In this episode Emmet goes over the history of the Mexican style handstand and talks about our new program Bend.
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S2E80 – The Mexican Handstand
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Transcript of Episode 80: The Mexican Handstand
EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me Emmet Lewis. Unfortunately, this week, Mikael Kristiansen, my glorious and degenerate co-host is off in New York. Actually, he got a very short notice trip to New York to take up, so he went over there to visit people in Warrior Bridge, I think, is the name of the place? I think it was Warrior Bridge he’s visiting or…Their new facility? I’m a bit sparse on the details because it came on short notice. So, no Mikael this week. You just have me.
So, what do we do with the wizard? Well, let’s see. Let’s see the wizard bend people.
A bit of housekeeping. We missed a couple of episodes just because Mikael was doing Vault, two shows a weekend and we couldn’t record then due to international shenanigans. And then the New York trip came up. So that kind of took us out. So, apologies for missing the two weeks. We’ll be much better on it. We’ll have basically our plan for this season is we will probably finish sometime around mid-December for the end of the year, take a little break ‘til January and then go on. So, a few more episodes of us to go in a month of podcasting. Looking forward to that! We have some surprises dropping.
And you know, as I’m here and the wizard bends people, I would be very, very happy to announce going live or possibly live by the time you’re hearing this. This is our newest program called Bend, a.k.a. the Mexican Handstand, and its variations. I know a lot of you have waited for this program, so I’m going to talk a bit about the Mexican handstand. Talk a bit about our program. Give you some info on what that might be doing. Give you some stuff to work with. And you know, do my normal sort of rambling and rambling.
Basically, it’s very interesting because this program, I’m the main flexibility coach in Handstand Factory, as you guys know. So, the bend was more of my baby than Mikael’s. Obviously, he gave me some insight and other stuff and conferred with them and talk about these things. But it was more my own project, which was interesting for me just to pull something off. And Mikael has his own secret project as well, which will be launched soon enough.
But anyway, so with the Mexican handstand, it was interesting for me where I went. I’ve done a decent amount of research as much as was possible in lockdown. The only problem, the only lead I didn’t get to follow up on was visiting a circus historian called Karlos Heinz Eden. I didn’t get a chance to visit him to see if he could shed some light, but I went on a bit of a mission to find out why do we call this handstand the “Mexican Handstand”?
It seems pretty universal in circus. It’s interesting that if you train in different circus spaces, particularly before internet times, there would be certain moves would be called certain things like “elbow” what we call a crocodile, like one arm elbow lever would be called a “crocodile” in some places and it would be called the “elbow lever” in other places, or a “peacock” in different places.
And then, you know, say even a straddle press. So, we call it a straddle press, we talked about this and then some other place would call it an “elephant lift” or someone call it a “lift with force” or “a straight arm to.” You know, there’s different names for things, but Mexicans kind of always been one of these ones that’s very universal. If I say I’m doing a Mexican, people will know what I’m doing. That was interesting anyway to start looking into it.
So, I was like, OK, let’s try to find the history. Why is it called a Mexican handstand? And, you know, I just couldn’t find any information. I couldn’t even find the first occurrence of this word, the Mexican Handstand. It was very interesting. It’s just interesting as usual.
So, I go in true history to try to find it so the best I can come up with. And this is speculation and I’m open to being corrected, and I would love to love to find a definitive source on this name. So, if anyone has any leads or anything, I haven’t checked, just DM to me on Instagram.
I reckon, somewhere around the vaudeville era, there was a Mexican circus troupe or circus family or acrobatic family that were performing this style of handstand. And it was probably their – if you know a lot about vaudeville and this era of circus work – people and families had specialties. This was their speciality thing. They do back-bending or front-bending or Mexicans, and this would be their speciality. So, I think it would have been like the Mexican style handstand. Now, obviously, I’m open to being corrected. I do know there’s some Olympians who might have been doing it as well. This is the kind of thing it’s hard to track down because there’s not a lot recorded. But anyway, that would be my speculation on the name of it.
