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S2 Episode 81: Spotting


In this episode Emmet and Mikael get into the ins and outs of spotting.

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S2E81 – Spotting

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Transcript of Episode 81: Spotting

EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstandcast, sorry I just farted. I want a screen shot of Mikael.

MK: Oh, Emmet you got wrecked.

EL: Hello and welcome back at the time, Carson. I’m getting wrecked with Mikael’s face once again because he is back on the show with me. Yeah. So how have things been Mikael? I hear you’ve been adventuring around the place.

MK: Yeah, I was in New York for ten days. It was pretty damn cool. Visited this place called Warrior Bridge and a guy named Sean Longhouse who started this new really cool circus space. So, I was there seeing that meeting those good people. It was an absolute blast in every way, shape or form. So, yeah, New York is a pretty damn cool city. I really enjoyed. Yeah. It has been insanely intense. We basically played shows with like Valda in Stockholm. I had three days off, fucked off to New York, was there for ten days. Just Mega Temple all the time, flew back to Sweden through Finland, was home for 23 hours, flew to Norway. Then the night after we drove seven hours north into the region called Trøndelag in Norway, which is where I’m basically in fuck off nowhere right now. I checked the population density in this area and it’s like three people per square kilometers, so it’s literally nowhere.

EL: So let me get this right. You’ve gone from like possibly the most densely packed city in the world bar maybe, I don’t know, Jakarta or something like that to like the most  sparsely populated now. That’s so extreme.

MK: It yeah, it was pretty epic because I just came up here and I was like, yeah, thirty five hours ago or forty hours ago, I was in New York and the middle of Manhattan. And then you’re just like, well, here there’s moose, all the fucking like on a meadow out there. And there’s just no people. 

EL: No nothing of the moose family? 

MK: No, I mean, they’re probably going to fuck you up if you get close to them, if they want to or they run away or they just stand in the middle of the road so you hit them with your car, that’s what usually happens with moose up here. 

But yeah, we’re playing this kids’ show that I have with two friends of mine with a company called Company 2, which is great. So yeah, it’s a blast being up here with them and playing some shows. We did two shows in the morning in a very cold kind of physical education hall. But yeah, kids love it and it’s a really nice role to play.

But yeah, a very large contrast is coming from New York and just heading up here and hey, there is literally nothing here. And it’s kind of freeing at the same time. But yeah, there’s been a lot of stuff and then I finish up like this touring here. I had hoped to Sweden off for one day and then I have a month of rehearsal with the next show I’m going to be playing in. So, yeah, there is a lot of things. How about you, Emmet Lewis?

EL: Well,  I think I’ve kind of changed your lifestyle. At some point I stopped traveling as much, and now I just have a desk job which involves smashing my head against the keyboard, trying to figure out how to make sense of words and what word makes sense. I don’t know. People have experienced this, but when you read the same word over and over again, it loses all meaning. And when you’re trying to say the same thing in a different way, it also loses meaning until eventually you’re kind of going “…the Instamatic is a muscle contraction and isometric is a minimum, meh meh meh…” And your brain is making the minimum sound, even though you’re reading the words you’ve typed. It’s great fun. You should try it out. I recommend it. It’s like being on drugs, but not quite. It’s for free, basically. So it’s cheap. It’s cheap. Put it that way, you just keep saying the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning.

MK: I mean, I’m sure if you do it for long enough, it’ll be like actually being on drugs, I’m not sure.

EL: I think basically if you say the same subset of words long enough, eventually you become an academic and you have a Ph.D. and no one knows what you’re talking about. But that’s OK because you don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’re saying the words because you said them so confidently for so long that people think you know what you’re talking about.

MK: Exactly. And you just you just need to keep the farce going. Yeah, you just, OK, if I just keep saying this, I’ll keep my position and everything. It’s kind of cool,

EL: Basically, keep the branch rolling. It’s good fun. Other than that I’m off to London this weekend for a seminar, the first international seminar of, well, I’m going to bend the shit out of some people just for…

MK: A quantum state, for like the two years of having bent people and just like fucking turn them into a pretzel in like ten minutes.

