In this Episode, Emmet and Mikael answer more questions from our listeners, discussing time expectations for learning the freestanding handstand, methods of approaching learning the One-Arm handstand, developing strength as a “bendier” person compared to a “stiff” person, how to prevent looking like you’ve just got out of bed after doing handstands and an audio question about training for a pancake only once a week.
We hope you enjoy it!
Music by Daniel Horvath
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S1E34 – Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
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Transcript of Episode 34: Q&A with Emmet and Mikael
EL: Hello and welcome back to the Handstand Class…Cast. That’s what we’re doing, the handstand class today, with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen. How are things going Mikael?
MK: Tired as hell. I’ve been doing five shows the last 25 hours, something like that. Pretty busted. Other than that, can’t really complain. I’m doing this show now in Norway and it’s basically on this tour for kids. It’s an organization in Norway that sends cultural arrangements of various kinds to schools. Me and two friends of mine have a show made for 6-10 year olds that we are now playing. We’re playing twice a day, in the mornings. Yesterday we did twice in the morning. We go in at 8, set up, one show, an hour break, a tear down, drive an hour to the next place. Because we had to film the show, another set up. We played the show again, then teardown, then home at 10pm. Woke up at 7 to play another two shows, also with set up and tear down. So, pretty busted.
EL: Can’t complain. Well, you are complaining. We’ll let it slide. We’re not doing a video cast, but if you can see Mikael, he normally doesn’t look like Skeletor, and is usually quite fresh. You look pretty trashed by your normal standards.
MK: I can notice too. I don’t have facial expressions left. That’s the main thing.
EL: That’s what it is! It’s like your facial muscles are fatigued and you can’t move.
MK: It feels like all my dopamine has been fried, by entertaining children.
EL: It looks like you’re a skull with a latex mask stretched over it.
You’re normally an expressive latex mask.
We are doing a minisode, answering all your Qs with our As. We have a few questions; I suppose we’ll delve into them. Then we have an audio question. As usual, if you’d like to send us some questions, you can send them to us on our Instagram @HandstandFactory. You can find us on Anchor.FM and send us voice notes, even if you just want to say hi. Please do, we’ll put them in, because they’re cool.
I also have to justify a very expensive purchase, the Road Caster Pro. It has jingles and everything and I look forward to using it. So send your audio questions.
Also, if you want to send us pictures of your pets, cats, dogs, we will rate them online.
So, our first question today. I think we’ve had this one before, but might as well answer it again: “On average, how long does it take to learn to do a freestanding handstand?”
MK: That one again. I think we replied before, but as with all things, it depends – on your level of general fitness, how long you’ve already spent trying, what your athletic background is like, if you’ve done any acrobatic disciplines like gymnastics. I would say an average between 4 to 12 months, something like that,
EL: I think 4-12 months is a good estimate, based on training. Just to fill out this question, a lot of people are trying to aim for a definitive answer and we can’t really give that. What we can definitively tell you is, if you train consistently, even if only twice or once a week, but consistently long enough, you will be able to do a handstand eventually.
When starting out in this journey, you need to put your stats into consistency. Obviously you need to do all your training and everything else, but being consistent is the key to getting the handstand, one arm, everything. You need more training volume as you get into things, but this is what you should be looking for. Be consistent.
If it takes you six months, awesome. If it takes eight months, that’s fine. Go for consistency.
MK: Don’t make any deadlines. “I’m going to do it this summer.” “I’m going to nail 60s by Christmas.” All these are a waste of your time because it doesn’t matter, and makes you stress about it. Stressing isn’t going to necessarily help us in a short term motivating way. Maybe you get closer and then you need to find an excuse for yourself as to why you didn’t manage, etc. It doesn’t matter. Take your time with the process rather than trying too hard to beat the next guy, because they were able to do it in such and such time.
It doesn’t really matter. Really give yourself the time to put the time into it. Make sure you work on the things that will actually help you get there. That is a vague thing to say, but you need a technical approach so you understand what you’re trying to achieve. You need to condition various parts of the handstand, such as the forearms, so your grip is strong enough. You need your shoulder alignment, the mobility if needed, and the strength so they can stay in the position you want them in the handstand.
EL: That sums it up.
Next question. This is actually a pretty good one. “Should training for the one arm handstand include progressive overload, or can it be learned through constant practice?”