The other more interesting thing I’ve been doing a bit of historical research on flexibility, more so for bendability. I was going through looking at occurrence of acrobatics and flexibility in history. And it’s one of those things if we look at human history, there’s a few things that are kind of very common. One, all cultures will have roughly some kind of wrestling, some kind of formalized ritual combat, one to one. Maybe we’ll have boxing, genuinely will be wrestling or some kind of throwing stuff, pinning to the ground. And maybe we’ll have punching, kicking in it. Not always, but it always has that, you know, manly strength thing. And then it has that kind of spectacle, acrobatic thing going on. And this, you know, it’s very universal. We see this going across from the pyramids and all that stuff. But I’m going into a Segway.
I was doing this kind of research. Looking for flexibility and I was looking up acrobatics and acrobatic depictions and stone carvings and stuff like that. It’s very interesting because we’re dealing with stone carvings. They’re not pictures or images. We can’t say exactly what is going on. So, these people could be doing a backflip or a front flip, which is back handspring, front handspring, or they could be holding a Mexican handstand. And a lot of time there’s definitely scorpion handstands. There’s definitely chest stands that I’ve seen in stone carvings and on Greek urns and stuff like this. I’ve definitely seen a shape that would be the Mexican handstand shape, but it could be someone mid-back flip or handspring or something. So, a bit of benefit of a doubt. I’m not going to say it’s conclusive, but you know, if you’re looking at the range of motions people are showing on these urns and other stuff and if they’re able to flip. Well, they’re probably doing other handstands and other things were possible, then, you know, it’s very possible, most likely, that people were also able to do the Mexican handstand. Be it, you know, in China 3000 years ago on the pyramids or in the carvings in the Valley of the King. That kind of stuff, or on Greek urns from thousand years ago.
So, or, 2000, 3000, 1000 B.C.? Something like that anyway. And yeah, so it’s like, you know, acrobatics as a side point is part of human history. It is a very long part of human history and it is a very long part of human physical culture. That there’s always been people who, you know, not always, but people who have had enough time to spend to go “I can do something interesting and figure out how to transmit it or not.”
And that’s one of the things I find very interesting about flexibility training as much as anything else. There’s always been a trend of displaying flexibility as a thing, as a spectacle, as a performance, you know, and has existed for as long as we have records or maybe not as long as we have records, but it is definitely an ever-present tread, be it in forms of, you know, worship or public displays or, kingly courts or traveling Troubadours or all this kind of thing. There is this trend of performance and it’s something humans like and something, you know, everyone who kind of engages with this practice should be aware of that.
By engaging with handstands and flexibility training, you’re engaging with human history just as much as I would say if you were doing wrestling. And this is the thing with strongmen, I’d say, and strong training being strong. Like obviously, we have rock lifting and there are always feats of strength as well. So, I’d say if you’re engaging in that, whereas the nature of the feats of strength will be cultural and changing like we’d have, you know, stone lifting and then you’d have, such and such would carve their name into stone if they achieve that or they have like the “man stones.” You know, when you have graduated from a boy to being a man, you’re able to lift the stone, that kind of stuff.
Or it could be local kind of things. Oh, we’re a more woody area, so chop things down or we’ll, you know, have feats of bravery or daring as well. Oh, we’ll have to get, you know, a certain feather from a certain nest, and that would be our thing or collect an egg I think from the south islands from a certain sea pillar would be the thing. So, there’s always these kinds of feats of things, but when you’re stepping into a practice like this where it’s practices we have in sports they’re very new in terms of human history.
Whereas acrobatics and wrestling, obviously, is this very long ever-present tread, so you’re joining into a chain of humanity. It stretches across cultural. So, it’s very cool.
Now this brings me back to a point on the Mexican handstand. We use the term Mexican style handstand in our bend program. Not because we think it’s the first term this was ever called or not because it’s the only name. I know people would use the term hollow back and everything, but as a nod and a kind of homage and a bit of honoring to whoever this person from Mexico circus family vaudeville troupe gymnast, whoever it is, whoever you are, we call it Mexican in your honor. And that’s what we’ll stick with. That’s what we decided to stick with instead of hollow back or anything else. So, it’s kind of like it’s, you know, as much as we can pay tradition to the roots. You know, I would love to track that down, and I’m still engaging in research to find it. But if anyone else has done it and can save me the hassle DM.
The Mexican handstand for those of you who, I’m making the assumption, you’ve gotten this far in the podcast, you probably know what a Mexican handstand is. A Mexican handstand could be described as a, a bridge with your feet off the ground.
