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S1 Episode 20: Flexisode with Emmet


In this episode of the Handstandcast Emmet and Mikael discuss the benefits of handstanding. They go into the obvious and somewhat unknown physical and mental benefits, of not only training handstands, but of taking any physical practice to a high enough level. They go into any various factors that may affect your training performance, their personal experiences with how they sense their body in handstands as well as an endless amount of informative tangents.

We hope that you enjoy it!

S1E20 – Flexisode with Emmet

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This podcast is brought to you by Handstand Factory, and is produced by Motion Impulse. To keep up with our weekly episodes, and help us spread the word, make sure to follow and subscribe to the Handstandcast wherever you listen to podcasts!

Love the podcast? We’re 100% coffee fuelled, so if you’d like to help keep us going you can easily support the Handstandcast by buying us a coffee here:

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Transcript of Episode 20: Flexisode with Emmet

EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis.  Unfortunately this week, my co-host Mikael Kristiansen is in the depths of production with his circus company, working on their piece, Vald.  They’re called Right Way Down.  If you want to have an idea of what they’re up to, you should check them out on Instagram.

He’s super busy and unable to get to recording this.  Anyone who’s done any shows or production will know, when you’re in this production period, you put in very long days.  Very interesting days, very mentally intense and physically intense.  You get an interesting type of fatigue, where you’re destroyed, but running on adrenaline and excitement – particularly if things are working.  From what I’ve been hearing from Mikael, it seems that they’re doing good.  I’ve seen a few clips from it; there’s a trailer out as well.  I am really looking forward to this show.  It’s taking hand balance to strange new narrative places, I suppose, rather than the standard handstand skill track.

We have an audio postcard from Mikael as well, to say hi to you guys:

MK: So, hello to everyone who is listening…and also you, Emmet.  I am not on this week’s podcast because I am actually in Denmark, working with my circus company Right Way Down, on the show called Vald.  It is premiering next year at a festival in the south of France.  Currently we are doing quite a work on trying to finish the show, even though COVID 19 happened.  It drastically changed our schedules, so we basically had to find ways of working around it.

We are co-produced, as it’s called, by a place in Denmark called Dynamo Workspace, which is essentially a circus training and creation space that is co-producing our show.  So yeah, we’re here everyday trying to figure out the details and slot together the pieces of the puzzle, to make this show into something that’s preferably pretty good.  We hope.

Loads of the concepts are kind of clear, but of course to make something go from a conceptual stage to actually functioning in a performance context is a very different thing.  It does take quite a lot of work, and it is very different than just developing an act, where you basically need to fill 5 minutes, or less than 10, with some sort of interesting or entertaining material.  We’re trying to go in depth with the various concepts we’ve chosen.  It’s coming along, I hope.  There’s still a reasonable amount of time and effort left before we can see ourselves happy with what we have, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.

Last push now.  For the last week, we have invited a rope artist named Tom Brand, who also did the same school as us in Stockholm.  He works in a circus company called Svalbard.  He’s here now, in what is called an artistic outside eye.  It’s a person on the outside, giving insight into how it is to view it from the audience’s perspective. This is very difficult to have a proper perspective on when you’re on stage.

So that’s what I’m doing this week.  Hope you enjoy the rest of the garbage that Emmet Louis has to share with you.

EL: Thank you Mikael for letting us know what’s going on.

So, today on the minisode, we are doing a special minisode based on your flexibility questions and issues.  I have a few questions from Instagram.  We have a few from our normal question stack.

You know yourselves, guys.  If you want to ask us any questions, you can either DM them to @HandstandFactory on Instagram, you can use the contact form on our website.  You can send in audio questions on Anchor.FM, if you go to our page there.  If you want to send in answers to questions, we’ll try to pair them up as well.  But you can’t know what the question is beforehand.

So, I’m going to get straight into our questions.  “I really like the longest lunge exercise, and I’m struggling to keep the balance when I dive into a deeper stretch.  Any tips on how to keep balance?  Should I concentrate more on balance or on depth?”

What I like about the longest lunge exercise is that in some ways, it’s self limiting: you’re forcing the body into an isometric position.  It can be going deep and it’s challenging in a lot of ways.  Having the balance is one of the components we have to work on.  We find there’s an overlapping way of progressing that.  If your balance is terrible, that limits how deep you can go.  This is particularly important for people who are quite flexible.

