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S1 Episode 37: Flexibility Programming for Handstands


In this episode of the Handstandcast we’ve got a solo episode from Emmet, who discusses in detail how you would fit flexibility programming in and around your handstand and strength training, so to get the most benefits from each.

S1E37 – Flexibility Programming for Handstands

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Transcript of Episode 37: Flexibility Programming for Handstands

EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis.  Unfortunately today my co-host Mikael Kristiansen is not with us.  He is hopefully having a great time.  He is working with his company and they are in the depths of devising.  He just doesn’t have enough brain space to do the episode today, which is fair enough.

They are working on their current show, Handstand Forest.  I’m hearing reports.  It’s in the later stages of production.  I’m looking forward to seeing it, I hear it’s all good.  I hear everyone is getting a bit wrecked from it.

That’s always a good sign in these things, to get the creative juices flowing.

So, today, I am going to do an episode about flexibility and handstand training, and how we put it all together and how we think about it.  I think it’s a useful topic for you.

You might want to grab a notebook; it’s going to be a bit all over the place.  We’ll see what we can do.

There’s always this consideration when we think of any skill, really, not just handstands.  Every kind of skill has a flexibility demand to it, passive and active.  It also has the ability to control your range of motion, and provide variety and variability in your range of motion.  This is a universal truth to most of the activities we do – I can’t even think of one that doesn’t.

What we’re looking to do in our flexibility training is also, think about how we want our handstand training to be.  What do we want our practice to be?

This is a personal question you have to ask yourself.  I know we have everyone listening from people just learning to handstand, to those working on performing.  So, you have to have an idea of, what do I want to do?  Am I just doing handstands to do handstands, and I want to get a line and don’t care about being textbook perfect?  Or do I want a handstand practice that is a vehicle for self expression?

These provide us with clues and direction in what we want.  It’s also this idea that, maybe I want to do handstands, presses, and that’s it.  All these are considerations we have to think about, and each one has a specific mobility and flexibility demand to it.

It has a level of control demand as well.

To get started, if we want to look at a base level handstand, say a straight handstand, or the straight shapes, we need a certain amount of shoulder flexion.  We need the shoulder flexion to be able to create a stable base to create the line.  The line we talk about passes through the centre of the body when viewed through the side, not the line at the back of the body, which would be over flexion.  Bear that in mind

We need to think, can we do this line?  Can we have a test that can show a yes or no if we can do it?  Fortunately, we can.  It’s what we’re looking for and trying to decide, how good can my line be, just from the shoulder level?

I have this test, which is on my YouTube.  You do a wall sit against the wall and flatten your spine.  Then you keep your hands facing each other and try to get overhead as high as you can, with shoulders elevated, trying to replicate the handstand line, or what our concept of what the line is.

This test gives a couple of interesting pieces of information.  It will tell us where we are tight, because we bring the arms to the sides or upwards.  It will tell us if our pecs or lats are tight.  We will also be able to tell, more importantly, what our line will look like, looking from the wrist to belly button area.  This gives us a good idea of what our actual potential alignment is.

Let’s say you couldn’t get your hands to the wall and in line.  If you assume the wall is the line of gravity and want your hands to touch the wall, then which part of my chest do I have to move out to push out?  This gives the banana idea in the handstand.

Okay, right now I am working on my flexibility and want to develop my flexibility.  This is the best line in my handstand I can expect at the moment.  It doesn’t mean it will be static; it will change as you get on.

It can give an idea or estimate of where the handstand will be and what the line will look like, at least from torso level.  You could expand it.  It’s difficult to stand on tip toes, back to wall, and lift the hands up.  You can try it out.

Also, most of the problems upstream in handstand when it comes to flexibility will generally be generated by something lower down the chain.  Very simple.  If the chest isn’t open or closed enough, something goes out.  It’s like stacking bricks on top of each other.

This gives an idea of what the line could be, at the earlier stages.  It also tells us that say I could do, looking at this test, and my handstand line in the test is really nice and straight, then I try to do a handstand and it’s all over the place – it either tells us that our shoulder flexion strength isn’t strong enough to sustain the line, or we don’t have enough control in the handstand and have to express a lower centre of gravity line.