It can be done with both. This is the interesting thing. I’m not suggesting this as time efficient, but if you just kept trying to do a one arm, regardless of technique, eventually you would be able to if you just kept at it long enough. But it’s probably not the most efficient path. Having technique and refinements and concepts will be better.
Then it gets into, having to separate out the strength component, flexibility/mobility component, and a skill component to a one arm handstand.
Developing the body and strength can be treated like a progressive overload. If you’re just trying to build the strength, maybe you did 5 sets of 15 seconds, 4 finger tip holds. Then you aim for 30 seconds before working the one arm itself.
Then you try 5×20 seconds before doing 5×30 seconds. Quite logical. You do have to allow variance for sets that don’t make it.
Generally we suggest have a range. I try to do 5 sets of 15-25 seconds. If it’s below 15 it doesn’t count, if it’s over, that’s great and it sets a new baseline. Giving yourself a range rather than precision is good here.
MK: Progressive overload is a simpler thing to use, in terms of parameters. Either you have specific reps or weight, that’s easier to calculate. If you are working on, say, normal handstands, you might move from 30 to 35 second, but your form might get better or worse. There’s other things for quality that also matter. It’s such a skill thing. You can brute force it by simply trying a million times.
That’s how I got my first one arm when doing breaking. I tried to do it, until I could wobble on the arm for a bit. But it wasn’t great, and I had to put it all away when I started training actual hand balancing.
Of course a lot of that balance and sensation was retained, but still, I had to basically rewire everything. It’s better to approach it as something separate from progressive overload, but ti has a progressive overload component. Or it can.
EL: Definitely. Also, when you get into the actual balancing of the one arm it’s so chaotic that it’s near impossible to actually program a set overload.
You can’t say you did 5 s one arms last week, and now you do 6s one arms. It’s a total fallacy. It’s too unpredictable. You might come in and smoke it. You might come in and not even be able to shift your weight over.
MK: Even on two arms, you might have done your 35s and be happy. Then for 3 weeks you can’t hit 20. This can happen.
If you’re training progressive overload, you’d have a program you follow and most likely could come in and do, be in a force range you should be able to manage. By pushing yourself you can go slightly further.
But with a handstand, say you go close to your max work in an endurance set. If you’re not warm in the shoulders, you keep messing up and falling out after 10s, 3 times in a row. Maybe you wasted a lot of that energy that would make it possible for you to reach that new max or get close to it.
But still, you balanced on your hands for 10 seconds, 3 times. That is skill training.
What we’re trying to say here is it’s much more confusing and annoying…because it is.
EL: Confusing, annoying, frustrating. This is the main thing you need to know for one arm handstands.
MK: You WILL progressively overload your frustration, then build some tolerance and capacity to your own frustration. That is the true skill, the absolute true skill of it.
EL: 90% of my job as a coach when taking someone through the one arm process is making sure they don’t quit. You just don’t quit, keep doing it, trust me, it’s working.
We have an audio question. As I said before, we have a mystery caller. I actually know who the caller is, but I’ll let Mikael try to guess.
“Hello Emmet and Mikael. Anonymous caller, but longtime listener. I can tell you I pay attention to every single word that is said…you might say it’s my job. My question is about developing the compression strength and flexibility for pancake – not following the programming in the manual, which I know is excellent. But it’s required to be done 2-3x a week. For a poor Daoist boy who trains 5 hours a day, there’s very little room to add in anything else. This is a skill I would be interested in developing. Could you please speak more, Emmet, on…I got flustered with the timer counting down, so I have 4 second left… on developing compression and pancake flexibility once a week? Thank you.”
EL: Basically, if you only have once a week, you have to go all in on it. It’s the unfortunate thing with compression strength: it sucks to train. For the programming, it sounds like you have the Press program. It’s pretty good. If you were to just pick the compression section of that program and do it once a week, I’d probably do 5 and not 3 sets, basically. Go hard, go home.
This is the thing – consistency will win out. If you train once every 7 days, you might not get there quick. You might get there quick. This is the thing with flexibility training and active flexibility development. Some people just take to it, it’s easy, they gain very quickly. Other people, it takes a lot of work. At the end of the day, consistency will win. Consistency always wins. That’s the message really.
