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S2 Episode 45: Shoulders in the Handstand


In this Episode of the Handstandcast Emmet and Mikael discuss what they mean when talking about shoulders in relation to handbalancing. Going into detail about physical cues for using your shoulders, as well as how the shoulders operate in two-arm and one-arm handstands. They also answer questions relating to external rotation in a handstand and expand on the different shoulder positions in advanced one-arm handstand shapes.

We hope you enjoy it!

Want to have your say on the Handstandcast? You can now leave us a voice note here with your Q&A questions for Emmet and Mikael! If you have any specific topics you’d like us to cover, or want to send in questions for our Q&A episodes, please get in touch via our contact form.

S2E45 – Shoulders in the Handstand

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Transcript of Episode 45: Shoulders in the Handstand

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

MK: I am drinking a manna potion, so basically just recovering my glorious powers, after a very mediocre handstand session.  Other than that, not much news.  Starting to prepare another big piece of paper, the biggest in years.

EL: The 2x2m?

MK: Yes.  A pain in the ass.  And a lot of back pain because I have to fold it on the floor and it becomes intense suffering in the lower back from all the sitting.

EL: I think if Japanese people spend a lot of time sitting on the floor and doing this, you should really suffer and get into the art form.

MK: very few people bother folding…even 1x1m is pretty big.  Usually it’s much smaller and you can have it on the table.  My table isn’t even big enough for a 1×1 in the room.

EL: What you’re saying is you have aspiration goals, and everyone listening in has to send us more money so we can buy Mikael a giant table.

MK: Before that, I need a massive fucking room to have the table in, which means an apartment.  So please send me all your money so I can buy that.

EL: If you build it they will come.  If anyone has a 2x2m table, or possibly 2.5×2.5, so there is room to have the sheet on it, and wants Mikael to live in their house… let us know; we’ll send him on his way.

MK: How about you Emmet?

EL: I’d like to say I have left the position I was in since the last time we recorded a Cast, but other than going up to the windows to look at some junkies shouting at each other, that’s about it.

Lockdown is continuing, probably another 6 weeks.  Please send help.  If someone wants to liberate me from Ireland, just drop in, parachute rescue, live out your Princess Bride fantasies…I’ll wear a wig, that’s fine.  Get me out of here.

MK: We need a castle in rural Ireland.

EL: We can’t even go buy places because you can’t view them at the moment.  Everyone is stuck even if they want to move.

Today’s episode topic is shoulders.  What do we mean by shoulders, or they have shoulders in handstands?  We won’t do a lot of anatomy; you can look that up yourself.  We are more interested in the idea of what are shoulders, when we say it in hand balance?  It’s an interesting thing.

You want to be strong but in the right ways, for how we want to train hand balance.  At the same time we have this idea that we want it to be easy.  One of the ways I always explain it to people is, you want to turn your shoulders into the ass of the upper back.  Your hands are now your legs, your shoulders are now your ass, your shoulders maximus.

MK: The analogy is extremely apt.  First of all, if you relate it to stuff like the midsection, core, etc, you want the exact same relationship as when you stand on your feet.  You’re not doing anything significantly different in your midsection when you stand on your hands or feet.

Your fingers function like toes.  The forearms are like calves, and so on.  Of course there’s a difference in the ‘knees’ as they move in the opposite direction, but essentially you want to same type of stability of structure as in the legs.

When you stand on two arms well, or two legs well, it’s very similar.  Doing a two arm handstand anywhere for someone very experienced and ready to do it at the moment, it’s a very simple sensation.

The standing feels like ‘just standing here,’ and that’s it.  I was thinking about this earlier today, relating it back to martial arts.  I used to do karate for ten years.  If you look at most of the eastern martial arts, and grappling, a lot of stuff has to do with the hip.  You make sure you’re relating everything back to the centre of the body and hip area, and how you move that.  It makes sense.  That is where the stability is coming from.

The hip in your handstand is your shoulders, the main area you need to solve quite many issues.

EL: Hands like feet, shoulders like hips, everything else goes on top.  This is the foundation of your handstand.  When we have shoulders, better ones, it can mean the shoulders are almost non reactive to everything that happens upwards of the scapula.

