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S2 Episode 72: Low Balances


In this episode Mikael flies solo dropping his knowledge on all things arm supported balances.

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S2E72 – Low Balances

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Transcript of Episode 72: Low Balances

MK: Hello and welcome back to the Handstandcast with your host Mikael Kristiansen and absolutely no Emmet Louis this week. Emmet is doing way too many things at the same time so he decided he needs some rest and that I shall grant him.

So now I’m sitting here on the couch speaking to myself. This is going to be perhaps a little bit of a shorter episode since past a certain point when you talk to yourself, you’ll probably be considered deranged or more deranged than I at least already am. So, this episode I thought to dedicate to something that I really like and a subset of hand balancing as a larger discipline, not so much used really, and that is Low Balances or things relating to Crow Stands, Tuck, Planche, Air Babies and similar kind of movements like that.

Because there are a myriad of variations you can do in that area and just to clarify what I mean – The term Low Balances is something that in Handstand Factory, me and Emmet, we refer to as your center, is very low because your body is close to the floor and you’re rather compact. A Crow Stand would be a good example of that. Or even stuff like a Crocodile and Baby Freeze. Where you are compact with your upper arm and the body in some sort of sense. What I really like with those is that they are very versatile, and the interesting thing is that some of them are extremely strength focused whereas others are rather simple to do really.

To start with perhaps the simplest one, it’s the Crow Stand where basically you sit in a squat, you have your hands on the floor, you bend the arms, you lean the knees into or above the elbows, and you lean forwards and then your weight goes off of your feet and it’s quite a useful thing for those who are super early on in their learning curve of anything on their hands. It doesn’t require a lot of strength at all. This is primarily because your legs are connecting to your arms and you’re able to literally keep a vertical forearm where you can lean all of your weight above since you then have the knees locking into the elbows. It means there’s no wobble or instability that comes from loose body parts. So, all you need to do is basically stay compact, keep the weight going into your elbows and down into the ground and the fingers will be protecting you from falling forwards. But since your center mass is so low you don’t have a long lever to act upon so it’s rather simple for most people to generate enough pressure with the fingers to comfortably balance a crow stand. And it doesn’t take particularly long to learn.

The other interesting thing is of course since you’re so low and so-on, the entry-level of the skill is low and there’s no real fear involved in it compared to something like a handstand where if you fall over, you might not know what you need or what to do to not hurt yourself. In a Crow Stand, yes, you might smack your head on the ground but most people that do this pose even in the beginning are able to adjust out of it without that happening so it’s very simple. What is super interesting to me is that if you take this very simple thing and you do it without the knees and arms touching suddenly it’s a very heavy strength move. Like it’s quite substantial actually. Even kind of a bent-arm tuck Planche meaning that you keep the chest quite far above the ground as in a Straight Arm Tuck Planche, you bend your arms. It’s quite heavy on the arms, on the shoulders, and the same if you do it on the straight arms.

A Tuck Planche requires a substantial amount of strength and is miles and miles apart from the Crow Stand and all this comes from the fact that you’re not carrying any more weight in any way shape or form. You don’t have that stability. You don’t have the literal geometrical structure that you’re creating with the knees leaning into the arms and the way that the upper and lower body gets in a sense welded together at the place where your knees touch your arms, and you need to carry all of this from the shoulders and from the arms. When there’s no contact. And you need to keep your legs above the ground, too. And the keeping of the legs above the ground, there’s a little bit of core strength required to keep the legs up. And the knees kind of tightly pulled towards your chest. But still, the requirements on your scapular area, on your shoulders, on your biceps, little bit also triceps but more biceps in this case, increases dramatically. This I find super interesting because aesthetically or visually there’s not large of a difference between these two positions but functionally the difference is enormous.

The same goes if you do that position which is something known as The Crane where it’s basically a Crow Stand except your arms are entirely straight. So, arms are straight and you’re still leaning the knees into your arm above the elbow. Some up in the armpit sometimes. In this scenario too it will be more demanding than the bent-up version but again it is not even comparable to an actual tuck Planche since you again have that connection between arms and legs, that kind of distribution of weight and stability and most importantly as I suspect you’re creating a structure which is more stable.

