Transcript of Episode 41: Injuries and Handstands
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen. How is it going, Mikael?
MK: I am sitting and struggling with a big piece of paper, because it doesn’t cooperate, or I’m too fucking dumb to understand a rather simple folding pattern. That is my evening’s predicament. Otherwise, I can’t complain.
EL: To put it into context with Mikael, I messaged him about 2.5 hours ago about the podcast this evening and he said, I’ll be back to you in a minute. Two hours later I messaged him like, put the fucking origami down, come here. Step away from the paper and put your hands up.
MK: I had to be honest, I had entirely forgotten about the podcast. Oh shit, yeah, that’s right. I’ve been sitting here looking at the same pattern over and over again for about an hour. The fury.
EL: I sent a few memes and other stuff into our chat to see if that would provoke a reaction. See if he remembers me; I exist.
MK: That’s why you do it.
EL: The origami hole is what Mikael goes into, and he has to be dragged out by burning the paper.
MK: It’s right there in front of me, taunting me, the cunt.
EL: Anyway, what are we talking about tonight? We are going to talk about injuries. We’ve talked a bit about them in the Q&A and how to deal with them, but I thought we’d have a full show on injuries, why they happen. We’ll ramble as normal. Do we even need to have a plan with this stuff?
Injuries; they’re fun. You should get one! If you haven’t injured yourself doing hand balance and bragged about it on the internet, are you really a hand balancer? If you haven’t injured your wrist by overtraining hand balance, are you real a hand balancer? If you haven’t contemplated existential dread from injuring your wrist doing handstands, are you actually a hand balancer?
MK: That is a good question. If you do handstands for long enough, you’re going to end up injured at some point or other, no doubt about that.
EL: I’d love to know rough figures on injuries per 1000 hours of exercise. You can find it on crossfit, weightlifting, jogging, golf, whatever. But there’s nothing or has stats for hand balance. I would be interesting to see where hand balance rates, to comparative solo nerdy disciplines like climbing or frisbee golf or shit like that.
Hopefully we’re lower than Crossfit, but I have my doubts.
MK: Hand balancers definitely have a tendency to over do it. It comes with the trade.
EL: I don’t know if people saw my story where I made a meme of the surprise Pikachu. I had the same thing a few times in the same week: I have wrist issues, general inflammation, nothing bad. I told them all the same thing, reduce volume down, do 10-20min of one arms a day, just reduce. We’ll cut back and modify some other stuff.
This advice was ignored by all of them in favour of not just doing exactly what I had programmed, about 30 min on average of one arms, but tripling or doubling the time to 60-90 minutes of one arms. Then all the conditioning and everything, and not telling me they were doing this as well, because they knew I’d put the brakes on.
First rule of handstand club: when your coach tells you to do something, it’s probably for a reason.
MK: It’s certainly a way to get too excited with training handstands. That is one big issue, injury wise. “I almost managed to do a thing!” Then you get too jacked up about trying to do it over and over, though you should have quit an hour or two ago. Done it myself, seen it 100 times. It’s the cardinal sin of hand balancers, to not be able to stop in time.
EL: Get into that dopamine feedback loop. Ah, nearly, ah, nearly…. It’s all the same people as well, between a 5-10s one arm on their good arm. It’s the exciting stage. You have been grinding for the last year and now it’s working. Oh shit, all the bashing my head against the wall has finally gotten a different result. My poor dopamine deprived brain has had no success, and now it’s getting it all at once.
MK: I envision the mad man going WAAHHHAHAHAHH, the power is mine. Then you have the power for 18 minutes, then get wrecked.
Not saying I haven’t done it, because I have.
EL: I’ve done it as well. We are all guilty of this.
MK: The management of such, going in with the acceptance that this is something that not only can happen but is very likely to, is one of the better ways of mitigating or at least being ready for injuries. Your world will fall apart a little when it happens and you can’t train, that is the fact of life and it will suck for a while. But not pretending to be invincible – that is not helping anyone.
Looking at myself, because I’ve been there way too many times.
EL: I remember thinking, observationally, as I haven’t recorded enough data to say yes or no, but elbow issues happen to beginners, wrist issues for advanced people.
I think that wrists, if people are learning to grip, they use a lot of force at the beginning. They will overuse the balance, particularly at the stage where you can balance but kind of lean forward to correct under balance. There is constant tension at the elbow.
