In this Q&A with Emmet and Mikael, they answer more questions from you, our listeners. Covering how strength and technique intertwine in handbalancing, elbow hyperextension, Emmets training and more!
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S1E22 – Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
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Transcript of Episode 22: Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my co-host Mikael Kristiansen. How’s it going Mikael?
MK: Pretty good. I have a cup of coffee and a really big paper. Could be worse. It’s also kind of sunny outside, so can’t complain.
EL: We’ll probably put the thing Mikael is currently folding in the show notes. It’s origami and has the most abs you will ever see on an origami figure.
MK: This origami model has better abs than the bodybuilder model. That does actually exist. I can’t remember who designed that one.
EL: It’s a devil, isn’t it? The devil is really cool.
MK: The one I’m folding now is the devil.
EL: It’s the true Crossfit.
MK: Inverted Crossfit, that’s what it is.
EL: So we’re doing another minisode to answer all your questions about all things hand balance, and anything else you want to ask. In general, if you want to send us any questions you can DM them to us at @HandstandFactory on Instagram. You can use the contact form on our website, https://www.handstandfactory.com/. You can also, if you go to anchor.fm, and find us there, you can give us audio questions. You can also give us audio answers and we’ll try to pair them with questions. We have to guess.
MK: Or record your audio question on a cassette, tape it to a brick and throw it in Emmet Louis’ window in Dublin. That also works.
EL: I would actually play that question.
MK: Don’t do it; you’ll have to pay it.
EL: I will track you down and beat you, though. But I will answer your question as well.
Cool. So I will do the first question: how and when is strength and technique intertwined in the hand balancing technique?
MK: How and when? Every time you go on your hands. Done. Next question.
That’s a question that is both simple and complicated.
EL: Strength is the most important thing in hand balance, when you don’t have strength. When you have enough strength, it’s the least important thing, oddly enough.
MK: That was actually really well put, Emmet. I’ll give you +5 points for that.
What I would interpret this question as is, at what times, or how these parameters affect your training. One thing I like to do, when both training for myself, and teaching, is to separate them into conditioning phases and technical phases. If you try to improve everything at the same time, you might not be as successful. There is only so much recovery you can muster.
If you are stuck at 10s handstand and what you want to do is get to 30s handstand, you are likely going to need a conditioning and strength focus, or an endurance focus. You’re not going to gain 20s more handstand just from technique. That is going to come more from conditioning.
If you can do a pretty handstand but want to learn a tuck handstand, you might need a more tech focus for a period of time, before you then oscillate back and forth between more technical focus and more conditioning.
EL: The first thing is you have to be able to train the exercise you want to do. You need to understand the technical parameters, and how best you can do them depending on your current level of flexibility, body control, all this. Once you understand that, then we can use our time under tension zones, going from 0 to 20, 30s, if you can do the move accurately. This is the big caveat on it. That’s strength. Once we start getting 20+s, it’s more endurance.
It’s also a weird thing where as your strength goes up, if you continue to refine your technique it allows you to be more efficient. Then you use less strength, counter intuitively. You’re able to apply your strength in a more accurate direction. You get a bigger magnitude of effect for less actual energy expended.
It’s a thing, like with the line – we’re trying to make our shapes volatile, so they can be corrected, not stable. If something is super stable it’s really hard to move. If it gets moving in one direction, it’s really hard to change back in the other direction. If we make the shape and line, high centre of mass, everything pushed up, it’s all volatile. This means I can change direction, turn the balance with a very low amount of energy. It’s very easy to change a direction when you’ve gone from one way to another. There’s always this trade off of, the better I get my technique, the better I can apply my strength.
At the same time, I need strength to actually exhibit good technique. This counts for flexibility as well as anything else.
They’re kind of intertwined. But you can compensate. There’s a cross effect where you need to be somewhere in this optimal zone of really good technique, and not that much strength. Or really good strength applied in the right direction, and not too good technique. Then you can blag things, brute force things.
This is a problem; you can brute force a handstand with bad technique, as we would define it. It’s still fine technique, but if you look at street workout dudes. Some of them are super strong, ridiculously strong. They’re holding handstands with no concept of technique, but they’re doing it because they’re super strong. They can maintain the force in the hands, the shoulders. They can hold with bent arms and these bow arm shapes. They don’t worry about their legs; they’re all over the place. They can just do it, because they’re so strong.