Now we have our own informal joke or joke correspondents of the Mexican handstand when we write them to the world that it’s: “If your feet are parallel with the ground, you have achieved a Mexican.” If you are going south and further south or somewhere in Central America, Guatemala, maybe if you go on further south, you know, Brazilian or all the way down to an Argentinean or the horn down there anyway. So, we have a bit of a joke. And then, you know, if your back isn’t bending, you know, you’re upstate New York, and I think Mikael has claimed to have done a Canadian one time, you know? You know. There’s a Lapland in there, I suppose, as well if you’re at the North Pole. But this kind of joke thing just in case of degree of bending, and that is, it’s our own little in-joke. “I’ve reached Florida in my training.” “Oh, I’m Texan but I haven’t gone south of the border just yet.” So, we’ve got this kind of thing going on where it’s like, OK, we’re doing a handstand, we’re bending our back and we’re pushing it out now.
The Mexican, obviously there’s different ways of approaching it and there’s different ways of training it. The way I approach the Mexican – the way I train it is – my first goal on the Mexican is to think of the body as the shoulders have begun the hips and basically the back is beginning to round over. And if you think about it, like I say, I’m doing a standing forward fold. Now, if I keep my legs vertical, which are my arms down the handstand, if I keep them vertical and fold forward, the way it will begin to load into the toes and I’ll have to squeeze my fingers or my toes really hard. And there will be a limitation of how far you can go forward.
Whereas if I hinge, correct hinging technique, that means I will push my hips backwards as the torso goes forward. And this will allow as the center mass goes further forward, it will allow us to stay over the base of support in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the hand, or even go back towards the heel. And this will allow me to go deeper and deeper.
So, the first stage of the Mexican training for us is learning how moving the chest allows the legs to come down and as the hips to come down, it’s kind of the inverted central mass muscle. The chest goes down or goes back and pushes the chest out. Then the hips are allowed free movement, and this is one of the key points for the way I train people to learn the Mexican is if we can get the chest out of the way. The chest goes, the more you can push the chest. All the sternum pressure – keep sternum pressure in the opposite direction you want the feet to go. That will give you a stronger base of going over.
Now, when we’re doing this, this means the arms will start leaning away from the feet and the wrist angle, which is normally say about 90 degrees will begin to open out and you’ll get a more open angle at the wrist, maybe 120, 130 degrees even. It also means that the weight comes onto the heel of the hand in the Mexican. I’ve had a few people, not everyone, but the fingertips should become quite unloaded and even up to the point where you could rock onto the wrist itself onto the scaffold area and the fingers could come off the ground slightly. I’ve seen this a few times and it’s very common in blocks actually when doing the Mexican on blocks, but on the ground where it’s like, I always think of the Mexican itself when you get into this kind of shape. It kind of self balances itself because it’s like if you’re familiar with those kind of birds that balance on its beak toys, it kind of has a lot in common with that. Not completely but it has so much of it. Like you load the center mass. You made a long horizontal lever on either side of that, and that means you’re wobbling and your swings from under and over balance are as long as you keep the sternum pressure and keep the structure. It means balancing the Mexican is very quite easy. It’s like the rate of traction drops massively compared to the normal straight. So, it’s quite an easy handstand to balance, but we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
One of the ways we can think of entering the Mexican handstand now. For me and the way I teach Mexican for beginners and intermediates of the Mexican is we want everything to bend as best as possible and not so much worrying about going deep in the shoulder flexion. I know some other coaches are keen about maximizing the flexion of the shoulder and then worrying about the bend, and I’m not in favor of that because I feel it puts too much pressure on the anterior shoulder and just in general until you kind of build up some strength and resilience in a more closed, not as open position. So generally, what I’m looking for in a Mexican is the top four ribs. Or top two or three, it will depend on how you go. They’re going to stay linked, so basically, we’re splitting the thoracic spine up into segments and the top segment, the top third will stay linked with the scapula and stay roughly in a straight alignment regardless of how, if you know, as I imagine, like my arms are leaning one way, well, my ribs and the upper back of that section are leaning the same amount.
