Transcript of Episode 71: Morphology
EL: Hello welcome back to the Handstandcast with me Emmet Louis and my glorious handstanding handstand coach Mikael Kristiansen. How are things going Mikael?
MK: You ask me that every week Emmet.
EL: I know one of these weeks you’re going to surprise me and go, “Actually things are okay.”
MK: Yeah, yeah.
EL: I’m actually noticing now Mikael we’re doing this on zoom obviously. You’re holding your hands up over your head. And your left elbow for a moment was displaying hyper-extension. Look at that shit! Are you feeling okay?
MK: I am stretching them. So, they’re making some improvements. But first, to reply to your question about how things are going. Yes, we played Vault again in Denmark and that was glorious so that I must say was pretty fucking sweet and a great response by a lot of people in the business and so-on so that was pretty damn good. Not 100% done with the show per se yet. But we did a very solid job there I think so it was cool to get to play that close to its full power level and see that it really works. And we got some really good feedback. So that was quite satisfying. Otherwise, I moved apartments. So now I live somewhere. Half my shit is still in boxes. And yes, one of my elbows is hyper extending a little bit which doesn’t help when your shoulders don’t fucking work like they did today. But hey, that’s handstands for ya.
EL: You have the post-show fatigue. I don’t know if you ever get this.
MK: I had a lot of boos in Demark.
EL: Let’s quantify Mikael’s “lot of booze.” You had one beer spread over six nights.
MK: Yes, my alcohol drinking is pathetic. I think my tolerance for getting drunk is not that low but my stomach gets upset super fast so I just generally stop way before I get wasted. I had basically Rhum every single evening for like four days straight and that’s probably the first time in my entire life that that has ever happened so that was a thing. And I’m wondering if it’s the aftereffects of that I was feeling both yesterday and today I was feeling like an absolute wreckage. I took two scoops pre workout, went to the gym and was like ok, I’m going to get some stuff done at least. But low and behold I did absolutely fuck all and went home and fell asleep on the couch. So much for that pre-workout. Most of it was bunk shit.
EL: It’s not the good stuff. They just don’t make pre-workout like they used to.
MK: I agree.
EL: I don’t remember it exactly, but I remember the legends of it because it just got banned. People were hoarding this stuff called Agent Orange. People were hoarding because it got banned because it basically it had literal amphetamine in it. Not even some kind of fake amphetamine. Literally like meth or something like that. Basically, just taking a party drug. I remember there was a bit of an underground thing in the gym in Dublin. Who had cases of it left. And would give you a can every now and then. Sell it to you for ten, fifteen quid when it was two quid a can.
MK: I’ve never had anything that strong.
EL: I can remember many, many years when I thought they worked, I got fat burners from Tea Nation that were horrible things. They had weird raspberry key tone taste but it was literally like taking a party drug. There’s no difference to it. Once you took double the dosage as everyone was want to do on these kind of things. It was literally just like taking cocaine or some MDMA. It was amazing stuff. All you see on TikTok is all the kids dry scooping eight scoops and ten scoops and shit and not dying.
MK: I was actually thinking about that today. Isn’t it hilarious that we are now in a day and age that we have a fucking App that has gone so far that dry scooping made it to mainstream media. Dry scooping of all fucking things! There are very few things that are as dumb but I shouldn’t speak, I’ve done it.
EL: You do it all the time!
MK: Not all the time. But I’ve done it a few times.
EL: Maybe put the video online.
MK: I did at one point. I did it again before one of the shows. Just for fun to fuck with the others. “Check this out!” and I coughed all over the place but then again I’m not scooping like fourteen scoops and get a heartache. There are levels of stupidity. And I’m still on the lower echelons I would say.
EL: You used to be on the top tier of stupidity. But stupidity is…what’s that quote? Stupidity is two infinite things in the universe, stupidity and space but stupidity is infinite.
MK: I would also say that the levels of stupidity are exponentially increasing in the same way technology is approaching this proposed singularity of technology advancement. And I’d say stupidity does the same because I’m old and you have to smash on the younger generation occasionally.
EL: This is the thing. Stupidity is not a generational thing. There’s people our age and older who are on these apps doing just as stupid things as these eighteen year olds. The eighteen years I give them a pass. I’ve done a lot of stupid things. I didn’t have a camera to record it fortunately.