You will build up strength.  Once you’re strong enough and have enough control, you can go a bit deeper.

I generally tell people to only go as deep as your balance allows for whatever time you’re working at: 30, 40, 90 seconds, or whatever it is.  Now if, say, you sprained one of your ankles one time in the past and still have balance issues to this day, obviously you’re working on your balance, but maybe we’ll be limiting our rate of progress in this kind of flexibility drill.  What you can do here is grab two sticks or broom handles, and just use them like ski poles.  You’re not holding onto the ground completely, but it’s like training wheels on a bike.  If you go over too far you can put it down.  Just imagine you’re skiing down into your split.  That’s a fun thing to do.

It also depends, are you doing this lunge in shoes?  Do they have good grip?  Is the floor slippy?  These will affect it as well; so do play around with these.  I hope that helps a bit.

Ooh, another front split question: “How would you recommend going into front split?  Just slide into it, or with a certain exercise?”

We have to clear a few things up about flexibility.  We have all these cool exercises for gaining range of motion and developing active flexibility and putting it into use for what we do.  Eventually we want to be free of these exercises, and just choose however we want to do the split.  When you’re training and developing the split, I like people to initially set up in a normal kneeling hip flexor exercise, and then push backwards into it.  Why I like this is, if you push backwards into the split, it means your hips will stay squarer.  There’s a tendency in front split with the classic kneeling entry into it – you kneel, max out the depth your hips can allow on a true squared hip front split, then you try to go forward, which gives your body a cue to turn out into a split.  It’s not that this is wrong; we’re just talking about the square one here.

By pushing forward, you can end up in a position where you’re quite turned out.  Then you have to reset your hips or get your split flat, and do a bit of work to tidy it up at the end.  The going backwards into the split, even from a straight or bent leg, it seems in most cases that you might not have the satisfaction of going as deep as you think you can go, but you will end up in a much squarer position.  This is pretty useful, especially for working on the square split.

Hopefully that answers it.

Question number three: “I keep hearing different opinions about bouncing when stretching a muscle.  What does the flexibility wizard think is best?”  As people probably know, I am in favour of pulsing type stretching.  That covers ballistic stretching.

There’s two different types.  Well, there’s lots of different types.  But there are two main types.  There is high amplitude low frequency ballistic stretching.  This is basically like kicking your leg as high and hard as you can.  It happens every couple of seconds.  You’re going for a big range of motion.

Then we have the other side: low amplitude, high frequency stretches.  We go into the stretch at maybe one rep a second, going in, out, in, out.  I’m in favour of these kinds of stretches.  They are advantageous because they train the parallel elastic components to the muscles, so the sinew channels or tendons or connective tissue.

It’s not what I would call a beginner technique in any way, shape or form.  Maybe if you’re there with a coach who is guiding you and knows what they’re doing.  Then they’re perfectly fine.  If you’re not certain what you’re doing, it’s better to get a bit of coaching or find someone who knows what they’re doing, if such people are out there.

In general, it’s an interesting type of stretching, in that I see myself, and in everyone – we get permanent changes in flexibility in very short amounts of time, that would not happen with either isometric, static, relaxed, working on passive-active balance, all these kinds of things.  It’s very intriguing to me.  I think I was at the forefront of bringing this type of stretching back to the public consciousness.  I was hanging out with Craig Mallet online (who’s a good friend of mine), and he learned a lot of this stuff from Chinese martial arts.  I was playing around with it, and wondering why we were told not to bounce in stretches, and that it’s terrible.

Through the Kit Laughlin forums, Kit got involved as well.  We were pushing this type of stretching, playing around, coming up with new exercises, and ones we hadn’t seen before.  Every single case, once done properly, we all experienced permanent shifts in flexibility.  An interesting case study here is myself in head to toe.  I have actually stopped pushing my flexibility, as I don’t need it at the moment.  I’ve basically put it on the shelf while I’ve been focused on my Daoist training.  I’d say it’s probably been about three years since I seriously tried it.  Today, because I’m doing a flexibility challenge on Instagram, I decided to give head to toe a go.  In two sets, I was down to four fingers, to my head, to my toe.  I think in probably three days I’ll be back to head to toe.

