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S1 Episode 9: #tucklife


In our 9th episode of the Handstand Factory handstandcast Emmet and Mikael take on the lofty topic of #tucklife, where they break down everything tuck in the most extreme of detail, such as how they define the tuck handstand and its 3 main variants. They also go into working on shoulder flexibility/mobility for the tuck, starting your journey towards the tuck and it’s progressions, as well as going over what the hell does #tucklife even mean?

The Handstandcast – Season 1 will air every week. Topics we’ll cover over the first season include the straight handstand, the mindset of handbalancing and coaching handstands, though to be honest we’re making it up as we go along, so who knows where it might go!

S1E9 – #tucklife

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Transcript of Episode 9: #tucklife

EL: Welcome back to the Handstand Cast from Handstand Factory, the podcast based on talking about all things hand balance with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen.

We have courses on Handstand Factory, we have YouTube videos, everything else.  We just like to talk more, as there’s so much in depth information we can hopefully give you guys.

MK: We also like to ramble.

EL: This episode is called #tucklife.  We’re going to talk about everything about the tuck handstand – shoulder flexibility or mobility, what a tuck handstand is, the three different types, what is #tucklife, tuck so you don’t suck…

A lot of garbage, but noble garbage.  First things first.  Mikael, how would you define a tuck handstand?

MK: The term of tucking is the same as in a back tuck, or back flip, where you pull your knees towards your chest in some way or other.  A tuck handstand is obviously when you do a handstand and pull your knees in front of the body, and bend the legs.

There are a bunch of different ways this can be done, but that essentially is it.

EL: What I call a tuck, or the tuck family, is a handstand that has flexion of the hips, and the knees.  That’s it.  The feet can do whatever they want, and the shoulders and back can be in different configurations, which we’ll talk about.

That basically covers the tuck handstand, everything from the small or mini tuck, like a pliée, all the way down to bringing your knees to the chest, and everything in between.

MK: I guess the basic tucks that are often talked about popularly, and for good reason, are a very basic skill to learn as you develop your handstand.

It does a bunch of significant things, but first, it’s rather accessible early on in the process.

EL: There’s no high flexibility demands.

MK: Exactly.  As soon as you can handstand to a reasonable degree, you probably have the control to be able to tuck your legs to some degree or other.  Once you have that, it gives you a bunch of options, not just for the tuck handstand, but over time, the ability to jump to a tuck.  Some people find this to be the most comfortable way to enter a handstand anyway.  This depends on the person.

But it teaches your body about under balance, and that is maybe the largest reason for it being a significant stepping stone for learning handstands.

EL: One of the things I like when I’m teaching people tuck, or when they’re learning to free balance, is that it changes the configuration of the body from a pole to a lollipop.  If you think about what’s going on here is like trying to balance a stick on your fingertip, nose or face, you don’t get a lot of feedback.

If you try with a broomstick, or something with a weight on the end, you have more feedback coming from the object.  You get the same from a tuck.

When people are learning, it’s harder to balance, in terms of raw strength, but people get better reactions.  Because you have more concentrated mass going one way, and there’s fewer things that can move.  The balance becomes less of a problem to solve for people, so it’s quite good that way.

MK: You lower the centre of mass a lot when you pull the legs down.  It also challenges your body.

Basically what’s happening is you take a straight object – or however straight you’re able to make your body – and then you move the knees in front of the body.  What that does is it changes the biomechanics of what’s going on quite a lot.  If you just stand on your hands, then pull your knees in front of your body, and do nothing, no compensation for this movement happening, you will fall 100/100 times.

It’s the same as standing on your feet and suddenly pike at the hips and put the head far forwards, if you don’t adjust by putting your butt backwards, you fall forwards.  It’s not a discussion, just simple physics.

Learning to tuck will force your shoulders to work in a specific way.  The legs start moving down in front of your body; your shoulders need to solve this somehow.  The optimal way we are looking at doing this is keeping the flexion in the shoulders and keep pushing through the shoulders to keep alignment as similar to a straight handstand as possible.  What will happen is your hips move slightly further over the finger tips to accommodate the fact that your knees are in front of you.