This this means you have a stronger position to work from in terms of just passive structures of the shoulder. It’s not as open and you’re not pushing to the limit of your shoulder flexion. And that I find is very important when learning because it gives you a lot, it makes it easier to go out. You can do a bit more work. As you get more flexible, as you want to start going like to South America. Then we need to start getting into more open shoulder positions, all the stuff. But to get the base Mexican where we’re going, you know, feet parallel to the ground, that’s what we’re looking at for our base. That’s our first target with the Mexican. Then we don’t need as the shoulder flexion. And it’s one of those things that I’d encourage a lot of people to not push the shoulder flexion until you know you’ve built a lot of strength, and you know you’ve built a lot of strength, you should be able to pull in and out of Mexicans for two or three repetitions. You could do flies. You could do other kind of movements that are working on this plane or shoulder extensions from the flexed position are quite nice movements to build a bit of endurance and tolerance. We have these all in the program.
At the same time, like getting to a Mexican where your legs are parallel to the ground. If you join the hands with the feet in a line, you can see it’s not actually that deep a bridge. It doesn’t require a huge amount of flexibility to get that Mexican. So, if you’ve got that floor bridge, if your arms are vertical and your feet are completely straight, you have an excessive amount of flexibility for the Mexican itself. It just needs to be trained. And that’s kind of what I find very interesting as well is we have this idea of the Mexican where people saying, “Oh, you have to be super flexible.” You don’t really. And, you know, obviously we work on flexibility. We want to get super flexible. But at the same time, it’s more about maximizing your potential out of getting all the flexibility out of the body, even if you don’t have a full bridge, will get you a generally pretty impressive Mexican, even if you’re not super flexible. If you’re super flexible maximizing it, then you get a very impressive Mexican.
At the same time, we could think of the Mexican as a static active display of open chain bridge flexibility, so we need to have some kind of bridge flexibility. Yes, you need to have, do you need to have the bridge? No. Do you need some general body extension? Yes. That’s basically the way to think about it. We need to be able to extend the hips. We need to be able to move the thoracic spine and we need to be able to get the shoulders slightly deeper into flexion than there would be in your handstand, but not massively. If you have those three things which most people have, then you can generally do a pretty impressive Mexican. Now to push it further and further. We do obviously need to make sure that our balance zones between our passive, static, active, and dynamic are very close to each other because we think of the Mexican as the holding is a static/active display, the moving in and out is dynamic, and it’s not very passive. I’ll say that straight away. It’s not a super passive position to begin with. You probably could get a bit more passive when you’re able to relax and release into it, but that’s more advanced back bending stuff and not really for people learning.
So, one of the things you have to get into the idea is building up strength for the Mexican and building up the idea of bending into it and pulling yourself into it. We always think a lot of the things we work on are the hang backs and drop backs, though I hate the name drop back. It’s a control with grace and ease back, but that’s not as catchy a name as a drop back.
Where we’re doing it from standing, and we’re trying to build the strength of going into the arch and then pulling back out. Into the arch and pulling back out. Anyone who’s trained flexibility trainings with me knows I do a lot of these movements to the point where when you start off when you start training these kind of hand backs, which is a standing bridge without the hands on anything. I have that on my YouTube. Arch? It’s on my YouTube, I can’t remember what I called it. One of the very first videos I ever posted.
This movement is ideal for learning the tolerance for being under a stretch position in something that’s a bit easier to maintain and to the breathing. Getting used to what happens when you’re in this kind of stretched out position and how you can control the breathing. Because we know in Mexicans, it’s kind of, yeah, it’s difficult to breath, but at the same time, you don’t want to pass out when you pull it out of it, you need to be able to find some strategy for breathing. And the arch-backs will teach you that because the breeding will basically be the same where we will hold some air when we’re going in. And then as we’re entering, same as in the Mexican, I encourage people to open their mouth lightly, but you can do it with your nose is fine.
And then you will, as you bend, you will let the air be forced out of you by the bending. So, it’s like, breathe in, enter the bend, air goes out. Now, whatever air gets squished out is basically the volume of air that your body is not able to maintain for the Mexicans. What gets squeezed out. And then whatever’s left in, that’s the kind of little bit you can breathe in and out while in the hole to maintain your holds.