We have flexibility, we have active flexibility, and we have actual control.  These are three separate things.  We can say there are elements in each one.

The fallacy of rehab as well is, just because you made a muscle strong enough, it doesn’t mean it will do the right job.  It’s always this idea, while you’re rehabbing something and getting it stronger for whatever reason, if you’re not also teaching the body better mechanics and getting the mechanics working better in the body and how it’s actually moving, you’ll just have a stronger ass, basically.  All the problems are in the glutes, according to rehab.  The older style rehab, anyway.

Can I hold a handstand and straight line?  One, do I have the physical capability of doing a straight line, yes or no?  Simple.  Do I then have the strength to hold the straight line?  Not so difficult to figure out.  Do I have the control to balance the straight line?

This is the other thing.  We have three things to consider in our training.

A good balance practice will consider all these things.  When you’re starting out, you’ll be working on all these things at once – the correct line, the correct positioning, your flexibility, and your control.

What gets more interesting is, once we have this line, how do we actually program it and think about it?  It’s the idea that we need to have the training in our program where we will basically stress the body in the right way.  We have to keep the problems simple, and add variety as we get better at them.

A simple example of developing control at the start are our heel pulls and toe pulls.  Even kicking up and paying attention to the limbs, these develop control.

Developing strength at the first stage of the handstand also develops active shoulder flexion: the chest to wall handstand.  This is our active flexibility in the context of a handstand.

Then, developing our flexibility will be our flexibility dress, something similar to what we have in Push, or even simple basic stretches or isometric stretches.  Very straight forward.  It’s quite easy to plan this for a beginner.

Generally, we’re going to try to work on control as much as possible.  The more you practice control, the better.  We want to work on strength, a bit less.

Imagine if we had ultimate unlimited time, and not accounting for limitations for recovery – since we stress the system and joints and all this, but are ignoring it for the moment – the ideal set up would be like, we will work on control every single day, or 5-6 days a week.  We will work on strength 3 days a week, giving time for recovery.  Flexibility, we only work on once or twice a week.

It gives an interesting pyramid to the training.

Something to think about; the flexibility can sometimes take longer to recover from properly, than the actual strength training.  At the same time, the flexibility I’m talking bout is expanding our potential range of motion,  We’re making our body do something it can’t do in flexibility training.

It can’t do, or hasn’t been able to for a very long time, and we’re taking it into a position where we’re making it do something it hasn’t been able to do.  Now we are taking that zone and training it.  Hopefully it will emerge in our training.  That will be trained in a low intensity controlled manner, where we develop finesse with this new range of motion.  Then it’s in a manner that also develops strength, hypertrophy, and other things that go into hand balance training.

What begins to get more interesting is, how do we start thinking about developing flexibility in the context of a broader practice?  This is the main topic for today.

Let’s say you’ve reached intermediate.  We’re generalizing today as it’s the only way we can do this in such a short time.  We are going to say you are an intermediate hand balancer.  You want to develop your splits and flexibility and bridge, to do all the advanced repertoire.

Here’s what I would consider getting into advanced hand balance.  It’s going to be harsh when I say this, but I have three levels of hand balancers, which have sub levels.

A beginner is someone going from ‘I can’t handstand’ to ‘I can do all the shapes.’  Cool, that’s a beginner handstand.  Once you are going from press handstands to one arms, you’re intermediate.

Then advanced.  The graduation criteria I have for my students when they do advanced hand balance is: they are able to do this sequence – straight, half straddle, straddle, diamond, tuck – in one set, change to the other side, and do that on the other side.  Right and left side.  Generally I force them to do it to either a 3 or 5 count, depending.

You have to be able to do a Mexican handstand where feet go parallel to the floor.  And hopefully a scorpion handstand, and one flag shape, whether hook, twisted, straddle, whatever.

That graduates you into expert-ish handstand.  So today we’re looking at someone who is stopping the beginner process, or are beginner (never ending process!), and wants to have all the tools to be able to work on the advanced repertoire.