When I first worked on this position, I worked on it for fourteen days and achieved it in that.  For fourteen days of work, I have permanent changes in my flexibility.

The main thing that happens with a lot of people is, they get the dosage wrong with a lot of this.  Some crazy protocols are going around there, a few might be familiar with them.  They have you doing 1600 pulses per leg per day for 45 days.  That’s insane; it’s too much.  The highest protocol to use is probably 200 bounces per day.  That’s all, and it gets results.

Generally I found if you combine the pulsing type stretching with a good selection of active flexibility drills, mobility drills, and looking at your various ratios, you will need 30-40 pulses a day, and maybe only two sets.  There’s a lot to play with.

Then there’s some layering type of stuff as well, which is very interesting and not really spoken about, in that we can layer the various stretches.  We can layer an isometric with a pulsing type stretching with a shortening range active type stretch.  All these things are very synergistic.  In one set, we can do everything.

If you want to check out how that might work, look at my front split deep dive video, I put in my SLP protocol, hidden away.  It’s one of our top secret protocols for gaining flexibility – though it’s out there in the public now.

So yes, I think pulsing is good.  It’s not for beginners.  There’s some very cool stuff with the higher amplitude ballistic stuff.  You see this in rhythmic gymnastics, in split leaps and kicks.  They have therabands tied off on their limbs.  They kick into the band, then kick through the band, so the resistance comes on at the very end range.  But it also helps accelerate it out of the stretch.  People say flexibility destroys tendon stiffness and stuff like that.

All in all, it’s a good method, though it’s not the be all and end all.  You can never do it and still achieve ultimate flexibility potential.  But, it’s worth trying.  I have some tutorials on Youtube if you are interesting in checking it out.

Next question: “Is there a minimum time that a muscle needs to be stretched?”  This is kind of a hard one.  I have literally seen everything.  If you look at the research, they say static stretches must be held 30s; there’s no added benefit for doing longer.  I’d argue that they’re wrong.  It depends on how the stretch is performed and the intention in it.  Generally my rule of thumb is you want to do it for 30s minimum.  Some people need to do it for longer, much longer.  This would count for all types of stretching: dynamic stretching, where we’re counting time under tension in the stretching area; isometric stretches; active work where we’re trying to lift and pull into our flexibility – these could be done longer.

It depends on what effect you’re going to look for too.  If we’re trying to stress different tissues, then we can look up our strength training zones, and see if this time under tension will cause hypertrophy, tendon change, muscle architecture change… All these things have different reactions.  You have to understand what you’re going for, what effect you’re looking.

When you start out, I generally advise people, particularly if doing exploratory, or relaxed, or relax-contract stretches that aren’t super intense, spending longer in the position to familiarize yourself with the position and sensation it brings up is better.  Once you know the position and are very good in them, you can be in and out.  And are we trying to push the range of motion, or stretch to release the tension?

When you’re trying to release the tension and you’re good at it, you can get in and release it in under 20s.  If you don’t really know how to release tension, relax and sink, and all these cooler things that come in, then you’ll have to hold it longer.  It’s also a fine line between intensity – how hard it is and you perceive it to be – and how hard it actually is, or if you’re getting the job done.

I’d say the minimum amount of time I would recommend for most people is 30s.  The maximum time?  Who knows.  Other than that, it really comes down to what you’re trying to achieve in the stretch.

Okay, next question: “What makes the difference with the couch stretch exercise, where I have a block between my butt and the wall and press against it or not?”

This is one I teach at the workshops, and I probably have a video of it somewhere as well.  It’s basically, we’re training the shortening side of the hamstring.  We have our wall quadricep couch stretch, which people are probably familiar with.  We put our shin against the wall and try to get it to close down.

One of the things I’m always paying attention to is, what side of the joint is shortening, and what side is lengthening in any stretch?  A lot of times in the programs I write, we train the shortening side first.  With this shortening side, what we’re trying to trigger is a relaxation effect in the quadricep.  The other way I think of explaining this is, we are trying to bring clarity to the body.  The body wants to put us in some position, and it has a tendency to generate co-contraction, where both sides of the joint are generating contraction at once.  What these isometrics do is turn off that effect and give clarity: “No!  The body is working in this way.”