Whereas if we look at the most refined acrobat who might not be able to do handstand push ups or a stalder press, but can blast out one arm handstands with technical ability…
MK: It’s basically a question that is phrased in maybe…it’s very up to interpretation what you mean with the intertwining between strength and technique. But as Emmet said, it’s something that is ongoing and requires both.
What you’re trying to do is apply your strength in a specific way. That is what it is, standing on your hands. Even regardless of technique, it is applying your strength in this specific way. If you do not push the floor, your face ends up on the floor, regardless of how you do it. There will be a level of muscular exertion working to keep your face from the floor.
We’re trying to use this more specifically in a narrow, defined way, which is what the technique is. It’s certainly something you always need to be strong for. The further down the line, the better you get, and the more strength you will need. But then you get that strength and it doesn’t really feel like strength anymore. That’s what confuses a lot of people. Very skilled people will say it’s only technique and do it like this, because that is what they are doing. You forget that person is extremely conditioned and won’t be feeling that as a strength move whatsoever. Or they are hyper flexible and have done press to handstand for ten years. They tell you, oh yeah just put your hip up to here and stack your legs and boom. Then you try and you’re a miserable pile of failure. “I just don’t get the technique.” No, you’re not able to apply the technique because the physical prerequisites are just not there.
EL: To segue back to the press idea, the way I program someone over a longer period of time when they can’t press. The press has its own workout, just like in the press program. It has its own things, the person would be assessed. We would have clear targets and goals, leading incrementally up to it. Once we get to the press, they can press. Then it just becomes something I put at the end of their hand balance training, after they’ve done all the other training, as a kind of side note. Not that it’s not important.
If someone took a year, pulling a number from my head, to get a press for five reps. Now at the end of their workout they’re doing 15 reps on a mixed press, just to finish the workout.
Strength is very important to the point where you can do it. Then when you can do it, it’s not important.
MK: I think that is a decent sum up of that question.
EL: Next we have an audio question. We’re going to listen to it, then get it edited in.
MK: I can’t hear, I need to download some app to make it work.
EL: Hold on.
MK: Isaac you know what to do here, I can’t listen to this question.
EL: He’s also asked the question on the forum. He’s asked it to me directly on DM. He’s asked it now as an audio question too. This is a good question. Let me play it now.
“Hey Mikael and Emmet. My name’s Esra, I’m from Vermont, east coast USA. I’ve listened to the podcast now for a while and loved it, so thanks for all your hard work. My question is on elbow hyper extension. I know in the Anatomy and Quirks episode you touched on it briefly, and I’m wondering if you could go a bit more into detail on any methods you would either recommend or try out to increase elbow extension and, in particular, into that hyperextension zone. My own elbows don’t go past 180º, if that, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for some time, so I’d love to hear your feedback on it. Thank you.”
Cool, so Esra’s question is asking about hyper extension, geared more towards me and how to develop it. First off, what do we think – do we need hyper extension in the elbow to hold the one arm handstand?
EL: Not at all. First off he’s saying his elbows go to 180 or just that. It’s perfectly sufficient. It’s a thing we’ve been talking a lot about between ourselves, that thing of: bicep to ear in the one arm handstand is also the side effect of someone having hyper extension.
For myself I developed this kind of hyper extension, and we should probably put a picture up so you can see for someone who doesn’t have a hyper extended bone in his body. Not even a bone. Not a joint anywhere else. I actually worked this, just to see it can develop.
I think it’s one of those things where it’s a bit better to make a video and show some techniques on, so we’ll get something made when we can do some filming.
But just to get you started. First thing’s first. I’m going to recommend my good friend Kit Laughlin. If you go onto his YouTube he has a couple of stretches. One of them for RSI – repetitive strain injury – for the brachialis, or something like that. It’s also an elbow extension stretch. He has another stretch just stretching brachialis as well. There’s a couple of partner stretches. We’re in the Rona, you have to wear your masks and stay 2m away when you’re partner stretching. But these are very good ones. I’ve seen the effects on a lot of people. You can get full extension or hyper extension from these. They’re very low impact; do them once or twice a week and it kind of works and develops in tandem. If you need something a bit more vigorous, there are stretches I’ll demo in the video.