This means you need splits, bridge.

How do we actually put them into the context of the other training?  This is where things get interesting.  The first thing is, we have to have our training laid out in the week.  If we do some decent flexibility training, we’re going to end up stiff the next day, or have some rebound tightness.

If we think, okay, I’m going to work on my weight shifts to one arm, and need to max out my straddle to its highest limit.  But the day before I’m going to do a mega session for my splits.  Then you’re going to come in, and maybe it won’t go so well because you’re very tight and there’s a lot of resistance in the body.  We have to bear this in mind in our training week and how we lay it all out.

The same goes for pressing.  I want to work on my press handstand.  I need my pancake to be as best as possible for that.  Where in the week do I put that, when I want to work on my pancake ?  The obvious answer is work on your pancake afterwards but at the same time, it could be more advantageous to do it before.

We’re going to talk about this, and how we might set this up and approach this.  Same with bridge and other splits.  I’m going to give you a lot of broad concepts today to think about.

The first idea you have to have is, how do we set up our training week?  We need an idea of how we like to train, first off.  What do I like to do, and how do I like to do it?  Do I have a baseline and know what it is?

Generally, the way I’d program it: say you take two days off for the weekend, and you train 5 days a week.  I’m making it very simple here.  Or you might do 3 days, 1 off, 2 days, 1 off.

That is a better one since you get a break off mid week.  It depends.

What we do is, we had a break, we come in Monday,  For a lot of people you will find, though it’s hit and miss, you may or may not be able to perform your highest skill repertoire after the rest day.  You’ll need one day of training to get locked into it.  If you find that, then you want to schedule your training, either Monday or Tuesday, have the movements with the highest skill demand that you also need to be freshest for.

Let’s assume you come in on Monday and that’s your best day.  Or the day you can perform your highest skill and highest demand exercises.  You do them that day.  The next day it can either be a repeat of that, or movements that require less skill.

Monday I could start working on new shapes and transitions.  Or say you’re working on one arm, I work on straight arm support, rather than four finger support.  On the Tuesday, you come in and work on four finger support.  More strength, higher endurance demands, less variables to control…

Then on Wednesday we move onto something different, say our pressing strength.  In this set up, we have to think.  On Monday we put all of our stats into hand balance.  We’re going to use every bit of energy we have in the training to do balance.  All our high skill things, we take our time, push for new stuff, experiment.  We don’t want to do anything that will develop our flexibility this day.  We also have another day of training coming where we might need our flexibility to be maxed out.

On Wednesdays we’d be working on strength skills, generally pressing, if we don’t have a press.  We come in and work on our one arm lead up drills, our flagging.  On Wednesday we start working on skills that are less intensive on our actual skill demand, so two arm handstand stuff.  This could also be a strength day – pressing, handstand pushup, pull up, stuff like that.  Just general strength training as much as handstand specific.  But let’s just say it’s press day.

I’m working my pressing that day.  So on the Tuesday, because I still know I’ll need my pancakes and splits at an acceptable level on that day, then I will want to stretch my bridge and my front splits.  Hopefully there’s not too much cross over from your hamstrings in a single leg position as in the legs apart.

A lot of people find you have DOMS in one plane, but it will be unaffected   You might have a bit of sensitivity but that’s okay, because we’re not looking for high sensitivity or skill moves the next day.  We would schedule our stretching for our bridge and front split on this day.  This will give us as minimal cross over between what we do one day, to the next.

The next day, we were going to do our press work.  That’s the day we also do our general strength training, and possibly some leg training.  Squats, deadlifts, I’m totally in favour of them, obviously.  Do them on that day, then do your lower body flexibility range of motion development exercises for middle and side splits and pancake.

At the same time, because you’re working on press, you also work on your compression.  We’re beginning to get a bit of bang for buck here.  Non cross over, thinking about how fresh we’re going to be, what we need on the day, and when we can place it for the next day as well

Then, thankfully, Thursday we have a day off.  You will rest.  This is where things get a bit tricky.  We’re coming in on Friday; we’ve had our three days training in a row, and a day off on Thursday.  Okay, what am I going to do on Friday if my legs are still tight from Wednesday?  Maybe you’re tight, maybe you’re not.  This is going to be personal.