So, there is a bit of a play there in terms of: “How can I control my breathing? How can I get this and how can I breathe it?” Now I remember in my early circus days when I was learning the Mexicans, the training methodology from the coach there was basically, “I’m going to pull your legs down and pull them down. And then I’m going to put a foot between your shoulder blades and push your chest out of the way. And then I was going to hold you there for 30 seconds whether pass out or not.” And then that was it. That was how you learned to Mexican. A bit of old school coaching. We’re a bit more subtle than that in our coaching, obviously, because you don’t have a coach there with our programs. But it was definitely one of these ones that like it. Definitely the first couple of times done, I had to sit down because I was about to blackout and then basically through necessity and violence, I was able to learn how to breathe in it.
Whereas I think the idea of having let the air be squished out, pause, and then use whatever kind of reserve didn’t get squished out to control your breathing. And that will give you a little shallow breath, but ideally you’ll still be able to breathe.
Ideally, the Mexican itself, you should be able to get in. Pause. Take your applause and come back out without really needing to breathe a huge amount. This is the other thing. You should be able to get in. You know, in and out, like once you’re smooth, this problem, as soon as you get better, now you can get from your start position, lower down, pause, back out in seven seconds, is generally quite a good benchmark to have on that.
So, it’s like in, lower down. So, let’s go from handstand, lower down two seconds nice and controlled. Three seconds for your applause. One second for the audience to catch up with what you are doing. Two seconds for applause. Two seconds back out. Seven seconds. Boom. Done. If you’re going on that kind of timings and counting for X and then you have a beat at the end to come out or change into your next movement. So, it’s kind of, you know, gives you a nice little eight count there.
But you can learn to try and survive in the positions so you can hold them longer and longer. And it’s definitely something you will need to learn to do when you’re breathing in the Mexican because you’re pulling air in and out and the diaphragm is stretching up and down. The Mexican shape itself will wobble up and down slightly with the breathing.
And this is kind of one of the things that will, if you do not keep the sternum pushing away from the feet when the legs go up a little, if the sternum follows and then as you breathe out and they go deeper, it’s one of the things that will cause you to twist out. So, you have to always have this idea of push the sternum.
Basically, if we think the feet are slightly up diagonally, then we will push the sternum slightly towards the ground or slightly towards the opposite wall. It just has to keep it. It’s just an intent as much as anything else, because we talk about intent a lot in these programs like, OK, I’m intent. I push my sternum out and then I go.
So that’s one of the things to think about. Keep that sternum pressure. Even when you’re breathing, when even when it feels like it’s lighter because that’s one of the things that will cause you to twist out when you breathe out and it goes longer.
The other thing with the sternum pressure is if you get stuck in the Mexican, if you just max out the sternum pressure more, you’ll kind of walk out of the Mexican like coming out of a back handspring or a back walkover. So, it’s kind of useful on that. So, there’s a few ways of getting out, obviously.
And the other thing, because we’re kind of talking about breathing is if you let the shoulders go forward and you figure out the coordination for this yourself, because if you take a big breath in and pressurize the abdominal abdomen, the whole torso and
thorax, the shape will tend to want to go straight and come out of the arch because you basically, as I was always talking about that air that you forced out.
By refilling that air, you’re basically inflating the balloon. If you ever inflated one of these long balloons. Hanging like a sausage, and then as you inflated, it kind of expands and stands out. It’s the exact same thing in the Mexican that if you can breathe deep into it with the intent of just like pulling with the hip flexors as you’re pulling the legs out. It will generally force you to fall out, so it’s quite an easy way of learning to get out with quite ease. If you find yourself stuck, takes a bit of practice together, and then there is a coordination between OK, shoulders are going towards the feet direction and you’re closing your shoulders, or you’re trying to get your shoulders directly over your hands for your normal handstand position. So, using the breathing in this way is one of the key ways of getting out or getting comfortable or having an emergency escape.
At the same time, with the Mexican, once we kind of, if we think in terms of levers, if we look at, say, when the legs are pointed out and they’re parallel to the ground, that is the longest lever the Mexican will ever make in terms of horizontal leverage. Now, at this point, the shoulders will have pushed away or shoulder the chest, which used the center chest. The sternum will have pushed the furthest away. It will need to go to counterbalance the legs and maintain the base of support over the hands or the center mass over the base of support.