When we’re doing the wall quadricep where we’re pulling the heel to the bum and crushing the block, we are trying to activate or fire up these muscles in the hamstrings – the ones that do the leg curling action – and pull, pull, pull.  This will hopefully, in our next set where we do the lengthening side, the quadricep exercise, allow us to go a bit deeper.  It also allows us to pull ourselves deeper into this position.  A lot of cool things going on in this.

When it’s not there, and we’re doing the couch stretch and just pushing, we’re strengthening the stretch muscle in the isometric manner, in the lengthened position.  Hopefully, we’re building strength.  There’s less ability to contract against the stretch.  Also it gives it clarity as well – this is what I do when I’m lengthened.

Stretching is as much a skill as anything else; being able to get into these positions and express your maximum.  It’s a skill.  Getting into the position is quite a simple thing.  I move one way, then move the other.  Can I get into a stretch, and out of it?  Very simple questions for safety, if we believe the position about stretching deeper is about safety for the body.  Well, when I’ve shown the body I can get in and out of the position, then it’s more likely to go into a deeper position.  That’s one way to think about it that’s conceptual.

If I can’t get into a stretch, then can I get out of a stretch?  Think about that for all the stretches you do.  Have you been trying something, and it’s not moving?  Have you trained getting into the stretch as an activity, and have you maximized that?

Going to jump on our Instagram and see what we have there.  Loads of questions coming through.  Here’s a good one: “How often should PNF/isometric work be done per week?”  It depends on the duration of the contractions, and the intent.  The basic contract relax antagonist contract technique could be done every single day.  You come in and say, I’m not at my sufficient level of flexibility for my activity I’m about to do.  Then you use that technique for 1-2 sets, not holding the contraction for long at the end.  That will get you there.

The stronger isometrics where we’re holding for 25, 30, 45, 50, 60 seconds – think of them like strength training.  They are strength training.  With strength training, we do the training.  We stress the body.  Then we have a period of reduction, then hopefully a period of over compensation where we get stronger.  With the stronger isometrics when we’re really working on our flexibility, we only really need to do them 1-2 times a week.  That should be sufficient for most things.  You could push it to 3x a week if it’s just one position you’re really working on.  Generally 2 times is all people really need.  Most people we train do pancake and middle splits twice a week, and front split and back bridge twice a week.  That’s all you really need to do, to push it even to the higher levels.

You still need to sub maximal stretching and sub maximal use of your flexibility as well.  When doing handstands, obviously you’re trying to use your legs, your flexibility, your back flexibility in your shapes.  If you’re just stretching for the sake of it and not actually using it, then you have to artificially create that demand.  Just bear that in mind, but 1-2x a week is sufficient.

Here’s one: “My wrist hurts a lot, no matter how long I warm them up.  I even do strength building things.  Any tips?”

Get much, much stronger would be my key there if they are hurting a lot.  Also, look at basic things.  What is my hand position on the floor?  Have you played with the hand position.  Some people say there is one hand position and you must do it like this, whatever that hand position may be.  Maybe that hand position doesn’t suit you.  You have a lot of options on the floor for how you use it.

The other option is, if the flat on the floor position just hurts too much and making training ineffective, using apparatuses like blocks, parallettes, or even these raised diagonal blocks to raise the heels of the hands up, would be one thing.

The other thing is we have our free grip program up on our Handstand Factory website.  Check it out and put it to work; it could help a lot and be one of the missing components.

It also depends on how long you’ve been strength training.  To build sufficient strength could take a while.  You could be looking at a year or two years of consistent work on building up the strength of your hands and wrists.

The other thing to caution is maybe you’re just doing too much.  Like I said about the isometric stretching, you may need to do strength work once or twice a week.  Do a bit less and let it recover.  These are things to try out.

One thing to note on the wrists is people tend to do wrist preparation every day.  I used to advise people to do this 4-5 years ago, but I realized people have too many wrist issues.  So I backed off it and just gave specific stuff when there was a specific need for it, rather than as a blanket suggestion.