People who are better use less force, there is less sustained gripping strength, When people are balancing one arms, that is what blows more wrists. The second you start taking that hand off, chaos ensues and balances and corrections we didn’t even think possible for the human body start to happen. Then it’s just like, wrists and fingers that seem to go more. Obviously elbows go as well.
MK: It’s definitely the most common phase of wrist injuries, I think. I’ve also noticed loads of beginners, when people haven’t been on their hands for so long and are new, they’re used to starting their handstand sessions by standing on their hands immediately. As soon as you’ve started one arms and stuff, people stop doing that to a degree, or take more time warming up and so on, which is sensible.
Then of course, shoulders are also one, but that seems to happen later on when you’re more advanced. Unless you have a lot of physique to build from the get go when starting, it seems like shoulders are usually alright until you’ve actually gotten strong enough to spend enough time on your hands to strain yourself.
EL: There’s a certain duration of effort that needs to be done to strain yourself. There’s an interesting mechanism on muscle tears. There’s no set theory, but there’s a certain tolerance of energy a muscle can absorb into it. This is why we get hamstring tears at high velocities; people are running and sprinting, not in a stretch position, but the turnaround force in the sprint is too much to absorb.
When people blow from stretching, they’re doing a long duration hold at the extreme that has the tensile pressure that causes the blow to happen. In handstands we don’t really have that fast impact stuff, unless you’re doing tumbling… Handstands are longer holds. As you nailed there, you have to hold long enough to strain something.
MK: Maybe that’s a new milestone – when you hurt yourself doing handstands, you get a medal made out of potato chips and super glue. I can ship them to you.
EL: You could get that acrylic stuff you made your blocks of, but a handful of garbage in them.
MK: You get a beautiful epoxy resin stuff and it’s just full of garbage. Beautiful idea. You spend all that effort making a sarcophagus of glory, except it’s all trash found outside your house.
Anyway, I also wanted to mention during this cast, I’ve been going through a shoulder injury for quite some time now. I finally ended up going to the physio. I thought that to see soft tissues with a scan you needed an MRI. I didn’t know ultrasound does the job just as well for superficial stuff like a rotator cuff. I got in contact with one here in Stockholm to see what’s up inside.
It was really interesting. I realized I hadn’t been to a physiotherapist…ever, until then. It was the first time I’d been. I’ve had a massage before, but never an actual physio.
It was a clinical access rehab here in Stockholm, pretty good stuff. I wanted the perspective of a professional. I was going in with the expectation of the guy scanning and saying you have this and that, here’s the thing… I thought after 15 years of beating the shit out of my shoulder, there must be some signs of wear and tear in there. Apparently things look pretty good. I was shocked that it’s not too bad. The only things he could see was damage in supraspinatus, which is directly related to all the movements and things I haven’t been able to do with full force and control lately. There was some fluid in the joint, but nothing significant. Everything should be possible to take care of with rehab and taking it a bit easier.
That is the big thing – taking it a bit easier. Not going, I feel a bit better than yesterday, I’ll try this thing, no ow it hurt! No shit, Sherlock.
EL: We’re going to hold a little roulette. Everyone listening throws in a euro. Send me your dates on when Mikael cracks and decides to do one arms again. When he posts it on his story, whoever got the right date wins.
MK: That will be at least a couple of months.
EL: You say that, but I know how you crack.
MK: I haven’t done handstands for 5 days and I am fine. I think this time I can take it pretty piano compared to before. For my part, the reason I take it way easier is it is really fucking boring to train when you can’t access your full power, or be able to do what you want to do.
My issue with injuries has been I’ve always been indestructible, never having things that stopped me from doing things. Now that there is one, several months back, I started getting issues. I wasn’t used to not being able to work through it, just practicing a little less for a bit, then back to normal. This didn’t come back to normal. It’s definitely a good lesson.
The fact that I have never, ever, even since started breakdancing, ever taken a week fully off, it’s probably due, don’t you think?
EL: Part of me is scared what happens when you take a week off. Maybe you’ve been suppressing your super compensation, storing it up for now. All you need to do is eat 10 000 calories a day and suddenly you’ll blow up, muscles everywhere and a bad mullet and super tight pants.
MK: Maybe the mullet will burst out in day 7.
EL: Mullets are back in; has anyone spotted this? In Stockholm they were probably always in…. The fucking mullets are back, it’s a really bad mullet.