EL: Yeah, it’s kind of one of those things like come back because we had a smaller one in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, and it’s like, I know from working my way down to the clients. Just because of the load. I can’t actually… I had the seminar designed as a bit of an experience as much as anything else. It’s designed to lead people to peak flexibility expressions just as what’s in there. I had to tone it down a little, actually, just because people aren’t… The average level of fitness that you’d expect to come to the seminar has just dropped or the average rate of stress is much higher or has been for the last two years. So it’s like, OK, I’ve got to tone things back a little, which is not great for the old before and afters, but, you know, not in this business to get quick before and afters anyway, but it’s to get the wizardry. Once she hit, the wizard staff worked again, not the wizard staff. That has some bad connotations in this business.

MK: Yes. Don’t bring out the Wizard staff in the seminar.

EL: The Gandalf staff. But other than that, it’s going to be fun to back to London. I have’nt been there in a while. London was basically full. Like, I’m not joking, trying to find an Airbnb for under like a thousand a day was essentially impossible, so we must find some hotel that claims to be three star. Looking at the pictures of it, if me and the co-host manage to come out of this hotel without bedbugs and fleas. It’s probably going to be a thing. It’s not cheap as well.

MK: I remember when I was in Tor on tour in France, a lot, we used to end up at some of those like three star hotels, we’re just like, well, this is pretty degenerate. Then you get like one dry croissant and a glass of orange juice for breakfast.

EL: Yeah, this is a three star where it’s like charging five star prices as well. I’m just like, Hmm, this is the best you got. 

MK: Suspicious! 

EL: Anyway, enough. We have something, actually, that we can hint at. We’re going to do our own cue drop, but it’s actually a handstand drop. So, it’s a handstand drop instead of a cue drop. And basically it is. We’re recording this on a Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving just for people listening in future. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving 2021 in the States. We have a lot of American listeners. So sometime tomorrow, probably tending towards the evening time in Ireland. If you were to log into your Handstand factory account, there could be something in there. There could be a surprise.

MK: May or may not!

EL: There may or may not be, you know, it’s kind of like JFK Jr. coming back from the dead. He may or may not come back from the dead. But we’re going to hold the vigil. You’ve just got to keep your account refreshing and it’s going to be perfect because let’s face it, you could use this possibly to make an excuse to get away from your uncle who will be spouting conspiracy theories at your Thanksgiving table after he’s had a few too many beers. We all have one of those uncles. I’ve got one in the family. I’ve got two in the family. I’m sure you have one or two. 

MK: I mean, I have, similar but it’s UFOs.

EL: UFOs are good, like…

MK: It’s not uncle, but it’s very similar, but it’s a lot of UFOs. And yeah, it gets complicated to follow after a certain amount of time.

EL: Yeah. So basically, you know, we’ve got something coming for you. And don’t worry, even if you’re listening in the future, past it, it will be in your account still. So anyway, that’s our kind of drop, and we’ll talk a bit more about what it is in next week’s episode. But this is our way of – you’ll see anyway. 

MK: We have stalled for long enough, I think.

EL: I know we’re trying to fill time. This episode is all filler, no chiller. I can’t remember some shit like this anyway. Basically, we dropped the gold in there, but you have to mine it basically. So that’s what the transcripts are for. If we say something good, you just go back and read the transcript. You can find it quicker. Anyway, what was I going to say? We have a topic today, a topic that is, it’s one of those ones like, yes, how do we do it? What do we do? What do we call it? Well, we’re going to call it spotting, and that is our topic today of like all these kind of things that go into how can we as coaches or just even as friends or training partners or just happening to be in the same room, give physical assistance to someone doing a handstand? And this is kind of one of these things it’s like. There’s a weird thing of spotting it’s like you could get all the way basically as good as you’re going to get with handstands without having a continual kind of spotting thing. Or you could get all the way good as best as you can get ever and have spotting all the way along. It’s not a, you know, it’s not an either/or. It’s definitely one of these things. There’s ways around of not having a spotter or having access to a spotter or having little access or having no access. And this kind of thing is kind of fun, interesting, actually. And it is one of these things where I suppose where both me and Mikael came from, like circus school, where spotting is used a lot for basically everything, really? 