I want to bend my waist in a certain direction.  The shoulders maintain their position up to a certain point.  Like the hips.  I want to hinge forwards, my hips travel backwards.  I want to pike handstand, my shoulders have to travel towards the fingers, because the legs operate in the other direction.

Same with all my leg movements, I want them to basically not affect the shoulders.  It’s interesting to observe, and you can tell how good your handstand is by watching you do a straddle to a tuck.  This is a thing I look out for, that the balance happens at the finger level when you do this transition or these positions.  As you do it, the shoulder line should not change.  Maybe a bit more diagonal, but it’s still stacked in the same relationship.

It shows that if the shoulders are non reactive in this manner, it shows the under balance strength or flexion strength;  This is what we want.  If we think about shoulder flexion as hip extension in this model, it’s basically the ability to maintain hips in an extended position without showing some postural deviation.

If we think of all our kyphosis, lordosis, all these things you see in postural standing models; when someone has shoulders, they don’t display these kinds of models happening in the handstand when changing between positions.

MK: Not going into the anatomical details, but when you think about shoulders as a general idea, it’s easy to think of the shape of the deltoid as it.  Of course, there is a lot more to it than that.  You have like 17 muscles connecting the scapula.  The shoulder is comprised of the entire scapular area, the humerus, and clavicle…tons of stuff and loads of muscles.

It’s this entire complex and moveable joint that we refer to when we speak on the shoulder in handstand.  It’s not just a big looking deltoid; it’s not about that.  Usually people who are good at handstands get pronounced deltoids from spending a lot of time upside down, sure, but the entire area is very involved.

There’s not much point getting too fiddly about all the anatomy details.  Like we discussed in the anatomy episode, there are varying sizes and shapes of acromion etc.  Unless you have X Rays or MRIs of yourself you can’t really know how they look or how it all expresses as you do it.  You can’t make any assumptions based on looking at how you look.

If you lift the arm overhead, what happens?  That is the level we are at when working.

The idea that it’s the entire joint in its combination we talk about here.

EL: Yes, it’s the deltoids, but not just the fascial connections, or bones, or neck position – it also deals with the software.  How well can you control your shoulders and place them?  What happens because of shoulder placement?

I’d like to talk about some other shoulder things.  You said something interesting the other day.  If you push correctly through your shoulders, they will achieve the right position we want them to be in.

We were talking about how much elevation or internal or external rotation…

MK: That is a good example.  Yes there is a degree of external rotation happening when you try to lock your arms in a position that is more or less close to what we want for stacked handstand.  You externally rotate to a degree.  For some it might help to think a little about it, but trying to micromanage and focus too much on externally rotating the arms overhead, it’s not in most cases necessary.  If you lift the arms and flex them overhead to the position you want, you elevate your shoulders, what is going to happen for most people?  On average for the joint it’s a more effective way to lock the joint in flexion.  The amount you need will happen.

This is also something that touches on a lot of this.  This type of training intersects with sports science, and that’s where people like to dissect it a lot, including us.  Trying to dissect it too much might also be detrimental.  The body is pretty smart and solves the issue of staying there itself if you allow it the time, space, and methodology to do so.

In general, focusing on scapular elevation, using trapezius, is on average a safer bet than starting to fiddle an enormous amount with positioning.  As you get better and into more complex movements, there might be more to add to it.

At the beginning, making sure you elevate the shoulders when you stand on them is a safe bet.  No one will be worse off by trying to elevate their shoulders.  Then again, if you push so high that you feel you have to grimace, you’re probably pushing too high.  There’s a degree where it’s simply too much.  You spend more energy per second than required or needed to do the same thing.

EL: The elevation thing catches people out a lot.  It comes from gymnastics more than anything else, massive elevation.  We have to look at the context for that.  The context for maximal elevation generally takes place on high bar where you don’t maintain active shoulder position.  You maintain a pushed away for the Giants swings.

There becomes a shift effect, people say maximal elevation to get as high as possible.  What I’m thinking more for elevation, and it’s changed a lot over the last while, is you are consistently elevating your centre of mass from the ground, via the traps going up.  While you push into the ground, you also raise your centre of mass up a certain amount.

Once the centre of mass is lifted, it’s a sweet spot for everyone.  Then you are generally in a handstand zone and it doesn’t need to go much higher than that.