MK: Now it will all be recorded forever.
EL: Yeah, it’s grim. Let’s move on before we go down a rabbit hole. Our topic this evening. We had a few questions on this one. Body phenotypes and body morphology in handstands. So, we’re going to talk about what shapes are favorable – possibly some of the kinds of things we covered on other ones like elbow hyperextension, cubital elbow – all these kinds of things that play into handstands.
It is an interesting one and I can even remember from my own thing when the first circus school I was in. I was like, I wanted to own that shit in circle media, back when I was doing the prep school to get into that thing, I was specializing in acrobatics. I wanted to do handstands. I was like, “Okay, I want to specialize in handstands.” And, the coach there was like, “Oh, no. Handstands are only for short people, you’re too tall, you have to base.” So, that’s how I got to basing. I was like, “Oh.” Whereas if we look at who is available on the internet nowadays there’s a lot of very tall people, shoutout even to say, Ulrich, who is quite a beast.
MK: He’s past 190. And he’s really good.
EL: He’s really good. There is Tom Merrick as well. My student Tom. Who is (inauble) on YouTube. He’s also close to Ulrich. He doesn’t train handstands as much as Ulrich. But he can still one-arm, do splits, everything. What I was told in circus school… I can remember in the second circus school I was in there was another guy, who also wanted to do handstands as his main discipline. He could do good handstands. He could press. He had very nice splits actually. And he got into circus as an adult. He was like twenty-eight. On the cut off point for circus school. He wasn’t in great physical condition. He was a bit fat. That’s a bit derogatory. He was dad bod work out dude kind of physique if that makes sense to people. Not in terrible shape obviously because he got into circus school but not shredded Mr. muscle man because they basically judged him… There was a big argument and they tried to say it politely because it was in England. And then eventually one of the coaches said, “We just think you’re too out of shape to do it.” But if I compare it to one of the other guys who did specialize in handstands when I was there. He was obviously more of a handstander build, more of an acrobat leaner blahblahblah.
But, the guy they didn’t let do handstands was objectively better at handstands than the other guy. He could press. He wasn’t as flexible. He could do handstands obviously like everyone. But couldn’t one-arm. Couldn’t really do much. Obviously he learned all that as he went through his degree. It was interesting. It’s one of those things I do remember the second I’m talking about it…Where you’re making judgement on someone’s capabilities based on where they’re at and on your projection of it rather than letting them try. Train it. And then, “Oh actually, this person we gave them the thing, and then they trained their ass off.”
But this is the other thing. The guy who couldn’t do it, was, I don’t want to name names but he was very dedicated at training, he was very conciences, he obviously worked very hard to go from an adult who hadn’t done anything, was into theatre, then decided, “Okay, I want to get into circus.” Then adult circus. Got to a point where he could beat other entrants on an audition to get in on both performance skills and past the physical tests.
MK: I think a lot of this stuff still is the ghost of competitive sports. Instilled. You hear it all the time in other kinds of struggles too just in their idea of when it’s too late to start learning something, for example. If you’re too old. It’s kind of funny. I remember also when I was doing breaking back in the day. People were like, “Oh yeah, I’m eighteen, am I too old?” We were a bunch of stupid kids. You saw a bunch of fourteen-year-olds and you immediately assumed you were not cut out for it based on that. I think the internet has helped a lot. Both because the entry level is now lower and you can get the information so that you can try. But also, you see people that are these various builds and various bodies that learn more or less the same thing so I do think that is a really good thing.
But the general thought comes from sports but also within circus and stuff there’s a lot of that. At least in the old school way of thinking. If you’re going to learn something you need to become one of the best at it. And if not, you’re wasting your time. If you don’t have “the body type” that the best people have, or the best people your coach knows of have, then it’s not for you.
In circus, that idea should more or less go entirely because I think by having such an attitude, at least in general, by having such an attitude, is reducing so much the amount of people that might want to try or might even get really good or find a distinct specific style and so-on. Though of course, there’s also another hand or a certain merit to it. If what you really want to do is become a flyer, very high-flying hand to hand acrobatics, they will favor small people because there’s going to be so much force that throws you into the air and you’re going to be landing on people.
