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S1 Episode 23: Beyond 30 Seconds


In this episode of the Handstandcast Emmet and Mikael discuss reaching and moving beyond the 30 second handstand milestone. Explaining the various approaches that can be used to increase variety in training and improve capacity in the handstand and hopefully avoid training pitfalls.

We hope that you enjoy it!

S1E23 – Beyond 30 Seconds

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Transcript of Episode 23: Beyond 30 Seconds

EL: Hello, and welcome to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my co-host Mikael Kristiansen.  How’s it going Mikael?

MK: Yeah, not too bad.  Not much news since last time, I think.  Same shit, different day.

EL: We’re still on March the 904th on lockdown.  Things are beginning to open.  Gyms are back open so I can get back to training, which is nice.  I don’t know if you have any restrictions, but here… – Mikael, I can hear you folding paper.

MK: Sorry.  I see the paper and am like, what is this?

EL: Maybe we should livestream a folding.  Like those ASMR videos or podcasts with the crease folds and sounds.

MK: There’s a lot of nice sounds if you have the right papers.  There’s very satisfying sounds.

EL: It could be like how the original roots of industrial music was one of the guys figuring out that, I think the story goes, he was listening to elevator sounds.  He realized, hold on, there’s a bit of music here.

So you could get the sounds of origami and make your own dubstep origami glue sniffing music.

MK: You said elevator.  Did I ever show you Captain Elevator 4 2 … 1 8, or whatever his name was, on YouTube?

He must be autistic or something.  He has a channel that now has at least 1300 videos where he rides various elevators and just films it.  He goes in, it goes Pling.  Nice sound, this is a model from 1968, with this type of engine.  Then he rides the elevator and it’s over.  It’s a rather peculiar channel.  I should find it and link it in the notes.  It’s a very curious dive into a strange side of YouTube not so many people know about.

You also have a bunch of people that test lightbulbs. They have hundreds of thousands of videos on their channels; it’s amazing.

EL: That’s some proper old school internet stuff.  You can imagine those geocities pages from back in the day, and one guy giving elevator reviews.

MK: Over a thousand videos was on that channel the first time I found it!  That was like 15 years ago; now there’s even more.  He’s still uploading new elevators.  It’s incredible.  It’s more nerdy than all my habits put together.

EL: It goes to show; if you think you’re nerdy for doing handstands and stretching a little…You haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

MK: Speaking of which, what elevator are we talking about today, Emmet?

EL: I think today we are going to go with: Beyond your first 30 seconds of a handstand.

MK: I have the solution: 31 seconds.  Thanks for listening to our podcast.  If you want to support Handstand Factory…

EL: If you want to get our new advanced beginner program called, “32 seconds in Handstands.”  It’s the prequel to 33 seconds.

MK: It’s very special.

This is not a bad topic.  I think, first of all, with times – the time units we use are so arbitrary but they do represent some sort of achievement.  Yes 30 seconds is good.  It actually means a couple of things physically, in terms of your level of fitness and control.

If you stood 29 seconds, “I didn’t manage 30 seconds, agh!”  No, you managed 29 seconds and it’s practically the same shit.  It’s just ticking the little box of the specific 30.

EL: And how do you measure your time?  Are you counting the time where you’re inverted on the hands?  Or do you count when you join the legs together and get them perfectly straight and stable, and then start counting?  It’s two very different time measures.

Some people kill ten seconds just joining the legs and getting the balance established, then 20 seconds of shaky balance.

It’s always interesting – how do you time your handstands?

MK: I guess people have different standards on it.  For me, I like to be a bit more task oriented with handstand training.  We’ve talked about this, with treating it more like what you want to be doing is achieve the full thing.  Kick up, do whatever you wanted in the handstand.  Balance, and so on.  Move your legs around, then whatever the task was.  Then you come down in a controlled fashion.  The chasing of time is useful to a certain degree, especially early on since you need to have a bit of that capacity before having access to do a lot more shit.

But at one point, it just becomes a numbers game.  Some people like that, and it’s fair.  Going past 30 is certainly necessary for anyone who wants to go into advanced hand balancing.  That’s for sure.

