In this episode of the Handstandcast, in celebration of our recently released Handstand Factory program, Emmet and Mikael discuss the Handstand Push-up. Going into deep detail about the biomechanics of the movement, the physical pre-requisites and progressions for developing the handstand pushup.
This is the last episode of season 1 for the Handstandcast, as we take a break for Christmas. We’ll be back in 2021 with more deep dives into everything handstands, Q&A’s with you, our listeners, as well as endless tangents and rambling.
We hope you enjoy it, thank you all so much for supporting us and see you next year!
S1E42 – The Handstand Push-Up
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts
Love the podcast? We’re 100% coffee fuelled, so if you’d like to help keep us going you can easily support the Handstandcast by buying us a coffee here:
This podcast is brought to you by Handstand Factory, and is produced by Motion Impulse. To keep up with our weekly episodes, and help us spread the word, make sure to follow and subscribe to the Handstandcast wherever you listen to podcasts!
Love the podcast? We’re 100% coffee fuelled, so if you’d like to help keep us going you can easily support the Handstandcast by buying us a coffee here:
Transcript of Episode 42: The Handstand Push-Up
EL: Hello and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen. How are things going, Mikael?
MK: About the same as last time you asked me, I believe. Can’t complain too much, etc. How about yourself?
EL: Pretty good. I think we should just tell everyone, we record all these on the same day. All your questions are telepathically predicted. It’s how we predict the trends: crystal balls.
MK: That’s why we become increasingly degenerate with each episode.
EL: We’re sounding more wrecked because the caffeine is running out. No, we record them every week.
Where are we? It’s May the 905th of July. Ireland is back in lockdown, it’s loads of fun. This is going to be source work for tracking Rona in 200 years. My ego likes to think this; we are making history right now by talking. But probably not.
I have some good news, and some great news. Possibly some bad news.
We’ll give the bad news first. It is the last episode of Season 1 of the Handstand Cast today.
That means me and Mikael will be taking a break over the holiday period. We’re actually in December, if you’re listening to this in the future. We’ll come back second week of January with a whole thing.
I don’t know about you Mikael, but I was very happy with how this podcast turned out. It started as an experiment more than anything else.
MK: It seems people we are interesting enough to listen to. It’s really fun for me, to sit here and talk about things. A lot of our conversations have been similar to this, except they contain more tangents than even in these episodes. It does feel unnatural in a sense.
EL: I think it’s fun to record yourself. Anyway, I want to give a shout out to all the people who supported us back on Kick-starter back in the day. That was huge. Basically we had some money left over in our budget, and this is what brought on the podcast thing. We’ll try it out, see what we could do. We bought some mics, and I was allowed to buy gear, which is always fun for me.
MK: The funniest part of the podcast to me is people message me, or people I meet that train handstands, tell me they listen to the podcast. I’m like, that’s nice, I suppose. I don’t have a relation to the fact it exists; I’ve never listened to it. I don’t know what we say, and I assume it’s sensible from time to time. I can’t relate to the things that are said, either.
I don’t remember when people say I spoke about something. It feels absurd, but in a good way.
EL: I get the same as well. Someone will message me about ‘episode 6’ where I said something, and I’m like, we’ve done six episodes?
MK: It’s all rather absurd, but I’m happy we chose to do it. The podcast was Emmet’s idea, and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea.
I had no frame of reference for it, but it turned out to be really fun, and seemingly interesting enough for people to keep up with.
EL: The podcast thing is like, “oh you’re a dude who’s hit about 35, it’s time to start a podcast.” MK: We are in the risk zone, white dudes in their 30s.
EL: It’s the Western myth: Jesus started his ministry at the age of 33 and was dead 3 years later. I’m not dead yet; we’ve only been doing this one year. Hopefully we stay alive.
MK: So the next step is to start or inspire an entire religion?
EL: No the next step is we need to go Joe Rogan mode. We have Alex Jones on it, don’t ask me why, but he’s not allowed to talk about conspiracies. We just want to get him to explain alpha male vitality to us, that’s it.
MK: that would be an insane challenge. You’re supposed to host Alex Jones and he’s not allowed – you have to stop him every time he says something controversial or super far out. It would be a really short podcast.
