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S2 Episode 43: The Line


To kick off 2021 and the first episode of Season 2, Emmet and Mikael discuss the handstand line. Looking at it through a technical, biomechanical, historical and anthropological lens.

In a change of format from the previous season, Emmet and Mikael will also be answering questions every episode from you, our listeners! This episode they cover: whether a beginner should focus more on line development or balance work, hand orientation in handstands and if developing a long wall hold will help with balancing.

We hope you enjoy it!

S2E43 – The Line

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Transcript of Episode 43: The Line

EL: Hello and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen.  How are things going, Mikael?

MK: Same as last year.  Not too different.  I can’t really complain.  My Christmas and New Years was excellent in my tiny home town of Norway, mainly spending time with family, my mom and brothers.  It was freezing cold all Christmas, lower than -25º for 7 to 10 days.

EL: That’s Celcius.

MK: Bone chillingly cold.  Something about the cold up there wrenches you.  I was walking a lot during the days it was that cold, because it’s intensely beautiful.  You measure the cold when it’s -25 by how much your skin hurts, and how fast you need to put your gloves back on before they freeze to death.

It’s been loads colder but it was really great.  Lots of beautiful mountain trips and all that garbage.  We went to some nice places.

EL: Our Christmas – more Rona, as usual.  We reopened Ireland.  Then they were like, oh shit, everyone is basically getting drunk and spitting in each others’ faces.  Now we went from the best in Europe for Rona performance to literally one of the worst in the world, par Belgium.  We have work to do to be the best worst Rona country in the world.

MK: Those of who you haven’t been to Ireland, they spit in each others’ faces.

EL: It’s not spitting, it’s more like people need to say, Come here and I’ll tell you something.  Then they lean over and spray you after a few beers.  Then they wonder why we have exponential growth after reopening.

We had a quiet Christmas which was nice.  That is what is up with us.

What’s up with you listeners?  Phone in right now and tell us.

I have some stuff to say.  We are now on Season 2 of the Handstand Cast.  We had a bit of a brainstorm over the break, asked a lot of questions around Christmas and took your advice, topics, other stuff.  We received some great ones, thank you to those who submitted them.

In true circus fashion, good areas are not made but stolen.  We are stealing your ideas and claiming we made them, so thank you.

Other than that, my big news is, we weren’t really charting analytics on the podcast until recently.  We were just doing it, we knew people liked it.  I had a bit of a look into it over Christmas, and ours is charting ridiculously high around the world.  We are breaking into top 20 in some European countries regularly.

We peaked at 160 on the Worldwide Apple Fitness category – this is all Fitness category, not podcasts themselves – Apple podcast chart worldwide.  For me, a thank you to all our listeners.  At the end of the day, everyone in fitness fancies themselves as a bit of a Joe Rogan and has a podcast.  There’s a huge amount of quality fitness podcasts out there.

The fact that our tiny handstand niche is peaking so high makes me happy.  Cool, people like us.  Thank you for your sharing and comments and all that.

MK: Now we have gone mainstream; we need to get weird again.

EL: We need to go more mainstream, but selling, like Goop.  We need Goop for handstands.  Hand steaming to make your handstand better.

Before we go mainstream and you can say, I knew them before they were cool, or they had gone weird and started supporting our alien overlords.  

On to the topic for today: we’re going back to basics.  Today’s topic is the line.  What is the line in the handstand, what is alignment?  What is the line, more than anything else?

I have some history I looked up.  It’s interesting because if I were to ask you, Mikael, what is the line?

MK: The thin line between something and something else…

Mainly, if the line is one single thing, I’d say it’s over hyped.  Just because it come together with this notion of or absolutist notions he idea that it is de facto better and no discussion to be had on that.  It comes with other connected ideas, that need to be picked apart and analyzed for what they are.  Then should be discussed in more of a descriptive way, what it contributes to and detracts from.