EL: I think numbers are important when starting out on your training, just to make sure you’re installing the right amount of conditioning, joint preparation, and tissue integrity.  After that, there’s always this debate in strength training and tissue stuff.  What causes the adaptation?  Is it one long set, or cumulative time under tension?  Once you’re getting your cumulative time under tension….and these times are very nebulous.  You are getting your conditioning in, but you need certain amounts per set to cause certain amounts of fatigue.

0 to 30 seconds is an achievement for most people.  I’ve trained my body to do something I couldn’t do before.  Now it is doing it, and it can do it in a sustained manner.  Also, it’s manner that requires you to correct and establish balance multiple times until you get it.

Once you can repeat that a few times, say doing 5 sets of 30 seconds in a workout, with maybe 10 attempts, you’re doing pretty good.  You’re past the beginner level of handstands, and into advanced beginner.

MK: That oscillation between conditioning and technical focus puts 30 seconds as one of those changing points for me.  Once you have a handstand that you can hold, where you kick up, do the thing, and stay there for a reasonable amount of time, like 10-15 seconds, and it’s hit and miss, then to be able to go from that point to a solid 30 seconds means you’ll be well off doing more conditioning based work, or actively trying to stay up for longer times to get that 30 seconds.

That’s tripling the amount of time up, so it’s rather significant.  It’s not just getting up and establishing balance.  It’s dealing with the fatigue and the rougher corrections of under and over balance that starts happening when you stay there for longer.  To be able to break 20 is not that much conditioning.  That can happen on its own with a fluke or a good set where you’re just doing well.  The consistent 30, you might need a bit more focus on actually trying to reach those 30 seconds.

After, instead of being like, I got the 30, so shit, I better get the 60, you’re probably better off shifting the focus a little bit to a technical approach again: moving the legs, starting to do more stuff.

Within 30 seconds, on average, you have the capacity to start doing some movement with the legs, compared to an inconsistent 10s where the legs might throw you off too often for it to matter.

EL: Just to segue slightly back to one of the points you raised, it’s what I term the Acro-Yoga problem.  It’s definitely not a shot at Acro Yoga, but it’s something I observed quite early in my training when I was still in circus school.  I’d come back home to Dublin on my holidays, where there’s a big enough circus network.  It’s quite small in the country, and everyone knows everyone.  Everyone would meet up in the parks.

You had the jugglers, acre yoga people, some aerialists all meeting up in a park during the summer at the same time to hang out and be weird together.  You would see a lot of the flyers in acro yoga would have a max 20, 25, 30s on handstand – but it’s not consistent.

I was watching, and what they had was: they were quite flexible and controlled in the body, but they were just lacking the conditioning to sustain the effort.  So occasionally, when they were fresh and warmed up, they would nail one.  If the wind’s blowing in the right direction, boom, 25-30 seconds.  But I don’t know, 80% of their attempts would be a failed kick up, or a failed straddle up.  They’d get into balance and then lose it, because the swing of balance or precision was too much, or the fingers weren’t strong enough.  It was that kind of thing; they were enthusiastic amateurs basically.  Nobody was aiming for super high levels here.  They were doing the training but no one was really doing any focused conditioning in these sessions, and this was the only training they were doing a week, when we’d meet up.  I’m not saying you need to do a lot, but this is where the wall work comes in.  We build up capacity with the wall, then we build capacity with the fingers, and then hopefully we can put it all together.

This is one of those missing links, so if you find it’s your situation, where you can do a really long handstand every now and then, but it’s very inconsistent and 8 times out of 10 it doesn’t happen, then conditioning is the key to fixing this.

MK: It also means your body understands well enough what to do so that it can do the task.  It’s occasional because you need the stars to align a bit to pull it off.  But once you are conditioned enough to do something, it won’t be a big deal for the body, so you can do it much more often.  It’s similar to even weightlifting.  If you want to do a bicep curl of 25 kilos, you need to condition up to doing that.  It’s not something that will just happen by itself, even though you can curl 12.