I dropped the level of wrist tendonitis and all these kinds of issues down to very, very low.  There’s still a bit at the higher levels, which is unavoidable to a certain degree.  But this kind of constant joint preparation stresses the joint, hopefully so it super compensates the joint and gets stronger.  Simple.  But what can happen if doing it daily, it doesn’t get to compensate.  We know our collagen turnover cycles.  Muscles are able to go at full power after 48 hours, maybe 36.  But tendons take 72 hours.  If you’re doing connective tissue exercises more than every 72 hours, maybe you’re not recovering.  You’re just constantly hovering the line of under recovered.  That’s something to check out.

Myself, I wear wrist straps made of cotton.  I wear them mainly because of the wrist I broke a few years ago.  It doesn’t really play up anymore, but I’ve gotten used to them.  I like the insulating heat they give that always keep my wrists nice and warm.  Some of the surfaces I’ll be training on will be quite cold.  I haven’t got a nice warm surface; I live in Ireland and it’s damp and cold everywhere.  What I like about them is I can crank them tight if they’re acting up in a day.  Or you can just have them on, and they keep things cool…er, warm.  You look cool as well.  We have some Handstand Factory ones, though maybe we’ve sold out on them.  Maybe we have some new ones in the works.  Who knows?

Next question: “How often should you stretch?”

Once again, if you’re doing really effective stretching and really pushing your range of motion into a new zone, or that’s the intent, you really only need to do it once or twice a week.  How often should you get into your flexibility positions?  I think you should get into them pretty often, just to familiarize yourself with the skill of doing them.  I think for most people, if you’re doing your handstand training, part of your warmup should include a run through of your splits.

I was talking to one of my clients about this recently, actually.  In handstands we have a desired aesthetic for how we want our handstand to look, be it flexed feet, pointed toes, locked knees.  All these aesthetic components can be warmed up as well in simpler manners.

I can get into my pancake.  I want my knees to be nice and hyper extended.  I want my toes to be nice and pointy.  Then I can spend some time in my pancake, sitting in it warm but not pushing the range, and warm up the aesthetic.  Same with my split.  I warm up my split and use it until the point where it feels good and I feel there’s no restriction to the training I want to do that day.  I want my toes pointed, knees locked.  I’m twisting out, ok maybe I’ll do a bit more that day.  All these things go into the warm up component.  You can warm up the aesthetics and get a good feel for the cues of the toe point, how that feels when you can look at it.  You can see if the foot is sickling in to the side, not pointed, pointed unevenly…

I can do it in my pancake, easily assess it, lock it into my feeling.  Then I know what I’m doing and can lock it into my handstand.  Whereas if I just do my handstand and check my phone afterwards, there’s a non-direct correlation between what you’re feeling and what you’re seeing.  You should do these positions everyday.

Eventually you get to the point where you don’t even need to train them; they’re just there.  That’s always quite interesting.  Our goal is not to train flexibility, but to just be flexible.  That’s the way I train and approach programs with people.  When you’re flexible it’s just there.  You have it for life, or mostly.  It happens after a while.

A good one.  A common one.  “How to deal with strained hamstrings?”  Hopefully you haven’t experienced this.  But if I’ve stretched my hamstrings too much, done some heavy deadlifts, or landed wrong from a jump – I know the person who put that question in is a parkour person.

First thing – the acute phase.  The key to healing any kind of injury is: you have to rest, but not too much.  You have to move it, but not too much.  You have to strengthen it, but not too much.

Generally if we’re in the very acute phase, and it’s kind of inflamed and quite sore, we give it a rest for a day or two.  Gently move it; walk around the house.  A lot of people think gentle movement means 60% of their max on the deadlift.  Maybe not.

After that, it depends on where the issue in the hamstring is.  If it’s closer to the knee, leg curling type motions are king.  If it’s closer to the butt, the underbutt, you have to ask yourself if it’s strained during a pike, or during a pancake?  If it’s strained in the pike: stiff leg deadlifts, stiff leg romanians, slow eccentrics.  Or is it strained in the pancake?  Then sumo hinging type exercises, with the legs wider.  Even box squats.  All of those go in greatly, and greatly help.

Generally you want to get stronger, carefully increase the dose.  You want your sets to last about 60-90 seconds, so you’re not going full 1RMs to begin with.  I’ll want very slow eccentrics.  Not so fast on the concentric as well; I want a conscious tensioning on the hamstring to pull you up.  These are fantastic exercises.  I’ve used these for basically every rehab.  Same thing with leg curls, banded leg curls, floor slider leg curls, with the hips elevated.