The main signifier for that is the fact that if you could not be good on your hands without a line, then it would be true.  It’s not.

You cannot be good on your hands without hands.  That is more relevant than the line.  If you have hands and shoulders, you can do a handstand.  That is number one.  The line comes down to choices, certain specific efficiencies.  But as you mentioned, history shows us it’s part of other things other than it being god given.

EL: We have to look at, first off, what is the actual line?  In the pure maths definition, it’s two points connected, forming the line.  If we think of the handstand line, one way is to draw some points on the body, or anatomical references.  Then we go, are these all on the same line?

This is it.  Okay, say the main pressure point in the hand – what is stacked right above, or very close to that?  Have we got that?  Shoulders, wrists, rib cages, mid points of ribs, pelvis, knees (weird because hyper extension can be tricky), ankles and toes.  Do they all stack on the vertical line?  This is what a lot of people mean.  

You could almost score someone’s handstand by the ‘Federation’ approved line handstand.  How many of those points are exactly convergent on the line?  That’s interesting, just to think about that concept.  The other thing is, the line..what we’re looking for to be balanced is we need half the mass of the body on one side of the line and half on the other side.  This is where we start seeing weird stacks.

With lines we’re not doing it in a segmented manner, where every time we move a unit of distance up the body, half the mass is perpendicular to either side of the line.  What you would see is, the ribs are out so they are on the other side of the line.  Something else up the chain is on the other side, so it’s not a 50-50 divide on either side of the line with the butt.  It’s more the butt is on one side of the line, the ribs on the other.  This would then become an un-Federation approved line.

But I think there is alignment as one thing.  Alignment in a handstand is when we can actually manipulate the centre of gravity in the shape we’re doing so it can align over our base of support and control it.  

The line is different to alignment for me.  We can have alignment, and if we look at the whole school of contortion handstand, they have very good alignment.  A lot of people are very aligned there, but they are not on a line.  They are very curvy and fluid; it’s always this dissection of fluid curvy shapes as wrong, because we imposed them on the human body..or got rid of them on the human body.  Only straight-line shapes.  You must move your joints to only 90º, shit like that.

Whereas, what we are looking for is to separate the difference between alignment and the line and get these concepts fixed in our head.  Particularly when we are coaching, and advanced as well.  It’s a lot of things to think about.

MK: The thing I usually say is it’s an artificial construct and way to place your body.  I find it very interesting from the anthropological side of things.  I recently got back into that, because it is fascinating stuff.

It is essentially a rule set, the symbolism of what is right and wrong, what you adhere to in terms of this framework and ruleset.  To refer back to history, I still remember one of the craziest hand to hand acts by two Russian guys.  It’s black and white, the flyer is one of the strongest people on his hands in history probably.  He basically reps out all the hardest things you can do in a handstand – pressing from Crocodile and all kinds of crap, Malteses, you name it.  It’s ridiculous.

You never see him in profile in handstands, only from the front.  It looks very nice from the angle.  You do see the shadow and he’s curving his one arm, and he curves his lower back in Maltese.  This guy can probably do a very straight Maltese if asked to do so.  

If this is possible, then it’s certainly something more than the de facto idea that it is better.  It’s quite classic.  We live in a society where we construct things out of straight lines and squares and rectangles, because architecturally it is effective for building houses and things.

Where the anthropology comes in, we look at those things and reimpose them on body thinking.  You suddenly start imagining that standing straight must be better.  But if you look at nature there are very few straight lines except stuff like crystals.  Most things curve and twirl, and they’re fine.

I think that remembering this is the foundation of it.  It’s rarely deconstructed and it’s interesting.  One of the reasons we started this Handstand Podcast and are interested in it is not just because it’s technical, difficult, fascinating and those.  It’s also something that to start looking at it and for the interesting questions.  I find that more and more fascinating.  It’s not interesting whether or not it’s more efficient to stand like this or that.