For bridging the gap, I do think it can be useful to practice other shapes like straddle and tuck, and utilizing the wall, in terms of learning to do the various shapes until you’re around 30 seconds.  Past 30, that’s when the movements start coming in.  They add a lot more challenge per second of balance and require more focus and strength and energy to do.  That is a really useful thing to spend time on, as you get past the basic, semi solid 30 seconds.  New things and a new focus can come into the training.

Also it gets really dry.  If you just reached 30 seconds, and focused a lot on conditioning, then you’re going to keep on conditioning until 60, it’s going to be a snooze fest.

EL: I think you need a bit of conditioning.  One interesting thing I do with a lot of people: once they have a 60s chest to wall handstand, we’re done with that, except every now and then for a bit of torture.  You can start training the shapes on the wall while the person is learning to free balance.  When the person is doing their conditioning sets, they’re doing tuck or straddle handstands against the wall, and flirting with balance a bit that way.  You get an intro to the shape in the conditioning work, while you’re still learning to free balance up to 20-30s.

Then when it comes time to start working on some shape changing, you have a position to go from your handstand to another one.

MK: That’s the thing.  To be able to prep for that point where you can do the shape changes, doing the wall work in the various positions you will move in gives you a frame of reference, so you don’t need to build that right away.  That’s a very useful way of looking at the earlier stages of conditioning.  Past 30 you start putting things together.

If we assume a person can do a solid 30 seconds and has a good enough control of the two arm handstand that they can hit it much more often than not, and can start doing things in a handstand, I think a hugely underestimated thing to do other than shape changes is messing a little with adding and subtracting pieces and parts.  For hand width, you can do your normal grip in handstand, but you can also do a narrow grip.  It doesn’t need to be hand to hand, but narrowing the position slightly changes things.  If you’re used to doing handstands on the floor, start doing them on blocks, or finger-less handstands where fingers are off a ledge or block.  Those are quite a bit harder, but they allow you to take this shape you have and add a new challenge to it.  You can do it on canes, or just a height.  For many people, put them on a height of 30-40 cm, 50 cm perhaps, on a Crossfit box, it starts changing things in terms of the focus.  Suddenly the easy position you can hold for 30 is something you’re hyper aware in and too careful.  I find these sorts of challenges to be quite useful and interesting when it comes to moving to the next stage.

EL: One thing I find that’s crucial to developing balance is variety.  If we ignore the body stimulus and think about the stimulus to the balance, and exposure to different shapes and balance – if we’re doing the same handstand every time, we’re doing the same stimulus.  Same thing.  If we start giving you different things to do, like narrowing the grip, and being less pedantic like hand balancers often are about it having to be this exact space apart, or this spot in the gym, with the light shining in this direction, with my song on, blah blah blah.  If you start messing with narrowing or widening the stance, playing around and adding variety, then once you get past this point, your body can react fast enough.  If you start thinking then you slow it down, so adding things that make you think about something else in the handstand, suddenly you get out of the way of the fingers and balance doing the work.  They’ll do it on auto pilot while you’re thinking about something.

Shape changing is the first thing we start with.  We can start with basic shape changes like pointing or flexing the feet in the handstand.  What you see a lot in people at the 30 second handstand is the “foot radar.”  The feet are doing the balance corrections they would if the person were standing.  They’re wobbling back and forwards, and the toes are acting.  The hands and toes make the same movements.  You can eliminate that by telling people to flex or point the feet, point one foot or the other.  It means you’re still working the straight handstand, but you’re beginning to think about your extremities and look at things that way.  Always a fun challenge to try out.

MK: There’s also other types of challenges.  I think one challenge that’s often underestimated is walking on the hands forwards, backwards, sideways, in a circle, jumping on the hands – all the things that aren’t necessarily part of this very rigid structure of handstand teaching.

It’s kind of funny, because it’s basically the Federation that decided on some level which things are included.  Then there’s loads of things forgotten about, and loads of things I never trained way back, but got for free due to all the breakdancing stuff.  There you move on the hands all the time, so for me the walking stuff was a natural evolution of that.

Of course, walking is its own chapter, but all these things add into the mix of what you’re able to do up there.  It’s both in terms of stimulus, but also body map, safety, all that.  You have all these things you can do with your body upside down, so why not explore that?