On the Friday session, maybe you take it easier with a light session, just working on two arm stuff.  You could be working on combinations in two arms, or straight up endurance on two arms.  You could be working on expressions, shapes, alignment, geometries.  Or you cold also be working on things that have very low flexibility demand, but a high amount of precision.

One thing I like personally is, DOMS and tightness can shed light onto bits of bodies you’re not aware of.  That can be used to enhance the control and conscious spread through the body.  You might not achieve peak flexibility or demands, but on those days, you notice that one foot slightly points inwards and one doesn’t.  You can feel a difference in the muscles and how you point the calves to get it right, if that makes sense.

Because you have Saturday coming up, and it’s a day off and you get to sleep in.  We get up, be fresh, possibly it’s a fun session like Handstands and Coffee.  It can be a play session, but also a skill session.  Hopefully by then you’ll have recovered from your stretching, to overcome it.

What stretching do we do today?  You’ll have to make the call.  We can obviously do more during the week, don’t get me wrong.  You could also stretch Friday and do your bridge and front splits then.  On Saturday, you could do your pancake and middle splits again.  This means everything is getting stretched, developmentally, twice a week,

A lot of the time that can be overkill if you’re using your flexibility.  Maybe you don’t need to stretch that much, in terms of what develops it.  You could get away with once a week for bridge and side splits, and once a week for front splits as well.  Up to you.

Also, the goal of flexibility training is to just be flexible, not do flexibility training.  Don’t forget that.

I’m going to cycle back to the start of the week.  I get asked a lot, how do we actually warm up for flexibility?  One of the things I always want to start to encourage you to do is to have check in movements.  You check in on the body, you’re very familiar with them, and they give an indicator of how the rest of the body is, day to day.  Sitting in a simple squat can tell you a lot, or a horse stance, or sliding into front split.  It could be side splits, bridge, cobra stretch.  Whatever you want, but you have to be familiar with it.

We will have a couple of these movements.  I generally tell people to do joint rotations; I have a video on YouTube that shows a few.  There’s no specific technique, it’s just moving the body.  The next thing we need to get into is the specific warm up for our flexibility.

I know a lot of people say you don’t need a warm up for that.  Hm…..it’s one of the debatable things.  Some people always need some warm up and preparation.  Hopefully you get to the point in your flexibility training that you won’t need it.  The goal is to do it without a warm up, but I still advise you to take some time.

In Thomas Kurz’ book, he says you should have the ability to basically kick someone in the head, cold, if you use his methods.  At the same time, if you’re about to do a 2h training session, you should take time to warm up and feel the body out.  Our warm up for hand balance achieves a few things.  It helps give a conscious awareness of the body and limbs.  We’re trying to feel if we have dark spots, other things, how it is that day.  It gives us a chance to practice our own personal aesthetic.

Let’s say I really want to have very straight lines, very nice pointed toes and extended knees.  Beginning to get into your flexibility positions and focusing on these details gives you a chance to practice them in very low tolerance examples.

The other thing with warming up properly for flexibility training is, it will allow you to be a bit more relaxed in our legs.  A lot of what people say “don’t do,” is they’re looking at trying to do speed and power movements.  Generally you don’t want to sit in a split before you go squatting.

What we’re trying to do in handstand training, particularly in the advanced stage where we want a lot of freedom in the waist and legs is to be able to move around and have very little resistance to this.  We want to normalize how these ranges feel.  We also need to warm up our active flexibility, because we’re actively moving our legs in space.

The warm up should consist of two things.  It should consist of active flexibility drills where I’m moving my legs – for splits, anyway.  We would also do some relaxed drills where we hang out and chill in the positions.  We can actually combine this in a manner that will speed things up.

Using side splits as an example, we’re going to do some kind of isometric hold.  We would generally use something like s standing tilt or pissing dog, with the focus on using the shortening side of the muscles.  At the same time, locking our knees, pointing toes, standing on point and getting very nice extension in our limbs.