What I find interesting is, if you stand like that, how do you make this efficient, for example.  How would that make the various body responses happen?  Why is someone really good at contortion handstands tend to….

There’s a really good Mongolian contortionist, very good hand balancer.  It’s cool with him because he does all the flags and standard positions and is extremely flexible.  When you see him do a straight one arm, you can see that his shoulder position is more contortion than mine would be.  It’s very obvious to him and his context and body that it’s efficient.  Guess what?  He spent a lot of time there, so his one arm is equally valid as someone else’s.  But people say, he’s a contortionist so it’s okay.  Yes.  It’s okay for someone else too.

Then you can make more interesting and more informed choices on how you want to do things.  I don’t think it should be forbidden to do things a certain way because the hegemony of the straight line thinks as it does.

EL: This is what we have to separate.  With handstands, what is exactly needed to maintain the balance?  Is it actually needed?  Probably not.  To segue back to that shoulder position, it’s very interesting because when I first got into handstands, I was nerding out hard on figuring out all these things.

I remember researching in the Chinese style of hand balancing.  By researching I just mean I was dissecting every video I could get my hands on, dissecting them down frame by frame.  There was a change in Chinese hand balancing.

If you go back to a video I put up somewhere, they used to have an arch in the upper back, from around T1 to T4.  They’d have a closed shoulder line in their handstand.  They’d still do everything, and have this as their default shape.  

After a certain point, there was a change to the very straight alignment.  I was wondering what happened.  They could do everything.  Why have they gone like this?

It turned out they got some Russian or Ukrainian coaches to come in to teach that style.  Then they basically swapped it overnight in one of the main circus schools to having the shoulders more open and stacked.  It’s interesting that it changes, almost as a meme: this is the position that must be,  

What I find interesting is it’s an aesthetic choice to have a very straight handstand.  If you go back to Professor Paulinetti and his epic book, which we’ll link, all his handstands are curved.  On one page he has, the straight head through looking thing, push as tall as you can and look through at your feet – that’s basically the only advice you get on it.  Try it at the wall if you find the balance hard, as usual.  Then you get to do the straight handstand.

It’s interesting that this straightness became de facto.  Another book had the ‘aesthetic curving lines of the American handstand’ versus the straight European handstand.

MK: Maybe it’s the York hand balancing course, or the manual by that guy.  The three old books.

EL: When we start thinking about it, if you go back to original gymnastics culture and physical culturism came out of military fitness and prep.  If you look at some interesting anthropology Mikael can research, the Victorian era wanted to impose rigidness, straight lines and uprightness on the human body to get away from the curved, sinuous, animalistic movements of the uncultured Savages.  You’d have a lot of the original physical cultures and gymnasiums with formation marching as part of it, synchronized things where people are standing very straight and rigid, basically the military attention posture.

When people would handstand, I find it interesting why the curved handstand became the de facto.  They’d do curved handstands, walking, horizontal ladder, in the arched handstand.  Everything else they did was kind of straight.  It was a weird contrast, almost inverting our world.  When we invert our world view, the rules of the world go out the window?

MK: I think also, the intuitive handstand that a child does with no concept or idea of what else to do, will be arched, because of the body’s ability.  If you pickup a box and want to put it on top of a shelf, you most likely want to use a bit wider than shoulder width grip.  As you lift it you will bend your arms, likely arch a bit in your upper back and thoracic spine, so you can access your pecs and biceps, as you put the box on the shelf.

This kind of muscular pattern is also what you’d like to use if you put your hands on the floor and try to kick your legs into the air.  Your body knows it has some strength there.  This type of position is maybe safer than another type.  This type of shoulder shrugging and placing close to the ears, straight arms, so on, isn’t something you build up any habit to do through other means, unless you did this specific physical training.

It easily becomes the default position.  Then you have things such as handstand push ups, which relate a lot more to old school hand balancers and how they jump up onto canes or hand to hand, with a bent arm pressure deliberately to get up.  They’re totally fine because it’s where they have control.