Then, as the legs, if we start going into South America, we’re going to Argentina. We’re going on a trip to Argentina and we have a one way ticket. As you go down and go further. The shoulders start to come back in closer to vertical. Depends on the weight of your legs and your kind of glutes and all this. How much they’ll do that. But you can see a lot of people who are super flexible if they’re able to get deep into the bridges and very deep into the Mexicans where they’re close to their hands or very close, that kind of a Mexican hands down that’s resembling a back ankle, catch that kind of thing for those of you who know. You see that their arms come very close back to vertical. And that’s kind of interesting. It’s kind of spilling out and over. It’s like going, pop open, then down and over and back around. And that’s kind of what we’re looking for. We have this idea. Like, push the chest away. The chest going away allows the legs to go down, either if you push the chest away too far, you fall out. So, something has to happen at the top. So, the legs go down. They go down, down, down and down. You survive. Then they start going deeper and deeper and you’re like, OK, cool, we’re going to South America.
And then the arms and the legs start to come together in the middle. It’s kind of interesting. It’s just not that there’s a set angle, but that idea of keeping the pressure in the sternum will still count in that because you need that. If you don’t keep that pressure on the sternum like pushing away, then as the legs are going down, they’ll actually pull you off onto the balance point. So, you’ll be doing a back limber out where if you keep that idea of pushing away, then the stretch has something to stretch away from – it becomes an anchor point. So even if your arms are going back up vertical, we still have this idea of stretching along the front.
I hope everyone’s following along. What we’ve defined in the Mexican program, the Mexican thing is a certain shoulder position, more so than anything else, that it’s a shoulder and chest alignment that is the intermediate levels of the Mexican. And then we have to find a few shapes that we’re familiar. Some like chair, straddle, high straddle, close straddle, split half, split Mexican that all use the same shoulder shape. And that’s interesting where it’s like, you know, for my own thinking on handstands that I have four shoulder positions. Basically, it’s the way I think about it.
I have my true mechanical line straight line, which is our mechanical line of force, which we generally use for everything, for pressing, for straight handstands. For tucks, for pikes, for one-arms. Then we have our aesthetic straight-line handstand, which is a bit too open and not as functional as the mechanical one. Then we have our Mexican or shoulders, which are the shoulders going deeper into flexion and the chest is beginning to open. And then we have our scorpion shoulders where we have our shoulders are coming into production and out of elevation, and they are coming more to a posture position on the back and chest is arching in a different manner than it is in the Mexican.
So, defined. That’s what I’m talking about when I define the Mexican handstand where we’re teaching these shapes and we’re teaching bridge flexibility in this program, but we’re teaching a specific shoulder position. Being able to transition and
understand your own limitations and successes in these positions will dictate a lot about how you want your sensitivity, you’re training to the things you can do and the things you might be good at.
You’ll see this in, particularly for the people who are coaches. You know, I’ve been coaching a long time. You see that for some people, Mexicans come super easy to them. They have a favorable shoulder structure, but then pressing is difficult or pressing is super easy. Straight handstands are super easy, and they might even be flexible. But then Mexicans and back bending handstands are just very, very difficult. They don’t come as easy as they look like they should, and everyone has their own tendencies. And exploring these shoulder positions is what will kind of give you an idea of “Oh, you know, this comes very easy to me.” This is quite nice. You know, the closed shoulder scorpion kind of shape position like it was very easy for me. I was like, “oh, it’s got nice. I’m not super, super bendy, but you know, well, I’m not super bendy compared to the level you’d have to be to be getting your feet to your head and kind of smoking cigarettes, while you’re doing scorpion handstands and that kind of thing. So, I got a bit of work to do, but you know, I haven’t got someone who wants to sit on me when I’m back bending. I’m not sure I’d let them at this stage. I’m getting old, but maybe I should.
Uh, anyway. So, that is kind of some of the Mexican we’re looking at and it’s kind of – this program is kind of interesting for me as well. It was such a range of people that can come to it. And you’ll notice yourself, it’s like you could have someone who’s not flexible, but they’re able to express ninety five percent of their flexibility in their Mexican handstand. Or you could have someone they just need to get flexible. But the balance is great and the strength is great. It’s kind of like getting their shoulder positioning.
Whereas you could have someone who’s super flexible and can barely show ten percent of it in the Mexican. So, the programmings are kind of complicated that I had to do. I couldn’t write a linear program that we might just do in Handstand Factory normally. As you’d be familiar with. I wrote programs that have a flavor, whereas like it has a bit of a description. I was like, you know, so you can read this and go, “OK, that sounds like me. I’ll follow this program for a bit and then I’ll see what I get out of it or try a different one.” Same with the flexibility. It’s like, you know, on paper, flexibility training it can be you could have the same program written down for someone who’s super advanced as someone who is just beginning.