Once we have this and have put some effort into the butt cheeks, we do one side, the other side.  You could either do sets of holds for 5-10s and 3-4 repetitions, or also do it for a 30s static hold.  Your choice, try both and see what you prefer.

Then you immediately go into your side split.  You’re going to enter and exit this 2-3 times, even up to 4-5 times.  You’re going to get down, slide into it, however you want.  Generally I say hands on this since I want you to do this quick-ish.  Slide in until smooth.  Stop.  Breathe in, out, relax, sink.  Come back out.  Repeat.  Slide in, get to the stop point, breathe in, breathe out, release, come back out.  On the third one you just hold it and relax in the position.

Your goal is to use the active muscles.  When we use our buttcheeks to pull our side splits deeper, we want to find our alignment, use a lot of power.  When we cruise into it, we relax slightly.  We go from a 80% contraction to a 50% contraction.  Then we just chill out there.  Our goal now is to release the tension.

This is what static stretching does very well: it releases tension.  Or it normalizes tension as well.  We also want to rock around and free things up.  You have the option.  Relax a bit, feel it, shimmy around, move the spine and weight from side to side.  This kind of thing.  Feel it out.  This counts even if you’re flat on the ground.

At the same time, you’re paying attention to knees and toes.  Get that aesthetic you’re looking for.  Don’t let them go on auto pilot.  This process, the isometric hold, followed by entering and exiting the stretch 2-3x, then holding it for a longer time, will work on every single position.  Try it in pancake.  Use compressions, or standing abducted leg lift to the sides.  On splits you have to mess around and use something for hip extension, or active straight leg raise to the front for the flexion side.

We are thinking about our aesthetic here.  Once we’ve warmed up the positions, we want to go back to the positions.  You want to start thinking, I need to warm up my waist.  I will sit in a wide straddle and start bending my waist.  Then I will start honing in on the details,

Okay, I’m bending my waist but my knees are bending.  Wrong!  We will keep our toes pointed.  At the same time we bend our waist and try to keep all our alignment and extension and control what we’re looking for.

We begin to add complexity.  We freed up the positions, loosened them up.  Then, we will start adding something.  Say I’m working on flags.  I try to replicate my flag position while seated in a pancake.  I pay attention to alignment.  I see how my lat feels.  I start using all these movements to scan the body.

I go in, bend over into my flag shape, and my lat feels really tight.  Okay, I get up and do something to free my lats up: side lat stretch, active stretch, isometric…. Then I go back and retest.

This process becomes part of a slightly longer warm up that also enhances how our session goes.  Now, when we get on our hands, one of the first things you want to do is have a check in handstand.

You go into a straddle handstand.  Now that you have enhanced feedback from all the other stuff you’ve done, you know if you’re pulling your straddle enough.  Is there more juice to pull?  Are my knees bent?  Lock the knees out.  Are my toes pointed?  Okay.

This is when the usage side of the flexibility becomes useful.  We can do this in two ways.  We can do it very gently, without excess tension.  Or we can start holding straddle, diamond, tuck positions, with a lot of tension in the legs.  We can start squeezing all the muscles really tight, point them really hard.

We can do it in a straight handstand, try to make the straightest and most perfect alignment, even with just the legs.

Extension is a quality they talk a lot about in circus and ballet as well.  Our bodies don’t stop at the ends, but beyond the ends.  So we fill space.  The same idea applies in handstand.  This is what stretches our intent.  It’s not about making big shapes and getting your shoulders up to your ears.  It’s more that you make the intent, or aura, or shooting laser beams out your feet.  I’m stretching out, and every single part of the body is involved in the shape.  This will enhance the flexibility as well.

We’re beginning to start with our warm up, getting loose.  Then getting to a point where we’re beginning to shape the body in the specific manner we want it to be.  It could be straight lines, or flexed feet and flexed joints.  That’s fine if that’s your style.  If that’s a conscious choice and you can choose between one and the other, it’s cool.  If it’s your default and all you can do, and you want the other, then you need to work on it.