I think I mentioned before, but I do believe the actual straightening of handstand didn’t come from handstand technique, but more from the wish to create dynamics efficiently like in gymnastics tumbling or hand to hand acrobatics when you want to do tempos, dynamics, flips and all that stuff.

Then your tool for acceleration is the opening and closing of the spine and rib cage.  That’s where you get the whip.  The most perfect example of that is trying to do a round off.  You pass through a handstand position.  At the very point where you do the pike and whip the legs and push off the shoulders, it’s where you really need to move from an open to a closed position.  Unless you’re really strong and coordinated in this placement, the straightness of the body is going to be difficult.  Maybe even more clearly when you do swings on rings or parallel bars and really want to do giants, you need to be able to maintain a straight body and drive through heels and toes, so on.  That is inefficient when doing it with only an arch.

If you are working in disciplines….handstand intersects all this so it makes sense.  If you get good at standing there, of course the people from high level sports researched and found out how to produce force from which angles and directions at which moments, it makes sense the shoulders have to be open to X degree.  Then things become more academic and studied, and boom, you have it.  That fed back into circus and so on.  Don’t quote me on it, it’s just my assumptions.

EL: If I think about some of the oldest circus photos from the 40s and 50s, you see a lot of people doing the default straight handstand, a huge amount did not have posterior pelvic tilt.  They were not aiming for this front caved position you associate with a perfect technically straight.

The arm would be overhead, but if you’re standing on the ground, positioning with everything stacked above the shoulder, it’s interesting that things slowly, one thing becomes another.  Dish is default, abdominal training exercise in circus world.  Dish becomes preferred thing instead of line.  It becomes a peak shift, almost, where people try to overdo the line, make it over straight.  Then the handstand looks like it arches because they pushed the shoulders into off the mechanical vertical line of force, to get the shoulders and arms to be exactly vertical.  We’ve talked a lot about this in the past.  

MK: Too open?

EL: Yeah.  I think this year, I spent more time telling people to close their shoulders than open them.  A lot of people I”m coaching are quite flexible and they’re learning one arms, so they default push up and back instead of pulling forwards as well.

But I’ve spent a lot of time telling people to close their shoulders this year.

MK: I had a client recently who had a lot of work to do on that.  Her nemesis was tuck, because she kept opening shoulders further.  That was where her body was comfortable carrying weight.  In the end, we got her to close the shoulders, she got strong there.  Lo and behold, she pressed to handstand.

That is also…if we’re going to get more…now we’ve been hammering on lines like you should disregard it, but no you shouldn’t.  There are reasons to use it.  For me, one of the main reasons is press to handstand, in conjunction with it.  The wrists health you can, you don’t need to lean as far forwards in presses to handstand, or corrections of under balance, if you are mastering the straight line handstand. 

That is why, the hierarchy goes like this: if all you want to do is stand on your hands, do it however you want.  If you want to get really good on your hands, or even past moderately good, then most likely you’re better off learning straight.  If you can do that you can do arched as well.  It will help you towards positioning you need and want when doing press to handstand.

Having that straight shoulder line allows you to use hip flexibility as well for press.  If you don’t have the shoulders, you can be murderously flexible in the hips and still need to lean.  I’ve seen that 100 000 times.  You still need to lean loads, because the shoulders can’t stack regardless.

One of my friends is an aerialist.  She has the craziest pancake and splits I’ve almost ever seen.  She is almost splat completely.  It is absolutely perfect.  But she is a million billion years from pressing to handstand, because she doesn’t have that strength.  She can’t planche and her shoulders can’t stack in that position.  When she goes to handstand she struggles to stack in a normal handstand as well.

It’s very important, if you want to take handstands seriously.  Again, if you make the choice from informed understanding, at least you’re not building dogma on something that doesn’t need to be dogmatic.  I guess that is maybe what we’re both trying to get to here.

It’s really good, but it’s not a god given rule by any means.