Mullets are pretty awesome, proper Australian bogan mullets are awesome. Unfortunately the hipsters in Dublin have got them; it doesn’t really mix. I think COVID has helped people admit that what they really want to do is wear socks and sandals and have a mullet. No one was brave enough to do it. Now they’ve been trying the look out at home, doing it around the house a bit til you get used to yourself, then going out doing low key things like going to the shops. Now you can wear a mask, so you can get away with it. But then, as you get more used to it, you eventually take the mask off and we’re like, we’ve seen what you done. But I did the same too, so it’s okay.
MK: This is so far the most unrelated rant on any handstand cast ever. I will remember this Emmet.
EL: Back to injuries. Something interesting said before we got rolling here: this is one of these underused things of physios, or anyone in the sports adjunct therapy side of things, to use this possibility with them. A lot of them would like people to say this. You go in and say, I’m not actually that broken, but I want to get something checked out. I need to perform and I want to optimize it.
You said something along those lines. I need to get checked out, so they said I’ll test you harder than normal.
MK: He wanted to apply a lot more force in the various rotator cuff tests on me, than on with a person who doesn’t train as much. The guy I saw understood my situation and basically what he was trying to do was take an athlete that wanted to continue his practice, that was the goal and wanted me to work towards.
He said that healing the muscle for that injury, the start of a tear in part of the supraspinatus tendon, it wasn’t significant. It might take 2-3 months to heal, but he basically told me to keep training, but now so I feel strained in the area when done. He gave me one rotator cuff exercise and he wanted me to do 3×10 every day. Plain and simple.
I was surprised, I thought he’d give me 5 or 6, which is my way of thinking. He said to keep it simple; this should be enough for now. It’s intelligent, because he was assuming I’d be doing other types of training. Adding 1 is likely enough, and he wanted it to be effortful and strenuous doing 3×10. Keeping it that simple seems important, at least when beginning to take rehab seriously.
EL: With healing and anything, we need to move it, but not a lot. You need to rest it, but not a lot. You need to use and strain it, but not a lot.
The mantra I give to people is: work to pain, not through pain. If we’re dealing with a joint angle pain where it happens at a joint angle, then we work at the range of motion we can, and try to do techniques that involve this kind of angle, without going into the pain zone, floating above it. Same with training, work to the point where you feel you did a bit of work, but don’t push into the fatigue or strain zone.
I bet people are going to do 75 minutes of one arm holds, based off this. “Oh but strenuous is 90 min.” That’s not what we mean. It’s this idea that we have to figure out what our capacity and restoration is. That is always keep to coming back from injury.
MK: If I compare you’re rehabbing your lats to do pullups, and you’re back to the ability to doing a couple of pain free pullups, but once you try to do 5 or 7, you feel it’s too much and not good for you. It’s very simple with something like pullups. Or the lat pulldown machine or other exercises – you can work your lats a bit on a lower intensity, and then go home. It’s strength training, a type of practice where you go in, output effort, then fuck off and rest.
That is all you need to do, while in handstands, there are many elements to train. It’s such a precise thing. Maybe, also importantly, people like to do training. People like to go in, feel the effort, push hard, go home, feel they worked hard. With hand balancing, one of the reasons why people spend 3h training handstands is the activity is enjoyable. So it’s different in terms of load etc. The sets and rep schemes fall off.
It’s enjoyable to do, so you want to get back to the doing of it. Hopefully you do as much as before, and you want to feel you can do the various skills. You want to be able to spend a significant amount of time in that zone.
When you’re injured it’s way too easy to think you’re better so you can try to do this or that. I have my students who do that and end up circling injuries. I have done the same myself. It’s so important to also remember to be able to stop the brain. If I want to do this, I need to actually not do it. It’s like you got a massive inflammation in your forearms from too much guitar playing, but you really want to play because it’s so fun and play many songs and learn and get better – that is where the issue comes in, when it comes to rehabbing this sort of stuff.
EL: We have a limited subset of techniques in hand balance that don’t involve using the hands the way we do. If we have this limited subset of techniques and want to do the thing, how can we do it?
It’s not like at the gym, where we want to work our chin ups on rings but it’s too strenuous, well we can do a seated row machine and it’s kind of close enough to it. The other thing is, a lot of resistance training exercises can be very closely controlled. You can be just moving with a little bit of resistance.
With hand balancing, it’s either all the weight on your hands, or not. There’s a binary, in some ways. It’s about resisting the urge, and paying your dues to the injury, I suppose.