EL: We’d have to edit the podcast down to 4 seconds.
MK: “Hi, my name is Alex Jones-“ then throw him out.
EL: The next level is we have to come up with the Handstand Factory diet, which I think is elk meat and supplements. I’ve been watching Joe Rogan as my inspiration. Actually I don’t watch unless he’s got a good guest that I’m into.
I could be wrong, but I think elk meat, supplements, and DMT is the next level of the podcast.
MK: And aliens.
EL: We’re in our Rogan phase, which is basically modern day Jesus.
I only listen when there’s a guest I want to listen to on. His style of interviewing is, let the person talk, then ask questions. It’s kind of interesting; his argument is to give a platform to other people. There’s a complex argument around that I suppose. Best one for me was the Paul Stamets one, who does mushrooms, basically. He started off as a psychedelic mushrooms professor, he grows them, has a lot of book about medicinal mushrooms, bio-mycoremediation. They’re all very interesting. How can you use mushrooms to get rid of oil spills? How can you use them to grow forests, this kind of thing. Looking at the fungus layer of the forest, and other stuff. It’s all very interesting. He’s discovered loads of strains of mushrooms.
He’s one of the people who is in the OG 70s sphere of psychedelic research. Like Leary, McKenna, would have been in the same sphere. But he’s the only one who got out of it with his wits intact without going too far off the deep end. All these people are ones I looked up to when I was much younger, but when you start seeing the end stories of Leary, etc, they all ended up coming out a paranoid mess.
MK: After having spoken so happily about mushrooms for years and years, wasn’t it Leary who ended up with such a bad trip that he never did it again?
EL: That was McKenna. If we get into the metaphysics of it, if you start fucking around with these things, eventually they will bite your ass, hard. You can see this, like with all the people on Ayahuasca at the moment. They all end up a fucking mess. Same with all people who do psychedelics outside of context; eventually they end up a fucking mess.
One of my new business plans is to exorcise new people fucked up by Ayahuasca. Coming soon.
MK: Then again Emmet, right now we ended up being Joe Rogan’s podcast, while we were supposed to talk about handstand push ups.
EL: Let’s keep on this trend.
MK: We’ve been on for ten minutes and we’ve already drifted onto magic mushrooms and Joe Rogan.
EL: Okay, back on topic. Handstands.
Let’s get on to our great news: we are launching a new program today. Or, by the time you hear this, our new program will be out. If you’re listening to this some time in the future, the program has been out for some time, and there are probably other programs as well after this.
We are launching our Handstand Push Up program. We thought we’d wrap up with a technical episode, talking about it, giving definition and context, some training tips, talk about what is in the program towards the end.
Ok Mikael, here’s the big question: what is the handstand push up?
MK: It’s standing on your arms, bend your arms, then straighten your arms again.
A handstand pushup is one of the skills where hand balancing enters the domain of calisthenics and gymnastics training, in a sense. It is for sure useful for hand balancing as a discipline, but it’s definitely more used and useful for someone working on building loads of upper body strength through calisthenics movements, or someone doing gymnastics, particularly male artistic gymnastics. Those type of bent arm strength moves are used.
Because you will find good hand balancers who are good at handstand pushups, but it’s more a carryover from being good on their hands, then having some bent arm strength and being able to put these two together.
If you look at people who are really good at handstand pushups, it will usually be the calisthenics athletes out in the parks that can smash out much more reps with the craziest depth you ever seen, basically doing an inverted muscle up on the bars, and all that craziness. It is much more of a strength move than a balance one. I’m a big fan of it, because it does teach an aspect of control on your hands that you don’t learn from presses, handstands, or other moves. It gets you strong. It builds your shoulders in a relevant way for hand balancing.
EL: It’s a weird move. You could basically go to performing very high levels of hand balance, and not do a single handstand pushup, guys and girls. They can do basically everything on one arm, but never bothered to learn it. I’m sure they could, but it was just not relevant to them.
I know a lot of people who can’t do everything on one arm, but can do lots of pushups. It is a very…almost discrete. There is an element of balance and control so it’s interesting to learn, but it is almost its own thing. It’s worth, for most people, they should put the time to learn it, especially if you’re into hand balance.