Within certain reason, it is irrelevant but when you start going within the elite levels of things that ask anything from a one-hundred-meter sprint, or fucking anything on elite levels, all of these tiny things will start actually mattering but most people are not going there. I think that’s what the entire wave of people learning these types of things recreationally and stuff? That has led to the opening of people being allowed to try. Funny thing is a lot of the ones that try get good and then actually want to either become performers or do stuff like that with it. So, they suddenly have an entrance portal which they basically would have been barred from before.
EL: It’s definitely I think it’s that. That kind of thing where it’s like there can be a lot of judgements made on people’s bodies, what they’re capable of just based on the shape of them. Oh, you’re this shape, you’re this size, you have legs that are this long, you have arms that are this long, blahblahblah, you’re going to be good at this. Whereas a lot of the top, there’s a lot of outliers in every sport who don’t conform to that.
You can even think of one of the Chinese rings specialists who was six foot tall. Whereas a ring specialist might be 175, 170 a lot of the time. They will be streamed. If – you remember from gymnastics, the too tall/the short guys will be the ring specialists basically in gymnastic clubs. There is outliers that prove maybe if you keep training it, you could just get good at it. It’s not really down to – once again what’s going on inside? We don’t really know a lot of time. Also, to preclude yourself from an activity just because “Oh all rugby players are big but I’m not big so I can’t play rugby.” Well actually maybe you just really enjoy rugby, and you don’t need to become an international.
On a slightly – being too old, we’re doing too old as a body type but not really – we had an Irish, one of our Olympians who had done quite well in the endurance events. The Olympics are on at the moment or just finished if you’re listening in the future. She started running at age thirty-five to get back in shape after being pregnant and then she got really into it, and then at age forty-something she’s in the Olympics now. Normally, you’d be like, well, “Blah, I’m washed up at 35.” Well actually you can still get a medal in the Olympics.
MK: It’s also funny to look back at the vaudeville era and so-on. I remember when I read The True Art and Science In Hand Balancing by Paulinetti. He was at his best in his forties, apparently. Since he had an ankle injury at twenty-six and then he started hand-balancing. And then because he wasn’t (inaudible) (to perhaps start as a child like that in that business, then the expected training years were basically just another phase of your life. At the same time, I do think it’s important to recognize and understand that there are certain on average limitations that start creeping in about bodies and age and so-on. I have also seen in the wake of this wave of a lot of people going for it and I’m all for it and I was also in that situation when I started circus.
But it’s important to realize that it’s not just boundless. People are like, “Age is just a number.” No, it isn’t. it starts actually mattering. It only matters if you try to absolutely push you to the highest limits of what your capable of. And I don’t think that that is where one’s focus should lie for the most part doing physical practice unless you are one of those Olympians or people in a competition where the only thing that matters is to shave off that hundredth of a second.
Otherwise, I think the main thing is starting, for anyone, to try things and see if they like it. And if you do like, you can commit more time to it. Some people will be a lot faster at certain things. Some will have an advantage at other things due to all these variations of the body because it’s not just one shape that is a body. It’s a million shapes. We’re talking not only proportions but all of the bits and pieces inside and your brain and your muscle tissues and Type 1 and Type 2 fibers. There are a myriad of those types of variations that we can’t even actually know for certain. And therefore, you are better off trying and focusing on other things and seeing ok, do I enjoy this? Or do I not? Because if I do, I’ll go a bit further with it. That’s as basic as it gets.
EL: I think – this is one of the things I’d like to talk about – is the actual technicalities of body length like comparisons which I find quite interesting. Particularly, if we start, once you’re stacked in a handstand, the length of your arms don’t matter too much. Obviously, it will a bit. But what’s interesting is for the pressing mechanics. This is one of the things that definitely makes it easier or harder depending on if we had, say – your torso and your arm length depending on the relative length. So, one way we can measure this actually to figure out if you have long arms or small arms is to measure your span, from fingertips to fingertips with your arms out in a cross pose. If it’s longer than your height, then you would have a long span and some people can have – I have a ten-centimeter difference in my arm lengths compared to my height and that’s two standard deviations. There can be some people have three, or five deviations. There can even be people with more. It’s one of the things they screen basketball players for – that arm span. It’s correlated with things. Obviously, they want really tall people for certain positions and other stuff. Bu then what they’re noticing when they start comparing limb length, the person who is 6’10” compared to 6’7”, the 6’7” has the arm span. They’re just as good at stopping shots. It’s an interesting thing.