Progress into Nordics, GHRs, stuff like that.  I like a GHR instead of a Nordic.  I’m probably outing myself with that, but done properly, I think it’s quite nice.  It’s also more loadable and controllable.  But these are your main keys for rehabbing any hamstring owie.

Next question: “How do we get tent hands like Morgan?”  Morgan is one of the models in Push Harder.  He’s one of my former students, who is a machine of the highest caliber.  He has the tenty finger thing.  To get the Morgan tent hands, you probably need to choose your parents more wisely next time on the reincarnation cycle.  Other than that, it is down to that tented finger position.

I do a smaller version of it, where you keep the first knuckle off the ground, not on it like some people say.  It’s very effective; a lot of other people use it as well.  It really comes down to wrist flexibility to get the tent Morgan has compared to others.

There are a few other hand balancers, if you look around, and once you know what you’re looking for.  If you just can’t do it naturally, you’ll probably have to stretch a lot, and maybe you will never get it.  Work on the hand position that suits you, more than anything else.

“Top three exercises to improve back flexibility.”  Hmmm, depends if we’re talking about the lower back, or upper back.  My number one exercise for improving back flexibility is – ignoring the positions – the back bend over support.  It is one of these positions that will just keep giving and giving.  In particular, it’s one of these positions I will use with people who are contortion level flexible, going towards sitting on their own heads, or advanced chest stands.  It’s also an exercise I’ll give to a 55 year old person who’s never trained with me and wants to feel a bit better.  It’s one of the key ones you can just keep getting out of it.

Initially, when your back’s bending, you’ll put one point as the main point of the curve, and try to bend there.  As you get better, because I normally recommend it on an edged surface and not a curved surface, you can get really precise on a corner.  You eventually start aiming on groups of 3-4 of the thoracic vertebra, then 2s, then 1.  You can really max out the bend of the thoracic spine, using this technique.  So that’s my number one.

One of the other things it teaches you is how to use the ribs for back extension.  One of the key things on getting the back to really move is to open to costa-transverse joint.  To do this in a backbend, we need to breathe sideways so the ribs move sideways and the air doesn’t go into the stomach so much.  We can do this in this back bend, and it’s much easier to learn here than when you’re doing a bridge.

You breathe in, think about sending the ribs sideways.  If you’re wearing a sports bra, you can think about pushing the band sideways.  If you’re not wearing one, you could put a floss band around yourself to give yourself a tactile sensation to work with.  Then this works like a ratchet.  You breathe in, which opens the costa-transverse joint, pull yourself down.  It’ll close up again, breathe in, the ratchet yourself deeper and deeper.  It’s a fantastic exercise.

Next exercise…which one is my favourite?  I have to give it to the old bridge.  The bridge push up I’ll put as number two.  The bridge push up is superior to bridge holds.  This is with feet elevated, or on the floor, for developing the back flexibility.  We are pushing up and down to the top of the head, not anything super fancy, or going down onto the floor onto our backs.

Once you learn the technique of this, it’s an interesting motion.  It has two stages.  We push ourselves up into a bridge.  We get to a straight arm point, and most people think it stops there.  From here, you need to focus on what the back of the body is doing.  You need to get the shoulders up to where they would be in a handstand, squeeze the gluten and posteriorly tilt the pelvis as hard as you can, then push the shoulders.  At the same time, think about pulling the scapula to the sacrum, or something like that.  You’re pulling yourself deeper into it.  This will get you very deep into the bridge.  You hold it for a couple of seconds, normally 3, then come out.  Then you repeat.

What I found over the years of training people is we were doing this pushup exercise, and it just worked better.  So even if your bridge is not perfect, and I normally have it when people’s feet elevated bridge is textbook bridge shaped, then we work on it to build strength.  No, no, no.

We build the strength for this at the same time, with the cueing I just described.  You’ll develop the bridge as well.  At the end of it you’ll have an epic bridge, and you’ll have bridge push ups.

The other thing is, once you learn to use the hips and whole back of the body to lift into this, you don’t need a lot of strength.  I kind of worked it out in an informal study that you only need to be able to do 5 floor push ups to do a bridge push up, so it’s not a big strength demand.