Once you feel you’re literally pushing away from the earth, arms are staying down as a pillar, below it, everything above that point is going up and being lifted up via elevation.

This is why you can see people, even one arm, with different shoulder positions.  If maximal elevation were needed, everyone would have maximum elevation.  They don’t.  There is a range and people choose to do a bit more or not.

When you see this whole shoulders touching ear thing, or high as you can cue, it can be good when you’re starting and learning to max out a cue.  “Point your toes” – point them as hard as you can until they cramp to feel what it’s like, then get in between.

Eventually you want to titrate down to the sweet spot.  You are floating above the balance point and elevate off it.  For me this gives the balance of the vertical up and down forces.

If you actively carry something you can change its direction and control it easily.  If something is just resting on you, like think of someone leaning on you v you and a friend in active balance, counter balancing each other.

They are similar but not the same.

Same idea here.  If I’m not lifting my centre of mass up and it just rests on me, we get into the idea that the shoulder might start to develop ‘power up the outside,’ the classic resting on the shoulder joint, and the arms are slightly bent, making an arch shape, with shoulders forming in a capstone.

It’s useful to be able to do it, but it’s a dead end for handstand skills.  You’re actively resting on the joint, but not under control.  People who are flexible and good with movements, like people in yoga, resting on the joints.  You have good control of leg movement there, but presses and one arms are a dead end at this point.  Everything is going to the outside arm with the leg, rather than power up the inside which is what we want for more advanced stuff.

MK: In terms of elevation, there’s an important distinction, where if you compare the maximal possible elevation versus the perceived sense of elevation, for a beginner, it’s very similar.

If you’re not strong on the hands and unused to lifting body weight with scapular elevation, any kind of push will feel like a lot.  You will feel that you have to push as hard as you can to maintain position.  You will push “too much,” but for the person it will be appropriate to the time.  The person has only two gears, 0 or 10.

When you get stronger, you can literally move your shoulder up mm by mm, slowly, and back down.  Then you start to become able to find the place where it’s comfortable or too high or low.  What we want to look for, if you want to cue yourself on this, given you have the required flexion, see yourself from the side and make sure you’re staying in as decent shape as you can.

See how low you can literally depress your shoulders in handstand before you start seeing significant change in posture.  It might arch or planche, or similar things.  Then you try the same.  Push as high as you can.  If you start to end up in a too open handstand where the feet go past the line, or chest goes out, or it just feels like you’re starting to burn through more energy per second than you need, that is too high.

Finding some sort of middle ground where you feel that you’re using this big ass trap muscle for what it’s worth because it can do a lot up there.  It’s a main work horse so make sure it does something, but in a range where it has control to go farther up or to lower a bit.

If you are at maximal point, you strain a lot and you likely won’t have the ability to have much control.

As you said, referring to gymnastics, another important element of maximal elevation, is they rarely stay in handstand for a long time, it’s just 2s to have it qualified.

If you do a round off or handspring, you want to make sure that explosive pop and power that goes through your straight arm and shoulder elevation as you used that dynamic, it’s very pronounced.  Then you need to be trained to push out to that degree.  Then again, it comes down to this, what we use it for.

EL: If you watch gymnastics, particularly men’s, when they do a handstand on the floor or pause it to get that static element, they normally have their arms quite wide compared to where we place them for hand balance.

Obviously this is a bit of a function of gymnastics floors being hard to balance on.  Many of them will be slightly over on fingers to make it easier.  Their straight line is straight, but tending towards over balance.  They don’t really elevate the shoulders super high.

How do you make a handstand very stable for a short period of time?  Lower the centre of mass, widen base of support.  Particularly on soft spongey floors that kill rebalance ability.

MK: You also see the too open handstand.  Quite often, and there is a specific reason why it’s an efficient position in handstands, when they come up on P bars.  You stop your handstand and as you initiate the down swing, it’s by pushing the shoulders out to get the feet behind so the swinging goes maximal.

The essential thing about shoulders is all these have to do with where you place the shoulders.  The various postures you’d be doing with your body would largely be up to the placement of your hips.  Of course you can slouch or arch the upper back, but to maintain balance, if you do a larger upper body movement it has to be counteracted by the hips.  It’s a natural reaction for the body when we’ve walked on the legs.