We’re looking to keep the straight line from the hands, through the shoulders, and through the hips.  It goes from a straight line upwards to a slightly diagonal line, if you were to trace with a marker from the hand to the tailbone.

I think that straight line cue confuses some people, because they imagine the straight line must be a vertical line.  It’s still a straight line, just at an angle of maybe 15, 20, 30º.  The pivot point becomes around the main centre of pressure in the hand.

The tendency you see, particularly in people who are learning, and more flexible, is this mexican arched back tuck.  The shoulders stay vertical, but something has to go.  Even if they’re flexible enough in the back to keep the ribs vertical, the lower back arches and sticks the butt out in this sort of twerk effect.

That’s ok, but it almost takes the demand out of the upper back.

MK: If you do this type of tuck, the ideal version – and ideal is strange to say – there is a continuum here.  Muscularly, what you want to achieve with this “proper” tuck is for the upper back to be challenged slightly more when the legs are pulled deep in front of you.  This becomes harder the deeper the legs come down towards the floor.  That will start training your pressing strength at an early level.

If you’re able to achieve this, you’ll be starting to develop this shoulder flexion strength.  You will need this both to strengthen your general alignment, working on pressing, leg movements, and controlling under balance.

This kind of more arched version of the tuck happens when, instead of the shoulders being allowed to go slightly farther towards the fingers as you tuck (not a lot, you still keep the hand to hip line), but if you move the other direction and put the shoulders behind the hands, almost, that tends to make you able to tuck your knees fine.  You will be counter balancing the legs that your feet go forward.

EL: Like a see saw.  Don’t get us wrong; we’re not saying there’s one right or wrong one.  The one we’re describing is when you begin to go into the mexican shaped tuck.  Our definition of this is a handstand with a very arched back.  What you’re trying to do is push the chest all the way to the heel of the hand, so it goes outside that line, not vertically above it.  That allows the hips to come down farther in a counter balance.  You have this lovely tuck shape that can be quite accessible early on-

MK: If you have a flexible upper back, where the thoracic spine is flexible, what your body tends to do as you try to tuck is arch.  It’s fine to do, but it’s important to know why it happens, and why you want to do the various versions.

I had a student who was an extremely flexible contortionist.  Her tuck handstands would always be like that.  She would shoot out the chest to be able to tuck the legs, and she could go very deep with the legs down, even in a pike, but she would always have to keep this chest out position.

She couldn’t press.  If you compare these two tuck versions, where you pull the chest towards the heel of the palm, you will not be getting heavy work down on your upper back and trapezius, while the “proper tuck” where you keep a straight line from hand to hip and allow the shoulders to go slightly over the hands, you will be building that trapezius strength that allows you access to keeping that rounded back shape as you go into certain parts of the press.

EL: The active shoulder flexion strength is one of the key components to developing the overhead mobility for the handstand, as well as more skills.  It transfers to bridge, too.

In the Push program, we have some of these tuck wall slides, for this exact reason.  We have them in the templates because we know people will be a bit tighter in the upper body.  This is the counter balance to the flexibility work, where we’re directly challenging the shoulders to flex.

If you imagine the flexibility training, we have two sides.  One side, it gets lengthened, and one side gets shortened.  This kind of strength allows the body to open and relax, and build a lot of strength to basically active pull ourselves into the alignment we want-

MK: That is one of the reasons why the tuck is actually a good thing to work on at a reasonably early level.  You are putting extra stress on the shoulder flexion.  You put weight outside the centre line.  Your body has to force the shoulders to keep this alignment from hand to hip, and it strengthens the traps quite a lot.