Then we start using our flexibility in our basic shapes.  When we do the things that are very simple to us, we start to find all these nice alignments.  Once we start doing things more complicated, things start going to shit.  We know this.

I want to start going from a straddle to a straight to tuck to straight to straddle…Some kind of leg movement.  Suddenly, when you rewatch the video – as you should be doing – you see your feet are going to shit, if you haven’t practiced paying attention to the feet.  But because you have a body map that you can now pay attention to the feet and are warmed up in the flexibility, you don’t need to focus so much on pulling your knees or legs for straddle (the alignment should be set).  Then you can start paying attention to the distal parts of the body, getting that intent and consciousness of the body and what’s going on.

We can start thinking, this is how we want our aesthetic to be.  I do like people to get straight lines and all these nice extensions and classic lines.  At the same time, we begin to have a choice.  If you want to make your shapes funky and play with them.

Going back to flexibility, all this higher tension usage in the positions goes into working our positions in a lower intensity manner.  What do I mean by that?

I have talked before about the idea of using gravity as assistance to stretching.  We add gravity as a vector that applies force in a direction.  In some of the positions…if I were to do a pike stretch and go in a standing forwards fold, gravity is pulling me down and assisting the stretch,  If I were to sit on the floor and go forward, gravity is at right angles to the stretch, about 90º.  It’s never going to go away completely, but it’s not really assisting the lengthening direction towards the feet.

If I were doing a hanging leg raise, where my legs are going up to toes to bar, it’s basically a pike stretch, but gravity is resisting the movement of the legs or the stretching.

We have these kinds of relationships in the body where we can use gravity to educate the body on what we’re looking to do.  The same thing happens in handstands.  If we are in our inverted positions in our splits, this can be front splits, side splits, pancakes, whatever.  Gravity will give us a vector; it’s pulling ourselves down.  Then, can we take over and control it?

If gravity is pulling our legs down and they weigh 10kg, can we take over and use that gravity vector and enhance that direction?

This begins to feed into the flexibility training.  If we don’t have a handstand practice actively using our flexibility in 3D space, then we have to create it outside.  But since everyone here does handstands, we use that to develop the flexibility.

If you think about circus artists, pole dance, aerialists, all these things – not you jugglers, go away – they generally have a big range of flexibility that is accessible, because they play with all these relationships with gravity.  If we even look in strength training terms, if we have maximal sets where we work against gravity, sub maximal sets, and assisted sets, this is what is going on if we treat flexibility like strength training.

We also have variety, and a daily undulating periodization.  We have a lot of these going on we could pull from strength training if we wanted to use their terminology.

We would finish the session, then do our developmental stretches.  These might be sets of isometric side splits, or such things.  We might try to work on the active closing and super setting shortening with closing ranges.  It can get complicated, but a simple example is wanting to get the Tailor pose flat, against the wall.

We would work on the shortening side, where we try to max out our pushing down against two yoga blocks.  We crush the blocks.  Then we take them out and get some weights, and put them on our knees and lift the tailor pose up and down, also using the glutes to pull us down, using gravity and the weights.  We reach the bottom, pause for a second or two, lift back up.

We have enhanced the shortening ability, then we work the lengthening ability.  This would be hopefully driving you to a new range of motion, that is not available when cold.

This puts the flexibility training into the context of the greater picture.  If we were to just take the flexibility component out and say, what do you do for your flexibility?

Take aerialists.  They say they sit in splits, do this and that stretch, don’t really pay attention to it, and do it at the end of training.  If someone who didn’t do aerial tries to use that stretching program, maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t.  What the aerialist maybe doesn’t realize is all the times they use their flexibility, trying to find their alignments, deep shapes, lovely splits in the air.  That’s training the flexibility.  We are doing the exact same thing in handstands.  We just have to be semi aware of what we’re doing.

This is the idea.  Say I want to develop my flag shape.  We can stretch the side bend, but the active flagging itself is a form of loaded stretching that will get us in and out.  As we get stronger we go deeper.  At the same time we can enhance it a little by adding in some side bend stretches at the end of our session.  It’s not the be all end all, but it works in synergy.