And it’s just like it’s more to do with the intent and refinement of the person rather than the exact program because it’s not exactly linear. Like the only thing that’s really linear is side splits, I’d say. Whereas back bending, you have to be subtle. And this is one of the things that we’re trying to get into in the flexibility section is like it’s more about the subtleness and learning to articulate and maximize out what you have going on.
So, we have this idea that I would use called radial expansion. And what we want when we’re doing our back bending is we can always think of the idea of a radial extension because it’s on our radius and we are basically trying to line up and back bend over a wheel or over a U-shape. We can think of where it’s curving at every point, we’d make contact or every point on the spine. We can have essentially a point on every single vertebral segment of the spine. So, all of them or we can have, you know, kind of chunks or whatever but we’re trying to think about bending at all these points.
So, it’s like if I imagine I’m using a bicycle wheel is the easiest way to get a good visual of this. And I bend over the wheel and then I’m, you know, perfectly and then I want to try and maximize the bend that everywhere there’s a spoke on the wheel going to the center of the reel.
If we think about bending and say, oh, so back bend that, I just bend straight backwards, it’s not really it because you’re bending the reaction at the clavicle area is going to be completely different than it will be at the abdomen area, at the bellybutton area.
So, we have to find how do we maximize our potential for all these little segments and all these complicated joints? How do we breathe in, expand, relax, release? Can we get precise? Can we get as precise as possible? And then can we find a way of doing it in a very uncomplicated manner, very low challenge manner?
And then can we implement it into deeper and deeper positions? So that’s what we’re looking for in these – in this program of flexibility, in position, is we want to maximize the availability of our flexibility and the ease of entry. And that only comes with experience and trying to feel things out, and it comes with this idea of the breathing because
Particularly when we’re working on back bending, we will have this idea that when I breathe into the rib cage, the rib cage will open. We want to try and inflate it sideways. And this will open a thing called the costotransverse joint, which is the joints of ribs onto the vertebra.
And if we think because it’s complicated, think of the rib cage and the upper vertebrae. If I bend back and crunch everything together, there is no space and everything kind of converges and pressed against it. Whereas if I can cut these things open a little bit with my breathing by inflating my rib cage and then I can kind of sink and find space in there. These things, it’s also because of the differences of anatomy in the upper spine. It could be a big opening like a breeze in my costotransverse joint opens three millimeters and gives a load of space, or it could be one millimeter or, you know, could be bigger or smaller or different segments will move at different rates as well. It’s not universal. It’s not like, oh, I’m flexible in my back. It’s like, well, are you really? Or are you flexible at one point in your back or at one moment does your back move?
You know, these kinds of things do play into it because, you know, the gold standard of flexibility training is always, can you touch your toes in the seated forward fold and then sit and reach test on call? And that decides whether you’re flexible or not, whereas people can have very different flexibility patterns across the whole-body clock. Amazing shoulders in terms of total range of motion and dislocations and naturally they might not be able to touch the toes. You know, I’ve seen that kind of extremity at one or two times. You know, it’s always a kind of balance. It’s like, oh, my hips are really flexible and forward folding, but they’re not great at extension or these kinds of things.
So, it is trying to find which way does my back want to move and how do I extend it to the best I can? And that takes time. At the same time, it can’t really be forced because if we think about all the muscles, the bigger muscles on the back and trying to make them kind of elongate on the inferior surfaces on the surface that are closer to the body or closer to the inside of the body, so that they are not bending evenly. And if I make them, if I pull too hard and shorten these muscles, then at the same time, I’m making a lot of tension on the upper back that I might be able to coax the spine around. So, there’s kind of a battle.
I don’t want to say a battle, but it’s a subtleness going on. That to max out the T-spine. It’s one of the things we really, you know. It’s one of the things I feel I really specialize in is actually getting bridges and getting people to maximize their T-spine flexibility. We have all the techniques for that, and you know, there are others who say, like we’d say, split and, you know, front splits and side splits and pancakes. You know, there’s coaches who can do what I can do and there’s no debate on that. OK, cool.