You compare this to the Tuck Planche where everything is hanging on the scapula and you only need to use muscular force to keep yourself above the ground, you’ll feel an enormous difference. For anyone that can do either of these simpler versions, either The Crow or The Crane, if you take a couple of boxes, a couple of chairs or some parallel bars and you go from a tucked L-sit position and try to push yourself into a Tuck Planche with straight arms or with bent arms and to specify the bent-arm planche needs to keep the chest and shoulders above the elbow meaning that it’s not one where you can bend all the way, like how you bend your arms all the way. You will feel it after – this amount – a lot more strength focused in those types of positions. They have, how to say, different things to learn from these more complicated positions. They are more strength moves and I know tons of hand balancers that can’t do Tuck-Planche or can’t do a good one or can’t do the bent-arm Tuck-Planche. I’m sure that actually several of the hand balancers that I know would be more comfortable in a straight Hand-Tuck planche than a bent one because  – you’d throw out the hand balancing practice, you’d spend more time in straight-arm movements than in bent-arm ones.

But to me, what’s fascinating with these positions is they offer variation, they offer you a possibility to be in ranges on your hands where you would normally not go. And that’s what I think is cool both from a researching what the body can do perspective, from an artistic perspective, I love to play with these positions because they, they’re fundamentally different, they allow kind of a lift, both an ascent and descent of the body and so there’s loads of stuff that goes on in these. Also, they’re easy to connect with things like a headstand or with a Crocodile or the lowest levels of subdural mass on your hands.

What I always think is cool with these things is they relate directly to one-arm, too in terms of Air Baby. Air Baby is one of favorite things to do. Air Baby is essentially a Crow Stand that is twisted to the side far enough so that you can do it on one arm so Air Baby is like a lateral move whereas a Crow Stand is like a frontal one meaning that to do an actual Air Baby you need to tilt your entire body over to the side so that the knee touches your elbow. There’s one knee touching the elbow and then if you’re doing this on your right arm, it’s the right knee that touches the right elbow and then you’d have to twist your left shoulder and your left hip above the right hip and the right shoulder so everything goes more sideways. Sort of similar looking to a flag but with an entirely different type of strength required to do an Air Baby.

An Air Baby is of course quite substantial in terms of the power you need in the shoulder, and you also feel it quite a lot in your serratus and your obliques and particularly your extreme rotators in the beginning when you’re learning this move. Simply because you need to stabilize the body above one point. You need to crunch the body together sideways and it’s a very awkward thing to learn at first. But very useful and very, more than any of the other kind of movements I’m talking about here this is the one that I urge more people to learn because it does offer you a hard but not extremely hard way of balancing on one-arm.

It does require a lot of strength in this particular way but it’s easier to learn than the one-arm handstand by far in terms of training hours and also it will – for some people who can do one-arms they’ll tell you “Oh, no it’s way harder with an Air Baby” – but I would say on average if you take someone who is reasonably fit who starts to practice both these movements at around the same time, the likelihood that they’ll have success with the Air Baby earlier than the one-arm is quite high because the amount of technical components and just amount of practice that you need to be able to find balance in it is a lot lower, at least from my experience.

It’s different but it carries – there are certain things that are relevant with it and you can still be learning your two-arm handstands and practicing the Air Baby so it’s kind of like a side quest I would say in many ways. It’s a good one, too. Builds you loads of relevant strength. Develops a lot when it comes to flag power. It gives you experience with balancing on the one-arm. I mean for me who learned as a b-boy first the reason I got good at learning one-arms early I think largely can be attributed to Air Babies. Because I had some experience there. And that gave me a frame of reference. And of course, I was doing a lot the bent arms, lean-over to the side one-arm, mess around when I was dong breaking, which came from the Air Baby. That’s not what I’m telling people to do because it’s not very efficient but again I guess as a quest, as a project on the side, it’s definitely an interesting one to check out. The progression towards it is quite straight forward really.

If you want to look into a break down of how to learn it, I have on my Instagram on the IG TV thing you can find an Air Baby Tutorial, which is, I mean, it breaks down most of the steps you need to understand and learn if you want to learn it. And I certainly suggest it particularly if you have gotten towards one-arm and you want something else to play with because you know that your one-arm will take a lot of time, this is a good time commitment. Also, for those who are quite advanced if you want to learn stuff like the very hard strength relating things such as a one-arm pressing or stuff like that, funny because the Air Baby suddenly becomes relevant again because you can literally equate an Air Baby to – that is basically a one-arm Crow Stand. And if you want to do a one-arm Tuck Planche, that is much harder than the Air Baby than a Tuck Planche is in relation to a Crow Stand. So, then you can start seeing what sort of forces you have to work with but learning an Air Baby certainly carries over to those types of counter balancing ranges, particularly when the hips are starting to go real low which you need if you want to do pressing on one-arm or learning to go from one-arm to Crocodile and so-on and so-on.