Say 10 years down the line you’re learning jump changes on one arm.  If you can do 20 jumps on two arms, in 10 years that knowledge will still be with you.  If you’ve never jumped before, you’ll need to jump on your hands before you can jump on one.

So these things are useful to take into consideration on the early stages of the process.

EL: I think that’s something a lot of people should be able to do: walking on the hands forwards, backwards, sideways – the four main directions.  It occurs a lot in basically almost every acrobatic class.  Every acrobatic teacher I’ve had over the years would make you walk up and down the gym as a warm up, generally in the four directions.  Forwards, backwards, sideways, half turn in the middle, half turn the other way.  I know we have these in some of the advanced programs, but even in the straight handstand, turning on the spot is an interesting proprioceptive challenge, we’ll call it.  It’s worth trying out.

And when you have 30 seconds, you have something.  Now we can use the something for something else.  It’s not just, I have something so let’s only do more of that something.  Let’s try to do stuff.

MK: The walking stuff is obviously a staple thing in gymnastics since you want to be able to teach people to move through space using the handstand shape, so it’s very relevant there.

Basically, build the freedom upside down, and that’s more than just being able to move your legs into the nice four different shapes that everyone else can also do.

In that sense I’m really grateful for all the stuff I did in my breaking days, all the going up and down on the elbows, and all that stuff.  It translates so much into the understanding of the body.  I can still do those things now.  I never practice them but they’re probably better than ever because my strength is pretty solid.

It’s also loads of fun and adds variety.  Also in terms of performative things, it offers loads of possibilities, since that is ultimately what you want a lot of if you’re into performing.  We also have to be able to have fun and an interesting time with the practice itself, so the more addition you can have, the better it is.

I was teaching a private class today with a guy who had a question about a slight tilt in his body when doing handstands.

EL: I think I have six people messaging me on Instagram right now with that question.

MK: He’s like, “I’m a bit tilted this way!”  Yeah, you’re a Tiny bit like that.  Like, maybe ten years ago I’d say you would need to change it otherwise this or that.  But now I barely register it; it’s kind of irrelevant.  He could stand on his hands for 30 seconds easily.  He’d been told a lot that he must fix this, or else… Or else what?

He’d spent lots of time trying to work on it, and it hadn’t led to the changes.  So leave it alone, move on.  If you find that every time you try to do a press down on two arms and you always fall to one side, then sure, look into it.  Then it’s actually doing something to you and stopping you from learning a skill.  Whereas here, it looks a certain way, the body likes to do a certain thing, but it’s not a big deal.  Move on, and do relevant things instead.  Over time it does seem that it becomes a lot easier to correct, too, when you have full control of your body in any given situation.  My body is tilted this way, I’ll just tilt it back.  I had that happen to me once, where it was after I hurt my left wrist a couple of years ago.  I hurt my wrist super bad doing a jump change on a cane, and couldn’t stand on my left wrist for six weeks.  When I got my two arm handstand back it was obviously tilted to the right side.  First it was on purpose, but even a couple of months after I was still tilting a bit, probably out of fear.  It was very easy to fix.  I know every single cm of my body’s angles when I’m standing in handstand, so it’s very easy to shift that.

I do think that, around the 30 second mark, people also start micro managing their handstand.  What about this?  And that?  And this?  And that? And this? -Just stand on your fucking hands.

EL: You nailed it there.  At the 30 second mark you do see that micromanaging start to emerge, and the over obsession with the line.  Your line won’t be perfect, even when you can do 60 seconds.  It’s going to take a while.  It’s fine, you just work on it.

Basically what happens is people have the conditioning to survive the handstand nicely, so they get a bit of brain space, and use that to overanalyze what they’re doing in the handstand.  Oh the weight’s too much on this side, or I’m twisting or rotating.  All these things do iron themselves out once the conditioning and flexibility training are on par.  If not, maybe it’s another issue.  “Oh my line isn’t perfect, my shoulders are too something.”  It becomes a near obsession with people.  It shows you have brain space, so time to put that to use and confuse yourself again.

Here’s a good question, actually.  What is the first shape change that you teach people?

