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S2 Episode 52: Hands


In this episode Emmet and Mikael discuss everything relating to hands. Getting into the nitty gritty of how wide the hands should be and variations. What the fingers can do and how that can be different based on your body. Grip strength and its relevance for the handstand and more.

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.

S2E52 – Hands

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Transcript of Episode 52: Hands

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

MK: Normal, same shit, different day.  Can’t complain, etc.

EL: Same shit, different year.  For Rona…. It’s actually St Patrick’s Day, the Irish National holiday.  I’ve had a request to make up some Irish history, which I’ll do at some point in the podcast.  I’m sure I can come up with something.

16th of March last year is when we got locked down.  We’re in a perpetual lockdown ever since.  Happy birthday, Rona.

MK: Things are normal.  Standing on hands occasionally.  Not much more than that.  Some paper folding.

EL: Unfortunately it’s not a video podcast or we could show off your model you just showed me.  Mikael has engaged in King Ghidorah from…thing.

MK: It’s from some movie he was first shown in.  He looked like shit in the first movies; the paper model looks a lot better.

EL: That’s the thing.  The old Godzilla movies all looked like shit, which made it amazing.

MK: My friend and I watch garbage movies, and were doing a Godzilla-thon, though we haven’t really got around to it.  One of the Godzilla movies has my favourite title of any movie ever: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

Ghidorah is basically a giant dragon with three heads.  I’ve been folding it for a month now.  It’s extremely overwhelming because there is so much to do, so I’ve been chipping away here and there.

EL: You’re doing pretty good for a month.

MK: There’s not that much to do compared to some other models, but lots of figuring out because I have no reference.  It’s an enormous project, but very fun.  And frustrating.

EL: You should start doing watch parties for your trash movies with your friend.

MK: It’s basically what we do, watching them on Discord.  He was talking about getting more people involved in watching garbage movies.  Maybe we can do a thing with that.  The only thing is, everyone is like, “Haha, let’s watch garbage movies.  They’re so bad that they’re good.”  You have no idea what you’re getting into.  That is the problem.

Two friends said they’d join, and ten minutes into it, they’re gone.

So we’ll have a lot of people joining in who will have fun and laugh, but when we start actually watching bad movies, they’re all going to drop off.

EL: People hear trash movies and think The Room.  Try to imagine movies that make The Room look pretty awesome.

MK: There’s lack of talent on every corner.  Some of this shit is so awful.  Yesterday we watched The Films of Nanny Lynn, some obscure VHS tape that got copied by someone.  No one knows how it made it to the public.  Some old lady made it for her grandchildren.

It’s an animated movie and the animation is absolutely trash tier.  The story line makes no sense.  It’s not for children!  Little mutant monster boy created from antibiotics who dissolves in water.  Then they make a waterproof version of him that turns into a lizard, that turns into a cat because it’s so large.  Then the scientist makes a rocket with anti-antibiotics that it shoots into the cat’s ass to reduce its size.  Then he becomes friends with a cockroach that dies, then he eats the cockroach friend then starts to cry because he ate his friend.

EL: Sounds like a story a kid would tell.  “and then, and then, and then”

MK: Who the hell makes this shit for their grand kids?  However, we have a topic today, don’t we?

EL: Do we?

Today we are talking about hands, hands as feet.  We got some questions and get asked this through our own clients and everyone else.

What do we do with the hands?  What grip to use?  What grip to use on blocks?  How wide should I place my hands?  Finger stretching, finger strength, all these things.  We are going to delve into this today and get it rolling.

I suppose the most fundamental thing you want to know is: how wide should the hands be on the floor?

MK: Your hands are a pair of shitty feet basically.  They’re feet that suck to do their job.  The job they should do is pretty much the same.  When you stand on your feet, you keep the weight more or less in the centre of the foot.  But the foot is pretty good, the hands are pretty shit.

The foot is constructed to stand on.  The toes help you not fall forwards if you move too much weight there.  So on, same as fingers.

Width – it depends.  That’s our entire…punchline of all these podcasts.  It depends.  In relation to what you want to do.