Let’s face it, once you’re past the beginner zone and basic physical preparation and flexibility stuff – which we’ll circle back to later – it’s caused by overuse. Straight up overuse injuries for most people who have done too much. We don’t have catastrophic injuries or contact injuries. That said, I do know someone who sprained their ankle quite badly coming out of a handstand, who was pretty good on their hands, so it does happen.
In general, wrists and all happen from doing too much. For that period of time, you have done too much training. Now you have to pay your dues to the injury by doing no training or less training. That is what it comes down to. You have to learn to walk out of the gym.
For some people that can be hard.
MK: Being able to chill the fuck out and basically just not do those five extra sets, or that conditioning, or all that stuff. It’s really important. There’s a couple of options.
You can, if we use sport science and training methodology thinking, lower the volume a lot. Say you have a hand balance practice and are working on finger tip hold one arms. If you’re very short, you can handle fingertip hold one arms, it’s possible for your body to recover and still improve the injury. Maybe you go in and do 5 sets of those on both arms and that’s all; you cut your volume significantly. You only stick to those 5 sets. It doesn’t feel like training, you know it’s annoying but you get to do something. Then you’re done.
You skip out the presses, two arm work, and the conditioning. You stick to this one drill that you feel is most important, and nothing else.
Or in the other scenario, the intensity of fingertip holds is too high. So you ditch those and maybe stick with a few presses and a couple of two arm drills instead. The closer something is to your technical maximum will be counting as intensity in one sense. It is possible to work on that. You will need to cut somewhere. Knowing where to cut is definitely important.
If it were a wrist injury, you’d be an idiot to keep the fingertip holds. That’s where wrists get easily busted. Then it might be the completely opposite thing, getting rid of those intense things and practicing something else instead.
It’s tricky, but load management is always what it comes down to. Basically, accepting the fact that you have walked a couple of steps back down the stairs. That is what it is. Don’t try to do the step you were at before. It’s not going to work and you will get extra frustrated and/or extra busted.
EL: Understanding the nature of the injury and what is too intense for it is going to be different for everyone, even on the day. A rule of thumb for cutting stuff is, first thing’s first, slash the volume of the high intensity stuff.
If you were doing 15 sets of one arm fingertip supports or whatever, slash that to a third – 5 sets. Then your endurance work has to go as well. No endurance work at this stage. Endurance work out the window: one arm, two arm, whatever, gone.
Then you can drop conditioning after that. Endurance and conditioning come back quick. This is very simple. Even if you think you’ve dropped everything and can only do 30s holds in a straight arm handstand but were doing 90s before, in a week you’ll be able to do 90s again. It comes back very quick once you get back into practice.
Other stuff. Keeping some of the stuff – keeping the skill, since that’s hardest to get. So keeping it in a way that gets a taste of the skill without making it too hard will maintain it. Even if it feels like nothing is happening, it will keep it semi fresh in the nervous system. At the same time if you do too much it won’t heal.
90% of what we do as coaches when someone is injured is try to make sure they actually heal. It’s like, oh good, your wrist is inflamed, or finger tendon is acting up. Fine. How do we get you back to normal as fast as possible, without this lasting for 6 months? That is the problem.
MK: If you have a coach you trust and listen to, it’s a functional thing. It comes a lot down to, and I speak specifically as a person that practices handstands, and so many people I know within those circles, it is just so common. The adherence to the practice and the enjoyment of such that is a test to yourself, in a sense, that makes it so you….you just so easily end up doing those 5 sets you should not have done. Or you feel warm and good, that kind of thing. It’s so easy to end up going there again and again.
It can be random things too, but it’s way too easy to do that. The best recovery period of any injury I’ve had is when I was forced to not do anything. I smashed my left wrist so bad from a jump switch on a cane. The cane really quickly rocked back and forth because the platform almost fell over. It felt like someone beat my wrist with a hammer super hard. I took six weeks before I could do a handstand on that arm again.
EL: Can we stop there for a second – I’m sure you spent the entire time kicking up to one arm on the other hand.
MK: Yeah I trained my right hand all the time, and learned to balance on my elbow on the left a little bit.
EL: Just so our audience isn’t panicking that Mikael didn’t train for 6 weeks.
MK: At that time, I was in really good shape in general. I kept going, and could train on the other hand. I practiced elbow stands on the left. The process of re-teaching the wrist after the acute phase of loading weight was interesting. I remember the entire phase of a push up position being enough, a handstand being way too much. Occasionally trying, but it was so bad I didn’t have much choice. I couldn’t try because it was dreadful.