MK: I like to go from hard to easy first, because when you’re shifting, you’re going from one point to a second point.  During the movement, you will likely make some funky things happen, and doing movements that make more problems when you arrive than when you started.  If that means you start in a straddle and move to legs together, where the latter has a higher centre of mass, and each movement means a lot more moving the body structure, if you generate problems from the straddle up to the straight, you will likely fall.  If you start in legs together and lower into a straddle, that is likely going to be easier unless your straddle handstand is difficult for you, since you go to a lower centre of mass.

I think straight to straddle is usually the one.  For some people, straight to tuck, if their straddles are really hard because they don’t have the hip flexibility at all.  As soon as they start separating the legs they pike, and they don’t have the shoulders to pike much in the hips, and just drop.  It depends a bit, but generally it’s straight to straddle.

EL: Straight to straddle for myself too.  One thing that differs a bit in terms of how we coach the line is I generally coach people in the straight handstand with slightly more externally rotated legs.  It’s mainly an aesthetic thing, kind of how I learned.  It’s a nod to that and I thought it was very important back in the day, but it’s not really that important now that I understand it better.  What I like about it is, if we imagine the positions like a ballet first, all we have to cue people when learning is to drop the legs, and they drop into the right direction because they’re externally rotate and only have one slot to go into.

It’s a very easy one, go up and let your legs go down, and they’ll go apart.  It’s simple for people to get it.

Then most of the time you try your shape change and fall out.  That’s cool.  You just go back up and try it again, 100 more times.

By the time you get to 30 seconds, the way I coach it, but not sure when you start doing the entries-

MK: It’s about the same time.  It also depends a lot.  You’ll see people with 60 second handstands, but their shoulders are in too closed or open a position, and never built the strength to actually jump up.  I have seen people with super long holds, but cannot do the jumps yet, due to that.  They have terrible shoulder mobility, or trouble with hip mobility.  So that does occur.

But from a consistent 15 and upwards, the entries are definitely worth putting into the equation.  By 30 you should start aiming into being confident at entering into straddle and tuck.  Pike is probably going to take more time unless you’re naturally good in under balance, and flexible.  Possibly start playing with cartwheels into handstands.

EL: The entries are one of the nice ones.  You can use the momentum in them quite nicely.  You get up to the straddle and join the legs, without having to worry about holding the straddle.  Same with the tuck.  Once I start seeing someone’s got a bit of control, I tell them to pause.  Pause a bit in the tuck for a one count.  Simple.  Then straighten the legs.  Same with the straddle: jump, pause, join.  Then you can extend those pauses, and suddenly you have a shape change going on, just by slowing the entry down.

It hasn’t become A Thing.  It’s kind of a rolling stop in the shape, so you don’t have to reinitiate the motion or break the inertia.  We’ve got this shape change, then the down.  And if someone can hold the straddle, it’s nice to look at the articulations of the knees.  You can hold a straddle handstand.  There’s not that big a difference between a diamond and a straddle, or a froggie.  I’ll hold my straddle, bend my legs, both one leg in, these kinds of things.  It gives you things to play with, things to look back at, so when you review your camera you can say, what the hell are my feet doing?  That’s it.

The other one is straddle to tuck.  That has to be my favourite shape change, I have to say.

MK: That’s a glorious one.

EL: I can basically tell you everything I need to know about your handstand by watching you do straddle to tuck.  I’ll be able to tell if you can one, press, anything else.  Endurance is probably the only thing I can’t tell from it.  It shows so much.  It’s easy to pull off, but to do it really well, where everything arrives or expands at one point, to watch if the shoulders planche or open too much, or the back stays straight…And what kind of tuck do you do?  A closed tuck?  Do you go to high straddle then pike as you go down?  All these little variances tell you what’s going on.  You can tell a huge amount from someone’s handstand just from that one.

It’s also easy to tuck up and immediately kick to straddle.  Tuck up, legs go out, and you’ll catch the balance if you’re used to straddling.  You can have a lot of success at it quite quickly.