The general shoulder width is a safe bet; it works for a large number of things.  There’s a reason for it becoming a default.  It’s the most intuitive thing to do: I put the hands on the floor, more or less right down.

When you see anyone try who has no idea what they’re doing, they tend to turn the hands a little bit out and put the hands maybe a bit wider, or bend the arms slightly.  It all makes sense.  The body is trying to figure out a way to do this, and that might seem like the most sensible way.  The body has some sort of understanding of carrying weight with slightly wider arms than normal, and a little bit of bed in the arms.

EL: The width question – it’s a weird one you encounter a lot.  One coach I had in school was very adamant that your hands must be 33cm apart at all times.  This is it, 33cm was his magic number.  For everything – gymnastics, acrobatics…

The reason why it was 33cm apart was because the cane spacing was 33cm apart.  Everyone had to do this..it’s kind of wide.

You do see this, the canes makes smaller peoples’ handstands wide.  Pavel Stankevich is an example, immensely good.  He balances his two arms in quite a wide hand position.  His hands are outside his shoulders a lot of the time.  When he transfers to one arm, he has to make a big horizontal transfer with the weight as much as the vertical displacement you would have for the one arm.

I’m using him as an example because he’s a machine.  Clearly it works for him.

There are generalities.  Generally, you do see people placing the weight roughly in the centre of the hand.  When you do a two arm handstand, the weight is slightly shifted towards the thumbs.

If you’re doing a one arm, it’s slightly shifted towards the middle finger.

If you push the hands too narrow, the weight tends to go towards the outside of the hand.  Putting the hands together in a handstand makes it bow shaped in the upper arms.  One arm is straight, one is bowed.

If your arms are too wide, it’s hard to maintain a handstand.  We have a handstand spacing that is everything from arms crossed to hands basically about double the arm distance (Japanese handstand width).  Within that space, you will find somewhere comfortable.

MK: Everything that has narrow hands, in terms of crossed or hand on hand or diamond gripped, those will be harder than a normal handstand.  You are reducing your base of support of your body, and have less space to move on.  You start experiencing more sideways shifting, which you won’t on a wider base.

The narrower the hands are, the more challenging the sideways becomes.  Past a certain level, the wider they are, the forwards and backwards balance becomes substantially harder.  Your base of support is a long strip that your weight is distributed over.  It becomes tougher to keep yourself above.

When you do a Japanese handstand, it can be tough to get up, because you cannot block the forwards motion as much.

With a very wide handstand, it’s tough to turn your fingers forwards a lot.  The thumb will be more forwards when very wide.  That makes it harder to apply pressure, since you might just have your thumb and index facing forwards.

EL: I always found Japanese were a bit more like handstands on straps or rings, for balance.

When I would do them, fingers pointing out to sides, and balance would be more in the shoulders and not the hands.  You see this in gymnastics when people do them on the floor, they tend to arch through the chest a bit more, not be as hollow.

MK: It’s a bit in the same way if you look at when gymnasts do inverted cross on rings.  Very few keep a hollow chest.  Most of the time they have an arch in the upper back, unless their inverted cross is perfect.  That is to allow the pecs to do a little work.

I can’t do it for inverted cross, but I definitely can for Japanese handstand.  That little chest out thing gets you an easier balance.  By the way, if you want to see the perfect inverted cross, check out Dong Zhen.  He’s a Chinese gymnast; there are clips of him doing both forwards and backwards swings directly to absolutely perfect Iron Cross twice in each routine.  It looks bonkers.  The lines through his arms and chest is ridiculous.

If you move towards the more general handstand, or what is looked up as normal hand placement, somewhere around shoulder width or so- my preferred position when I do a one arm and kick up to my regular handstand, it’s usually with the intention of going to one arm.

I tend to place my hands a bit narrower than shoulders, because it’s going to be a shorter travel distance as I tilt my hips and push through shoulder.

It’s not super narrow, but slightly more than normal.  I have had people comment on it.  It’s something I didn’t really notice.

If I do a handstand in any breakdancing related context, it will very often be wide, as I’ll be using bent arm stuff in it.  I might want to drop down into Baby Freeze or whatever, and having that wide position allows for more options.