You’ll find people that find tuck wall slides – basically my favourite exercise in the world – super easy, can do ten reps of knees to chest perfectly.  They just have the shoulder mobility needed; there is no challenge for them.  Then you take someone with rather tight shoulders, and it will absolutely murder their backs.  It’s usually the mid trapezius, sometimes the lower back.  They’ll be fully challenged by doing a few reps, and feel like their shoulders and backs are dying.  It’s quite common, and often an easy assessment tool I use.

In the template we made in Push, if you’re strong and lack mobility, or the opposite, you can easily see this by testing where your ability for doing wall supported tuck slides is at.

EL: The tuck gives a lot.  A lot of people can access straddle, and I don’t find it gives a lot by itself.  It’s a cool handstand.  Pike gives a lot, but it’s too hard to start.  But every level of handstand can find a tuck variation that will transfer over.

I suppose that leads us into the closed tuck.

MK: Now we just spoke about a term I said twice now, which is the shoulder needs to go forwards over the hands.  It’s a very important dimension; it’s not by breaking the shoulder line.  If you do the closed tuck, where you literally are moving the shoulders forwards on purpose, it’s literally what you would do if you were to lower a tuck handstand into a tuck planche.  You’re purposefully allowing the shoulders to shift forwards.  Even as the movement starts, you see angles starting to happen between the upper arm and upper back.  This is one that often happens to people as they learn, especially if they have tight shoulders and are trying to do tuck jumps-

EL: Or they’re pretty strong in the chest, and the shoulders go forwards.  There’s an obtuse angle in the shoulders, rather than the continuous curve.  Just to define what we mean by open and closed tuck, for those who aren’t too certain: when we talk about an open tuck, for me it’s when the femurs and pelvis are 90º or above.  A closed tuck is when the knees go below 90º.  If you imagine being perfectly straight in your handstand, this would be femurs parallel to the floor.  Going below that and aiming to get the thighs to the stomach or chest would be a closed tuck.

MK: Just to clarify, because we’re talking about open or closed shoulders here, I started talking about closed shoulders because I assumed that is what you were talking about…but the closing of the leg angle is relevant to how deep you go in the tuck, of course.  The open one will not go too far down.  You will also not see much forwards shoulder angle or lean, necessarily, as you do in one that is open versus closed.

EL: There’s some really nice extreme closed tucks.  I remember you had me doing this a few years ago when we met in Berlin – chin on chest tuck handstands, tucking the chin so you’re looking upwards and trying to touch your knees to your chin.  I got it once, and then it hurt a lot.

MK: When you do the head in tucks, which is maybe an advanced level of tuck handstands, those are very hard to do if your shoulders start to angle as you go into the tuck.

You start pulling your legs down, and if your shoulders need to move forwards a lot, it’s very hard to put your head through there.  It’s a good test of how developed your tuck is.

Of course, there’s another coordination level, since you have to control both your legs, and change your head positioning as you do so.  As we were talking about, the tuck has many different applications in the way it functions, and the types of options it gives you.  It functions as a conditioning tool, or way to help you build up the strength you need to pull the joint into the position you actually want to hold your handstand in.  It’s a fascinating position, and leads me to think about the term ‘tucklife.’  It has a funny backstory to it, and is now kind of a meme.  What happened there is I was teaching in circus school in Copenhagen, and a friend of mine, a Norwegian guy Ivan, was finishing handstand class.  He has a tendency to bend his arms.

I told everyone to finish up with stomach to wall, doing a total of 20 tuck slides.  He just ounces his back, goes towards the wall, and goes, [impersonating voice] “tuck life.”  That’s where it started.  I just fucking died, and it kind of became a thing of the tuck life part of the class.  Lo and behold, internet…. That is the backstory of the meme.

Like I said, it’s a useful position to start with.  You won’t be able to move very far into advanced hand balancing vocabulary – past what a normal two arm handstand is – unless you have substantially good control of it, I would say.

EL: It’s definitely an essential position.  Others are debatable.  I know people who have advanced one arms, but their two arm pike is non existent, whereas tucks will always be pretty good.