It’s kind of… This stuff can be very relevant because it gives you experience in an easier plane. And it looks cool. Learn to go up, you can learn to go down from it. Tons of stuff that you can do. It’s very different in terms of its strength and that’s what I also find cool that you’re utilizing a lot the same muscles and so-on but everything is working. Or you are in a different angle and you’re learning to control your body in a plane which you usually don’t see much in the traditional hand balancing discipline, which is one of my large frustrations that you hundreds and hundreds with all this control and possibilities on their hands who consciously choose or unconsciously choose to use only a rather select few shapes and/or positions, positionings of the body with this level of control.

So yeah, I think branching out from this is – I wouldn’t necessarily say, important because that is entirely up to the practitioner but it’s an option that I urge because the more things you try, the more experience you get, the more you see what’s for you and what isn’t and suddenly you strike gold in something that you really find fascinating.

There are also other variations or things you can do down in this area and if you go back discussing the two-arm components again. The planche is of course one that relates to this dimension, too though it is a very high end strength move and one which is very inaccessible for certain individuals and I wouldn’t say easy. But easier to access for others. It is probably one of the most or the one that’s I would say, more separated by raw physical talent than a lot of other handstand-y movements. Simply because it is only leverage. The more favorable your leverage and your strength to weight ratio is, the easier time you’re going to have to learn it. If you are unfortunate, you might train an entire lifetime and just not be able to get the full planche. Just due to physics. There’s just going to be too much sacrifice or even impossible level of force needing to be generated if you are for example a very large person. And very tall. Then, the chance that your shoulder is going to be able to exert at force is not so high. So, it is a relevant thing and I think for hand balancers in general if we’re talking about planchet I would say that usually hand balancers kinda suck at planche. There are a few that are good at it but few go into the realms of street work out and calisthenics and gymnastics of course, that’s where it originated. That’s where you usually see the high quality of planches.

Obviously, it is because within those circles that is a highly sought after move and it’s a big status symbol – it’s kind of like the one-arm handstand perhaps equivalent of many of those communities. That shows hard work and dedication and something that people really chase. And then all of their training at least in calisthenics, maybe not all, but a lot of the training is very strength focused so you will have hundreds and hundreds of people who actively chase this and all of their training is basically force production in these angles. And then you’re going to see good planches.

Whereas for hand balancers you very often see the high hips and people basically trying to use as much as their press to handstand strength as possible in their planchet. That includes me. It took an enormous amount of work to get a flat planche. As soon as I wasn’t actively training it a lot or after I got injured in the shoulder like whoopsie daisy it started sucking again. So, it is a very rough move. But I think for everyone who do hand balancing, learning a Tuck Planche is a useful thing and something that I always had the kit for. Since it just gives you an extra bit of power. It allows you to build a mid-range of a Stalder press, an L-Sit press and all other kind of presses similar to that.

You need to have some degree of control with the shoulders in front of the hands on straight arms so building some of that and the scapular control from it I think is always a good idea but it certainly not a necessity. I know super good hand balancers who like I said, cannot do it or at least cannot do it to any significant degree. Of course most hand balancers are pretty physically capable and could learn one but again it’s a specific range and unless you spend time there nothing is going to happen.

So, also, disclaimer I’m not really interested in the Pokemon – how can I call it… — now I completely lost it. I am not very interested in the Pokemon way of thinking hand balancing. That you need to do everything.

I think it’s stuff that ultimately you have to choose but knowing there are a bunch of options and things you can try, I think it’s important. And then if we speak about the lowest dimension of the various handstand moves then you do have stuff such as the elbow levers like the Crocodile, the side Croco, the Airchair etc. And all of these are signified by the fact here you have contact between elbow and body in some sort of sense. Where the basic Croco, you have the elbow kind of on the inside of the hip bone and it is a very easy movement to learn, it’s a very easy balance to learn once you know how to do it. For me it’s also one of my absolutely favorites because it offers an enormous amount of options. And of course this is where my breaking back around makes me extra fascinated by it simply because you can very easily go from a handstand and down once you have the control and strength to do so. It offers you a very smooth way of going down to the ground for example, from a handstand or the opposite like from a Croc to a Handstand.