MK: The tuck to straddle also gives the comfort the person generally has with moving the legs.  A very comfortable person will go tuck, straddle, tuck, straddle, tuck, straddle, like a machine forever.  Someone who’s learning it will be very careful in their movements.  It’s easy to assess by seeing leg movements.  The comfort with which they initiate and do a thing shows this.

In the same class I was teaching today, I had a board on the floor that he was going to handstand on.  I asked him to show me a kick up.  He takes a step back from the plank and does a really long kick up.  He does it and I started laughing.  Immediately when I told him to do a kick up, even subconsciously, he took a long step back and would get into the position where he could do a long lunge gymnastics style kick up.  There’s nothing wrong, it’s just how he practiced.  Sometimes you can spot a lot earlier in people what they can do, depending on how the set up is, and the general comfort.

When it comes to all that post 30 second handstand – until 20s you are comfortable, you’re having a chill time.  When you make it to 30, it get heavy.  But practice for a few weeks and you’ll probably get 32 or 35 or even 37, or 29.  You’d be in the area.  A large part of the time that you’re up, you’re pretty chill with it.  So reflecting back to what you said before about introducing things, it comes naturally.  There is head space and time, the possibility for a person to even be in handstand and for you to tell them to tuck.  If someone is new to that and you tell them to tuck, they go bluarggggh and try to tuck and fall.  Their level of comfort is not as high at that point, for them.  Getting that comfortable time in handstands is as important as pushing the time or doing really complicated stuff, as getting past 30.

EL: What do you find when people start to get the minute?  What shape do you see people hold the most in?

You have to kind of informally time things.  When I train someone I kind of informally time them.  Or I use a stop watch, but won’t be telling them.  One thing I’ve seen over the years is, if I make people hold max straddles…if people have broken the 30 second barrier, can do some shape changes, whatever, and I tell them they’re going to hold the straddle until I tell them to come down or they fall out, that is when most people break the 60 second mark.

They want the 60 second straight handstand, because the Federation says so.  It is interesting that you can start building endurance in lower centre of gravity shapes, like straddle or half straddle, or half split, the half kick up position.

Build your endurance up in that, where it’s easier to balance.  Then you can do your 45, 60 second in the shape consistently.  Then you can join the legs and try to build it up.

It’s another interesting approach to building endurance.  Instead of hammering that shape you work on a different shape, get that, and then work on a harder one, then get that, all the way to 60 second pike.

MK: I don’t think I’ve ever done a 60 second pike, if I think about it.

EL: We have to see that on your gram by tomorrow morning.

MK: But today is rest day.  I promised myself to stay off my hands, and I already kind of didn’t during the class, when I had to demo a few things.

I think it’s smart to play with various shapes as you’re building that endurance.  The head position is another one.  For people the head position can be tricky in terms of technique.  They have a 2 minute handstand; you ask them to move the head and the fly out.  It’s certainly a drill worth playing with when you’re at 30.

It’s also the big one that starts at 30 seconds: working on the press to handstand.  *Gasp*

Around 30 seconds is where…a really good negative press should take you 15-20 seconds anyway.  You should be able to stand on your hands for 30 before spending a significant amount of time on your pressing, unless you’re a press beast and take it very quickly.

EL: A press beast is when: you have really good flexibility and really good active flexibility, or are a planche master, or both, which is very rare.

MK: There are some people who are like, is it like this?  And then they fly up.  It happens.  But on average, most people who have 30 seconds have a reasonable line, decent control and flexibility.  By the time you have that, your conditioning level is likely such that you can open the legs and start pulling the legs towards the body a little bit and initiate a negative press.  That is one of the primary things that signify that you are now ready to begin putting more time than just piddling with the press.  That is a good thing to spend your time on possibly before chasing 60.  It would be good to have a longer period to consolidate your 30, develop a lot of new technical capacities and start working some negative presses, and press exercises like stomach to wall presses, deep tucks, stuff like that.  Then you might shift your focus.

That stuff will get you stronger.  I’ve seen several times, someone who has a 25 second handstand and spend more time working on other things, go for a PR on their handstand.  Oh shit, 45 seconds.  Like you mentioned in the beginning with the cumulative time under tension, and technically getting more efficient, all these things together add up to you being able to stay longer, even though you didn’t specifically work on it.