This is one of the key things about a lot of Handstand Factory programming.  The flexibility development stuff is hidden in the programming.  It’s not just the routines we’ve given for flexibility, but the whole programming works in a synergistic whole.

Even if you don’t follow our programs, you should think about and consider this.  I have a general rule of thumb that if we took the volume of our stretching sets, where we develop our flexibility total, we want about 4x the amount of sets over a course of a week that we use the flexibility.

If we do ten sets of side splits or pancake, then we want about 40 sets where we use side splits flexibility.  This is a rule of thumb that doesn’t have to be completely precise but it gives an idea.

One of the reasons is, when using them in maximal and particularly sub maximal ways, if we compare it to heavy deadlifting versus jumping.  Each can enhance the other.  But we can get away with a decent amount more jumping than deadlifting over the course of a week, for strength training.

Same here, the more we use our flexibility, and in a sub maximal way, the more we’re not pushing the limits, the less formal flexibility training we have to do.  And it is synergistic.  I hope everyone is following along with this.

As an aside, I am literally just speaking out the top of my head on this topic.

I would like to cover one other concept I call operating ranges.  These are what I look for when picking exercises for people, and expecting how they can do an exercise or how well they can perform it.

The easiest way to talk about this is Stalder press, its bottom half and the pancake.

Depending on my client or student, we want to establish their operating range, the flexibility they can display when semi fatigued.  What’s in the body?  Can they do it fresh, can they do it cold?  What can they display after a warm up, and what is the average of that?

The average of that will dictate the flexibility demands I put on them for their strength training or exercises.

Let’s say someone wants a stalder press on the floor, but they can barely lean forward on their pancake at this stage, less than 45º.  I’m not going to let them train stalder on the floor.  I’m going to make sure they’re always working with their hands elevated.

Then, if they need to, the feet can pass below the hands.  It means we can train the shoulder flexion strength.  We’re still training the compression that happens naturally in the Stalder press, and the shoulder flexion.  But we’re giving space to allow for a lack of total range of motion.

It’s the same with, say, L Sit press as well.  Unless you have a very comfortable, face completely flat to the shin L sit, there’s no point really training L Sit press on the floor.  It’s very difficult and relies a lot on limb length, stuff like this.  But we can train on paralletes.  We can train the shoulder side of things, build the strength for that, while working on compression and developing the other side of things.

Something to consider.  What’s my operating range, and my expectation of how my movements will look?

I want to train my one arm handstand, and ideally my legs would be so flexible they’ll be in line with my body, and when my split is on a really good day it’s completely flat with no gap and my legs are in line, or in over split.

But, when I warm up and get comfortable and it’s not too forceful and I’m not pushing down hard, when I lie on my back and test my split and pull down with a casual amount of force, the legs are maybe 160º, not completely flat.  Above the horizon.

So in my one arm handstand training, I won’t have the expectation of looking on the side and expecting my legs on the same plane as the body, or my line on the back split.  This is pretty universal for a lot of people.

This is my operating range of flexibility, and my total potential range is what I can achieve when I’ve maximally done my flexibility training.  The closer we can get them, the better.  The goal is to achieve our maximum potential, then make it available.  Which comes after time.  At the same time, this gives us our choice.

If I really stretched my shoulders, spent a lot of time and did all my drills, then I’m completely flat, and my handstand has the potential to be straight.

When I do a general warm up, like I described, getting warm and ready to train, they’re not perfectly overhead.  I don’t have the expectation that my line will be perfectly straight, but I know I have the potential once I’ve trained long enough and consistently enough.

That’s one thing to think about on the operating range.  The operating range also applies to active flexibility.  If I have someone who can go completely flat to floor on pancake, and they’ve trained their body for “floppy, useless” flexibility.  If that even exists..whatever.  They’ve trained it and have no active strength.  They can sit on the floor but can’t lift their leg up on the compression.

Generally for stalder on the floor, I like for people to be able to lift their legs up at a 30-40º angle, that’s pretty good.  If they can’t do that, it’s the same idea.  Well then, we probably won’t work Stalder at all, just their compression strength.
Where can you compress?  We sit on a box and measure the compression.  Okay, you can go parallel to the ground.  This same person would do the same exercises, with hands raised stalders, but with a focus on drilling the compression.  We might pick different exercises to put more focus on compression strength in the Stalder press, to build their shoulder flexion, at the same time as building their compression.