Then came the phase where I was able to stand on two arms, but my entire position was leaning to the right arm quite a lot by default to avoid the weight.
Then I could stay on two arms for a while. Then it was a very clear phase. I could do a two arm handstand, but only for 2 or maybe 3 times could I stay for perhaps 20s on the wrist. If I did a fourth time then the bad pain really quickly started to surge through the hand. Okay, no more of that.
Then week for week, slowly but surely, I could load it more and more. Same thing with one arm. I could one arm, but only 3s, and 2 holds. Try a third time, and, shit, no way. It was very interesting to see how it scaled up from barely being able to put the hand flat against the wall to being able to do one arm hops on it.
I think at the point I was forced, so I was good at accepting slow things. Let us try to put the hand on the wall. That was basically the level I was at. It became a project. I would wake up in the morning and be ok. Let us put the hand on the wall. That was the test.
I could see that slowly, day by day, now I can lean a bit with the hand on the wall. And so on. But I was forced to never do too much, so it didn’t happen.
EL: If we go back to when I injured my wrist…I have a couple of interesting breaks, sadly. I broke the capitate bone in the wrist, which is one of the small pisiform bones in the wrist. Part of it chipped off, maybe a quarter of it. Not a lot, apparently.
I went in, had it immobilized for 6 weeks. I come back and it hasn’t joined, there’s nothing to do at this stage. My wrist was pretty flexible at this time. I had limited flexion and extension, maybe to 50-60º on both sides. It was just when I started to get good at one arms.
I didn’t train them in circus school and took them up in third year, more so as a hobby than anything else. Everyone does handstands, fuck it, I want to learn a one arm. I was getting good, training it. And this happened about two years into circus school.
It was just a hobby skill for me, not a career making skill like you have it in circus. I broke my wrist, I can deal with this. I can’t do handstands. Fine, not a big concern.
Slowly it turned into something worse. I saw one of the top specialists in wrist surgeries in Europe over it, and he was like, there’s nothing I can do for you. You are not going to regain the range of motion.
I was like, what do you mean? Nothing can happen, it won’t heal. Thanks for this. We had to get the chip in the bone dissolving for a year and a half, and that was limiting, irritating the joint. I could train, but if I did P-Bars or rings where you could hold the wrist neutral, I knew I’d pay for it by having an agonizing wrist for the next 3-4 days. So fine, I can’t do this.
This went on for nearly 3 years. After about 2 years, I was like fuck it. I was doing rehab, but I decided to get it Fixed. It took a lot of weird engineering stuff. I was inventing stretches and positions that I could put mechanical load to the joint without putting compression on it. I have all these weird hanging wrist stretches, keeping traction on the joint, and other stuff to keep it moving. Obviously I was doing strength at the same time, but also at strange angles – working wrist curls with the shoulder in extension, shit like this.
Eventually, about 2013 is when I could hold a handstand again. It took 3 years, as it was end of 2010 that it happened. It took 3 years to get to the point where I could hold the handstand. When I say hold the handstand, it’s very interesting. On one side, the body was very straight and normal. On the other, I was avoiding loading the corner of the joint with pain. That took a very long time to get over.
I could do it, but one arm was like a rainbow, and the other was like a stick. There was no real pain. As long as I followed the program that was very logical. I would do 3x30s. Next week I would do 4x30s. Then 5x30s. Week after I’d take a week off. Next week I’d do 3x40s, just working up that way without trying things. That lasted me about 6 months. When you’re doing just 3 sets of handstands every training session for 6 months, then I was like, I’m back. I could get back to trying one arms. I had the confidence.
I came in at a very nothing level, feeling like nothing was working. Then I spent 3-4 months working on it. Then everything was kind of back. I could do one arms and everything again. My weight was massively down, as I decided to lose loads of weight. When I moved back to Ireland almost 7 years ago, I was down to 80 kilos. I was trying to see how skinny I could get, or maybe not eating due to lack of having a job.
That helped a lot. The load in the body was down. The training was done. Everything was kind of low. That kind of worked in my favour in this thing, to get the skill back up.
I remember at EDC 2015 was when I had peaked back. I had most shapes available on the right arm. After that I started traveling and stopped training consistently. That was nightmare mode, I gained a lot of weight, and now I’m back to the start.
MK: How it goes.
EL: With the injury, it works like my early warning signal of bodily inflammation. If I have not slept well, or right now we are upgrading the site as some of you have probably seen, we should have done that at the start.