MK: For any hand balancer, being able to do 1-3 handstand pushups is a good investment of time. It does give you the ability to control in other angles than you might be used to.
When I was working here with the show Vald, one of the girls here is really good at pressing.
Her main hand work is very aligned, straight and clean shapes. She’s good at pressing as well.
She never trained any handstand pushup before. She could probably do a lower down to Crocodile because she’s flexible. But she’s never worked these handstand pushups.
We were training one evening, and I was going to do some handstand pushups. She wanted to give it a go. It was very interesting to see her try it. She’s pretty strong and could get rather far down, from having zero training at it, because when I told her you first you set your shoulders up by leaning forwards. She can stay on her hands forever, so doing that initiating lean necessary to get the diagonal position was easy to set up perfectly.
The bending the arm phase was also very easy for her to do. She could get certain reps down to a certain range, but the interesting thing with the handstand pushup is once the angle of the arms starts approaching 90º, the strength required in the delta and external rotators and triceps increase dramatically. That’s where it became too heavy for her. I’m sure if she had 3-4 weeks of work specifically on it, she could probably pull of a handstand pushup without too much specific training on it.
That was a cool way of seeing a pure hand balancing body that hasn’t done much barbell work or that stuff, that she could technically solve a large part of the puzzle. The only missing component was force production in a particular angle.
EL: I want to get us talking a bit about what is a full handstand pushup and the variations on it. For me, a handstand pushup is something on a raised surface so your head can pass below your arms. Generally what I say to people is, I want you to lower down to your triceps in line with the body. Depending on your bicep strength and elbow flexion, this will dictate the lean in the bottom position. More open elbows or lean, feet towards ground in under balance direction. Closed elbows is a more vertical body position. This would be a handstand push up for me.
On the one where you’re going head to floor, this is my way of doing it. I know people call that a headstand pushup. For me that is coming from a headstand; literally a dead stop movement.
It’s like a paused bench.
The floor one is interesting because we have two different floor ones: top of the head, or the nose touching the floor. Then it’s like expanding the range. You can work one and never train the other.
The full one is obviously up on the raised surface. It presents a bit of a challenge; you’re working with height, how do you get up there?
We can train them supported using a wall, for instance, or free standing, which is our main go to. How do we get the proper one?
The full definition: elbows bent, triceps in line with the body, forearm closed to a decent degree depending on limitations with structure, flexibility or lean angle. Head below hands, obviously.
Then freestanding, that would be the handstand pushup for me, in terms of how we would be talking about it.
Then it gets into the floor one and other ones. Then we have Crossfitter ones, with the wall. It’s an interesting technique and I used to do it a bit. You take the hands out much wider than you would normally do, almost a snatch grip with a barbell. You keep the hands in line with the head, so the body goes up and down. This drastically removes the range of motion. Because of the vertical body position you can really get onto the wall.
Sometimes I specifically program it for people. It’s interesting especially when thinking of hand balance alignments, where we get to the top and want to keep our shoulders up, so they’re not retracted. This wide arm one has an interesting contraction in the upper back we try from time to time.
If you can do a full one, maybe this is an accessory one where you do 10 reps. If you’re still working on the floor one, it can be interesting to try out. You end up in a Japanese handstand, a wide handstand. It’s not too common in gymnastics.
MK: You also have to go way more down right between your arms when you do those.
EL: Those are some variations, but the main one is: raised, body at lean, freestanding, boom. handstand pushup.
One thing really nice about the handstand pushup is it’s just impressive. Everyone who looks at you doing a handstand pushup will have some context for what a push up is. If someone sees you do a full, legs together, arm up, and people go, oh he’s just doing a handstand on one arm. You do a straddle with an arm out to the side, and people are like, oh my god, he’s doing a
handstand and a split at the same time! Must be infinitely harder!
Then you lower to croco, “he’s spinning!” People have the wrong order or thinking of skills, because of the visual impact. It’s fine as performance but everyone gets applause for a handstand push up.
MK: Everyone has done a push up, and that is where the relevance easily happens. They can associate to it. Speaking of the definition you used, I think it’s one of the things that is important to mention about the handstand pushup that we briefly both mentioned, without particular emphasis – if you want to do a handstand pushup freestanding, you’re better off learning how to start by leaning your body forwards so you’re angling the body before you start to bend your arms.