We have the knees to bend, the waist to move sideways, giving us amazing ways to respond.  If someone comes over and pushes you in the shoulder, you do a very complex coordination of moving the body in the exact motion needed to not fall.  If there’s enough power in the push it very likely involves the hips.

As we talked about before, the cueing of sneeze your butt and tense core won’t do much unless it’s complemented by shoulder movement.  It’s never a fix for arched handstand, but understanding the need to put the shoulders in a slightly different position.

This can have to do with flexibility.  A lot of stuff on under and in side of shoulder can also be unused to using these ranges and too tight.

EL: I enjoy watching peoples’ backs when doing a handstand.  If you look at the scapula muscles and look at what is going on, particularly if you have a very good straight handstand.  Look at all the asymmetric and symmetric vibrations, the muscles pulsing on and off very quickly to maintain the balance.

It counter points the thing of people saying make your body and glutei as tight as possible.  That stuff is happening all the time, consciously in feet and hip level when standing.  At the same time we have it happening in the handstand.

This is part of the handstand process, installing handstand 2.0 software into your shoulders and fingers, so they can actually sense minute balance changes and correct them before it becomes a big change in balance.

For beginners, balancing with shoulders, when learning to balance or going into one arms as well – they’re holding a handstand, but the shoulders are moving back and forwards in concert with the balance, it’s reacting to the big swings, opening and closing a little or a lot, bobbing up and down.

It’s a phase lots of people go through when learning, but it also has to be eradicated as the smaller muscles of the body get stronger and more precise in their corrections.

We see these big ripples or waves of balance that come up.  Shoulders go, or hips, something reacts.  There’s a point where you can hold a stacked handstand in whatever shape, but the shoulders are still very active, almost controlling the horizontal rebalance.

Remember Dr Helgi was saying you can balance a horizontal pendulum by moving the base of support horizontally.  This happens a lot, back and fro, side to side, with the shoulders until things get calmer in there, or faster.

MK: I’ve had several clients lately that are able to press to handstand but struggle to stay in handstand.  There is this distinct thing, they are good “in front” of the handstand, meaning if in a half press they can stay with brute force.  The shoulders are flexing hard enough to keep the position.  As soon as it reaches handstand position, we get these large swings back and forth, it becomes erratic and difficult for the shoulders to maintain position.

Sometimes these can do with technique; if you don’t have an effective way of getting there, that causes this to happen.  What we want is this idea that it goes from these larger swings into micro twitches and pulses.  In the end, they become very similar to standing on your feet.

If you stand on your feet and someone pushes you, you do this coordination and fix it but have on idea how.  Or if you walk outside on ice and slipped once.  Somehow my body throws one arm and one leg out to the side, and in a millisecond I’m rebalanced.  I don’t know how I did it, like I don’t know how I balance on two or one arms anymore, because it is ingrained.

This installation of the software basically requires us to have a conscious approach, understanding the shoulder needs to go here, I have to try to achieve this and so on, there is a conscious intellectual process.  Then the practice, and this is important to understand for shoulders and everything, it is a sensory process you teach your body.  You need to allow the body to be in a sensory state as you’re learning it.

If you think too much you’re not spending the time optimally there.

Having simple cues: go into handstand, elevate shoulders, stay here calmly – can be enough.  Instead of: elevate the shoulders to externally rotate them, pull my sternum back, pull my toes ……….. all these things.  You might be better using a wall when working so many details, so you can engrain them without having to think of it all at once.

EL: I just had a very funny image while you were talking.  Imagine a baby trying to learn to walk.  Instead of letting them get on with it, we micromanage them and make them do face and head pulls off the wall.

It’s very funny, but we have to do these in handstand just to build the strength and conditioning in a timely manner and give you rough tools to learn to balance handstand.

A lot of the balance and shoulder 2.0 strategies just happen by doing it long enough so you have enough chance to be in that state.

MK: A child is trying to walk on a bone and muscle structure that is very evolutionarily adapted to the job.  It watches its parents and everyone around it walk, so it will try to do it.  It doesn’t need any exercises.  But imagine that.

The problem is keeping the centre over whatever we stay over – the hands – will be very similar for the walking baby and us as adults.