Hold on – I need to do a segue. As you probably, or hopefully, noticed, we had a whole new website made. Our design team, Charles and Sophie, our designer and developers, have done a fantastic job of making the new thing. Everything is all integrated, the back end, all the programs are nice. The solution we had before was a bit rambly. Very good, we had something custom built because we could not get the functionality we wanted at the time. Now we can get the functionality on a WordPress back end, so we could build a whole new site and implement the exact design we wanted.
If you guys knew how hard the design team and develop team worked behind the scenes to get this running the last month, particularly when we tried to port the site, and what should have been a very quick job ended up taking 30 hours of not sleeping. Shout out to Charles for staying awake that long and making sure everything kind of worked and loaded.
Check out our new site. It’s awesome.
While you’re there, on the topic of injuries, we have a free program called Grip. If you make an account you get the program free. It is very good to implement in training as general physical preparation for the forearms. It also gets you jacked. I’ve had people send photos of their forearms gaining an inch. That’s pretty good, that’s a result. Being jacked is awesome.
So yes, big shout out.
MK: You’re the expert at digressions today.
EL: Honestly, I haven’t slept too well in the last few days with all this going on. I’ve been supporting…Elise, my partner, is the brains behind Handstand Factory. She’s been manic organizing and coordinating all the themes. I’ve been supporting her, cooking, making sure she’s not too stressed.
Today, as you noticed I’m rambling a bit. I’m at the point where my short term memory stopped earlier today. I was looking at form checks and am normally pretty good at checking peoples’ forms. I like to think so; I’ve been doing it for a while now.
I look at someone’s video, figure out what I want to say to the person. By the time I scrolled down to type it in the box below on the software we use, I’d forgotten what I was going to say. Everyone’s form check might have 6-8 videos, so it was taking a very long time. My short term memory was gone.
MK: You need to eat and sleep. Fucking hell.
EL: I have come to that point in life, I think I just need IV infusions of adderall.
MK: With the amount of junkies outside your window, it shouldn’t be a problem finding stronger stuff than adderall.
EL: They’re all on heroin here. It’s probably good we don’t have crack or meth heads. They’re very in your face, and very risky. Heroin junkies are pretty friendly for the most part.
I wish no one was on this shit, but I’d take heroin addicts over crack heads any day.
Anyway, Emmet’s brain has stopped working. But. Back to what I was saying, which I’ve forgotten…
Back to injuries, I’d like to wrap up the show and talk about techniques and stuff we’ve done that have helped with smaller, niggly injuries.
MK: I also want to mention one thing. When you said technique, it’s one of the things that frustrates me a bit, when it comes to the topic of injuries. It’s very common with this notion that if your technique is good, you get less injuries. There is a drop of truth within that statement. I think most of the times when that statement is used, it’s absolute garbage. There is certainly a degree – and if you jump on a fucking trampoline, it is extremely relevant. If you have good technique and know what you’re doing, it’s less likely you land on your head.
When it comes to particularly strength or handstands, sure there are certain parameters that can help in managing injuries – being more stable means less violent movement of joints, and so on. It’s clear there is relevance there. It’s just very often used as “if you have good technique you won’t be injured.”
The half false claim of using less force when you have good technique is true to a degree again, but all these are very much things that depend a lot. I think that if you are capable in the area where you are used to working, and the areas around it, and don’t overstep your capacity, neither acutely or chronically, that is what is going to contribute to you getting less injured.
You can be fantastically excellent technically and still get busted. There are better hand balancers than me. My technique is pretty damn solid, and still, I got injured. I got injured doing things that I’m good at doing. It’s more about the tissues inside your body, and your nervous system doesn’t understand or care about what is technically good. It cares about force, and gravity.
EL: Capacity. If you exceeded your capacity, you are fucked. That’s what it comes down to.
I’d like to talk about a few techniques we have useful, either with ourselves, or with other people, to give you some ideas on how to manage injuries. The first one, as I kind of shared, is the Grip program.
If you constantly have tendonitis in the elbow, or it’s recurring inflammation, it probably means your forearms aren’t strong enough, or you’re doing too much work in the same plane, with not enough variety.
With this Grip program, it’s free. It’s general physical preparation for the forearm, training all the functions of the forearm – not all, but a lot. This will hopefully build up your general capacity, so when you go to your specific physical preparation for hand balance, you might have more capacity there.