EL: It’s not so much that there should be a set distance for your hands.  You should be able to hold a handstand, once past the beginner level, in multiple hand spacings, without too much challenge to your balance.  There are different things that are useful for different positions.

With Mikael, you have quite wide shoulders.  Even the bone spacing compared to your height, you’re quite triangular in your shaping.  So your hands do look narrow when you put your hands down, if I were to fixate on the shoulder landmark.

I’ve seen this with other balancers.  We’re using anatomical landmarks of the shoulders, saying it should be here or there.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be.  It’s more down to comfort and control.

Depending on what you’re doing – pressing, I keep my hands slightly wider.  I can keep them narrow if I need to, but if I’m going to rep them out, I take it slightly wider.  If I’m doing handstand pushup, generally we tell people to go wider on the shoulders.  It means when you externally rotate the shoulders and lock them into position, the effective leverage is better.  If you break down your triangle into angles, you will see the leverage gets reduced.  It makes it easier.

At the same time, if I use my normal handstand position on the pushup, when I come down, it’s incredibly uncomfortable.  My upper arms contact my body.

If I take a wider stance, as my body comes through, the upper arms have more space to move.  I can go full range of motion.

MK: It is good to be able to do a handstand pushup with narrow arms.  But it’s a weird one.  It depends on how you’re comfortable.  It’s easy to start to try to make an absolute out of this vocabulary, giving exact positions etc.  A handstand pushup is a strength move, and people do it with slightly wider arms.  That is more comfortable.

Narrow arms is possible.  It’s heavy on the triceps, I find.  It’s tough to keep a very tight body position.  Possible, but harder.

People might argue it’s proper because it’s harder.  Ok, but a diamond pushup is even harder.  Is that more proper because it’s even harder?  Or is it just because we have this fixated idea that this must be correct due to the architecture it seemingly creates and we adhere to it because of that?  Up to you.

EL: Handstand pushup is harder…no one really sells the reverse grip handstand pushup as the ultimate pushup, with hands pointing backwards.  No one says you should do that one because it’s the hardest one.

MK: You can go on like this forever.  In the end it comes down to the Federation again.  We’ve dictated these parameters are the “standard” ones.  Hence that should always be the standard.

Again, if we go into what is practical for different purposes.  It’s nice to look at what they do in gymnastics.  I’m not an expert, these are based on observations.

On floor routines when they do a press to handstand or similar skills, they often tend to have a wider hand position, particularly in floor exercises for Men.

It leads me…I would assume it’s also related to the width of the parallel bars.  There must be a standard measure

EL: There’s not a standard measure, but there are body measurements.  You can set the bars to move in and out.  I think it’s shoulder width plus one fist and two fingers.  That’s the recommended spacing.

If you use a shoulder grip on parallel bars and go to swing down through them, you’d get thrashed.  You need space to move between them.  Once again, it’s function.

What you do with your handstand dictates that, and what you do it on.  I’ve actually narrowed my grip recently.  The reason is because our floor boards are a certain space.  I always need my little fingers on the gap between the floor boards.  I brought my grip in consciously to not be annoyed at my little fingers positions.

MK: That thing with the parallel bars, using Men’s gymnastics, the likelihood that you do some parallel bar work, and handstand on parallel bars is quite highly likely if you do gymnastics.  It means it’s a position you will get used to, and something you might carry over into floor and use in other contexts.

On rings, it’s slightly wider than shoulders because they turn the rings out and into the biceps.  That will have a significant carry over for the purpose of training the handstand.

These things will start factoring in onto the discipline as a whole.

Also in gymnastics you use stuff like handstand pushup or planche as elements you get points for.  Both of which might, for many, be more comfortable with a slightly wider grip.  These things start to feed into each other.

Also, gymnastics- if you’re doing round offs, though I’m no expert, it’s rare to see someone wanting to set one up with a very narrow grip.  I was watching some slow motion break downs of a guy who did 4 1/2 twists to punch to 1/2 twist.  He does a round off and it’s so wide that his head is close to the floor, because he’s going to transfer so much power through it.  It’s fascinating to see.

In these contexts, you might also be used to this wide hand position because it’s useful.