EL: When I teach someone the one arm, I give them exercises and drills based on what I think they need to work on.  But my idea is trying to create the experience of balance, and loss of balance, as much as possible.  That is what eventually gives them the ability to balance.  It’s not so much that X and Y are rebalance drills…

Same with two arm handstand.  There are 4 rough ways you lose balance with your shoulder position in a handstand.  The reality is there’s an infinite amount, there are just micro details of the same thing.

MK: For shoulder stability, as I mentioned before, I’ve gone through a more significant shoulder injury of my career the last year or so.  It’s been up and down, back and forth.  The interesting thing is it’s rather painless.

I’ve had several previous ones where it hurts a lot to do some things, so you just don’t.  This one is an issue of…I got it checked and there is a supraspinatus tear.  It’s not major; I can deal with it.  I can still do a full flag and one arm press, so it can’t be too bad.  But it’s not comfortable and it varies.  This is why I’m taking proper care to get rid of it.

The point is, there is a distinct sensation for me, who has done hand balancing for so many years.  I’m so confident in many of these one arms and so on.  It’s very interesting and disturbing and frustrating when a thing cannot be done, simply because there is no stability.  I don’t feel any weakness, there’s a point where the joint cannot do its job properly.

You literally feel this strange wobble, distinct from making a mistake.  It’s not falling out in this or that direction, but a disconnect at a certain point.  You float out of it.

I felt it today, doing a few handstand push ups, which I hadn’t done a lot of lately due to this.  I felt strong, almost like before.  But, I was wobbling on the way up and down.  When I made it to handstand on two arms, I moved way more than I should.  It’s obviously way more connected.

I do it enough times normally until I tire, then it stops and I fall.  That’s how a handstand push up will fail for me.  Here there is a strange sensation of the arms almost being straight from handstand push up, you’re just not locked into full handstand.  You feel the shoulders traveling back and forth in a strange way.

My software is obviously very trained for 12 years, it knows very well what to do.  Here there is a hardware failure in a very specific place, which I would assume creates a cascading effect of things not functioning.

People who train handstands at any level go through similar things.  Most of you just beginning, don’t think you have the same issue as me, stopping you from a two arm handstand.  I just thought of it, and speaking about shoulders.  The Physio did a scan on my entire shoulder and from seeing the bicep tendon he assumed it was intact enough.  But that was that small tear, but infraspinatus and the rest were fine.

He said that loads of clients and athletes have a similar injury and experiencing a drastic loss of strength or ability, like throwers.  They grab the ball and try to throw it hard, but it just isn’t there.  This is such a clear thing when a little tiny thing isn’t functioning as it should.

EL: There’s a good phrase people generally use for squatting and leg size: You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.

What they’re saying is you need big legs to be really strong.  A canoe is inherently unstable.  I did a canoe course over the summer, which is weird to think about us getting to do.  By saying I learned to canoe, I learned every way you can capsize a canoe, and nearly died one time.

Canoes are inherently unstable, but very maneuverable.  Same thing, if you go too strong with your stroke, you fall over.  It’s the same with the shoulder.

Someone wants to throw a ball really far – the cannonball.  They have no stability in the canoe, so the shoulder won’t allow it to happen.  It’s probably the same as you were talking about.  You can’t do your heavy tricks because your canoe has a hole in it.  Plug that hole.

MK: The analogy to the hip is kind of pretty strong.  The hip is a really sturdy joint because the entire capsule.  The interface between the labrum and the actual head of the humerus is a lot smaller.  We have the rotator cuff that needs to deal with the stability of the entire shoulder.

From my experience, most people who injure the shoulders from handstands, it’s the external rotators that take the hit.  It’s been the case for me, practically all the times I’ve had injuries.  Most people I know have had similar.

Rotator cuff is highly specific so loads of things can give similar symptoms and so on.

Very important to know, handstands are ultimately about control of this joint.  That is how you get good at handstands, having good control of this joint.

Of course the hands and fingers are balancing, but the job the fingers learn is exactly the same, from day 1 to 100 000.  It’s squeeze the fingers when force comes forwards, and don’t sneeze the fingers when it doesn’t go forwards.

Of course you need more and better control on one arm, but you don’t have to learn much to respond with your hand.  Simply respond with your hand.

But the shoulder needs to be placed in a very specific way for various things, and to maintain that control as you change shapes, for example.  When you go to one arm, like a straddle to tuck or flag one arm, they know very clearly that you just need to keep the shoulder there at all times as you do this motion.  Same for presses, other things on two arms.