EL: When it comes to shoulder configuration, which leads to a lot of these alignments, for me and the people I teach, we have 3 shoulder alignments that I seek to master in people: Mexican, straight and scorpion shoulders.  Obviously people have proficiency and tendency towards one, and this will dictate the skill sets and other stuff.  I want people proficient in all three positions – open, perfectly vertical, closed.

This gives you basically the whole main families of handstands and alignments.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to talk about the technical parameters of the line?  How do we get the line?  I want to make my line good; how do I get it?

MK: Starting point, you need some degree of shoulder mobility so you can stack the body over the arms without having to angle the shoulder too much forwards, nor having the thoracic spine significantly to allow yourself to be on top of vertical arms, because they want to be vertical.  Then you’d like to not need to pull your sternum away backwards towards the heel of the hand.

What happens in a too open handstand is the arms look completely vertical.  It becomes a visible line from back of the wrists to the hips.  This is what people tend to look for, the line on the back of the body.  That isn’t what you’re looking for.  These handstands have a tendency for the ass to hang over, and there being a micro pike, or the feet hang over.  It arches from the low back.  

This is when people tell you, close your ribs!  They don’t understand that closing the ribs by default means closing the shoulder line, to some degree.  You need to pull the sternum backwards and close the shoulder line to some degree.  This demands more power from your shoulder flexers and trapezius, to maintain that position.  There are many components that come from basic mobility.

People do this drill of stand against the wall, lift your arm to the wall, okay, person can and therefore should be able to do the handstand in the same position.  No.  You need to carry your entire weight and coordinate the body and joints and so on.  There is a gap between the two I see many times.

EL: There’s an interesting one.  When people have this too-open handstand, the shoulders are too open, even subtly.  If they don’t have the mobility or flexibility to open the shoulders correctly, the handstand arches in two different ways.  

So with the person whose shoulders can achieve the line and go slightly beyond it, there is the line from the back of the wrists and forearms, all the way back.  Their handstand arches and the butt sticks out, generally around the lumbar spine.  Then they pike and the ribs are out on one side.

If your shoulders aren’t too flexible, you lack shoulder flexion strength, or are incapable of physically coordinating the line, generally you see what looks like the arch generally happening in thoracic spine.  That’s one way to look at it.

If your spine is tight or looks straight – these are clues as to what is going on.  It’s interesting with the too-open line.  If you drop that perpendicular line I mentioned through the main centre of pressure, you will see 1/4 of the body is on the over balance side.  3/4 on the under balance side, up to the point where that arches and changes over.  We have that S curve in the body to keep the balance.  That’s one thing to look for.

One thing to look for in terms of the base things of getting the line, the main section of the line, is generally going to do with the lats and pecs.  Mainly the lats, and a bit of pec minor for most people.  This is what will allow you to get your arms overhead in the correct position.  This is one of the key areas people need to focus on – stretching the lats out.

At the same time, one thing I discovered or paid attention to, if we want to be hand balancers, we look at external rotation.  Your physio comes to check your external rotation, and rotates you down.  You have 90º of external rotation, your forearm will go down to the floor beside your head.  Generally I’ve been finding that people who go overhead need a bit more, to go 15-20º beyond as a baseline.  That will contribute greatly to them getting the hands up over head.

If you find you’re stretching the lats, you work on external rotation, get that beyond the head.  A baseline to look at is the forearms should go past the ears.  This is one thing to try out that can be the limitation.  The other thing is, if you can lie down on the floor or against the wall – check my YouTube for a field test on handstand mobility that will tell you what’s tight – if you can get the testing and everything touches the wall but you still can’t do the handstand, then it comes down to strength and control.  Then, you can display a perfectly straight handstand at the wall, but it immediately goes to shit when you come off…what’s going on there?  We have a control deficit.

If you can do it straight, the body has to do some configuration arrangement to rebalance the body, because it cannot find the verticality and straight line-ness in the aesthetic we want.