EL: I remember we had a Cuban gymnastics coach who had been working at their Olympic centre.  We had our normal circus thing of “you must be completely arms straight,” “narrow width” for a lot of tumbling stuff.

He came along and was like, what are you talking about?  Take your hands wider, get ready to bend your arms.

He took his time in the early days of YouTube to find videos of people tumbling.  He was freeze framing all these Olympic gymnasts to show their arms are bending under load, for a split second.  Their arms are bending, then punching.

After that we changed technique.  The height I was getting off this after changing technique was great.  When things are moving fast, it’s not what you think you see.  You need to watch it either on split screen or slow-motion to see what’s going on.

Off topic.

Definitive grip and width is basically: find what works for you and try a lot of them.

It is a bit pedantic, but I once painted a line on the floor in the place I was living.  I put all the measurements in cm so I could exactly place my fingers at width.  Possibly a bit over the top, but then I knew,  The canes are spaced X, so I place my hands X wide, but prefer Y for parallettes…

You could do that, but don’t have to.

MK: Besides shoulder position it’s also hand position itself.  That is a huge question, often brought up and discussed; where the fingers should face, stuff like that.  There are loads of variations.

One of the principles we operated with for a long time is looking for the parameters, which are constant, and which ones aren’t.  Let us just be extremely dumb and definitive.

One parameter that is always present if you handstand is, the muscles of your arms are tensing to some degree.  If they aren’t, you are not doing a handstand.  This is 100% constant.

With hand position, it’s easy to say ‘your hands must be like this.’  Then if you can find examples in other practitioners who do otherwise, you can no longer say it’s an axiom or definitive thing.  If people are doing it differently, it must be a variation of the various things that are possible, rather than one that is particularly important.

There might be nuances within that, but I was surprised by how many strange hand positions I started seeing from really good people.  I thought things had to be fixed on how you place the hands.  Then suddenly someone comes to me to say mine are placed inwards.  Is it?  I had no fucking idea.  But I’m still pretty alright.

EL: A lot of the more common advice you get is ‘fingers must point exactly forwards;’ ‘your index finger must point to exactly 12:00.’ It’s a good base for experimenting.

But you turn your hands inwards, and if you project the line of your index fingers they point at each other instead of parallel.  I can find an equal number of people who have their hands turned out slightly so the thumb almost points forward, and the indexes to 11:00 and 1:00.

So it is a range of things.  I saw an interesting one on our story recently.  We put up your hand grip, that you put your hands in.  A lot of people who are training one arms tried it out, and got back and replied and said it made everything feel so much better.  They shared videos as well.

So that’s the thing, a lot is about experimenting.  Don’t make assumptions.  There’s a general case that fits a good 70-80% of the population, which is a good fit.  You do have to try what works for yourself.

MK: I think hand position is one that is most relative in this sense.  As we talked about before, the anatomy of bones, muscles – you cannot assume they are the same, because they aren’t.  This is a scientific fact.

A friend of mine from Finland was the first who had this extremely cupped hand position – this was ten years ago.  Basically her hand looked like a little pyramid when she does a handstand.  She was training in the circus hall, and I was like, what the hell are you doing with your hand?  Why not do it like this, the way I do it?

She shows me, she grips the floor, and her fingers just slip underneath her hands.  I have no idea how this happens, but her fingers are also extremely bendy backwards.  Her body’s natural choice was to have this extreme cupping of the hand.  It basically looked like an Illuminati triangle in her hand, and she would put her thumb underneath her fingers.

That’s the same as Morgan does, and he’s a total beast.  I find it funny when people tell you your entire palm must be touching the floor.  Okay, but why isn’t he?  Why is he really fucking good?

EL: I would have constant wrist injuries or something, especially training more full time, keeping my index finger down.  I changed to letting it come off the ground.  I only have the knuckles of my little finger and index finger on the ground.  The others go down if I’m going into over balance.  If I am back into normal balance, it’s off the ground.  That stopped all my constant little wrist issues, inflammations.

I taught Morgan that grip to see if it works.  And it works.  A lot of people who tried it, it works.