It’s knowing where your flexibility is, both passive and active, and what you need to work on.  What goes first?  Does my ability to actively compress at the hip..or do I strategically bend my knees and toes – that’s what a lot of my students engage in, and it makes me sad sometimes.  But we allow it.  As we get stronger we are able to strategically keep our legs straight, pointed toes, all these kinds of things.

I’m going to recap all the things I’ve gone over.

One is understanding your training week.  What do you do when in the week, and where do you place your training? You have to know what comes afterwards, if you want to do one arms one day, but need your split as best as possible, you don’t train it the day before because you’ll be tight.  Or I know it’s reduced, so I have an expectation of not programming high demand flexibility exercises on those days.

We looked at how to warm up and spend time warming both our active, shortening levels of flexibility, our relaxation in the positions, and also our control and embodiment in these positions, and how to get our aesthetic.  Warming up aesthetic is a thing, it’s not just something that happens.  An aesthetic choice in a style comes from training, and choices you made in your training.  Don’t forget that.  You can warm these up as well.  These are the 3 components to warming up our flexibility.

Then, we looked at how we actually use our flexibility in a session, going from simple positions, but really high tension, really clearly defining them.  Getting them really nice, to reducing this intent.  But at the same time, checking back in every now and then, and using the awareness we generated from our warm up to our low intensity low mental headspace positions, to the next level.

Now that we have our environment flexibility exists in, then we looked at how to develop it.  Where do we put it?  That comes at the end of the workout usually.

If you are pressed for time and don’t have lots of time to train, you can do your stretching between sets of exercises.  This does work.  It’s not the best, but it definitely works.  You can super set a set of handstands, set of pancake….It works.

If you have the luxury of time, don’t.  If you don’t, do it, it works.

Our flexibility training actively seeks to expand our range of motion beyond what we are capable of doing, whatever the limit is you decide for yourself.

Then we think about the next day, and what’s coming next in the training week.  When does our flexibility need to be recharged and ready to go?  It’s also the transition from flexibility training, where we need to train with a lot of high tension methods.  The fastest way to develop it with lots of strength, or the right strength in the right ranges of motion.  Once we have done this, it becomes, we need to back off on the strength and we need to learn to relax and release in the positions, with the least amount of effort and energy possible.

We want to take our time.  There will be a certain amount of something that needs to be done in the position to maintain alignment in your aesthetic, but you want to back off to the minimal amount of tension.  This is what gives effortlessness, low tension movement.  It’s what makes you supple.

If we’re too tense, the body can’t coordinate,  If we have the right amount of tension and spring, the body can coordinate between all its segments.  This is when we get ability.  If you’re too tense, you’re like stone.

By having the least amount of tension to maintain rigidity, then we can be more like bamboo.

We go from tense to relaxed; that’s what we’re looking for.
I’m going to wrap up here.  I hope you had a good Solo-sode with Emmet.  It’s a big topic that is hard to condense down, but hopefully that helped a lot.  If you want to read a bit more, there is a lecture for the Embodiment Conference that might still be online.  I’ll put it up on my channel anyway, but it talks about some of the other stuff.

I have some articles on my Modern Methods of Mobility site.  We also have the hand balance flexibility programs in the hand balance courses related to them on Handstand Factory.  It covers a lot of the thinking we expressed tonight.  It gives an idea of how we think synergistically and work on all these things.
Hopefully next week, Mikael will be back after his residency to fill us all in on what they got up to.  I think at this stage, and I don’t want to jinx it, but they must be very close to having a finished show.

I’m going to say this because Mikael isn’t here to shoot me.  I think we should have a Handstand Cast/Factory meet up at the premiere of the show, so we can all go and fan girl over Mikael and the crew.  I’m going to do that, anyway.  People should think about joining us.

Thank you for listening.  If you have any questions, you know where to find me.


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