Is it fool proof? No. Does it work? Yes. I have a lot of people who have said it stopped their injuries coming back. I give this a lot to beginners, and sometimes cycle in once a year for more advanced people. It’s a standalone and will fill you in. It explains everything.
Other than pimping that product, I have to give a shout out to the rice bucket. That is a good one. The rice bucket is literally as it sounds: if you don’t know, it’s a bucket filled with rice. Apparently you can do it with buckets of sand and other stuff as well, they’re very effective, but I haven’t tried them. Your mileage may vary.
Basically what the rice bucket does is, it allows you to basically do general physical preparation for the hand. You put the hand in, move it around in every single way possible you can think: extend the fingers, close them, make circles and waves with the fingers… I give people a set time, like 2-3 min a hand. That seems to work quite well.
MK: That rice bucket has saved me many times. I remember on tour and had some shit in the forearms and elbow, I used that for warm up before shows and it always felt really good. It gives such a different sensation and articulation in the hands, in ways that are really hard to replicate with other equipment. It’s so cheap and accessible, and simple. I usually liken it to swimming, except with your hands. There’s resistance in all directions.
If you go deeper into the rice, it gets more intense and you have to move more rice around. It’s a really nice one. If you turn your hand in various ways, or bend or straighten the elbow, you can also find weird places in your forearm that feel weird or annoying, and you can work there, but very softly.
In terms of injuries and load management in all this, a lot of the science is consistent on how you do need to load tissues, or it’s at least beneficial to load them to a degree they can handle when recovering. You want to increase protein synthesis, but don’t want to smash the joint or muscles that are having trouble. The good thing about the rice bucket is there is no impact. You can basically not do anything wrong when you put your hand into the bucket.
EL: The strength curve is very weird on it, it has continuous resistance in all directions and at all times. That’s nice for working slow and controlled on these things. At the same time you can argue it’s concentric only training, which has its benefits.
Everyone will say, eccentric only training is good for tendons. Yes. Concentric only is good for getting training volume in without too much stress. This is why you can do these longer sets. At the same time you have all the intrinsic muscles of the hand. The hand has a lot of smaller muscles we don’t really think about. Getting them to work is hard; they are slow twitch muscles unless you’ve got jacked hands. Giving them longer times can help get things going.
There’s also the simple thing of blood flow. Doing stuff gets the blood flowing, which increases healing. Very simple. The humble rice bucket gets a shout out.
The next thing is various massage things. I don’t know how much you use these things. I like them a lot; they’re great for an acute effect, all these massage devices like the Arm Aid, which is popular with climbers. I wouldn’t buy one because it’s a gimmick.
It’s pliers for your arm with rollers on it. You strap it to your thigh, there’s a clamp up that you put your hand into. You plunge it backwards and forwards, try to squeeze the shit out of it. It’s cool, but a bit weird. Climbers are a bit weird. In the best way, but they can be weird.
These compression type things are great for giving short term relief on these kinds of things. It’s like foam rolling. Compression can give an analgesic effect, very good if you feel a bit weird. This is where it gets very simple. I can kneel on my forearms. One of the ones I like myself are Voodoo floss bands.
I use them a bit on my wrist when feeling weird and acting up. If I come into a training session and it feels weird, I put it on and it feels great, and I can continue the training. I know it’s not an injury, but an injury-residual ghost image on the scan. It doesn’t really bother me. It gets rid of things very quickly. Using these bands for this compression effect is quite good. You compress, do some movement, get out, feel new.
You could say you’re moving lymph and fluid around. It’s questionable for anything worthwhile, but the compression side of it definitely does something. That’s pretty good.
What else have you found useful?
MK: For me, one of the main ones is when I was performing, *chuckles*, I was using a lot of this heating cream that had Ibuprofen in it. It has a pain killing effect. In general I’m not for training through pain and taking painkillers to do what you need to do, but in the situation I was in, you had 5 shows a week, were on contract, if things weren’t that bad I’d put it on and run through.
Several times I was even able to recover injuries during performance periods when using one of those. I don’t think I would recommend that in general, but it helped me at the time.
EL: The questionable liniments, like horse liniment for race horses in powerlifting.
MK: One of my main ones, and it’s very sensible, is warm up better. If you’re busted and going to train, warm up even better. You don’t have anything to fucking lose on taking your time. Make sure you are ready.