EL: The upper back strength you gain from deep tucks and press work, even without getting the press, is huge.  If you have 30 seconds and are trying to build endurance, think of it like at the gym.  You’re trying to build your chin ups, like the classic 20 chin ups.  It can be a lot faster journey than just doing bodyweight to do some strength work, get stronger, do set of 2-3 with your chin ups, then try some max endurance work and see what that gives you.  It’s the same with handstands.  Get stronger in your upper back and fingers and your endurance goes up because it’s less relative effort.  These are things to think about in terms of conditioning, and other stuff.

MK:  Press is also a big goal in itself. Some people will hit 60 seconds before doing a press.  Some people have a really hard time nailing their 60, others have a really hard time nailing their press.  Some can do a 2 minutes handstand, and still be nowhere close to the press.  Mobility also takes different lengths of time for people to build.  It’s not a linear thing that can be expected at all.

The on average benchmark before starting to put significant amounts of time in the press is around 30.  There’s so many things that are to be taken for granted by then, and you save yourself a lot of time, frustration and effort, by building that basic before moving on.

I always have this discussion, both with myself and within us, on how much to focus on the basics.  There’s a fetishization of the basics.  I have basics this, basics that.  Yeah if you do the basics then it’s all good.  Because it’s the basics.  But are you really challenging yourself, and trying to do something?

I’ve mentioned before on this podcast how many acrobats got super good because they didn’t focus on the basics.  There’s something to be said for that too.

In the beginning in things like this, there are certain levels of basics that are super important.  The 30 is such a one.  After doing a handstand itself, it is the next big one.  Several things are unlikely to be efficient or interesting to train until you get to that point.  30 to 60 is a bit more shallow in terms of the specific difference.  If you want to do your one arm work, you should have 60.  The same thing goes from one minute to two minutes.  The two minutes is a good baseline.  I urge any more advanced practitioner to get that.  But there is diminishing returns.

EL: The 2 minute thing:  In some of my more advanced balancers, they’re at 3, 4, 5minutes at this stage.  We never really work on endurance.  I just tell them to do it every now and then.  I use it almost as a bench mark as how the efficiency and strength development from their one arm training is going.  A lot of people will probably hear Mikael say 2 minutes, and then go, I’ll do 5 sets of 1 minute and write a program.  Then 5 sets of 1:10, then 5 sets of 1:15.  It’s not exactly that.  We’re pushing the capacity and strength, and this manifests by the two arm becoming simplistic.  So watch out before the notebook crew comes out to make this template program.

MK: Speaking of programs, Handstand Factory has one in the works called Advanced Basics.  It’s not a real, full, large program, but it includes a lot of things we talked about here, like narrow grip handstands, blocks and heights, how to use canes, and so on.  They’re basic things, but good additions to the normal things to think about in handstand.  They’re tasks and skills that are useful to build up before moving on.  But it doesn’t need to be mastered before moving into one arm practice.

EL: Or presses, or other things.  It’s always interesting how your handstand journey can go.  Once you have the skill, the 30 seconds, you suddenly have such broad potential.  You get your 30 seconds, you can do it.  You can do a handstand.  Then maybe I don’t care about my line, but try to learn breakdancing stuff.  Or I really want to push the technicality of it, so I push my line.  Cool.  Or I want to learn a press, or even a handstand push up.

I can remember my two best students, Josh and Morgan.  If you’ve seen Morgan lately, he’s gone off the radar.  He spent some time in Kiev.  He’s immensely good.  Shout out to Morgan, and Josh is also doing some really cool stuff as well.  They came to me and said, initially they wanted to do calisthenics; one arm chin up, handstand push up, the planche… I said to them, we need to train some handstands.  They asked, do we really need to train handstands – this is before they got addicted to it.  Well, if you want to do a handstand push up, you have to be able to hold a handstand.  They wanted to know the minimum they could do, and I said you have to do a 30 second handstand to do a handstand pushup.  Your first repetition of a handstand push up, when you’re learning it, it’s going to take you that 30 seconds.  If you can’t kick up, hold your balance, lower down and come back up, especially if it’s a grind fest on a 1RM, you need that 30 seconds.