There’s much more going on to displaying a straight line.  It’s a reason I teach it more than anything else – because it has this nice control of flexibility, strength and coordinative capacity to go against your body’s natural tendencies, in an inverted position.  That’s one of the main benefits.

Your body’s tendency is to do an arched handstand with relaxed legs, feet reacting to the balance to help control it.  No, we force you to learn to do it in a very inefficient manner to start with.

MK: I remember when I started teaching handstands ten years ago, my first couple workshops, I didn’t have tools for making people understand.  For my own sake, it never felt like I needed to ‘pull my shoulders into position.’  I put my hands on the floor, kick up, and roll automatically on top of the shoulders where it’s comfortable for me to be.  That’s how my shoulder is constructed and always seems to have been working.  

I saw for people it’s really hard for them to get there.  What is the joint doing for you to get on top?  If it is not easy to automatically get there, because I could no longer assume it was a technical issue.  Regardless of how I explained it to several people, they would have it seem to be technically unsolvable.  The best test of any is, if someone feels it is extremely scary or impossible to do a tuck jump to handstand.  That is where it started for me.

This girl, what she’s saying that she will fall on her face when she does a tuck up – it’s not a joke.  She will fall on her face.  When she put her hands on the floor and I offered to spot her, she said she didn’t dare to.  I jammed her shoulder with my knee and had her jump up and she does a massive snake jump and her shoulder goes into my knee, significantly.  

She was obviously right; this is not what she could do at the moment.  Her flexibility in the shoulders was pretty good, from lifting the arm and all that stuff.  Then I saw, there is no power in the shoulder to support through this journey upwards.  I did some tests of tuck handstand by the wall.  That was also a no go.  I need to find a way to strengthen this alignment or flexion, where the entire body’s weight is resting on the shoulders.  It is extremely specific, as most people who train handstands know.  It matters very little how much you can barbell lift.  It’s highly specific to the discipline.

It’s very important to get drilled on the specificities of the handstand strength wise, and understanding, like we talked about in the strength episode: if you cannot do a tuck jump to handstand and feel you are going to fall on your face, you need to work on mobility and / or strength.  What is happening is there is not enough energy from your body in the various angles or muscles to carry you upwards through that range.  So you need to build that up.

Then from the other side of the aspect, you increase your flexibility so there is less energy needed to travel through this range.  No one is stopping you from working both.  You can never know exactly.

Loads of people think it’s flexibility.  This one guy I’m working with now had such stiff shoulders.  I thought he needed to stretch loads.  It was back and forth.  Then he had a break from coaching and came back, what the hell happened to your handstand?

I don’t think he really stretched that much more.  It was just like his body was slowly but surely adapting to getting strong enough in these muscles to let this pattern that we’re looking for with shoulder flexion take over for the other pattern, that is leaning more forwards.

EL: I’ve changed a lot of the shoulder flexibility training.  I don’t do a huge amount of stretching compared to what I would have had people do 4, 6, 10 years ago.  Now I just focus on getting shoulder flexion brutally strong.  That seems to fix most issues.  I’d say 80% of the training is focused on shoulder flexion and external rotation strength, those planes.  20% is probably classic stuff you associate with stretching.

That seems to work much faster for shoulders.  Other stuff is 50-50.

I think we covered the line a lot, or bitched about it a lot.

MK: I’d like to say one more thing that’s conclusive about the line on my part – when we speak about the line, it’s more about the mechanical line.  Basically, where the centre of mass is in relation to your hands, and how effectively you can not break your shoulder line in between those two points.

You look at where the hands are, where the shoulders are in relation to the hands, and the hips in relation to those two.  The feet are less relevant to this, and you see that with the pike handstand and tuck handstand.

You will see a perfectly straight line from hand to hip, then the legs piked or tucked.  But the line from hand to hip stays the same, except it goes diagonal when weight is moving outside the centre.