MK: Yeah. 

EL: Whereas then it depends. I suppose Sasha wasn’t too spotting heavy, but like asana was quite like most of your sets will be spotted to a large degree.

MK: Yeah, I mean, Sasha has actually started. I mean, I’ve seen him spot much more in the later years with other students than me and the guy I was training with Kim, we were basically almost never spotted because we could one arm pretty well when we got there. But I think the entire kind of spotting methodology is perhaps the largest reason for me that I started becoming interested in actual coaching and the idea of this training in general, because spotting was kind of the default setting in many ways and I just failed to see its purpose after a certain point. And I think this was a very large driving force for me because it’s like, well, they are all doing this. This is the way. And yet I just see no results year after year. With so many people. 

And of course, I know a lot of people, including myself, who have been spotted, who have gotten great results, but I did notice that the people that got good were the people that went after class. They went in the evenings, the people that trained outside of their classes. And I guess then were able to apply the knowledge that you get from being placed in the position and then practicing it yourself. And I just saw that everything I would be able to do with a spotter would not translate to being able to do it myself.

This frustrated me and I started like thinking about this. Well, why doesn’t it work? And this went for hand balancing and it went for aerial straps as well, where I will spot it through the same routine through all my classes of straps for years. And I couldn’t get very much better at it. Like my coach would kind of bounce my legs in front lever. Back levers I could do. I didn’t get any better at front levers whatsoever. And it was an element I didn’t train a whole lot, but I trained intensely, so there should have been some kind of carryover. But there just happened so little with this movement and also with spotted handstand moves. And I just started wondering, so what? What the hell. Now, I’m kind of starting the entire wrong rant on why spotting isn’t good. There are a lot of good stuff about spotting. But as always, it’s about the how and not exactly the what. But yeah, I think that the generalized use of heavy spotting on people that do not need to be spotted is vastly overused. 

EL: Yeah, it’s definitely one of these things like it is a double edged sword because it’s this kind of thing. Let’s speak more about the higher end. I suppose we’re talking about more beginner spotting towards the end of the podcast. Probably be a way to split this up. Where it’s quite easy if you take like, say, someone who has done aerial or pole dance, pretty good, flexible, strong, whatever good body sense. I could probably put them into the right configuration of a figa and move them around. And all this and I could probably take my fingers off and let them balance for a split second before they fall and keep doing that. But you’ll see this. And it’s as you said, you’ve seen people who’ve been doing this for years and still wouldn’t actually be able to do the movement. And it is kind of it’s basically in some ways, the spotter is taking over the software side of the handstand. So we have the hardware side, which is the physical, the physical shapes the body can make and your strength and your muscles and flexibility.

All that with the limits of what that is or what it can do. We could very easily basically manipulate you into the shape you what we want what. However, our ideal aesthetic we’re looking for in the shape is and then we’ve done all the movement and all the mistakes and made it perfect. This is one of the things that I find with styles that are too spotted, not all of them. Obviously, there has to be a mix. I think that’s important. But where it’s missing. It’s not letting people fuck up. This, I think, is that kind of mistake that happens in spotting because everything is perfect. 

Everything has to be exactly how it should be. But that’s great in terms of a thing. When you have a skill that you can work on and you just need a bit of refinement or a bit of  tightness on the body position or a bit of tweaking here or there. But then it becomes this thing where you’re like, “Oh, I’m literally not allowing you to build up that body map of like hot and cold around the spot you need to be in.”