When you see someone good at doing it, the lean will seem like it’s a consequence of the arms bending. It can be. Once you have the control it’s not a big deal. It’s like bending your legs while standing on your feet. You don’t think too much about what you’re doing when you stand on your feet.
Being able to start a handstand pushup by basically initiating a lean forwards as if you were going to lower to planche and having lots of control at that before starting to bend your arms is super helpful.
As we do with all our syllabus of the Handstand Factory, you separate each part into trainable components that you later on put together. The handstand pushup is the perfect example of that. You can train going from a straight handstand, lean forwards, back to straight handstand, lean forwards…. You know that at the point where you start training to bend your arms, you won’t be getting a drastic increase in speed. You know you won’t lean too far or your feet won’t go back too far, giving a ton of speed. Practicing and making sure the set up is good and that you’re at this angled handstand is such a fundamental part of learning it. That is also where, already at that stage, it starts to depart from a lot of hand balancing technique, and the press handstand stuff.
You’re purposefully going into offline placement, so the bending of the arms can be more effective for the body. The reason you want to lean forwards in a handstand pushup is not because you want your head between the hands, but in front of them. That’s where you want to make sure you lean forwards before starting the descent downwards.
EL: It’s one where many of the issues when learning a handstand pushup. What happens is, because we’re so used to this vertical angle and trying to make ourselves as perpendicular to the ground as possible, when you lean, what happens is people have an innate sense of staying up. The heels stay up – the body leans, the back arches.
You have to commit to keeping ‘forward pressure on the thighs’ as a tactile guideline on that.
Think about the thighs pressing downwards. That sets up the lean angle.
When someone has enough strength to press with a straight body, they will try to get vertical too soon and don’t commit to pressing to this diagonal, then opening out.
There’s another reason for arching which we will talk about in a bit, but if you are rushing to get vertical before you’ve finished extending the arms and are at this lean angle, you generally end up in an arch coming from the lower back. The mid back and upper back arch is for a different reason.
It’s committing to the lean and being super comfortable. We train this lean movement in PUSH to begin with, because it helps with correcting rebalance. You can use a wall to get used to it, get used to freestanding, add in pauses – all these things to get used to it. The lean is just crucial to getting set up, It’s good because if you don’t learn to keep the shoulders elevated and protracted in this lean, you will see the bend happening in the rib cage as the shoulders depress.
This is a common one you see with people learning. They go into this kind of lean and keep depressing the shoulders, and bringing them down out of flexion. They don’t really start bending the arms. The head goes up and down from a shrugging motion, versus keeping the shoulders in position, versus the arms bending and extending while maintaining the lean angle.
MK: The most important part, as the arm bending happens, is that the body is at the fixed angle, and from there, as the arms bend, it’s a tricky way to bend the arms in a handstand pushup because you can…before I mentioned my friend. On the other side of the spectrum you have people that are barbell strong, they can lift quite a lot and do lots of bent arm work. Or people who do lots of Crossfit have done tons of handstand pushups against the wall. There is good force production in this area.
Then they learn a normal handstand of some quality, and can pull off some sort of handstand pushup reasonably fast, because the power is there. The angles of the body and the direction when moving up and down might not be so refined.
The classic one, like you said, you push back up and either arch severely to make it up, or you try to straighten the body too fast. Or you push yourself backwards. Or you make it up but have to take several steps walking to make the point. For all these versions, with handstand pushup,
I do find it interesting. Technique is certainly good for it, but if you have a lot of the rough power needed, it’s usually you need to spend a significant amount of time making your handstand better.
If it’s the opposite, and you have bent arm strength, it’s much more building strength. For example, someone who’s done a lot and is strong with bent arms, they want to set up with a wider grip. It’s easier in general for handstand pushups. A narrow grip puts a lot of demand on your external rotators.
For me, when I do handstand pushups, I rarely have my hands in as narrow a position as if I want to set up a one arm. Depending on where you want to keep the arm, strong protraction in the shoulders, and keeping the arms externally rotated, this is what…that comes together with leaning forwards.