This allows us to use the same set of muscles to keep the handstand, pike handstand, tuck handstand, and press to handstand, with the same function.  We don’t need to change shoulder placement significantly to change between these.  That leads us to the point where we do one arm handstands and falling into under balance will destroy it immediately.  It won’t happen as easily because you’re always using the same set of muscles, same function, to get the job done.

That is why it’s efficient as you allow flexibility to play a role.  You work in a position where you minimize the variables, the risk of destabilization of the shoulder, and you’re teaching your shoulder to work upright in a specific area, rather then having to planche when you get into a bit of under balance.

If that is your tendency it’s going to be tough to maintain the positioning unless you’re brutally strong.  It can also be very taxing on the wrists to constantly shoot shoulders a lot forwards, rather than responding higher up in the chain through the hip, and keeping the stack in the shoulders.  

EL: The straight line handstand makes your handstand volatile, changeable.  If something is volatile and changeable, it needs less energy to move it around.  In terms of that, you trade against stability.  The more stable, the energy it takes to get moving.

Think of a ball versus a pyramid.  If you try to tip a pyramid over, it’s very stable, very wide base, very narrow point.  It won’t roll without a good kick.  If you think of a soccer ball, the lightest tap will change the direction.  It is very volatile.

Think of a physics ball; it’s got a single point of contact to a plane.  It’s this idea that if we get our handstand very straight, we have a high centre of mass, possibly the highest we can get going.  

When it wobbles and there’s perturbation of balance, we can correct it very quickly and efficiently.  We can also sense them very quickly.

In an arched handstand we are more stable.  What happens when you’re learning something and don’t know what you’re doing?  Your body wants to create stability as much as possible.  What will it do?  Default something.  If you’re on something wobbly you lower the centre of mass, arms out to the sides, stability created.  What do we do in a handstand if we don’t have stability or the ability to stabilize, or the control?  We drop the centre of mass.  We arch somehow or get more muscles involved to be more efficient.

There’s a lot going on in the straight.  To say it is the one true handstand is completely wrong.  But it’s a worthwhile handstand to learn.

MK: that was a good rant.

EL: Strong start to second season.

We changed the format of the show slightly as well.  Instead of having separate Q&A episodes we are going to do them at the ends of episodes.

If you would like to send us a question, DM them to us on Instagram, use the contact form on the website.  Send them to me and Mikael as well.  You can also go to Anchor.FM and find it on the website as well, HandstandFactory.com You can send us voice notes and we will definitely play all of them – they are cool and it gets me to justify my equipment.

MK: Help Emmet justify buying more equipment, because that is his pastime.

EL: My goal is to justify buying a Shure SM7 FMB.  I want it because it looks cool; that’s the only reason.  Please justify this for me and my gear addiction.

The first question is, “For a beginner, what is more important: chasing the line, or staying balanced?”

MK: They are both important, but there doesn’t need to be a separation between those.  If I’d choose, because your enjoyment from your practice should be from the doing, rather than the inevitable forever length chase for perfection.

If you’re able to enjoy standing on your hands, that means you have to balance a bit off form, that’s more important.  You can very simply and easily work on both at the same time.  You work on balance free standing, your form is a bit off.  On the wall it’s pretty good.

Then you do both, and look for the sensations you get from the wall where you strengthen yourself there, and try to apply in the real context, more and more, the better you get.

Just like a kid who learns to bike with training wheels, gets really good at that, tries a bit without them.  It’s not as stable but with practice it comes along.  In the end you remove it.

Take your time and work on both.

EL: You see this argument, which of the two is more important?  Both.  Both are important.  Balance is a separate skill.  It requires some baseline of strength but it is a skill, in and of itself.  Developing strength, coordination, flexibility are different skills as well.

These things need to be worked on at the same time.  They have different importances at different stages of your training, but when handstands sprung into popularity in the general fitness and Crossfit world, it was like, “everyone must get 60s chest to wall before learning to balance.”