Just for those people still listening, there’s one program based on the tuck life story I want to give to people once you reach the stage where you can hold a tuck for 15-20s.  I generally give this as a six week phase.  You have to do 3 minutes of tuck handstands as conditioning at the end of your handstand training.

Normally I would reduce the number of sets in the training to accommodate for this, but by the time people go through this process for the conditioning of the upper back, you will see the change in handstand -the alignment, shoulders, everything works very well.  It’s very difficult, there’s going to be a lot of DOMS.

Once you can balance 30-40s tuck handstands, it’s challenging but rewarding.

MK: You need to make sure this is part of your training at some part or other.  When you have it, it’s not really a big deal anymore.  That’s a thing I find fascinating – it can feel super duper heavy until you are strong enough, and your body has accepted this type of shoulder position.  Suddenly doing a tuck or a straight handstand is more or less exactly the same.  It’s not physically heavier to do a tuck handstand once you have access to it, but it does take some time for some people.  It’s really important to know that certain people will have to work their assess off to get a tuck, while some will literally be able to do their first hold ever as a tuck.

EL: Years ago in Circomedia, when I was learning handstand, my handstand was pretty shit at the time.  Tuck was where I first broke 30s, 45s, a minute…It’s a shape that came very easy for me.  You get that quite often.

Elise, our main producer, is the tuck queen.  Seve, who trains with me, is also pretty good at the tuck.  Don’t limit yourself to the straight shape.

MK: For many, if you compare it to the straddle, that’s one of the earlier shapes to learn, but the variance between people and how much they can open their legs will be so drastic that you can have someone with 180º splits from day one, then another who gets their legs less than 1m apart.  It kind of means that it will be a very large difference of experience for these two, whereas the tuck will on average be more consistent in terms of learning process compared in people.

EL: If this person has tight shoulders, this person has tight shoulders, this person has a good straddle, this one doesn’t, their tuck handstands will probably get good at the same rate, give or take a bit.

MK: Also simply because most people, if you can pull your knees to your chest, lying on your back, you likely have the passive mobility at least, so that your legs can be in that position.  Whereas a wide straddle, for someone who isn’t flexible enough, their body is incapable at that point in time to be in that position.  This is one reason why I really enjoy teaching the tuck early.

If someone is early in the learning of handstand, and they’ve started to stand on their hands, and mainly been challenging the overbalance – controlling from the fingers, and so on-

EL: If you listen to our episode on handstand, we talk about beginners’ first battle is controlling over balance.  But the rest of your handstand training is the fight against under balance.

MK: Once you’re really good…it’s interesting to see from my practice, after all these years, in one arms and so on, my placement is such that I will never drop over the finger side of things on one arm.  It very rarely happens.  What will happen is, if I drop from whatever handstand it is, it will be because my shoulder sinks from destabilization.  It will essentially drop me towards under balance.  That is the direction of falling.  It becomes so that your placement in the hand is no longer over the fingers.  It’s the same for a beginner.  If you can start to stand in straight, and are conditioning and learning the position of a tuck, with a wall, what will slowly but surely happen is that person will be able to stand for a while.  Then their weight moves too much into underbalance.  You have been building up this capacity of the body over time, to give it some strength and experience, so that the body will be able to react when it moves into those positions.

That doesn’t even have to be with legs tucked.  It can be you’re almost in a handstand, then your shoulders sink a bit.  Your feet start piking a bit, or the legs separate, and the weight moves towards the heel of your palm.  Then you’re able to react there, because your body has been given some experience in this situation.  This is very important to consider with the tuck.  You give access to a new zone of control early, even though you’re not really experiencing it.

When I teach people, especially online, it takes a few months.  They’re mainly messing around in over balance, they get 30s, then suddenly you start seeing these larger wobbles towards under balance, but they catch them.

EL: The shoulder flexion strength just kicks in through the heel of the palm.  I see the exact same thing.

When you look at developing balance, it kind of develops in a series of stages.  This is probably the topic of another podcast, but there’s discrete things that happen when people begin to develop the reactive capacity.