It’s essentially keeping the shoulder in the position you want it to be in, for the movement you want to do, whether a handstand pushup, lower down to planche, one arm, two arm, whatever.  It’s keeping the relationship between hand and shoulder as constant as possible in a hand balance context, with the least change of the shoulder placement in whatever you do (except planche).

And handstand pushup!

EL: Interesting thing with corrections and maintaining shoulder position – when correction comes through the hand and travels to the shoulder, you want it to go straight through it and not get stuck and make the shoulder vibrate, causing more corrections.  That’s a key thing to look at.

With that, we should move on to some questions.

First question, a voice question from Federico:

“Hi Emmet and Mikael.  Thank you for all the information on your podcast.  I have a question about external rotation.  Is it possible that, regardless of what I do with my shoulders, if I don’t think about externally rotate, I cannot stay in handstand?  If I think so, it becomes the easiest […] is it possible?  How much should you externally rotate in handstand?  Thank you.”

MK: Refers back to what we spoke about in this episode.  I’m not 100% clear what is meant, but of course, if you can’t handstand at all if you don’t concentrate on externally rotating, but can when you externally rotate, that is what is happening and it’s relevant for you.

I did hand balancing for many years, many years, before I started researching what was going on in the shoulders.  It’s something I never thought about until like 5 years of handstands.  It’s not a Necessary cue, as long as…if you have the required shoulder flexion and elevate properly, by default you externally rotate to a degree.

I like to say, elevate the shoulders, avoid the internally rotation of arms.  If you avoid internally rotating, you are likely doing the amount of external rotation required to do a handstand.  Most people, if you grab your scapula and lift your arms overhead, you find your infrapsinatus is tense.  If you internally rotate your arm above head, it softens a bit.

We’re both waving our arms around on the podcast.  I’m still in Sauron’s tower, and Emmet is on the Death Star.  These are our backgrounds.

EL: No we are literally on them.

MK: To what degree should you externally rotate?  Again, if you lift your arm over head and externally rotate as much as you can, you will notice you will not be able to maintain the same kind of flexion, because the tension on the supraspinatus will make it very hard to keep the actual flexion of the arm.  Externally rotating too much will bring your shoulders forwards which is not what you want.

You want to lock the joint in an effective position, and your supraspinatus and infraspinatus’ job up there is to lock the joint in the position, in an externally rotated placement.

To me, it’s not too much worth over thinking.

EL: The quickest field test for how much external rotation your shoulder personally needs is to hang your arms down by your side, make ..basically hold two pens to see it.  Let the arms hang directly in line with the torso.  Hold two pens in your fists, they should point parallel.  If they turn inwards, maybe that’s too little or much, if outwards.. that gives a baseline of neutrality in the shoulder.

Lifting the arm overhead and replicating that position, then push, elevate, and see how it feels.  That will give you a baseline to start from.  From there, you just have to internally rotate the forearm to get the hand placement.

That’s one fiddly way to do it.  When people say “I must maintain external rotation,” and “how much?”, I’m more interested to see what happens when they don’t do it.  A lot of time they might be losing the push and opening the shoulders too much, causing them to internally rotate.  I see that a lot, that kind of position.

The power up the outside position as well.

It is once again your body and your choice, you have to figure out how to make it work.  There are always guidelines and generalities, but you have to get what works well for you might not be the cueing that works for someone else.

MK: On average, elevate your shoulders.  Make sure you don’t allow the elbows to escape a lot out to the sides.  Internal rotation in handstand will usually be accompanied with the elbow rotating outwards and arms bending.  That will be the most effective way of staying in handstand with internally rotated arms.  Again, don’t overthink it.

EL: Cool.  Our next question is a good one, it wraps it up nicely.

“In one of the episodes, Mikael and Emmet reference different shoulder positions in regular one arm position, straddle one arm, flag one arm, figa.  I’d be curious to hear more about that.”

MK: That ties neatly from what we just spoke about.  When you start doing one arms, there will be more…thinking about externally rotation a little more on the active side, since you want to centre the arm more underneath the hip.  Of course you have way more pressure on the arm and it can move in all kinds of planes, and so on.