MK: For sure. And just the fact that developing balance when you have an extra point of contact, it messes with the entire thing. And I think that you could say that on average, the more complex the balance is, the harder it is to spot it well so that the person doing it gets something out of it. 

Let’s say you have someone like, we start totally at the beginning, someone who is, it’s their first handstand class, they need some spot. They might need to have you literally help them up to the wall with legs and stuff like that. If they do it free standing, they need to maybe have your knee in there by their shoulder and you hold their legs tightly and stuff because the need to understand what the hell it means to be upside down on their arms. 

Then you need lots of spotting because safety is the number one thing. If they fall and hurt themselves, get or become afraid or whatever, then that’s your problem. And that is like that. That’s one hundred percent a point where spotting is crucial. And even for someone who is learning to balance a bit and it’s safe enough in their hands, spotting can be really good because they can be a good spot or spend more time within the field. They can do corrections of their body themselves. And very importantly, you can also help lget the proper configuration of the body so that you get the correct position that you’re looking for as a coach.

It’s hugely helpful with spotting, but as they want to learn to balance for longer and then they need to kind of gradually go away from spotting. And from what I’ve seen is that most people seem to be reasonable when it comes to… Or most people that have handstand knowledge seem to be reasonable when it comes to the use of spotting.

For beginners, intermediate stages, I think it’s when we get towards complexity, such as presses or one arms where people employ a lot of spotting, where the spotting might just not do very much at all. And I think something I’ve thought a lot about seeing, particularly a couple of people going to class for like two and a half years working on one arm very, very heavily with constant spotting while barely being able to do a solid two arm. They just didn’t get better at all. 

I like the physical ability to do things on their own. It didn’t improve over a period of two years. And that is I think one of the largest problems. Is that being spotted gives you a fake sense of proximity to your goal because it feels, “Oh, but I’m almost there.” And you’ll have coaches go, they’ll spot you in the stalder and it’ll block your shoulders so the shoulders don’t actually need to do the flexion hard enough. And then they say, “Oh yeah, but I spotted very little. You’re almost there.” And I saw this in the circus school. A girl being spotted for sets of ten stalders and I saw, I was looking at that. I was like, I want to test her when she comes back because I was teaching her. She came to class like a couple of days later and I was like, “OK, can you lower down as far as you can and then press back up?” I asked her. She could barely do a range of motion press for her feet, came past her hands a little bit and back up and she couldn’t. And she had been doing this for a long time. 

Same another girl in the same school who had been doing reps of same side types of presses and crocodile to handstand. Yeah, like for a long time with a Chinese teacher. And she was like, really good on all kinds of other handstand stuff. But this strength stuff, she had gotten nowhere with it. She couldn’t get up. She wasn’t even close to getting up or understanding even to how to create the drive from going in to arm crocodile up with kick. 

And because each time she goes for the movement there are hands on her body that lift her up, giving her support exactly where she needs to work, the neural pattern it’s just not the same firing. It’s not the same whole body coordination and understanding of what’s going on. So, that’s where I’m really torn. I think it can be so effective and so necessary at certain stages and then others, it’ll just be time waste.

EL: Yeah, I think that’s kind of one of the things. It’s so the pressing example as well. It’s very, very easy to over or underestimate or overestimate the amount of assistance you’re giving the person. So, you think they’re giving them very little. But what you’re doing is just basically not allowing them to strain in the movement and as we know it, suppress or something that requires strength. It’s just not allowing them to build up strength, which is basically that guy in the bench who has like too much and his body is there lifting the bar up, doing curls. And it’s just like, “all you brah, all you brah!”