People would have 5-10min chest to wall yet couldn’t balance because they never trained the balance.  Or they might have a 20s handstand and think they need more conditioning.

It’s all important.

Next one: “Rotation of the hands.  I practice with index finger at 12 o’clock, bearing in mind my challenge is getting out of a banana, with more elevation and external rotation of the shoulders.  Would changing rotation of the hands help?”

MK: Sometimes.  Most times, I haven’t seen that significant changes happen from the hands.  I think the hands can be more placebo than other things.  You place the hands differently, oh my, it worked a couple times, and must be because the hands.  Maybe.  Sometimes.  Try it out.

It’s highly up to the person.

EL: It depends  on how you get the rotation of the hands, would be my answer here.

I can externally rotate from the upper arm, or have it come from the wrist out of the lower arm.  These are two very different ways of rotating the arm.  One of them you externally rotate the arm from the upper arm, then place it turned out, then yes.  That could help.

Maybe you lack some rotational range of motion in the forearm, so you could be..we do have the grip program on the site for free with lots of exercises for strength and these rotational directions of the forearm.

I remember in circus school, an aerialist who had a handstand always arched and banana on the floor.  But then you stick her on blocks, turned out like two fingers, and parallettes, or bars, and the handstand would go perfectly straight.

Even with spotting or anything, she literally couldn’t, the second you let go she defaulted immediately to the arch.  You put her on a thing, and boom, straight.  So maybe it’s a thing to try – try some parallettes maybe.

It could be more skill.  More stretching.  Try them out, see if it helps for you.

Last question for today.  First, a shout out to Dario who sent this question in and bought us three coffees.  One for me, one for Mikael – we save Mikael’s coffees up, by the way, and buy kilos of powder when you visit – one for Elise, our producer.

Thank you so much for the coffees.

“Would increasing the capacity on my chest to wall handstand with proper alignment help with balancing?  Talking about 120s+.”

MK: Not sure.  One thing, if you want to stay really long: do your really long set, stomach to wall and don’t touch the wall until you have to, then force yourself to stay longer.  That is one way.

EL: I’d be keen to know, what is the failure point of your handstand and what starts to burn first?  Your shoulder elevation and protraction?  Defaulting to a closing shoulder point?  Or the forearm burn taking over?   Are the corrections getting super heavy?  These are two different things to work on.

If it’s the shoulders and losing alignment, then forearms are fine.  Mikael is saying, that would be good.  You lose balance because shoulder line broke and you can’t correct under balance.  You go to wall, rest a second or two and re-establish the stack.  You see the shoulders wobble up and down, often in beginners.

They can do 60s on the wall but the shoulders are pulsing up and down from 30s.  It’s maintaining the stack, fatiguing, building a high amount of lactate in there.  It’s getting the endurance or tolerance to the burn built.

The other thing that is interesting is if you find your fingers are breaking down, working on blocks and other stuff is quite nice.  You can get longer holds but less demand on finger strength.  They can relax.  Learning to relax the fingers and forearms.

At the end of the day, endurance in these ranges is tied to strength.  Getting stronger fingers will always help.  Careful not to do too much; it’s always easy to do too much.  A little goes a long way in strengthening the fingers when doing a hand balance practice.

One day a week on grip strength and general physical grip strength, not even handstand specific stuff.  Might as well get grippers, fat grips, mix it up a little.  There’s many resources online for grips.

That is our questions for today.  We have got a lot of voice notes over the break as well.  Just so everyone knows, we’re categorizing all the questions we received, voice notes and everything, to start going with the episodes we have planned.  

We have a plan for what we’re doing.  And a schedule, rather than turning up on the day and wondering what to talk about.

Some of the things coming this season: some more guests, some cool topics, some repeat topics, technical episodes, rambling episodes.  Epic.

Other than that, I am Emmet Louis and here with Mikael Kristiansen on the Handstand Cast.


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