If I want to have a significant pressure through the first knuckle, what has to happen above the handstand to achieve that?  If I’m placing myself vertically…if we project a plumb line through the feet and the shoulders are the way we want, the arms are slightly off that plumb line, slightly diagonal.  The shoulders will be placed basically about the sweet spot on the wrist.

If you are actually going forward, this is where people either lean forward too much and constantly grip the ground, like intermediates get into.  Or, your handstand is too open and a mild diagonal curve, with significant weight in the first knuckle all the time, versus 90% of the weight into the sweet spot, close to the zone at the base of the thumb and wrist.

Then the fingers are sort of relaxed but ready to move when they need to, versus having constant pressure.  I think the pyramid grip gets around it.  I recommend to a lot of people to try it, to see if it works.

MK: It’s certainly a variable in the realm of possibilities.  It’s important to look at these variations as such.  When it comes to the hands, the hands being a shitty foot, it really is.  It’s one of the largest take aways of my understanding of how the handstand is supposed to work.

The better you get at it, the more it becomes like standing on your feet.  It’s very similar in how you place your hands.  The finger is almost half the size of your hand, which would be the toes, the latter being just a few cm in the front of your foot.  It’s rare that you place the weight towards the toes.  You rarely get tired In the toes by standing.  You don’t need to keep as constant pressure, from the distribution of the joint.

Again, the hand isn’t constructed to be the main kind of locomotive part of our bodies.  We haven’t walked on our hands for our entire life, unless you’re a child acrobat.  And guess what?  You find these child acrobats and they can do an hour handstand, because the joints are taught this as they’re brought up.

It’s relevant to look at the hand as the metaphor or comparison with the foot – it’s relevant in terms of how it more or less feels to balance on the hands.  The main difference is the twitching and use of the fingers will be relevant.

For the most advanced balancers, if you stay up a very long time, the forearms start to burn.  If you stand on your feet for a very long time, you won’t necessarily get super tired in your ankles and calves, because of constantly gripping the ground.  Eventually yes.

EL: A large amount of Qi Gong involves standing in one spot for quite a long time.  I can tell you, some of the burning I’ve gone through in legs and feet- when you push through a zone, the burning feet is a stage you go through when developing strength.  It literally feels like your feet are burning, from working so long.

To segue into feet, for people who work on their feet, like bars or restaurants, they have a thing called a fatigue mat to stop people getting foot fatigue.  They put it down behind the bar, like a glorified waterproof carpet, to stop people from standing on solid surfaces all the time.  It’s so tiring and draining.  So people do recognize this.

One thing I want to address that come and goes and you see a lot – you have to make the hand as big as possible.  Stretch out all the gaps between the fingers, pinky as wide as possible, thumb as wide as possible, to hold the handstand.

The logic behind this is to make the biggest surface area of the hand.

I’d argue: can you apply effective leverage when your fingers are stretched out to the max?  What we try to look at is not surface area, because then we could stretch our fingers even wider and wider.  It’s, how well can I apply effective leverage to my fingers, more so than anything else?

Try to grab a ball, think of gripping something.  We grip the earth, a really big ball…or flat disc, depending on what school of though you’re from.

You have to realize that when you’re balancing with the fingers, you don’t pay much attention because the fingers learn to do it, but they do different things when they balance.  It’s not the same action every time.  It slides towards my palm on some balances, or straight down into the floor on other ones.  They do different things.

Having a grip that allows that, vs spread out, stretched, completely straight, and hoping you survive on your tendons…it works, yes,-

MK: Ultimately what you want is to generate torque from the fingers, ie apply pressure.  If you don’t you can’t stay up for long.  Finger-less handstand is fine, but you will fall sooner from finger-less than being able to use your fingers.

I had a conversation recently about how to learn balancing.  How do you teach people to react?  He made a lot of the same conclusions as me.  “It doesn’t really matter how your body is positioned.  You just need to know how to react.”  We talked about it, and I said it’s basically the gist I use.

He asked how you teach people to react.  In relation to the hand, it doesn’t work to only train tons of grip strength and heel pulls.  But it does a lot.

The learning of balance will happen by asking your brain to try to balance.  When you kick up into handstand or do a wall handstand and try to move to balance, you’re asking your brain to try to fix a problem going on.