It does get that way with presses. Something I’ve experienced myself. I remember, one of the coaches I had would finish our tumbling handstand class with 20 or 30 spotted presses. And once you have people spotted like that, all of us, this group of 10 or whatever was in the class, just spotting each other. And it’s just like with the way he’s doing with the block knees, knees blocking the shoulders going forward and someone’s hands on the hips and you’re just like, “Oh, look, I can do 20 presses.” “Oh, I can’t do one today.” You’d hear. And you’re like, “Well, I can do this 20 yesterday. I must be tired.” I’m like, well, if you could do 20 presses in a row without coming down, you probably should be able to do one.

MK: Yeah, I think it’s that thing where, the logic goes, oh, well, it must be good for something and you’re repeating the motion a lot, et cetera, et cetera. So I get the logic, but I haven’t seen enough results of it and being around for all these years, I’ve seen so many results by exposing the body to the exact problem it needs to solve. And it works. And I mean, we do see this a lot. I mean, in other kind of training communities and fitness and stuff where you do progression, such as just to go back to that like front lever kind of example, you have a bunch of progressions where you increase leverage. So, you’re working within a reasonable degree of like of exhaustion or effort of your body and you work there and then you increase that over time. While the spotted method kind of tries to achieve that. Oh, well, this is easier for your body. Therefore, you can do more, but you’re actually not doing the same thing. And like I remember very well when I was doing, especially those like front lever, that front lever work with my coach because I could never get past one leg straight and one leg bent.

And when we were doing in class, we would do in full and he would bounce my legs and hold me a bit and stuff. And I would just experience this like large amount of effort everywhere in my body. It was heavy but I didn’t feel like when I started doing it on my own kind of progression I would feel like, hey, my lats are contracting very hard. You just have that specific muscle feeling, OK, my lats are working very hard. My abs are working very hard right now. It would be a direct sensation, whereas I never felt that when I was spotted because I was held up. And then again, I do know that in gymnastics, in many different styles of training, there are successful people that I mean, ring gymnasts they’re working with spotting and so on. And if done well, I am sure it can work.

EL: But this is the thing. Spotting is an art and it’s kind of one of the points I want to raise. You have to understand the goal of what you need to achieve when you are spotting someone. And we could say, we can say roughly, I probably think of a few more as I go through this. But when you’re spotting someone, we have three. We have three zones that we could be spotting someone in. You have to be very clear on this. It’s like, OK, I’m spotting someone for safety. Obviously, it’s more on beginner, so I’m scared of falling out. I want to make them feel very safe. I want to like, you know, my spot almost wants to be like hugging them or taking all their weight or let’s say you  have them used to being on balance or you know, controlling their body into the position. So, there’s no way they could fuck up. This is for safety. It’s not so much that they’re going to learn a lot out of it, but they’re getting this feeling of safety and getting used to what we want to do. This happens in tumbling as well when OK, I’m spotting someone, they’re going to attempt something they’ve done, haven’t done before. We worked on the lead up, but now it’s like, I don’t know, into a double back or try something like a cast off not to turn on the terminology on high bars or some kind of release or something on trampoline. It’s like, OK, I’m going to spot you, but like, I’m basically going to make sure you can get in and under. We’re not really caring about the movement. We’re just caring about getting a sense of what we’re meant to do and then we can work on it from there. It’s like it’s an experience. It’s like a roller coaster. You go on the roller coaster, the track keeps you safe, you’re the track. 

Then we have spotting where we’re trying to make up a deficit of strength, where someone just doesn’t have the strength to do the movement. And this could be like, OK, simple, someone’s trying to do a handstand. They can get on top of their shoulders, just two arm handstand, and they can keep their shoulders up. They don’t have the strength, and I just want them to spend longer time on that. So, I’ll let them spend as much time as they can with their shoulders high wherever they need to be. And then when they sag, I’m going to lift them back up and give them a bit of support and hold them on. The  same for pressing. So, we’re trying to find a deficit of strength that this person has. 