But in handstands where this really comes into play is pressing. If you imagine two people and they had, it’s one of these things I remember this from the coach summer forums back in the gymnastic body days. He made a point where he’d only ever seen one person – he was talking about press mechanics. The idea of press mechanics is the arms stay vertical to the floor and there’s no forward lean. They have to stay ninety degrees to the floor. That’s his standard. But he’s only ever seen one gymnast achieve that standard perfectly. I was thinking about it and I had done a bit of trigonometry on it and there is a thing if, say you had an equal body proportions, muscle mass and compression ability. Let’s say your torso let’s say when you put your hands down, you compress as deep as you can. Your center mass was ten centimeters away from your getting over your base of support. Well then depending on how short your arms are that dictates how much lean you have to do to actually press an ultimate compression circumstance. It’s kind of interesting. The people with longer arms will generally given relative flexibility and everything else, will have to lean further forward to take off from the press than they would if they had shorter arms.
MK: I am certain that these types of things will matter. The interesting part since it’s such a multi joined exercise is that it can always be mitigated – well not always but it can often be mitigated from various other parts of your body. Whereas other leverage moves such as the planche, if you’ve got the full planche you just can’t. I think that is why the planchet is such a mythological move too because there is nothing else but you and your forward lean. If there is enough force you levitate and if there isn’t you face crushing defeat for years on end.
EL: Who was that guy you sent me? The planche master. It was some streetworker dude. You sent me his planche. The lean angle of his arms was only about forty five degrees compared to other people who could be well past forty five degrees.
MK: I don’t remember who that was. But I found a photo of Eleftherios Petrounias, the Greek gold medalist on rings. I’m not sure how he placed in the Olympics now. He is of course a planche God. I found a picture of him doing a full planche by a pool. I had a picture of myself doing a straddle planche at the time. I took this angle tool on an app and then measured to compare. His angle was lower in his full planche than mine was in straddle. Obviously, he’s not a very tall guy and he’s very optimally built for this kind of thing. It just goes to show how significant of a difference there is in such a movement where that is extremely body specific. I do think that all of the leverage moves – kalistenic style, planche front lever, back lever, those kinds of things, have more to say, with this.
You’re basically raw force vs. your leverage and the weight, or just weight. Such as an iron and cross were used lower down. If you weigh seventy-five you need to carry seventy-five. If you weigh fifty then you need to carry fifty. It’s funny for people who are not initiated to body weight stuff then they will easily relate: Oh, but the seventy-five kilo guys have more muscle mass. It would be interesting to see some kind of curve in terms of where the sweet spot is in strength to weight ratio literally because at one point the amount of mass you have on your body will start being on detriment for the strength skill that you’re trying to do compared to having less. I saw some sort of thing at some point. It’s really old.
EL: There was some research on this. Sorry to talk over you. I can’t remember where I read it but it was Russian research. Obviously, they research everything like proper USSR back in the day kind of stuff. And it influenced a lot of gymnast thoughts. They wanted gymnasts to be slimmer for strength to weight ratio. And if you look at them still, they are quite slim. But then interestingly. You see it with Chinese gymnastics how they always favor quite slim people, slim not so muscled whereas at some point the Americans were following this and then they decided to just throw it away. Just get rid of it or not care so much. Obviously just focus on skills, power and strength. And then, girls in particular started coming in very heavily muscled to other ones.
MK: The girls look like they have a lot more muscle mass on them the Russians or the Chinese.
EL: Obviously they’re killing it as well. It was interesting because it was assumed to be held as a truth that you need to be slim to be a gymnast and not too heavily muscled because it will interfere with strength to weight ratio. You look at Simone Biles. She is jacked. Obviously, she’s killing it.
MK: Fucking flying.
EL: Obviously, an Olympic controversy. She got the twisties, which is basically asking someone to train with a sprained ankle. So, there you go, back to your armchair. Anyway, I’m fully behind her tapping out because I know exactly what was going on.
MK: For the injured. Yeah. The level of skill she has to perform. The level of skill that she knows she can perform. It’s definitely the right play I’d say.