You’re basically setting your arm up close to the handstand line, but slightly to the side, internally rotated so the elbow bit is pointed down. You put a light sandbag on it and have the wrist up, so it has space to go down. At the same time you want to work on your elbow extension in a very hard and simple manner. A simple way of doing this: you make a fist, bend the wrists in, then in a standing push up position, push the tricep as hard as you can and try to force the elbow into an open chain extension. That’s pretty good as well.
It’s one of these things. If you’re on the quest for hyper extension, just for fun, if it’s your thing – you have to give it time. It’s not a 30 day hyper extension challenge. It will develop in tandem with your handstand practice. We’ll shoot something, put some content up on the Instagram when we get a chance to do that.
MK: Next one, then. “How come I never see Emmet doing handstands????” I added the question marks.
EL: Umm, I suppose that one’s for me. Or do you want to answer that one?
Basically, if you notice anything about my training, I just don’t particularly care about sharing what I’m doing with people. Personally I kind of find social media abhorrent in terms of this constant need to share, and this constant need to impress people. It’s just not something I really care about, so I don’t. My life would be much happier if I didn’t have a phone. But alas I do.
Other than that, for myself, the last four years – I started a self research project into Chinese martial arts and tendon training. That has now gone on for four years. So, handstands and acrobatics are kind of put away for a while.
Also for myself, I was training handstand, acrobatic things for 20+ years, until I put it away. I kind of just got bored with it. I know that sounds weird to a lot of people, but once you’ve put your 10 000 hours into disciplines, you kind of go: that’s not really it….I’m done with that. I’ve done everything I wanted to do and achieved my goals.
I learned handstands when I was interested in acrobatics. But it wasn’t like Mikael, where I was ever performing handstands. It’s not something where I felt like it was my art. It was just something I enjoyed doing. The other side of things is I like my students to speak for me. For me, I find coaching just incredibly interesting. I spent so long coaching myself. The reason I have so much knowledge is from trying to get better myself, to look at my training practices and questioning it. I found for myself, I know how to get strong, to get this, to get that. But once you get someone else’s body that’s completely new to you, and their mindset and environment, and all other factors that go into training, you have an interesting puzzle to solve.
I prefer my online presence to be around my students. I get a huge amount of inspiration from them, and a huge amount of interest and development. It’s like “Thich That Hanh – the next Buddha will be a Sangha”. So instead of a solo person you’ll have a group or collective. This is what I find interesting. I like showcasing my students, and say, we’e worked together and have overcome this. Whereas if you look at how a lot of people present themselves on social media, it’s a real Me fest. I learned this, can do this, have my method – which is actually someone else’s method rebranded. Shout out to all those Ido copies. All these kinds of things.
Do you really? Do you have depth to it? Do people have a method – this is what interests me. Does it just work for them, or when they apply it to someone else? Do they have principles that can apply to a lot of different situations? That’s the answer to your question in a roundabout way. I prefer to show what people do with stuff I’ve taught them. Basically. Does that answer it?
Anyway, social media is bad for your health. Mentally.
MK: So next one. A long one: I’m training a combo of the Keep Pushing and Press programs. I’m feeling a lot stronger in the press work, and more flexible even though I can’t press at the end. The side effect I’m seeing is in the general consistency of my handstand work in kick ups. The consistency is going down. After training with Mikael last year, I had a similar issue, as I was strong. I sort of suspect this may be the same issue due to flexibility changing my centre of gravity and me not controlling the extra strength yet. That is just a theory and it would be good to get an opinion.
So, side effect of your general handstand work going down – to me that sounds more like you are doing a combination of Keep Pushing and Press. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of work. Then you’re expecting to see high degrees of consistency when you’re doing and enormous amount of work which means you’re training more often in a fatigued state. Which means you’re more likely to see larger variance in your consistency.
This is just the very brief thing I see from what you say here, and the training we did, and so on. The idea of that, flexibility or strength not being controlled, or changing centre of mass – I don’t really think that’s the case. I think it’s much more simple things than that. I think this is one of the fallacies of hand balancing training and trainers, myself included. This thing about having to train ALL the time. It’s basically this idea I’ve talked about before with the fatigue loop. People can deal with different levels of physical training, but you need to be able to recover. I’m not saying you aren’t, but I think this is a more common issue than thought. It’s this general idea that I must train 6 days a week, or I’m not really doing anything. Then you get really stressed, and you try to do more and more. I felt really bad this week, I couldn’t do much. That means I must do more next week. And I think these kinds of spirals can start feeding themselves. “I’m really tired and couldn’t manage, which makes me really annoyed, which makes me really want to do it, so I’m going to really try tomorrow.” But you’re still tired from the day before and the day before, but still going to go and do it, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Believe me, I’ve done that for many years. It’s really important to make sure. For a lot of people, especially with hand balancers, who are very obsessive people, you get this sensation to yourself that you need to do the thing. You can’t do the thing, and then that is not leading you anywhere either. Take a few days off, a deload week. If you encounter these things frequently, try something else, not only keep on smashing.