There are some ways of doing it where it’s more of a Mexican handstand pushup, where it’s all just arms and shoulders.  That is very difficult; you need to be quite strong.  If you use the hips, like a push press compared to a normal press.  We use the hips and the back of the body.  That lifts us, and the arms just kind of come along for the ride.

Number three for back flexibility would have to be the drop back.  The drop back, for those who don’t know, or half limber, or limber, or standing inversion…I’m sure it has other names.  It’s when you stand, feet in whatever configuration you desire, then bend and try to go from standing to a bridge without dropping into it.  This is why I hate the name Drop Back; it should be a Control Back.  When we’re doing our Control Back, one thing I really like about this is it develops, and particularly for hand balancers listening in, it develops the strength we need for the Mexican.  We can develop the strength going in and out.  Once we know we can go down into the floor, we have all the strength we’ll ever need for a Mexican.  You’ll be able to do a few reps quite comfortably.

The other thing I really like about it is it’s quite controllable, once you get used to it.  There are levels.  We can go down to the floor, or use it to max out our active back bending ability, by trying to consciously articulate every part of the spine as we go down, pull ourselves into a deeper arch, then roll the hips through, and allow the hands to go down.  It becomes a Hang Back, as well.  It’s a static version of this, to try out.  For a goal, I like people to be able to lower down and hover their hands 10cm off the ground for a few second before they put them on the ground.

Those are my three favourite bridge exercises, my three favourite bang for your buck.  If you were to just do them as a program, and that was the only program you’d done for the bridge: back bend over support, bridge push ups, and drop backs; add a hip flexor aspect, like the long lunge or something like that – you would have a very good bridge after 6-7 months of doing that.  A lot to play with there, really.

Okay.  “I hope this is not too specific.  I have a bad knee.  Six operations done.  Is flexibility work dangerous in any way?”  It’s one of those ones that’s incredibly specific if you’ve had six knee operations and I haven’t really got an overview of what they are.

Generally, you would have to speak to your physio or your doctor.  What I have seen from people who have blown their knees out, and I’ve seen a lot of people blow their knees out from tumbling over the years, with some very nasty breaks – all the ligaments gone…ugh!  Horrible stuff.  I have seen people regain full flexibility and go beyond from training with a properly structured rehab.  There is hope.  Get a good physio.  Give it time; it will take time.

Even when you feel you’re back to full training and you’ve got full range established, meaning knee flexion and extension at the knee joint, still give it a lot of time.  But I have seen people come back from very horrible breaks.  Horrible ones.  Hopefully yours wasn’t that bad.  Hopefully the operations have gone well.  Get yourself a good physio, good structured training, a good structured plan, and you can probably be back.

“Guidelines on end range strength.”  That’s too vague a question.  I’ve got nothing for you, really.  Sorry.  I suppose to only guideline I can give you is one of the key things I do.  Take any position you want, and flip it 90º, flip it 90º, flip it 90º.  You want all of these to be within 90% of each other.  Say you can go chest flat to the floor on a pancake.  Well then, if we flip that 90º, then our feet will be pointing up.  So you want your straddle leg lift to be about 90% of the range of motion as your floor one.  If it is not, you have some work to do.  Then flip it 90º again.  One of the 90s will be the standing pancake.  You want to be that at about 90%.  Flip it 90º again and you’re kind of in an inverted straddle plow.  You want that to be 90% as well.

That’s a good guideline, and applies to every position.

A compound position like the front split, we have to look at the flexion and extension side of the position separately.  Bearing that in mind, that will give you an idea.  A classic example: I can do a pancake from a standing pancake.  I look from the side, it looks really good.  My torso is perfectly in line with my legs.  My hips are over.  But when I sit on the floor, I’m rounded over and can barely straighten my legs, and it’s not great.  Well then, we have some work on our hip flexors and the active musculature that will pull us deeper into the stretching.  This is where you do a lot of compression work.  Use this guideline for any position you want.  Flip it around, flip it 90º, and then figure out what’s working, what’s not, what’s stretching, what’s gravity assisting, what’s gravity non assisting.  These can be some guidelines.