Underbalance strength is definitely one of them, or resistive active shoulder flexion, where you resist and refuse to come down into underbalance.  Tuck gives that strength.

Let’s move on a bit – how do you get into a tuck handstand?

MK: Basically, unless you have any capacity of carrying the weight in front of your body…let’s say your shoulders are too tight or too weak, or whatever it is, to be able to get your knees anywhere low in front of your body, that will cause you to crash forwards.

If you wondered why you can’t jump through a tuck to handstand, it’s because your body doesn’t have the ability to jump through this range.  It doesn’t have the support.  What you feel is you put your hands on the floor, you think you’re going to jump to handstand.  Your teacher says this will be easy, but you feel you’re going to fall on your face.  That’s because your body does not have the carrying capacity to bring you up through this range.  It has to resist the force to bring your pelvis over your spine.

First, you need to make sure you can do tuck wall slides.  They’re stomach to wall, don’t have a balance component, practically there to condition your shoulders and upper back and strengthen them so you can use them in free space.  Then, of course, when you have some ability to do this, you can use back to wall set ups.  Those are detailed in terms of how to get into it, so you don’t sabotage your entrance.

EL: You can use them for getting into the Mexican tuck, the arch back tuck, and that’s great.  If you’re trying to get rid of that and keep the chest down and the ribs in, it can become tricky.  It can become very easy to lose the ups and downs unless you have a familiar position to return to.

The other thing is the straight handstand to tuck.  There’s a couple of ways to get it that are interesting.  One, we can go sequentially: bend at the knees, bend at the hips.  You get this Domino toppling effect.  That’s probably the first way to get it.  But if you bend too far at the knees, you have to hit the brakes, or be careful not to shoot the chest out, or hit the brakes with the fingertips, grabbing the ground.  You’ll see this happening a lot in the balance phase of learning the handstand, where you’re constantly keeping finger pressure down, constantly slightly in overbalance.  You see this a lot in strong people before they find the actual precision centre point.

You see this a lot.  They bend knees, then hip bends.

There’s the other style, where it’s almost like I feel like I try to push my knees horizontally.  What happens is that the sensation is horizontal, but the hips move as well to bring them down.  You get this idea, like this phrase from Tai Ji that always comes to mind: One thing moves, all things move.  One thing stops, all things stop.

You’re aiming to arrive at the maximum degree of knee flexion, and of hip flexion, whatever you’ve chosen for your open, close, whatever – all at one time.  What happens there is, because we have fewer things arriving…every time we have a joint moving or stopping, we have to rebalance.  If we can get both hips and knees to arrive at the chosen point at the same time, we only actually have to correct the balance once, where we put the brakes on.

It’s good to get that idea of the transition.

There’s also this idea, you see it a lot when people are learning to move shapes.  It’s like a staccato, segmented rhythm.  They move a little, stop.  Move a little, stop.  Every time you add a pause point, you end up having to rebalance your handstand.  If you just move in one decisive motion, it doesn’t have to be fast.  It’s like riding a bike.  Once you’re in motion, you’re in balance.  Once you stop, you have to catch the balance somehow.  It’s the same in moving from straight to tuck, or straight to straddle.  Bare that in mind when you’re trying to move.  It’s better to move, then deal with what happens at the tuck, versus-

MK: Don’t go too slow, it’s a way to kill yourself.  At the same time, it’s not about rushing.  It’s about making the decision of a movement, and sticking to that decision, rather than basically trying to move in slow motion.  It really doesn’t help you much, and makes you hyper aware of every single little detail that’s going on.  You’re better off focusing on your balance, going from A to B in a controlled fashion.

Also, in terms of bringing this down to fully absolute beginner level, I would say tuck slides and similar preparation work can be done very early.  I use it almost for anyone starting out, even as an assessment exercise to see what the carrying capacity of the shoulder is.  Can the shoulders neatly deal with this kind of placement?  If no, fair enough, I know this is something we need to work on, both in terms of passive shoulder mobility, but also the strengthening of this range.