The less you lean forwards, the more the elbows will flare to the side. It is possible to do a handstand pushup with your head entirely between your hands, but the elbows will flare significantly to the sides. The arms will be internally rotated, almost. Since you want to see the floor as you’re approaching, you will likely arch quite a lot to make it down there.
It’s a version between the lean forward and the in between hands that has a tendency to happen for people that are super strong but have little technique. That is one thing we also try to do in the handstand pushup program: address both these things.
We decided to put progressions in, where you practice doing a lower centre of mass. As you do the lean, the feet won’t fly as far behind your body. So it might be easier for some people to use that to basically develop the strength. When the strength is there it will be much easier to put your legs together.
There are a couple of other leg positions that even allow, not arching per se, but can make what arching will do for you without putting too much arch into the movement.
Once you have the power development, and the technical understanding, it’s easy to put together. It’s much less so than pressing where you want to make sure you’re not planching the press too much when you learn it, so you’re working from the right muscle groups. With a handstand pushup, you’re always working from the right groups. It’s more about detail placement that is basically taken care of by getting strong enough.
EL: Getting strong enough. This is what makes the handstand pushup nice, particularly if you’re intermediate. You can do all the shapes. You’re working on presses, and working towards one arms. The handstand pushup, once you can hold a decent handstand, is very linear. It’s not like a press, where you get it and it disappears. It’s basically strength training once you have the fundamentals of the handstand down.
That’s what makes it a nice side quest to your handstand training, when at the intermediate level. I will spend some time, maybe 6-8 months, going from zero to hero on handstand pushups. That’s it. Then you can do them.
Everything else in your training like one arms, flags, flexibility…everyone knows the stuff that can be roadblocks or annoying when learning handstands. But with handstand pushup, can you handstand? Yes. Can you not handstand that day? Just build some strength on the wall. It’s a very linear path. You can almost count it down, very straightforward. It can be nice if you’re sick of all the other stuff that frustrates you. You just pick it up, go for it.
Then you can do a handstand pushup. Particularly if you’re a girl. There’s no real limitation why they can’t do them. Upper body strength is more lacking in women, but spend enough time and you will get it.
MK: I think it’s more the cultural thing of bent arm muscles moves in handstands, not being seen as often for women. People tend to think it’s not for them. It’s a bit like full flag. “it must be so hard I can’t train because I’m a girl.” Nonsense. If you can do a straddle flag, just develop the versions. And you can. I think it’s just a nonsensical stereotype that leads people to not train it.
EL: Basically. I’ve seen enough women who can do them, especially in Crossfit. It’s Crossfit style but they’re still doing it, still probably stronger than you. So get off that high horse.
For hand balance – did you see that meme that went around, where male hand balancer is some cartoon shredded guy. Girl hand balancer is tiny and petite. What’s the difference? It comes down to just an aesthetic thing as much as anything. Men like big biceps and do more straps, but everyone can get jacked on handstand pushups.
Also, it’s good. Even if you’re not too interested in the freestanding, doing them against the wall is good general preparation. It’s an interesting thing, when we get into the slow ones that are freestanding. If you can do 5-6 against the wall, you’ve got a lot of the strength benefits you will get.
When you start doing them freestanding, there are more strength benefits, but it’s questionable how much more raw strength you get out of it. Particularly when you work all this slow control and balance. If we look at fibre types, sub max eccentrics done slowly technically make you slower, causing a shift in muscle fibres from one type to another.
We could argue and say it’s not great. It causes good hypertrophy, maybe not the best if you want to be the strongest in the world. But the freestanding ones where you control them, and the super maximal eccentric when we can’t do the concentric are immensely good for building strength and muscle. They’re really good.
Slow ones, when you have strength, are good for muscle. Maybe not best for ultra max strength, but that’s okay.
I worked them in the program, generally up to about 5 reps against the wall before doing floor eccentrics. That’s my benchmark. When someone can do 5 reps, but can’t balance the skill, that’s the interesting thing. Your first rep of a handstand pushup will take you almost 30s for most people. It takes generally that, from the point where the person breaks the shoulder point, lowers down under control, pauses if need be, then presses back up, then whatever shenanigans with the body, arms flaring, whatever happens. It’s generally always a fight, taking 10-15s on that concentric: pauses, reestablish balance, and everything.