What you do with heel pulls and strengthening the forearm is giving your body the boundary conditions within which you can search for the balance more effectively.

If you ask a person to try to handstand for ten years with no direction, inevitably they will likely succeed to some degree or other.  But if you give it solid boundary conditions – conditioning forearms, shoulders, etc – you will allow that container within which you can learn to balance more effectively.

This is where it’s confusing.  It’s easy to think, I just need to try enough times, which is true…

Or I just need to condition enough, which is also true.  But looking at it as this thing that comes from two angles, and particularly in relation to the fingers.

In the beginning, you just need enough strength in your fingers to move your body with force.  Then people go, you’re just talking strength training.  No.  I’m talking about making sure your forearm has enough.  When it has enough, you use that surplus of energy to work on the task.

If you have just enough energy to push your body back from fingers, one single time, then your forearms are shot because it’s literally a 1RM for your forearms, guess what?  It’s tough to learn to handstand.  But if you build up the capacity to do a lot, you can use that surplus and ability to teach yourself to balance.

EL: It comes down to this – how strong are we?  Part of it is having the strength to do the task, but we need the ability to repeat the task.  This is a different thing.

The hands are part of the feedback mechanism of the body.  They give you a lot of the sensation the feet aren’t.  You’ll know, once you build up this repertoire and motor map, there’s a predictive mechanism.  When I feel weight shifting to fingertips from there, I must engage this mechanism to recorrect the balance to correct the task.  There’s a perception feedback action loop.  This is going on a huge amount.

Basically you’re looking to have the strength to do the task, but then how to apply the strength effectively, and in a predictive manner.

I have to be able to predict my corrections faster than the actual deflection of balance exceeds my strength limit to correct it.  Or it means we shift into balance strategies: straight body, go too far, use fingers, doesn’t work, deform the body somewhere to maintain the centre of mass over base of support…very simple.

The better you get at the predictive capacity, which is part of the sensory feedback you get from the hands, and the feedback of the weight and placement of the hands, the better you are at applying strength and the quicker you can apply it.  The quicker you correct balance, the more volatile your balance is.  It’s always wobbling a tiny bit, possibly imperceptibly to the outside eye.  The less strength you have to use, and durational effort of the strength you have to use.

If a beginner loses balance, they usually lose it in over balance.  They squeeze fingers, usually have enough strength to stop.  It takes about 1-1.5s of sustained contraction to move the centre of mass back over the balance position.

For someone who can hold a handstand, balance gone, quick pulse of the fingers for 0.2 s, and balance is maintained.  Balance is lost in the other direction?  Quick pulse in the other direction.

It is balance strategies that get taught in the hand, and predictions of the hand as well.

MK: I think, ultimately, your shoulder is almost immobile, and slight finger twitching does everything.  This is why working with an elevated shoulder position is effective.  In an elevated shoulder position, you put your shoulder in place.  You lock the pressure there, and work on the fingers, compared to a ‘looser’ shoulder position. Because that has a lot more movement back and forth.

The elevated position is effective for understanding what to do, because it’s simple.  You push from the traps.  It’s easy to feel the tension by your neck, or no tension there.  This could also be done in the arched old school handstand, feeling the pressure in the deltoids and keeping it there.  It’s all relative to where you place the body, have the pressure, then the micro corrections happen from the hand in the same way that if your hips are really stable, the correction from your foot will be very simple.

If it’s not stable, the correction from the foot would be a lot larger.

It’s ideal, but almost not realistic in its idealness, you are in the perfect state.  But you travel around it, entering and exiting this kind of nice space where only the hand does things.  The more fatigued you get, the more you travel, the weight gets larger, and you need to deal with things in other parts of the body as well.

EL: Sums up a lot of these things.  I’d like to move on to some questions because we covered a few already.

A question from Frederico: “Hi Emmet and Mikael.  I have a question about hand width in handstand.  I find if I keep them quite wide, index in line with the edge of shoulder, I’m in a very comfortable and stable position where the shoulders feel locked in place, not too shrugged or depressed. Even when I shift to finger tips it’s really comfortable.  But because I like even the look of closer hands, I tried it.  If I place them right under the shoulders, I find myself stacking much more.  I can’t externally rotate that much; everything feels harder.  Do you have any thoughts?  Thank you.”