I’d do the programming as laid out. Take 5, 10, 15 minutes to go through it and just do it. Other than that, the other thing you could try is just doing one set of compressions every day. That will take you about a minute. Just try to spread it out every training day, instead of doing it 3-4x a week. You can do that instead of one big session, if you can’t fit it in.
You can always find a minute to fit something in. Is it the best? Who knows. Will it work? I guarantee you that.
Or, did you ever get this old school gymnastic set, classic with gym coaches. I’ll throw it out there for anyone who wants to try it.
In the warm up, you do 10 compression lifts…10 with one leg, 10 with the other leg, 10 with both legs. Then 10 circles in one direction, 10 circles the other way without letting your legs come down. Then hold it for 10 seconds, or 30 seconds, however much the amount they felt like torturing you with that day.
MK: I never did exactly that. One leg, one leg, in the middle. Both legs in the middle, then pancake: one leg, one leg, both legs. I think it was like 10 pulses on each. It hurts a lot in the quad.
Those drills never bothered me too much. It’s funny. Ask me to do any kind of squat or lunge work and my quads suffer significantly. Ask me to do anything kind of Straddle L and it’s so easy. I completely forgot about the sensation of cramps in the quads from those, because they’ve been done so damn much.
EL: That’s the good news there. If you do your compression work enough, ti doesn’t cramp enough anymore. Then you just do it. Then you add weight.
Guess what? It doesn’t cramp when you start adding weight. Well. Sometimes it does, but not a lot.
Next question. “It is often talked about strong people being stiff. Do flexible people have longer journeys to get strong, because they can train strength exercises through a higher range of motion, than one who is stiffer and uses less range of motion?”
A bit of an interesting question there. It has an interesting answer.
MK: I’d like to hear your take on that.
EL: What makes someone stiff and what makes someone bendy, though there are always inter-types, is not so much about muscle, and more about connective tissue.
To gain strength, they generally gain at about the same rate. Something I’ve come across a lot that people don’t screen: I find athletes who are playing field sports and are hyper mobile, but not flexible in terms of how we think of it – can’t do splits, can’t touch their toes, that kind of thing. But they have hyper mobile joints and are super strong.
A couple rugby, basketball players like this. They’re jacked, big dudes, and if you look at a range of motion test, they’re stiff as fuck, in terms of gross range of motion.
In terms of the joint’s ability to move, they have hyperextended knees, etc.
If you’re moving through less range of motion, hopefully you’re moving through your strongest range of motion. Then you will hopefully, if flexible..this is where it gets interesting. We’ve all seen those girls basically bench pressing in a contortionist back bend, lifting the bar 2” and it’s perfectly valid for powerlifting.
If we use that criteria, then maybe not. Maybe they will be stronger than you and get there faster, because they have less work to do.
What is more relevant is leverage. If someone is moving through a big range of motion and has long limbs, femurs, stuff like this, this will apply more leverage to the hips and back, in a squat, for example. This will make it harder for them to gain strength and size; it’s just more leverage per unit of weight put on them.
That’s a bigger thing than anything else.
With flexible people, especially when dealing with sports that involve a change of direction and fast stopping, or even sprinting, someone with a looser collagen type might be able to generate tendon stiffness to really take advantage of that energy the body has going on.
You probably won’t find someone hyper mobile at the top level of sprinting. Will someone max out their potential in the same amount of time? Yes, I think so.
If you put all your stats into powerlifting, you will get damn strong. Probably at the same rate as most average people would. I don’t think it’s a big factor. A small factor, but not a big one.
MK: I guess it’s…this is definitely not my field of expertise, but what I start thinking of is the idea that people with a lot of strength from the get go might perhaps start associating more with that and work more on that. They see it as a positive attribute they cultivate, and perhaps neglect flexibility. And the opposite.
A very good example I have of that is within circus. I don’t know many female hand balancers that can handstand pushup. I’m sure most of them can, if they even put a little bit of work into it. I think most could learn it rather fast, but it’s not a move they strongly associate with in their discipline. They don’t put any time into it.
Whereas it’s looked upon as a “guy move”, so has lots of dudes working on it. It becomes differentiated in that sense. You’re really good at a certain thing and keep cultivating that.
To take a more extreme example, why would a contortionist bother learning a handstand pushup with a straight body, for example, unless they were particularly interested? It’s not that associated with the discipline.
There might be a factor here, in terms of what you associate with, the attributes you have and the skill set or discipline you are practicing within.