“Is it safe if I had a hip mechanical inflammation doing a handstand?”  I’m not exactly sure what you mean by mechanical inflammation.  If you mean by the joint, it depends on what you’re doing.  It’s about moving to pain, not through pain.  If it’s causing a little bit of pain, on the subjective scale of not too bad, I suppose it’s okay.  If it’s very tough, hmmm.  I generally advise you to check with someone on that one.

Find a position that doesn’t hurt, train that.  Train some kind of handstand that doesn’t hurt or works your skill.  Then come back to it.  It’s very hard to give injury advice without seeing a person in person, and seeing what they can do, and assessing.  Best I can, here.

Here’s a good one: “Point training tips?”  How to train your point.  Step one, actually train your point.  A lot of people just point their toes and that’s it.  That is not training your point.  Training your point is, one, you just have to understand what a point actually is.  I always think that the point happens at the heel, not at the foot, nor at the toes.  My main focus when I point my toes is to pull and feel that skin folding over at the back of the foot and lower leg.  Focus on that, try to crush that.  At the same time, I make sure my toes go straight to the front, and not sickling in.  When done properly, and holding it until it cramps, will train the point.

Now, to spice it up, we can get a theraband, those wide flat elastic bands, get a strong one of them.  If you don’t have a strong one, double or triple over what you have.  Wrap the foot around, and you can do calf extensions, or points.  We go in, pulling the heel back to extend the foot.  Keep the toes flex, so it’s a floint, if you’re familiar with the terminology.  Then we straighten the toes out into the band.  This will cause some severe cramping, so I suggest you all try it out.  Then you will come out, hold it.  In, hold, 2, 3.  Out, hold, 2, 3.  Eventually you want to get to the point where you can just hold this against the band resistance for 20-30s.

The other thing is trying to differentiate the point and the claw.  Point has become shifted in a lot of disciplines.  It’s not just a straight leg or a little curve that mimics classical architecture, and all these kinds of things.  It’s gone beyond that.  It’s like curved in, like the end of a crescent moon, I suppose.  That can be trained.  It is partly genetic as well, and also training it from a very young age.  You see a lot of dancers have done this.

But learning to lift the arch up while maintaining the heel will help as well.  And cause some cramping as well.

Also, what are you trying to get?  The leg straight, or are you trying to get the full crescent moon, or claw as it’s known.  I’m sure there’s a better name, but that’s what my students call it: the claw.

Other than that, the DIY point stretcher is always fun as well.  You see these point stretching devices, they come around every now and then.  There’s some shoe you put your foot in, then crank it up.  Or there’s a special wooden thing with elastic straps and all.  You can just replicate the same thing with a yoga block.

If you imagine this, you put the band around your toes or the front of your foot.  You will put the yoga block in the middle of your arch, then pull the band towards the knee while straightening the leg.  That will stretch your point just as good as any of the things, and cost you a fraction of the cost.

I see this a lot in dancers and ballerinas.  They have shifted arcs in the ankles.  Their points are well beyond what is reasonable.  Their dorsiflexion is minimal, even in people who are hyper mobile, and would normally have quite good dorsiflexion.  The arc of the joint has been shifted in favour of pointing.  Bear that in mind.  When you see these fantastic points, they’ve probably been doing it for a very long time.

Let me check my questions, see what else I got.  I think that is all for the questions we have this evening.  Other than that, I hope you enjoyed listening to me rambling away for quite some time.  Hopefully next week Mikael will be back on the scene, and able to tell us about what they have going on in the company and the show.  I’m super excited about that.

If you are interested in how we approach flexibility training, in tandem with handstand practice as well.  This is one of the things we do very well in Handstand Factory.  We have our programs available on Handstand Factory dot com https://www.handstandfactory.com/ .  Every program, or most of them, has a flexibility training component.  We train pancake and pike in Press, middle splits for one arm handstand, and pike and shoulder flexibility in Push.  There’s a lot there.

Also, what I think is really cool about the programs is the programs, cueing and exercises in the handstand thing are also some of the flexibility development exercises.  You’re basically always working in synergy with your own training.  A lot of cool stuff in there, a lot of interesting behind the scenes thought went into how to make that work.  It works very well, I’m proud to say.

If you want to check it out, check it out.

My Youtube channel @EmmetLouis has loads of tutorials and stuff to try out there.  Thank you for tuning in.  Good night.


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