EL: Yeah. I will agree with that one. It’s also the precision. You have to remember we’re building up hand and finger strength in particular. If you’re learning new balances and other stuff, you’re inefficient. When pressing as well, a lot of people put a lot of pressure onto the finger tips while the mechanics are inefficient. This will just go slowly and accumulate the fatigue. When you’re fatigued, the first thing that goes is precision. Precision goes.
If your handstand consistency is gone, is your precision gone? Probably is. Your fingers are probably tired, that’s my take on it.
MK: Also the fact that you’re doing press work, which is tough. In the beginning, it’s maximal strength in the start. If you take a dumb gym metaphor, if you go in and are doing maximal bench press work and you’re going to come in and do some pushup style training a few days later, you will have residue fatigue. Same thing here, you did press work that fries your upper back. Then you come in and do balance practice, but your upper back is still fried. It’s not going to make things easier.
EL: Yeah, that’s basically eat. Eat more, sleep more. Question 5: I had quite flexible shoulders, but lost a lot of shoulder flexibility while training handstands. How would you recommend combining shoulder flexibility and handstand training?
MK: Depends on what kind of flexibility. Is it flexion, extension?
EL: It’s a bit of a vague question without seeing exactly. Are we dealing with someone who’s super duper hyper mobile? Then what degree loss are we doing? Is it a fatigue loss, or is it you could open your shoulders to the handstand line, but now they don’t open?
It’s a difficult one to answer. Some pointers would be: if you find you’re losing range on what you had, maybe there’s two things that can happen.
Take the hyper mobile, really great range past 200º. A lot of the time, it could be a lack of tissue density across the joint, which can provide less solid structure. As you build it up, it will tend to tighten the joint up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I see this a lot actually, with yogis. They’ll come to me at the start of our training and say, I can do the lotus pose. But if I look at the pose, they’re not getting it by the rotation of the hips, but by a hyper lateral flexion of the knee. That kind of thing. I just want them to have stronger knees, basically. They get the knees stronger, then can’t do the pose because their knee capsules are stronger, so they can’t shift the knee in that lateral direction. Then we have to work on the hip rotation and it comes back. It’s the same thing on shoulders if they’re hyper mobile or flexible beyond, say, 200º. I wouldn’t say that’s a super bad thing.
If you’re tight and losing a lot of flexibility post training, I would say you need to do a bit more relaxed type stretching post training. We have our active range of motion developing stretches that we build strength and range of motion control in, in both directions, put it into use in sub maximal methods in our handstands. But if you’re losing it, it’s a case for longer held, relaxed breathing type stretches. Get into stretches for the wall, shoulder wall, shoulder flexion, lat stretches, pecs, all this. Just hold them in a very relaxed manner. Try light contractions, and just hanging out there to release the tension. This is a key thing that normal static stretching is great for – removing muscular tension. That kind of thing is my take on it. What about yourself?
MK: Yeah, I’ve lost loads of flexibility in the shoulders in extension because of not using my extension much. It doesn’t bother me since I don’t use it much. No it hasn’t caused me to have shoulder issues.
If you’re losing range, perhaps it’s also because…it’s really hard to know. If you always had this natural ability to go to a certain place, and suddenly you can’t after training handstands, it’s likely what Emmet is pointing towards.
Also consider, have you started training handstands, which means you stopped using the shoulders in another way that you did before? Perhaps that can also be the reason. I used to have a good german hang years ago when I was doing german hangs. Now I don’t. I will probably get a good one if I start doing it again.
EL: Also, if you’re following our Push program, it has a full shoulder flexibility section that is synergistic with your handstand training. Throw that into your stack, if you have it. Other than that, we have reached the end of this minisode and our questions.
Once again, thank you so much for all your questions. If you’d like your questions read out, please DM them to us @HandstandFactory on Instagram. You can also do your audio questions on Anchor.FM if you find our page there. Other than that, hope you had a good episode.