EL: There’s so many backseat ugh… I was so annoyed during that whole week when all the – Yeah, whatever. The armchair athletes.
MK: Yeah, fuck off.
EL: You don’t even watch gymnastics or pay attention to it until it’s the Olympics and you don’t even care because it’s just controversy. Go fuck yourself. Anyway, off to topic before I get more enraged. It’s just stupid. It was interesting because the American girls probably almost sixteen years ago were coming in much more muscled – and then I heard some stuff from world games to Olympics: “Oh the girls are too big they’re just not gonna…” It was weird. The guys were getting bigger as well but it wasn’t as much of a thing. Because men are meant to big and muscly as we know in society. So, there were a lot of comments. They’re not going to do well. They’re just going to break shit. And then they swept the medal board. It is interesting. Basically, a lot of assumptions people have about body types. And then oh wait – one country, not even one person, is doing something different and then it’s wrecking it.
MK: Wasn’t it the same like you say with Bolt? Where before him, all the eldest sprinters were shorter and more dense. And then he just comes with the long legs and just flies past everyone.
EL: That was one of those interesting ones. They also had him on longer distances because longer distances and being taller is meant to be better. He was originally a 200-metre runner. Obviously, he is an outlier. I suppose anyone sprinting in the Olympics has the ultimate genetics for speed compared to anyone else out there regardless of anything. He has scoliosis as well.
MK: That’s right. That’s another fun one I mean that scoliosis – I mean I had a friend who got told to stop doing things because of scoliosis and I’m sure there are various degrees and that doesn’t mean that just anyone with scoliosis should do whatever. I mean there are medical advice better than mine of course. But still that there are all these examples of people with the physical capacities or bodies that perhaps don’t fit with the generalized view and then they come in and absolutely smash it. I feel smugly satisfied whenever I see that.
EL: The scoliosis one is very interesting actually because I’ve dealt with a lot of people with scoliosis over the years. It’s very common particularly in more flexible people. Obviously, I get my hands on these more flexible people. It’s one of these ones where at a general fitness level I’ve obviously worked with this thing. I’m fortunate to have worked with contortionists, all the way to people who can sit on their head all the way to people who can’t touch their toes. I’ve had groups of them who have had scoliosis in all of them. Obviously there’s a structural scoliosis and a functional scoliosis which are two different things. And I’ve had people who’ve had structural scoliosis told by the doctor that they shouldn’t train back bending and they shouldn’t do yoga or whatever.
But then, I’d say, a very high percentage the contortionists I’ve worked with have had either a functional or structural scoliosis. It’s interesting where we’re talking about mega flexible people. And even people who came to it a bit later in life as well. Weren’t doing it when they were younger and kept it up. More like “I’ve decided to be contortionists at eighteen, nineteen, twenty.” And then worked on it. No one told them that… Example, someone I know who was a contortionist for five or six years, performing for five or six years, before they find out they had scoliosis and had tests done. They had a structural one. They could basically do everything. If she had found out beforehand, she probably would have been told, “You shouldn’t train back bending because you know, blah.” Whereas observational things become limitations before they’re actual limitations. I find that interesting.
With back bending there’s a strong correlation between people who will get very flexible in the back and having reverse curvature of the spine. A reverse curvature of the spine is when the thoracic spine is either straight or curves in like the lumbar. It’s not super common but it’s common. People who have that can be trained. I’ve developed a degree of it from back bending. My spine is gone from S-shape to straighter. But I have no back pain. I have no problems. I’ve never had problems with my back. Other than tweaking it every now and then but dropping weights or doing something stupid. I’ve never had any chronic ongoing issues where I’ve changed my spine geometry to accommodate this. Whereas other people would have that naturally. They would be the people who would push the back bending and the head sits and other stuff. I’m not going to say they pushed them to the highest levels, but they’d find them much easier to come to. Whereas if you’d asked a physio, going “oh I really want to start bending my back.” They’d go, “Your back is already too straight in that direction, you need to not bend it that way because it could be dangerous.” So, I suppose the topic of this cast is more assumptions people make about body types without actually… that limit people, is almost nocebic in their effect. We need a word for restrains your ability or your desire to train that isn’t actually nocebo.