With the handstand width, if we were to look at your handstand and the line the arms are making, they could almost be parallel.  Or when they go wider they start to make a triangle.  What we know about a triangle and these polygon forces, is it will converge at a point.  This will distribute points downwards, splitting some force into a horizontal vector, and some into a vertical vector.

This means that it’s almost like a pincer, two things squeezing at one point together.  That will mean some of your elevation force is reduced because it’s translated to horizontal.  It goes back to maybe the lateral stability and forces you get from the floor friction that helps to elevate the shoulders.

This is something you can feel.

You say it feels really comfortable, you really enjoy it, and it’s working.  That’s great.  But then you prefer the aesthetics of something else.

If you prefer the aesthetic of something – and people do this in circus all the time – “I prefer how something looks, because it’s an art, and we have to make choices about how we want our art to look.”  Sometimes that means the technique is inefficient because of the look you want.

You have to make a choice.  If you prefer a narrow look and that’s what you want for your handstand, you have to redefine your technique, work out the specifics of that aesthetic.  If you prefer what feels better, maybe if you were doing the sport of handstands vs the art and aesthetic of it, that is the better one to pick.

MK: This sounds a bit like an aesthetic question.  You’re asking yourself the right questions.  “I would like to do it like this” then you have specific sensations in relation to that.  If you want to have a narrow hand handstand, work on it.

For external rotation stuff, as long as you feel strong and stable in the position.  If you can shift to finger tip position and your line is alright, it’s likely your external rotation is fine.  It’s important, but I think people tend to over sensationalize it.  They feel for it too much.

If you feel your shoulders are strong and stable and it’s pushed up, it’s likely you are not internally rotating your arms.  This is what externally rotated arms are about, in my perspective.

EL: It comes down to exploration and preference more than anything else.

This is one we both have got a lot of times.  “Does hanging grip strength training carry over to handstand finger strength for over balance?”

MK: Oh boy, do I have things to say on that!  It might have, but I have…I can remember off the top of my head, two rope climbers.  These two girls who are both monsters in rope.  People who can do a swing to a full twist release of the rope, grab it back, and catch themselves without falling down.

I am sure if I did a hanging contest in rope with them, hanging from one arm, they would murer me.  Same with from a bar, they would destroy me.

Yet when I put them into handstand and had them try to balance, I assumed their finger pressure must be good.  I had them do heel pulls to feel the finger pressure.  I put them into a little bit of an over balance, then told them to apply pressure with the fingers.  Her alignment was decent.  But nothing happens.  “Push, really grip with the floor,”  “I’m doing it!”  I let her go down.  I told her she had to do specific conditioning for the pressure on the floor with the handstand and the fingers.

It was fascinating because I had such a clear assumption that this girl could literally crush stuff with her hands.  And yet, this pressure on the floor in this situation?  She cannot.

We’re not talking about the balancing aspect, but maximal pressure on the floor could not move enough of her body weight,  She did not have this ‘container’ within which she could balance.

This leads me, as in many other strength related situations, to move closer to the belief that strength is highly context specific and dependent.  Her being able to do that one incredibly strong grip feat does not necessarily transfer to another because joint angles are different, as is muscle pressure.  Ultimately it’s brain activity.  The brain doesn’t know how to do this certain thing, hence it needs to learn.

You’ll find situations where people have great grip strength that carries over quickly.  I’ve seen this a lot from people that lift weight and have done loads of bicep curls.  They have big burly forearms and can utilize that to some degree.  It doesn’t necessarily carry over but it might.

EL: Grip is one of the most context specific strengths.  Even in grip training there are all these different categories – pinch grip, hook grip, bars, thick bars.

It’s very common to have people with immense pinch grip, but can’t handle thick bars, and stuff like this.  Having a good base of overall strength in forearms is good.  Handstand has a ver specific grip, wrist position, everything.  It’s not so much a transfer, but your pathway to general physical preparation, once it catches up with specific stuff, will go quicker.