I like to speak about readiness more than warm up. Very often, warm up is associated to taking a 20min jog, and you do 20 jumping jacks and you’re warm because you’re sweaty. Warm up can be entirely specific for what you want to do.
To me it means gets your readiness on for whatever the hell you’re going to do. If I’m going to do one handstand, I don’t need high readiness. If I’m going to do a one arm, I need a bit more. If I’m going to fucking do flares, I need a lot of readiness. It’s very dynamic, uses tons of joint angles, and is super explosive. Obviously it requires a lot of readiness. For such a move I need to be much warmer.
Incidentally I was training flares today. I’m dreadful because I do them so rarely. I got a few better ones than in a while. It was loads about that there. I have an injury ghost as well in my hip flexors, the deep one in the back I hurt years ago. It doesn’t bother me at all. Once it gets tired I can feel it all the time, until I’ve done several smaller flares where I didn’t kick much. I had to do that several times before I felt ready to flick the leg high.
If I’d done that on the first rep, I’d probably have wrecked myself. Make sure that whenever a thing is going on, ease yourself into it. By easing yourself into it, you can know if it’s worth it to go for one more. You can sense whether or not it’s a point to go for the thing or not, simply by using some time before getting into it.
EL: Basically, warm up well. One big point as an overarching thing we haven’t touched on: listen to your body. Your body will give you loads of signs when you’re like, you can pay attention and notice, accept the message it’s sending to you.
You normally recover from handstands, and your wrists, elbows and shoulders feel normal a day afterwards. Whatever that baseline normal is. These injuries don’t come on suddenly, but gradually.
The benefit to getting injured once is you learn the warning signs for when it’s going to happen again. This is the big takeaway with getting injured.
The second thing is, you can watch out for these signs. It’s better to take 2-3 days, or even a week off, and do something different – active recovery or other things – than it is to be dealing with a wrist, elbow, or tendon issue for 6 months. There’s a difference between inflammation and proper tendonitis.
When proper tendonitis kicks in, it’s going to be a long rehab, annoying for a long time. It’s better if you can accept, and this is the OCD side of our training, accept you have to put the toys down for a bit. Step away, you’ll be able to go back sooner than you will if you kept ploughing through.
It’s going to ask you to stop, then it will make you stop. This is a big thing with injuries, particularly chronic ones. It will ask you to stop first, then it will make you stop. Learning to say yes when it asks if we can stop for a bit is very beneficial.
Unfortunately, most people have to go to the point of breaking first to learn, shit, this is it. Then it took you 6 months to get back. You don’t want to repeat that again, so you start to pay attention.
MK: It’s very easy when you are forced. But not so easy before, and that is the biggest and one of the hardest lessons to learn, that I also struggle with. It’s okay to admit that this is difficult.
I don’t play guitar, but I can imagine for a player who really wants to play guitar, it would be annoying. A little while ago when I was folding the thousand small birds, I got inflammation in my hands. I was folding so many a day, and also using my fingers on the phone, computer, and playing video games.
In the end I was like fuck, I can’t do anything with my hands because they’re busted. Just thinking about that, if my real passion was using my hands all the time, in that context, if I needed to fold more birds – though origami is just something I do occasionally –
EL: Says the man who has a 2x2m square in front of him right now.
MK: It’s only 1x1m actually.
It’s occasional, but when it happens, it happens. Right now it is all I can think about. It’s staring at me, the fucking paper. The gloating cunt. Those fucking transitional units. Rage.
Anyway, what was I saying?
EL: I think you were giving us a very good example of how you exceeded your capacity by folding 1000 birds, and that fucked your fingers. There you go, exceeded your capacity.
MK: I used the hands a lot on various things. Like everyone, you sit too much on your phone, swipe, send text messages and all that trash. All that plus all the birds, and suddenly the thumb muscle is miserable. Nothing different than my supraspinatus in principle.
EL: I have to say I’m very proud I’ve not got any Kaizo Mario finger related issues so far.
MK: The good guys get fucked hands. Just doing a few shell jumps in a row and flicking the fingers in that way, if you do all those thumb shredder levels, you must be super destroyed in the hands afterwards.
EL: Definitely. I think that’s a good point to wrap things up.
MK: Injuries are always an interesting topic. If any listeners want us to speak on specific injuries, you always have the Q&As and stuff like that.
EL: A good old fashioned ramble cast tonight.
So, just to wrap things up, coming up to next week – our last episode of the season. We’re going to take a Christmas break after that episode. If you have any questions, get them in and try to make it special.
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