Yes, of course they do require a significant amount of training to do both those moves but they are both easier than it might seem at first because you can use a lot of momentum when going up and most people who can do a handstand push up have more than what’s necessary physically to be able to go up. And I know many people who can’t handstand push up but who can go from Croco to handstand, so it is a tempo move where you use the legs a lot and it becomes very easy once you have the general gist of it. And then you have the side Croco aka kind of baby freeze/Airchair which is kind of a variation of that, which is used a lot in breaking.

I won’t go hugely into detail on that because I’m not an expert at it and it’s not something I can do very well. It requires a very flexible internal rotators so you can externally rotate the arm a lot and also a fair degree of mobility in the retraction of the shoulder. And a rotation of the hip. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into Airchairs that makes it, like, it’s not impossible to learn if you don’t really have the necessary pre-requisites for it but it requires a lot of work. And you very often find that people who are good at Manna also has very good success in Airchair as it’s sort of similar in its execution and in the physical. Funnily enough, the only thing you could call a one-arm Manna, would be certain Airchair variations. Just a fun fact in a sense.

All of these movements they allow you to utilize your hands essentially as carrying your body weight because that’s mainly what I’m in general interested in when it comes to hand balancing, not only mastering the straight position but being able to manipulate your body weight upside down creating or experiencing the anti-gravity feeling of being able to basically float above the ground.

All these things they offer you quite a lot of interesting aspects in doing so and they do by no means really need to take away that much time from your hand balancing practice either because if you are – if you have been training handstands for a fair amount of time, you know that your flawless technique is not always going to work and sometimes you might even be bored by it so having options, having variation, having things to play with, I really think is important and these kinds of things are perfect for exactly that. Because you’re still doing hand-related stuff. I mean if you are a performer even more all of this stuff can give you so much to offer in terms of creative play and so-on. Even if you’re not there’s a lot you can get out of it and yeah, mastering ultimately, controlling your body with the arms, in various ways, is part of the practice as I see it. Why not in a sense?

Just to speak a little bit about how I would suggest I mean of course depending on your level because for many who, those who are listening here, like a Crow Stand, you won’t be learning anything from doing a Crow Stand but check if you can do Crow Stand to handstand to one-arm to Crocodile for example. Or, if you can barely hold a handstand yet well, then you can train your handstand, you can work a bit on a Crocodile on two-arms, you can work on for example, a tuck planche. Or then once you go further you can start combining. Let’s say you can handstand. And you can Crow Stand and you’re pretty comfortable with this, well try handstand to Crow Stand to headstand to handstand. All of these things possible ways of controlling your upside down. Controlling yourself upside down.

So, just thinking through the various things that you are able to do and see, ok, can you create transitions between them? In whatever way that you would be able to. Is something that you can play with and again, not something you necessarily need to do in your daily hand balancing practice but something that you can add once a week to have something to play with or have as a way out of shitty practice where you just don’t feel like doing any technique because you don’t have the concentration. Well, put your energy elsewhere and expand a little bit what you see as the practice – can also just make it more fun. Again, I’ve spoken about a lot of times on this podcast, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you’re probably wasting your time since this is a recreational activity for most of us even for me and many others who work at it. If there wasn’t a joy component in this I would’ve quit a long ago at least. Being able to reinvent things. Being able to play around. Being able to think, “ok what happens if I put this leg here instead of there?” And, seeing what you’re able to create can be very fun!

Again, this is why I still do think that people like breakers have very interesting approach with this because they are conscious and trying a bunch of new things whereas in the hand balancing discipline, the training and traditional has made it a little bit so that people practice the basic skills and the hierarchy of difficulty for such a long time before starting to experiment. Whereas you can experiment very early on. I think that is something to consider when you have your daily practice yourself, when you’re jamming with others, finding new possibilities in it and of course combining it with a technique and the “proper” technical aspects as well.

That is just a little bit of ranting from me about balancing in your arms or balancing on your arms in different ways than what you might usually be doing. Hope you get something out of that and we will be back next week with hopefully a refreshed Emmet that hopefully has things to say! Cheers!


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