Whereas I do feel like I have a very nuanced and very subtle approach to the T-spine that maybe not be as much in common usage. And one of the ideas we have in this T-spine is learning to not use the spinal extensors to extend the spine, but using the lats. And this will mean that I’m — it’s a very weird sensation, and it’s only accessible once you begin to be able to bend the spine. If we think about the anatomy of the lats going from the humerus down to the track of lumbar fascia connecting in across from the lumbar spine, different lengths for different people, you know people, people have different lengths of lats and the lats can also be asymmetrical, depending on what they’re attaching. But they’re crossing all these joint segments of the ribs and the lower spine. They have a function kind of at this idea.
But one of the ideas: if I can bend my back and then use my lats to pull myself into this bend. Then the muscles around my spine can not do as much. They still need to be doing something. It’s not all or nothing. They are doing something, but we’re trying to avoid using the wrong pulleys and the spinal vectors to a huge amount and use the lats to really get into the bending and pull us deeper.
And that’s one of the key things you will find on back bending. It’s like particularly for these positions, if you’re familiar with that kind of graft-y terminology or vector assisted. We’re using the vector of gravity to help pull us into the bend. So, there’s two vectors going on in the Mexican. There’s a downward vector and a sternum pressure vector. They intersect at right angles, and that gives us a rotation because we’re rotating into the Mexican. And that rotation, we want to use the inside of the circle, which is our lats and vector spinning and actually glutes as well and even hamstrings. If we want to use them to pull us, to actively pull us in.
What helps a lot is we could have an external or an internal focus locus and we can have different kinds of things going on in that. One of the things I like to do I really like to coach it subtle. For those of you, a bit more advanced, you’ll get it straight away. But for those of you who are kind of new to this training it will take a while.
I will describe it like this, if I say close your eyes and touch your nose, most people can do it. If I say close your eyes and touch your knee. You can do it because we have a body map. We could actually take this idea of like, OK, let’s find two pieces of the body that I have a good clear sensation for. So, I would say hands and glutes or head and sacrum, wherever, whatever.
You have to find out what you can feel. I can’t feel what you can feel. You have to feel what you can feel but find something that’s kind of on the lower half of the body and find something that’s more on the upper half of the body and then try and pull them together. Using gravity to assist. And try to get them to touch. And that gives one of the compression ideas of the maximum using the lats to compress and pull in. Obviously, it takes a while to feel this and it’s kind of almost like it will work automatically because a lot of people don’t have good feeling for the lats anyway.
But being able to find this kind of internal focus, which is becoming an external thought form. Then we can actually make this line that connects it to points and try get them to touch. And this will help compress the Mexican down because we can think of a maximum weight to think about it.
It’s a standing toe touch. It’s just you’re touching your heels the wrong way round. If you think about that and if we think of a total which we need to maximize the amount of flexibility we can get, the traction, the rolling over the hips, these kinds of ideas would apply that we’re trying to pull ourselves into it. We’re trying to get things to come together.
We do this in a standing. I say getting as deep as you can and standing toe two or three or standing Jefferson, whatever people will know what to do because they’ve done it before and have this tasking idea and they possibly will have done some compression work. It’s the same in the Mexican. We have compression drills in the flexibility for back compression, and it is one of these things that it’s kind of not spoken about so much. But there is this concept of compression to force in two directions at once working opposite to give us that compression. So, we have these types of drills in the flexibility. It’s just kind of they’re not labeled compression, but they are or they’re doing the same thing on the opposite side of the body that a compression would for your pancake or for your pike.
What was I doing? Yeah, I think I covered a lot of the points I wanted to give on the Mexican and what we’re doing. Gave a lot on it.
I think that’s going to wrap it up there. Unfortunately, Mikael couldn’t be here this week, but he’ll be back next week for our shared Bend program or bend Mexican handstand, where we teach you the Mexican, the chair, the half-split Mexican, the full split Mexican, the open and close straddle hip Mexican, as well as the bridge drop-back and stuff like that is available now. Check it out. I know a lot of people been waiting for it. It is awesome.
There is the Discount Podcast 15 to get a fifteen percent discount on all our programs, so put that to use. Other than that, you know, I’ve been the wizard. You guys have been great. And I will be back with my degenerate co-host next week