It’s very funny because what I see, and I tested this over the year, is people will have the exact same time under tension. If they take 25-30s for a rep, which is the average, over the next month or two, people will do 4 reps, but the same time under tension, maybe getting the reps to 8s per rep. They got more skills and can express the strength in a free balance manner, but not doing more time under tension. It’s interesting to see that.
We have the capacity to stay on the hands, bending and extending the arms, for a duration of 30s. The amount of times you can bend and extend in that gives us how much work you can do. It’s pretty common across the board with who I was tracking. It’s a rough guideline.
MK: From a community that is traditionally not putting emphasis on strength – the yoga community – many people want to do crow to handstand. In that community there are a lot of belly button beliefs, in terms of belly button magic.
That aside, I’ve seen many who want to go from crow to handstand and don’t know how to do it. They can handstand. They can crow. They just didn’t think about the fact that what you’re doing is quite a bit of the range of a handstand pushup.
If you’re in a crow with bent arms, and lift the knees off the crow, then go up…you also have the method of straightening arms in a crow and the knees are almost up in the armpits, and it’s more of a press to handstand. Which is another type of strength.
The actual liftoff from a crow is something people think is a technical thing.
If you cannot bend and straighten your arms in a handstand, like a handstand pushup, it will be hard to do it from a crow. An exercise we use in the program is learning to lift from a crow stand into a bent arm handstand, so your face is hovering above the floor. That is a very intense part of the handstand pushup. I think that is the hardest part, where it’s the make or break once you start getting tired, doing reps. Even full range below the head, it’s where your head is just above the floor that you cave in when you get tired. That’s also where the body starts to do various funky things to get through like arching more to access the pecs more etc.
It’s very important, and very difficult to access at an early level until you develop strength with eccentrics and wall work. Most people that you ask to do a crow then lift their legs off, no way in hell they have enough joint power to lock the elbows and shoulders and lift the knees off.
EL: We have these diverse fields – strength, yoga, flexibility, handstands, all this. Sometimes some fields know more than your field about this. Strength training knows more than other fields here. If we look at the crow to handstand, it’s a nice move. But it’s going about strength training almost in the reverse manner. You’re trying to build concentric before eccentric and isometric strength.
The way we approach the program is build eccentric strength first. Once you have that we work on the isometric strength in the crow lift off. Then concentric strength as well. We go from an isometric to concentric rather than the other way around. I don’t want to say it’s the wrong way because people do it and it works, but maybe not the most efficient way. I think a lot of people who get there probably would have got it the other way as well. But not everyone gets it from crow to handstands.
A lot of spotting needs to go on too. I’m not an expert on yoga but it’s definitely common.
Maybe it’s being approached the least efficient way.
MK: I think you will have people who can do stuff, regardless of the methodology, almost. Being able to ID the parts you can’t get around, such things like developing some anterior delt strength to bend and straighten the arms in handstand, then targeting that in as sensible a way as possible.
I also remember, certain things I was training in circus school I thought was good methodology really wasn’t, because of frequency or intensity. They did not fit the schedule. We basically trained til we drop and trained everything. We survived because we were young and had all day and night. Our entire lives was geared around making this work because we were in circus school. We were young and above average talent. You build your mythologies based off that experience and think people need to train that way. Whereas you’re actually often getting the results despite not great programming, things work in your favour.
EL: One unnamed coach in Circus Space who did our conditioning class, one part was rope climbs with no legs, supersetted with 15 reps of handstand pushup, spotted and full range of motion. I think 3 of us in the year could do handstand pushups, a single rep, or maybe 4-5. He wanted everyone to do 15, including girls who didn’t train it or couldn’t do dips. But he insisted. Bad spotting, everything. 15 reps is a lot, especially when up on the hands and you can’t do them. It gets very vigorous spotting. I remember people were spotted in groups of 3s, just to get them through it.
But also that’s how the calisthenics guys do it, they do 50, then some jumping pushups as well.
MK: I think the best people at handstand pushup out there now are probably calisthenics athletes, but then again we only get exposed to the best ones. It doesn’t mean the way they train is bad, just that there are some extremely talented and hard working people that end up being who we see most of.