As you get more efficient, your sets only last 30 seconds but you might get 3-4 reps in that time.  It’s the make or break skill.  Not sure if it’s in breaking, but in juggling there’s an unspoken rule that unless you can do stuff with 3 balls or 5 balls, you’re not a juggler, just someone who likes doing it.  If you can juggle 5 balls and spend some time on some advanced 3 ball stuff, then you’re a juggler.  It’s a bit gate keeper-y, but it gives you an idea that there are set standards in communities.  I’d say the 30 second is that mark, and not the 60 second.

MK: At the same time, like we said at the start, 29 seconds is 30 seconds.  35 seconds is 30 seconds.  In terms of what it actually means beyond the precise number and the relationship we have built now to time and a minute, because it changes the unit from second to minute, which we find a big deal.  It’s still important to not be too stuck to those things as standards.

I think there is still a little too much obsession.  I know loads of people, even really good ones, who like training with a metronome.  Get that fucking thing away from me.  Play some good music, and I’d rather that than hearing the tick tack.  I’m not a machine, with the count.  I did 10, yay me.  9, boo, sad face.  For me that is not an interesting perspective on they why and how to practice.  Even though you are chasing these goals, some level of enjoyment is important.

No offence if you like a metronome; that is basically just a preference.  We just shouldn’t be too attached to the success or failure that depends on the exactness of your stopwatch, or your metronome.

EL: I’m sure you’ve encountered this as well, people who make precise benchmarks to make a thing.  “I can’t break 60 seconds in a handstand.”  They have 58 or 55 seconds.  It becomes a milestone that becomes unbreakable because there’s a mental barrier on it.  Then you distract the person, and that’s when you break it.  These kinds of things.  We need standards, but we don’t need tight ones.

MK: They need leniency.  Doing the thing with control, completing the task: one arm, two arm, press, stuff.  The numbers chase, as we said, towards 30 is really great.  From there, remember the diminishing returns.  Your set was not less valuable for your level of learning if you do 28 seconds compared to 32.

I do know, and have had several people contact me who built up, or have a pedantic personality and adhere to these number codes, and these are treated very strongly as something to do with success and failure.  It’s important to call bullshit on that, because your nervous system doesn’t experience the stimulus differently depending on what the clock says.  For me that’s a bottom line on how to treat the time thing.

EL: I think we’ll leave it there.  That’s a good point to wrap it up.  Time is an arbitrary thing made by man.

MK: Holy fucking shit Emmet, I need to tell you something really important.  I saw today – Jesus Christ – I woke up, clicked on YouTube, and found a video of a guy who had done time calculations.  What’s that game called, Rollercoaster Tycoon.  To those listening, it’s an old PC game where you run an amusement park.  It’s like Sim City, with old school graphics.  Some guy did probability calculations on sending all the people coming into the amusement park into a maze.  He built a maze that was so large it covered the entire map.  He calculated how long it would take all the people to walk through it.  It was a number that had 0s equivalent of 6 Word pages full of zeros.  It was so absolutely ridiculously stupid.  I lie there, eyes half open, listening to the fucker explain the mathematics of having a walking amusement park visitors in a maze….Basically the heat death in the universe calculation of how long the universe would last was microscopic compared to this unit of time it would take for these people to walk through the maze.

EL: We’ll just put this video in the description, and nothing else.  Can you hold your handstand longer than the heat death of the universe?  That’s what we’re looking for.

MK: If you watch the video you have to see the ending. The beginning isn’t so interesting but it got fucked up off the rails after a while.

I guess that’s it for us.  Or at least that’s it for me.

EL: Just to wrap up, thank you all for listening.  If you want to support us at Handstand Factory and buy any of our programs, that would be awesome.  We’re going to be doing some cool stuff soon.  We have some filming coming up, some new programs.  We’re probably going to do some live Zooms as well while Mikael is in Dublin.  Check our Reddit forum, or the newsletters for details coming out on that.

Other than that, thank you all.  Speak to you next week.

MK: Cheers.


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