I’ve met loads of people whose tuck is perfect, even their extremely deep tuck is 100% there.  They still can get into the position with the wall without having any muscular issues.  It’s not difficult, but they still can’t balance.  Then the issues the person needs to work on are other things that are more important.

It’s such a versatile tool, and one that bridges the gap in so many situations.  For a complete beginner, it helps more intermediate level practitioners learning to move their legs, and so on.  It definitely helps when we start talking about press to handstand.  It’s maybe the technically simplest way to do a press down, a negative press.  You just go into the tuck, and then you keep pulling your knees towards your chest until feet touch the floor.  In a straddle it feels more fiddly.  The position you’re in in a normal straddle, when the legs are a bit above you, you first need to articulate the hip joint.  It’s easy to fall.

While going to tuck, you stay there a while, then literally just crunch the legs towards the chest as hard as you can.  You’ll work your way down until you fall through and your feet land on the floor.

EL: I use it a lot for people.  You’re doing the tuck press down, then it removes the variables involved in the straddle.  If someone even has a wide straddle, the first thing that happens when they try to learn to press is they bring the legs together, which is more like a pike shape, and suddenly you have a lot more mass to deal with.

With this one, it’s like, ok, pull your knees to chest or nipples.  If they can keep this cue and you know how to push the shoulders, you get the spinal articulation right, starting at the sacrum, going up the lumbar, to the thoracic spine.  At a certain point the shoulders start to go forwards.

Whereas, if we do straddle, many people close the shoulder angle and planche forward, as the spine doesn’t have to react.  It’s nice in that way; we can quickly groove the actual press itself and get a lot of strength on that one.

It’s a nice one when I have people who have problems with the negatives.  We forward track to the tuck and train that until we see the spine and shoulders cooperating, going: sacrum, lumbar, thoracic, shoulders.  Once you see that, put them back onto the straddle and you’ll see a big change in the technique in the straddle press, or an ability to understand it.

MK: It kind of relates to pike handstand as well, since that’s the same as tuck, but you straighten your legs.  What that does, of course, is challenge your hamstrings more.  There’s a relevant flexibility component.  But the main thing that happens is more body mass is outside of your centre line.  We won’t go too much into the pike now, but the key thing that makes them similar is, if you look at the lean happening over the hands, with the hand-shoulder-hip line still staying intact and straight, that diagonal will be steeper in a pike than in a tuck.  It’s very simple to see.  If you do a pike handstand, then tuck it, then go back and forth, you will see the little shifts in the angles of the arms.  If you are doing the mexican version of the tuck, you will need to move the shoulders closer to the heel of the palm to compensate for the weight.  If you’re doing this with a broken shoulder line, where the shoulders are closed too much, you see a larger degree of planching as the legs straighten.  In handstand, one motion equals two motions.

If you move something, and do not compensate for the fact that something is moving, you will fall out.  If the hip is moving, the legs, etc, it’s a constant calculation happening.  You need to solve the other part of the equation constantly.  That’s something that needs to happen intuitively.

Using the tuck and an understanding of why these things happen, and how to control them, is instrumental.  It can be used in an early level, can be used in a very advanced level.

EL: I like the tuck for teaching the balance point in the hands, and how to feel the centre of pressure.  Particularly the mexican version, even if people aren’t super duper flexible.  You can set up the tuck, then go ok, I want you to feel your fingertips, then push the chest out until you feel the weight come out of the finger tips, then let the hips go.  That will start the back bending.  It teaches getting the chest out of the way, then the hips pulling down.

If you let the hips down before you move the chest or the shoulders, you get a huge amount of weight into the fingertips, and it’s instant feedback that you’ve set up the mexican in a way that limits your depth.  You can’t go deeper than a certain point, it is different for everyone.