EL: I can think of very few girls who can do handstand pushups in circus – though they probably could. But I can think of a lot of girls who can do a triple fold contortion pushup, which is arguably more harder.
For those who don’t know, a triple fold is a backbend, like a scorpion, but you bend all around so you’re sitting on your own head. Then you bend the legs/quads up so your knees are bent and feet tucked behind the armpits. You’re folded in 3 places. People do a chest stand in that position, then basically bench press themselves up into a handstand, and continue on doing stuff.
I know plenty of girls who can bang out a lot of reps in that position. It wouldn’t be too difficult for them to learn a handstand pushup, but they’ve done the one that requires the most flexibility your spine can muster, and push up in it.
Maybe it’s a gender difference, but when I started circus, none of the schools would let girls do straps, because it was a guy discipline. You had to be so upper body strong.
You do, but some girls started doing it. They were killing it and could do basically everything, all the basic strap repertoire. It’s gone a bit higher nowadays, because people have pushed the limits a bit. They were doing switches, spinning switches, roll ups, roll ups with legs…all the basic repertoire was easy.
Then people were like, wait, girls can strong too. Yeah, you idiots.
MK: Now there’s tons of girls doing straps, I’ve seen as many doing them as guys. I’ve noticed a lot of aerialists that do rope or silks or hoop who also do straps. I think it’s good development in general. A lot of the vocabulary transfers well between all that stuff, so it’s certainly changed on that part.
I think there’s this tendency to think, “I am good at these certain things, so I will stick to them.” Just like with me and not doing Mexicans. I’m so not the bendy dude that I avoid them at all costs. Even though, as you said, would I max out my potential at a Mexican at an average rate if I worked at it? Probably.
EL: It’s been my life long goal to make Mikael do Mexicans.
MK: Don’t make me! Send help; Emmet is trying to force me to do Mexicans.
EL: We have a video of you doing one somewhere, after I stretched the shit out of you.
Mikael, despite what he thinks, his hips are super bendy. You have god tier external rotation.
MK: I did a bridge today. Be happy about it.
EL: The first of this year.
MK: Not the first, but probably not more than…maybe 10? I’ll remember and do one tomorrow.
EL: Send me a picture.
Next question: “How can I stop looking like I haven’t slept for a year after a handstand session? Handstanding for a long time does something funny to my eyes. I thought it might have to do with holding my breath and lack of oxygen. I’ve been focusing on breathing in handstand and it still happens sometimes.”
This is an interesting one. I will guess to why it’s going on. It’s generally to do with lymph drainage. You probably noticed your eyes going blacker, puffier, then a bit deeper. I’ve seen it a few times. Whatever goes on, they go upside down and everything drains to their face and puffs up.
I can even remember one girl in circus school with me. She had to stop training handstands for a year because it went away eventually, but her eyes would get into slits. They couldn’t open and she was squinting the whole time…just from being upside down. The pressure.
It is something that happens. We’ve all seen people with burst blood vessels in the eyes, cheeks, etc. Watch out for these things; they do happen. They do go away eventually, it stops happening.
Maybe other than that, it’s your hair . Use hair spray to avoid that got out of bed look. Maybe?
MK: I know people who get very red eyed when doing handstands. Some much more than others. It seems to be rather individual.
I know people who have done handstands for decades, and things happen to their face for a short time when they turn back down.
I would guess that, on average, it would improve over the years. The body isn’t necessarily created to deal with all the blood pressure in the head to that degree, so it’s not strange that it responds by doing the things we aren’t used to it doing.
I think, unless you’re experiencing other kinds of discomfort, don’t worry about it.
EL: I heard about some yoga man who said doing head stands for long enough makes you enlightened. So the blood flow does something. The bench mark was 6 hours in a headstand, non stop.
EL: Maybe it works. Try it out and let us know. If you become enlightened, we’ll have you on the show. You can be our next Eckhart Tolle.
Six hours of headstands – I gave you the secret.
That’s the end of our questions for today. A short episode, but that’s cool.
If you want to ask us questions, send them to us @HandstandFactory on Instagram. There’s also a contact form on the website if you don’t want to do Instagram. Where else? You can also DM them directly to us on various social media: @EmmetLouis, @MikaelBalancing.
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We’ll let you go; thank you for listening.