I don’t loads of people who have been training for years and can’t do handstand push-ups. They can do a bunch of muscle ups and the strength was there. But what wasn’t was a fucking handstand. The expectation of being able to do one wasn’t really realistic.
There’s another thing which I think is interesting for handstand pushups: the more old school and bent arched back handstand. You can make a good argument for the handstand pushup related to arched back handstand, in the same way press to handstand relates to straight handstand.
If your general set up is an arch back handstand, the more effective way of controlling under balance is by micro bending the elbows and using the bending of the arms as a way to control balance in general. One of the reasons is, obviously your legs are arching over. Usually the arch back handstands favour wider hands, which is effective for handstand pushups. And you have more access to your pecs and other muscles you don’t when in a stacked handstand. You can use the huge pecs to move your shoulder.
If you look at old school acrobats, I remember all the old videos when they do things where they go into hand to hand balancing, you see the flyer often presses or jumps up through a bent arm hold, because they end up in an arched handstand. The bending of the arm is effective there. If you’re going to that bent arm position and want to keep straight arms, you need to planche your shoulders a lot more significantly than if you just take the easier path of bending the arms.
It’s also fun if you look at the old school training manuals like York, or Art and Science of Hand Balancing. In the opening page of the York guides, it says something like, have you ever seen a bunch of chaps together training with a barbell, and see them jump onto their hands?
Well, to the barbell man, training handstands is as natural as ducks taking to water.
Back in those days, where athletics and gymnastics was more connected, if barbell training connected conceptually to handstands, then a bunch of people that were strong at lifting bars overhead would go on their hands and use the strength they had, which is the bending arm strength. That’s an interesting observation.
EL: The fragmented nature of modern physical culture was a lot less so back in the day. Gyms had weights, you learned gymnastics, calisthenics, club swinging, rope climbing – if you look at old gyms. It became specialized and they branched out into calisthenics gyms, weight lifting gyms.
Crossfit, credit where it’s due, has done a lot to unite physical culture, putting it all back in the same box. I’m not in favour of it as a sport, but as an activity it’s pretty good.
I actually just opened the York book to read the quote: “Did you ever notice, when you see a group of strong men together, that sooner or later, they take time out for some hand balancing. Hand balance to a bodybuilder, weightlifter, or any barbell man, is as natural as a duck taking to water.”
MK: That is so glorious.
It makes sense, when seeing the physical practices from a different perspective than nowadays.
EL: We don’t cover this in the course but I want to put it out there for discussion. Bent arm pressing – this is a forgotten art in some ways, specifically bending the arm to do your presses.
If you are strong and flexibility is an issue, the bent arm press is a valid press. How you do this is set up in straddle, pike, or tuck. You go onto your hands, then you can’t push forwards far enough, like you would to get the weight in the hands. All you do is come on your toes, then bend your arms till you hit a nice take off point.
Two nice things in this. One, you get a bit of the strength you would need for the crow to handstand doing it this way. But we can use the legs to give what we call in circus a tempo. It’s like a push press to handstand. We dynamically swing the legs up and use the momentum generated from the legs to create a vertical force to break the moment of inertia, then follow through with the arms.
You can get a feeling of – I used to do a lot of these, but even doing a headstand and piking up and use the leg tempo to finish with the arms. They’re nice to get lots of reps in. I used them more for teaching tumbling because they’re good for generating momentum for tumbling and forward rolls and stuff like this, or backwards roll to handstand, stuff like that.
You can do less and less tempo to get concentric action with the arms as well. There are some nice things to play with. It’s also interesting if you have access to parallel bars. You can bent arm press from an L sit to a shoulder stand, get the shoulders right, then use the legs to go up and down, back to inverted pike shoulder stand, then tempo back up to the handstand.
It’s not a forgotten element as it’s still in kids gymnastics, but it’s neglected. The higher scoring stuff is with straight arms so everyone stops doing them as soon as possible, but they are still in there, in rings and other stuff.
These bent arm presses are a forgotten art form in some ways.
MK: I’m really bad at bent arm pressing. I’m good at handstands, but bent arm pressing is pretty much a super weak point for me. Sure, I can bent arm pike press, but I’m way worse than I am at straight arm pike pressing.
