arms, it means you’re always caving in and bending the arms at the point where you don’t have the strength to keep them straight. You will keep doing that, and that will be the pattern you build.
Earlier progressions is definitely something you should revisit.
Spending time on quality negatives is something that basically never goes wrong.
EL: Definitely on that one.
That’s basically it, really. It depends on when. If you’re doing a set and 80% of the reps are pretty good, and the last 20% are a bit questionable, I’d let you away with that if you’re training. Obviously we’d trim it up. But if from rep 1 it’s bent arm and excessive lean, bending legs and stuff like that, then you need to work easier.
If it’s happening later in the set when fatiguing, then it’s ok. It will get better as you get stronger.
MK: To say it like this, there’s a difference between fatigue and weakness. It’s a bit brutal, but true.
EL: What if you’re just one of those people who wakes up feeling tired every day?
MK: Then you’re me.
EL: More pre-workout. If your arm bend disappears when you take pre-workout, you’re just weak. Right, that is all our questions for this week’s minisode.
As usual if you have more questions, please send them to us on social media, either here or our own accounts or with Handstand Factory.
There’s also the contact form on the website as well. And there is the audio option on Anchor dot FM, our podcast is hosted there.
Other than that, it’s me and Mikael signing off, I suppose.
MK: Yes, cheers.