It’s not a direct 1:1 comparison.  Grip training, getting stronger, hanging from bars is good.  Will it make your handstand necessarily immediately better?  No.  It gives good potential for possible improvements in the future.

I remember when one arm hangs were going around.  A few people worked up to 2, 3 minute one arm hangs.  Their handstands were dying because their forearms were dying.  They could get 20-30s then suffered forearm death.  Very context specific.

Rotation of the hands: “I practice with my index finger at 12:00.  Bearing in mind my major challenge is getting out of a banana with more elevation and external rotation of the shoulders.  Would changing the rotation of the hands help?”

Maybe.  It depends on how long you are balancing for too.  What is the general flexibility of the shoulder?

I do remember one case of a girl in circus school: ultra flexible, great bridge and shoulders, strong, did aerial.  She could hold a handstand but whenever she was on the floor, it was banana.  She could do nothing to straighten out.

The second you put her on paralletes, Bam!  Textbook straight handstand.  I think I mentioned this.  It was an instantaneous change.  Blocks: fingers forward = banana.  Fingers to the sides = textbook.

It’s worth trying just based off an N=1 example I’ve seen.  Would it work for you?  Can’t guarantee it.

Once again, try and find out.

MK: In general, based off the little information we got with that question, I wouldn’t be immediately putting trust into the change of hand position.

You can change hand position by simply rotating the forearm.  You can also change hand position by rotating the shoulder.  It depends a bit on what is going on there.

Most of the time the arching and back related things come down more to shoulders.  Definitely something to try.  But unless there are specific anatomical things that make it impossible for a person to do a certain type of position, which we never know anyway without opening up the body, with training you are likely able to do a reasonably good handstand with good form, with a number of different hand and shoulder positions and rotations.

This comes down to just putting your fingers like this or that, just like how you can stand on the foot in various strange ways, when you have good enough control to do so.

You want your default, that you ask no questions about when you put your hand on the floor.  This is most relevant.

This might also change over time.  When I do one arms in my left lately, I found out I have a thumb I put pressure on the floor with.  On my right I don’t.  The positioning on the right looks identical but when I push with my right thumb it slides inwards and doesn’t really do much.

On the left arm it applies a bit of pressure on the ground.  Again, this is one body with two hands that have done more or less the same thing for ten years but they still have different habits.

EL: On that point, the body looks symmetric from the outside.  Internally it is not symmetrical, based on organs and everything.  The brain too has functions that are lateralized to different things on different sides of the body.  Dominant hands are better at different things as well.  It is possible or normal that different sides have their own strategies, based on how they are wired.

Last question for today: “My hands have a tendency to go into pyramid grip when doing the wide thing and some poses.  I tried to fix this as it’s considered bad.  I tried it again after discovering it was a real thing recognized by the Federation.  It seems better and easier to balance.  I’m still a beginner, freestanding for a couple of seconds at most.  Should I spend time working on the pyramid or continue with a more traditional grip?  Is it more likely to cause problems long term because of weight being carried on a smaller area?”

My experience says no, work with what works for you.  At the beginner stage the best thing is to spend some time trying out something for a while, then try something else.  By that I mean a month or two to see what works for you and have a comparison.  You’re still learning.  What might seem good in short term might not be good in the long term.  Not in terms of injuries, but limiting potential.

As your technique and control develops, you might prefer something else.  That is my take on it.

MK: Pyramid grip as in hands turned inwards and close?

EL: The claw.

MK: That thing.  Then I think you’re fine.  It would be interesting to do the impossible, have a large sample size of hands X-rayed to find a correlation aspect re joint angles and bone and all that.  These things have too many variables for us to safely know anything, so they are basically not worth looking into.

You just need to apply pressure on your hands, stand on them, that’s that.

EL: Comparing hand size from person to person can be unreal.  We had a friend a while ago who is the same height as my girlfriend.  We compared their hand sizes, and I think her hands were 2cm smaller on the fingers.  Same with finger length and palm size.

My palms are big but fingers are stumpy.  I have an equal ratio of fingers to palm.  Other people have more fingers, relative.

There’s a lot of variants in there, even if people are the same size.  That’s why you have to try these things out.

We will wrap up there.


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