MK: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I think it’s a good thing to sum up what we’ve been speaking about so far. It really comes down to that. And that’s what frustrates me when it comes to this. Also assumptions about this pure and perfect technique because perfect technique can only be applied to pieces that are exactly the same. Since these bodies that we work with are the same then we must assume still that this technique is good for a lot of things. But we can’t assume it’s to be perfect? And always fitting – because we are not 3D printing these fucking bodies. They’re going to come in all kinds of weird and strange shapes. You can accommodate for a lot of variation by –
EL: Just before we move on. I think there should be a definition that there’s foundational principles that have to be observed but how these principles manifest will be different in different body types and obviously certain body types are better for them. Obviously a sumo wrestler who is forty kilos obviously they can do all the principles of sumo wrestling, and wrestling and all the techniques right and optimize them. But they’re probably not going to be a competitor. But at the same time, the principles are universal. Just how they appear in different bodies is the difference and not the end of something.
MK: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think from a teaching perspective too, without any principles, you’re completely lost. Because you could just do whatever. Stand one-arm, I don’t care. And you need to figure it out on your own. It’s going to work for more people if you tell them there’s a perfect technique. I think having that as a point of departure is very relevant.
There are so many times where I’ve even heard it myself. I’m not that big of a guy. I remember I was in Barcelona once. And I came in. I’m going to train. They asked me what I was doing: “Oh, I thought you were a base” they said. I don’t take that personally or anything but like, it’s just the assumption since I have a more muscular upper body than most hand balancers. They tend, on average, to be more slim framed. Making sure that these types of assumptions, in every way everyone is going to assume things at one time it’s just how units work — but we can at least as teachers and as people that are spreading knowledge about this type of stuff — I think it’s very important to have more relative and a little more lenient perspective on it.
Then you can of course discuss it with a certain individual you’re training for example. “Oh yeah, I want to learn one-arm planche.” Okay, let’s take a look at your ambitions. Even before you need to assess body, you need to assess levels of dedication, how many years you’re going to spend on this, getting a reasonable perspective on all those things. And then let’s see where this goes. Some people are going to take this really far and some are not. That’s kind of just how it’s going to go anyway. But making sure that people are not just barred from trying because some old Russian told you that, “Oh no this is for those people.” Those students that I had in another school in the Netherlands where they had been told that “You have to do your tuck jump like this or you’re never going to make it, you’re never going to be a hand balancer.” It was weeks jumping up in tuck while the fucker could literally press to a Mexican from a bridge. What is he more likely to use on the stage? What’s more likely to be part of his unit as an athlete and most importantly as an artist? What the hell are you wasting his time for? It’s utterly ridiculous to create these high standards that need to be followed before you’re allowed to make any choices yourself because the teacher is dick. Rage.
EL: That leads into, as you know we gather questions, we get to make topics for our episodes. There’s one of the questions we’re using for this that came in:
How does it come that people who are people that are pretty strong with handstand and basic bodywork exercises such as push-ups, dips have problems with tuck-jumps? And then people who are clearly not as strong and not more flexible, are easily able to do it? Thanks for the podcast.
MK: I think that tuck-ups are particularly terrible at this because tuck-ups don’t really require that hip flexibility because you can’t really, you can’t really blame it but I think on tuck-jumps and tuck work in general there is a lot of that structural shit that is hard to articulate exactly what it is because it’s perhaps joint structure. But yes. There is an enormous correlation between some random person just being able to do it and have no problem. They’ll usually be fine doing tuck slides against a wall. If they are, they’re usually fine at trying a tuck jump. But then you have these other people who have such a struggle going through that range. And I do think that there is a partly structural things that make this a lot harder. You see it also with pressing. I’ve seen people work on press for five years and still struggle to pull out one press. Whereas others press on the first try so there are bones, there are insertions, there are all these things – I’ve never been able to answer why. I’m happy that I can’t in one way because it’s really fascinating.
EL: It is one of those mysteries. The tuck. And the pike as well. Who can pike up?
MK: Pike up is easier to blame on hamstring flexibility I feel than tuck. The pike is just a harder truck so yes if you can’t tuck up you’re very unlikely going to be able to pike up. At least there is that thing if you can’t touch your toes then it’s not going to happen. But you have people that can’t touch your toes with straight legs who perfectly tuck jump to handstand and then you have the mega flexi monster madness people that don’t get the shoulders to go there in an easy fashion and they need the empire state building to be able to get their ass on top of their shoulders there.