For…I usually, unless you also add the contortion family, I speak on four different shoulder positions – straight for all the straight one arms, one arm straddle, tuck, diamond, legs together, all kinds of variations where your body is slightly diagonal, your shoulders elevated solid, and you have a diagonal body.

If you stay in that position and move the legs into various positions, that should ideally not move the shoulders so much or the body.  The body and shoulder positions should be similar.

The basic position wants to have the shoulders on a more horizontal line, so we keep the free arm also elevated.  The hips are tilted, the shoulders pushed out, the free arm also keeps the shoulder elevated.

The Figa version, then you push much higher in the balancing shoulder.  You see on people who do Figa, the free shoulder will be up on a diagonal, above the other arm.  You pike and twist at the hips.  You need the extra high push to get your legs low, it’s a secret of Figa.  You don’t just pull the legs low, you actually push higher in the shoulder too, to allow this.  This is why doing a legs together Figa is a very heavy thing.  That’s the position where you need to maximally elevate your shoulder.  If you don’t you will have a miserable time.

Then you have flags.  They’re varying on different people.  Some, depending on rib structure and side and back flexibility and all kinds of things, some people can maintain the arm very close to their heads and bend neatly at the hips.  The shoulder position will virtually look unchanged.  You will usually feel it in a different way, as if the shoulder is sinking, even though you elevate very hard against it.

Some people will have to bend their arms if they go too far.  Some might keep the arms straight and move it away from the head.  You see very different structures there.  Some of the most beastly superheroes, if you see a full flag, the arm is a little bit away from the head, kind of diagonal.

Then you have the Press variation, similar to a flag.  Since you pike at the hips there is more demand on external rotation than in flags, in general.  If you have a crazy good pike, you negate that significantly.

That shoulder position, you have to reach a lot with the free arm as you pike, to counteract the forces of the legs starting to come down a little bit in front of the body.

It’s hard to explain without loads of diagrams and an entire episode just on that, but that is kind of the gist of it.

EL: One thing I’d like to add as an observation.  The higher the shoulder, the less the diagonal angle of the hips and spine.  It’s an interesting one when you start talking shoulder position and height.  It also depends on proportions, torso and leg length and all those things.  But if you can get the shoulder with a higher position, you need less of a diagonal angle and can be more close to a horizontal angle in the hips.

The lower the position and farther from ear – which is tricky to judge because hyperextension can mask this one – the more of a diagonal angle you have in your handstand.

That is my little contribution to that.

Also, if you look at people who can do Svetchka, Morgan as an example, Morgan Lee.  I teach it with a slightly higher shoulder position than other shapes.  It gives an almost weird reverse flag to it, because it flags inwards.  Tiny bit, not a lot.  I find having a straighter line along that side seems to make it balance sooner.

A lot of people I train don’t post videos.  Post more videos guys.  Harry Banks has one you can see clearly.  The curve most people have between the hip and the waist flattens out along that side.  It’s a side effect of the shoulder position, just what you need to get the required push to hold the Svetchka.

MK: It can certainly be effective for that position because you have the arm up by the side as well.  You have very little weight on that side of the body.  If you start going into a flag shape in legs together arm up, you have problems.  It is really hard to catch.

Being able to keep this very precarious zone with a very high shoulder push is effective for that position.  It will also depend a little on the person, but on average, legs together arm up is very inconvenient.  It’s rough to do with any kind of flagged or dropped shoulder position.

With my shoulder injury there have been days where it’s bad and the shoulder can’t elevate and push, you can see it doesn’t look like it usually does.  There is a hang in the shoulder.  Every time I see it, I can’t really even…it’s like, huh, what is going on?  What is this?  I’ve seen a million videos of myself, but suddenly there is something not right here.  My perceived effort of elevation is the same, but the body has a different max.  It cannot elevate to the normal point, just lower, but it has the perceived effort of the same.

EL: Yeah.  Shoulders.

If you want to submit some questions to us, send them @HandstandFactory on Instagram, or directly to me or Mikael.

If you want to call in, find us on Anchor.FM.  Or on HandstandFactory.com and there’s a link to the podcast, which will take you to Anchor.  You can do a voice message.

As you know we have a new format for this season, grouping questions with episodes that suit them, so your question might not get answered week to week, but we will get to it at some point.

I have been Emmet Louis, this is MIkael Kristiansen.


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