If you get the chest out, the weight goes from where it is, at the centre of the hand, or slightly by the thumb, and it goes towards the heel of the hand.  Then you’re set up in a way so that your hips can go all the way down to the level of your tolerance of the bent position, or the limit of your flexibility on that day.

Whereas, if you get the weight onto your toes, it is kind of like doing a hip hinge and you don’t push the hips back.  There’s a certain point where the toes have to start pushing harder and harder and harder to resist the body going forward.  If you push the hips back, and in this case for the handstand, the chest is the hips.  Fingers are toes, hands as feet, elbows as knees, pecs are glutes…

It’s very clear to feel this.  Particularly when we get to mexican training with people, I will have them train two exercises when they’re first learning mexican.

One will be a wall supported mexican, just held for time, to get them used to actually finding how to go deep, and take the balance out, as we normally do.  People familiar with our training method know we reduce variables to a minimal amount that you tolerate, then increase the variables as you get better.  We take the balance variable out, get you used to going deep.

But the tuck mexican, I do that to train people to learn how to do the freestanding weight shift into the heel of the hand.  It’s very useful because it’s very clear.  If weight is in fingers, you got it wrong.  Weight out of fingers, you got it right.  It’s very binary: this is right, this is wrong.

What else do we do in the tuck?  I suppose we haven’t really talked about using the tuck for jumping.

MK: Essentially, you’re in a charged position.  You kick from a tuck, and then go up.

I was always fascinated by the tuck when I started circus, as it’s used so much in circus, but I’d never seen it before.  In gymnastics, it’s a position that’s barely used at all.  I guess there’s certain mounts where you go through tuck, but it’s not as much used.

EL: You see it in kids for learning

MK: For sure, but I mean competitively.  On rings, there’s no reason to tuck your handstand.  The tuck handstand itself, it’s not a shape that’s used in that.  I think the tuck points to one of the differences between circus technique, hand balance technique, handstands and gymnastic style.  If you break the body line in many gymnastic exercises, you are losing points on it.

EL: There are transitions, like level 4 or 5 guys, doing press to tuck shoulder stand, then kick the legs to handstand as an element on parallel bars, stuff like that.

It’s like a dynamic context.

MK: The tuck is ubiquitous in circus, but not as seen in the gymnastics side of the actual holds.

EL: You don’t even really see it in acrobatic gymnastics.

MK: No, not so much.  I think they at least use it for the development of pike handstands.  If you think about it, and about the reactive capacity of dealing with under balance, where earlier the episode we mentioned the planching in the shoulders you can do to compensate for the fact that your knees are moving in front of your body.  You’d be using the same thing in a straight handstand, and that is the reaction pattern you’d be using in gymnastics.  For example, in rings or bars, you want to keep the body line neat and straight from toes to shoulders, so you don’t lose points on form.  Also gymnasts are taught to have a very strong planche, so they can use micro planching in the shoulders, to keep the feet to shoulder line completely straight.

Of course, that is what you need to do on rings.  You can’t balance much from the hand. In hand balancing, since your goal is not to do a handstand on the rings, or in a dynamic fashion as in gymnastics, and you want to do a one arm handstand, you can’t trust in that to correct.  It just doesn’t work.  You can’t lean the shoulder directly forwards and correct it from there.  You would rather keep the hand to hip line straight; that is essentially what the tuck, and later on the pike, teaches you.  It’s quite a common and easy position, comparatively speaking.

A one arm tuck handstand isn’t a problem as long as the shoulder, the hand to hip line stays straight.  But I dare you to do a tuck handstand with a dropped and forwards placed shoulder on one arm.  It’s possible, but not going to be very nice for your wrist.  To me, it’s a symbol of this different approach you use in gymnastics style elements versus hand balancing style elements.

Take it with a grain of salt, it’s not always one or the other.  These are tendencies you can trace, because of the end goal of these two disciplines.

EL: Just to move on before we finish up – what are some non typical things we could do in tuck if we have the shape, we can do it, the straight handstand, and other shapes.  What other things could we play with that aren’t really spoken about?