MK: the flexi monsters leads to the other thing I want to touch on a bit to round out the show. Basically, we can roughly divide people into two flexibility phenotypes. It’s always a spectrum. Don’t think it’s clear cut. But we can go: There’s the tight and strong type, or just the tight type. Strong is a function of training as much as anything else. And then we have the flexible or hyper mobile type. I think it’s kind of interesting that for me and the way I train people and you do the same as well. The training is very different for these two types particularly at the beginning stages. It’s definitely one of these things where it’s like there’s different focuses for these people. Let’s say they could achieve a line, they’ve worked on their limitations on the line but even then the training is different because say in a person who is flexible, who has very mega flexible shoulders, there’s going to be more amount you can fall out of into the shoulder flexion direction or go into deeper shoulder flexion than you could if you were the more tighter type who could just about get the line. And that’s always quite interesting when you consider – to use the term shoulder stability for the people who are more flexible they need to work more on balance strength earlier, I find. And then the people who are stronger but tighter or just tighter they need on the balance strength, the under-balance strength training has the goal of developing the shoulder active flexion and not the actual basically – it’s almost like, the people more open shoulders who are training on their balance with the ideas of closing their shoulders – and the people with tighter shoulders who are training on their balance with the goal of opening their shoulders. Is one way of thinking about it.
MK: Pretty much it’s like being able to stay in that slightly closed position where the chest is closed, and the shoulders are flexed properly to be able to resist the forward lean by the action of the shoulder flexion is the key for that tuck. I’ve noticed with all the people I train for that it’s like it does take some time. It usually takes a few months so basically focusing on tuck slides and so-on. And you get all of the upper back strength, and you start seeing some traps pop out on the upper back of people and then it starts happening.
I do also think that very often some people that might lack a little bit of the actual flexion, they might be strong in conventional ways, yes, they might be able to do dips and that stuff but like the particular action of pressure that you need to do the under-balance stuff is just not developed. The traps are not developed to do that action. I think this is a better way of looking at strength for this. You see the upper back of a person. Okay I see the muscle and that must mean the person can use the muscle for this particular action. Might be some correlation but also might also not in most cases. Treating it as very specific I think is important.
The more complex an activity is, the more complex the specific training for that will be on average. To just take a stupid example: You won’t learn flares from doing dips. Whereas it would be good for you to able to do proper dips before learning flares for you to carry your body weight. But it’s not going to work. And take a little bit less stupid one: Having strong dips is going to help your handstand push-ups. Well, a little bit more than it will help flares but it still won’t help perfectly. But if you change exercise, for example, like high push-ups, it’s closer on the exercise you’re actually getting something more similar to that handstand push-up position. And that’s why tuck slides into similar movement to those families. It’s like the go-to thing is you can actually just focus to get more comfortable and strong in the position and then move on.
EL: it made me think of the more flexible type who do tucks and straddles in particular. There’s almost, when you’re more flexible there’s almost a lack of control on the front of the body, the pecs and the pec minor and stuff like this. You see them with the shoulders too open and then the key focus you’ll see the sacrum is hanging over the line. There’s almost an arch for the hips generally obviously it’s women where it’s a more pronounced where you see the butt hanging over but in guys you see the same thing if they’re more flexible where you see the spine will curve just in that kind of L-3 downwards, basically. It shifts the balance in the shapes. Tucks and straddles out of the textbook alignments that we’re looking for in a straight position and not going towards a mexican and into this chest is gone out too far. So, something higher up has to go in the other direction to counter balance it. People can do a lot of holds and transitions and everything in these positions, but it doesn’t transfer into pressing and under balance development because it’s almost I’d call it resting on the joints vs. actively holding them in position. The way I would talk about it.