EL: You got some homework to do, then.
MK: I thought about it a few times, but always forgot about practicing them. It’s interesting how heavy one feels, compared to just doing a straight arm pike press. It’s because your arms come at a significant angle, and the only reason I can do a bent arm pike press is because I have handstand pushup strength. I always find it fascinating how difficult it feels for me to do one.
EL: They’re interesting to try.
Before we wrap this up, I’d like to talk about what we have in the program. Me and Mikael film it, then we have the whole team behind us – Sophie for graphics, Charles for website, Elise for producing. We miss out a lot on the putting together, but we had the manuals made recently.
I was looking at it recently, and shit, this is pretty good. We didn’t write a program to get the handstand pushup more. It’s almost a treatise on it. We have all the information, the technical breakdowns, etc. We have a program in there, designed to work with hand balancers. You can choose from bent arm pulling and accessory work.
We also have a guide on how to apply the movement.
But when I look back over the videos, the crown jewel is Mikael doing a 15 min video explaining everything that can go wrong with the handstand pushup and the fixes for it. That was interesting to see; it is just a good reference, even for me.
I don’t want to say it’s not a program because it is, but it’s an info source on how to do it, apply it, how we approach it. It’s interesting that way. Slightly different, though basically the same as other programs in how we approach and teach skills.
The handstand pushup is a very limited subset of skills. It’s very straight forward, but we can still get it in minute detail.
MK: Part of that troubleshooting thing as well was not just about the fixes, but also part of learning a handstand pushup is developing strength. A perfect pretty rep of a handstand pushup doesn’t just happen on your first try.
I always like to use the pullup example. Any person who can do their first pull up in their life, it’s going to take some time. You’ll see the knees and chest move, all sorts of stuff goes on. But they make it to the bar – achievement, yay.
Then you see pull ups is accessible. Then the first pull up no longer has funky movements, it’s under control, and can be done often.
When a person can do 5, 1 is taken for granted. Very similar with a handstand pushup.
With the alternative strategies for doing a handstand pushup, we included things like the straddle, the staggered position (a front split style with the legs). It allows you to control everything from the torso down more easily. Those are valid things to try out, so you get to complete the motion of bending or straightening the arms and building the strength to do so. Over time you see it’s very simple to build the power to do several handstand pushups, with a straight body.
Hell, even nowadays when I train handstand pushups, I often set up in staggered position with one leg in front, and one in back. I’m looking to do a bunch of reps of bending and straightening the arms, not the exact itty pretty form. I can, it’s also possible. If I want to go for doing a bunch of reps, I can do that. I know it carries over very well to very strict handstand pushups as well.
These are important to know when it comes to understanding how this motion works, and how to train it.
EL: The staggered one is interesting. In terms of actual repetitions, one training session I saw you do 15+ of staggered ones in one set.
MK: The most I did was on stage in a closing act of circus school, 19 of them. Then I did 7 switches in straps. The scene was only that. Me going on stage, doing as much strength as I could, then people laughing as I suffered doing switches. They were muscle switches; it was dreadful and I was suffering.
I think I have it on YouTube. Not the 19 handstand pushup one, because it was the last show and I had taken tons of pre workout.
EL: The good old JACK3D days?
The good old days of JACK3D.
Alright. That wraps up the handstand pushup. It’s available now. Other than that, it’s the end of the season.
To wrap up a little, what the fuck do I need to say? Right. The season started thanks to everyone on Kickstarter. If you were part of that, thanks so much for letting us ramble so much. If you want to ask us questions for next season, or have suggestions for episodes or things you want us to talk about, send them to @HandstandFactory on Instagram. Or directly to me or Mikael, Instagram is easiest. You can also use the contact form on the website if you don’t do social media. That is fine.
At this stage where we wrap this up, we winged it. Any suggestions, we’re open. We may not take it, but we are open to hearing it.
Other than that we are back in the second week of January with the next season. The season will be amazing, but we have to figure it out. We’ll have more guests, so if you have suggestion for that as well, we want to hear them.
Happy holidays. Hopefully 2021 is not too terrible.
MK: Let’s aim for not very terrible.
EL: Yes, just terrible is fine. Thanks for tuning in; speak to you in January.