We have this idea of tempo.  We can go in and out at the same speed, or challenge ourselves and go really damn slow, so it’s like butoh dance, almost.  It takes 30 seconds, 40 seconds, a minute, to go from straight handstand to tuck, never stopping, always moving gently.  Or we could have this idea of: can we get in really fast?

I like to give my students two contrasting things.  I want you to do the movement really fast, so you’re aiming to get ten reps in 30 seconds, or really slow, one rep in 30 seconds.  This expands your coordinative capacity upside down.  One of the ideas I like about tempo constraints is it takes the idea of balancing the shape, doing it, am I right or wrong, and you put the brain power into thinking about and controlling the speed.  You get out of the way of the body and it does the balancing, as it should be drilled by this point.

MK: Speed in general is an often overlooked component.

EL: No one really talks about it.  But you want to get good?  You want to tuck so you don’t suck?  Can you do it fast?

There’s also the concept of tension in the shape.  Can you maximally flex the body so it’s really solid, or relax and have a flow soft feel to it?

These internal dynamics – visibly I could look at you and use these two internal dynamics, and I might be able to tell what your internal dynamic is.  But I can say, hold on, you’ve done something different in this set compared to the last set.  Trying to get these incredibly strong for yourself, and how you do it, is what takes the shapes…everyone does the same shapes in hand balancing.  Once you’re able to do them, everyone basically looks the same.  What makes it different is the space between.  How do I make my straight or straddle to tuck look different from MIkael’s, or someone else’s?

This gives you more to play with.  Even if you’re not interested in performing, the idea of balance training is the more variety we can give to the body, the more stimulus it has to adapt to, and the better it gets at balancing.  IF you’re looking to take your balancing to the next level, speed, slow, fast, how would I do this movement if I were a robot?  Or a chicken?  I know it sounds stupid, it’s completely subjective and there is no objective criteria of how a chicken in a tuck handstand is.  Using these ideas can have a huge impact on your training, and not just in tuck, but everything, really.  There’s a lot to play with there, and we have a lot of these ideas in Keep Pushing.

We want you to do the shapes, but we’ve given you a lot of the tools to play with,

MK: Essentially, with a tuck, as with most other things, first you condition and learn the shape.  You learn how to function without needing to worry about balance.  Your body has some sort of map of what this thing is about.  You learn to work it in balance.  You use a wall set up first so you can efficiently get into the position without sabotaging yourself there.  You have an idea of the position, then learn to do the position in free space.  That would likely happen from straight handstand, then move into a tuck.  Then perhaps you’ll learn to move into a straddle, or perhaps move into it from a tuck jump to handstand.  Maybe you do a straddle jump and then tuck your legs, so on and so on.

The variation comes there as you begin to build your vocabulary.  As with most things, you are usually better off building that ability to understand how it’s supposed to function first, start to apply it, get strong enough, start balancing it, then start moving in it.  It’s basically the same thing we speak about in Push as well.  First you learn to hold your body, then you learn to balance your body, then you learn to move your body while being in balance.

EL: I think we’re going to wrap it up there.  That was almost everything you could say about the tuck.  Almost.  Watch out for our next episode on the tuck…next season will be all tuck handstand.

MK: This episode repeated until you’re sick of it.

EL: Other than that, thank you for tuning in.  I’m Emmet Louis, this is Mikael Kristiansen.  If you like us, or want to follow what we’re doing, find me anywhere under @Emmetlouis, find Mikael @Mikaelbalancing on Instagram.  You can find us on our courses at Handstand Factory dot com, if you want to learn the practical side of handbalance, they’re pretty good by our standards.  We made them; we have to say that.

If you want to add questions for the podcast, there’s a contact form at Handstand Factory dot com.  If you put your question in there, or DM it to the Handstand Factory Instagram, we will add it to the mix and get to it at some point in one of our minisodes.

Other than that, thank you for tuning in.


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