MK: You basically move the shoulder towards the heel of the hand which then counterbalances the hips. Which means that you don’t actually need the muscular pressure from your upper back to assist as much. You’d rather lean away so you could almost say that the pull of your pecs and this closing action here is what keeps you there rather than the backwards pressure. I mentioned it before but I’ve seen that among very flexible and capable people and their hands were able to do all kinds of stuff but as soon as you close your shoulders enough so they get the shoulders go over the hands slightly in a round and elevated position there is nothing to resist or no resistance. Whereas put in this too open position, they can do whatever they want, even one-arms. So, it’s on average the most useful position is to learn this middle placement because you’ll be able to learn pressing from it and being able to learn pressing gives you a degree of control which makes it easier for you to also learn too-open placement that is simply to lean backwards, and you get into it.
EL: It’s an interesting one because for people who are too flexible this kind of alignment particularly in tuck and straddle-based shapes can be very easy, can be very effortless but then at the same time, you have to be able to make a choice in handstands is what I always think it comes down to. Like, I’m choosing to use this technique now because I’ve explored all the techniques, and I’ve found this is the best one for my goals vs. you have to do it like this or I’m just doing it on auto. It’s definitely like, I’m just doing what’s auto and that comes easiest whereas if you explore all the other ones and train on them a bit then you give yourself a better selection box of things to play with and to choose the right tool for the right job.
MK: Yeah, exactly.
EL: The more flexible one as well actually – just to add in – is a lot of our aesthetics for going to classical hand-balancing come from this more flexible phenotype. Where we go, “Oh you need to have a split perfectly in line with the body and you need to have hyper-extended knees and very pointy toes, and this is seen the ideal in handstands.” Or it’s obviously going out. It came in as a phase and it’s going out of fashion now. But it is that thing if you look at early hand balancing, pointed toes, locked knees…
MK: They often used shoes way back. Also, in banana shapes and so-on. It’s not as pronounced.
EL: Even in the earlier when the straight style was coming more in you didn’t see this very extremity of line. These ballet-like lines almost. The circus had that beautiful ballet in the air kinda vibe for a while. And then it was like, we could say, a peak. It peaked at that alignment and hand balancing Anatoly Zalievky routine style, and the peak shifted. Particularly with the Ukrainians with super stretchy knees all the way to Pavel Stankevich who has the craziest knees going. Now it’s toned down now obviously where some people don’t have legs that extend or lock out or even hyper extend or lock out fully or when they are locked, they have a curse of circus – a micro bend. They’d have a micro bend in the knees but that’s actually their locked position. This is the kind of thing that feeds into the aesthetics where people would look at it and go, “Oh that’s wrong!” Just because the aesthetic sense of the curve of the line isn’t what has been seen and pronounced as beautiful and that then leads to a lot of things.
I’ve done it a bit myself. I teach it to people who really want it but stretching your knees to get hyper extension – I’ve done that as well. It never actually really worked. Oddly enough my knees started hyper extending about two years ago from doing all the Daoist Nei Gong stuff I don’t know what happened. One day someone was like, “Emmet your knees are hyper extending.” I’m like, “What?!” This is after years of circus school of stretching with sandbags and a cat on my knee to get a bit of extension. It’s interesting going back to my own story. I was willing to do something that was possibly very detrimental to the joints based on trying to fulfill an aesthetic criterion because my lines weren’t hyper-extendy or curved enough and the teachers were finding them not good enough. “It needs to look more.” I was much younger then. I didn’t know as much about training or a lot of the stuff as I do know. So that’s why I say I will teach it if someone is like, “I want to be a professional pole dancer and my lines need to be better.” Then we can have a conversation about it. But for a general person, you know, do you really need them or as long as your legs are locked or you’re able to control them at extension in the ways you want, it’s not going to affect the technique so much, it’s just an aesthetic thing.
MK: It’s fully an aesthetic thing once you have control of your body in the relevant thing that you’re doing I would say. You might choose to keep that. As soon as you try doing something that’s really hard for you then you’re probably best off going to your de facto default position where you feel the most comfortable. Of course, there is a lot to be said for straight legs in hand balancing because you need to be focusing on your balancing and being able to keep your shape solid helps you to achieve that in a way or it helps you maintain the default basic positioning on your body.
EL: It’s interesting the things we do to ourselves over the years.
EL: Hashtag #suffer. Let’s wrap it up there I think we covered a lot of our points. Maybe we didn’t cover all the points we wanted to but went on different tangents.
MK: Like we do.
EL: Such is the nature of the ramble cast. We have a topic and then we end up talking about something else. Other than that, let’s wrap it up here and we will catch you next week!