Then we could be spotting for body shape. And this is very common in sort of most of our gymnastics. Everything. We’re trying to get the person into the right alignment because they might not have the right body map upside down. So this is kind of like when we’re, fingertips, we’re kind of just moving people gently. We’re just basically, you know, we’re basically just, you know, trying to get the get the picture right of the movement or get the kind of sequencing right. If someone isn’t doing the presses right, we could, you know, hold their legs close to the body while they’re pushing through the shoulders, then let the legs come up. There is this style of doing it, but then once again for pressing, if we’re spotting for body shape and body control, we’re not worrying too much about, you know, we’re trying to get the person to basically experience this, pay attention to that, notice this. We’re not worrying too much about the strength. Obviously, we’re trying to get that taken care of. But what happens in a lot of spotting is you’re trying to do everything at once and we have spotting for balance as well. Obviously, we’re trying to train the person. The spotting for balance is like, particularly when you’re spotting someone, and you’re good at spotting, you have a good eye, you probably know they’re off balance before they know they’re off balance. 

So they’ve kind of lost it, but they haven’t lost it completely. When it’s a new move or new something, they need to go much further into the fall before they get to it. So, what you’re trying to do is stop people at the extremes of our zones of balance. So, the zones of balance, what we explained before, we have this idea where we could have a zone where we can correct with the hands-only and this zone would mean the upper body shape, the shape of the body upwards above the hand doesn’t have to change. And that’s the kind of zone we want to keep people in if we’re spotting. So, they get used to this finer balanced control that they might not have access to immediately. But at the same time, they need to get to the edge of that balance when the body line and movement begins to break down before you should interfere, rather than just like, oh, you’re moving back, moving back, because then it just becomes like that game where you’re keeping a stick up on balance just by tapping it backwards and forwards.

MK: I think with a lot of the more technical kind of spotting. Foot presses, for example. I have been trying out a lot of stuff when it comes to spotting, and there’s a couple that I do on presses were like, I think the primary thing is to try to not block the shoulders too much unless it increases danger for the person or unsafety. There’s this one I do, where I grab by the hips and then I follow with the fingers down the side of the abs. As the person rolls down from a handstand doing a negative, for example, because you can kind of follow where their center of mass is moving. It’s something that actually makes them feel that they have to, or they will feel the crunch in their abs. The reason I started using it is because when I was trying it out, people were like, oh, that’s so heavy in my abs. They would feel a cramping thing, which I remember from when I learned my first negatives and my first presses. I would feel that my midsection was a towel that was twisted and kind of just like it was so much action going on there.

And I was like, hey, so people are actually noticing this when I do this spot, and it’s kind of complicated and difficult to do because you need to be very aware of how the movement should be, how the movement can be for this person and where they are in the moment zone. And yeah, for balance, I find it like, for anyone who is listening in or out thinking maybe what are some tips in terms of getting better at your spotting? I think first of all, if you’re spotting for safety, use the grip of your hand like you can place your knee in front of the person’s shoulders. So, if they came forwards, if they feel the feeling of falling on their face, their shoulder is just going to bump into your knee, central muscle back and then fall back on their feet. It is 100 percent safe because they cannot just crash on their face. And that is first priority as a handstand coach. Make sure no one falls in their face. Everything else is secondary.

I would like to say with spotting as well. Make sure you’ve explained what you’re going to do with the person and that you have, you know, we can talk about consent and all that. We’re all hopefully grown ups here and we can have these conversations. They should be quite easy and should be quite easy to say, no, I don’t want to be spotted as well. So, if you don’t want to be spotted, you know, personally, I don’t really like being spotted. I never liked being spotted during coaching. And you know, I say that to the coaches, if I could or if it wasn’t important, if it was important, I would obviously get in with it, but they’ll be fine. But it is just one of those things even if it’s just down, just go like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to have to touch you on the butt or I’m going to have to grab your ribs.” Don’t make it a surprise when the person is upside down, you know, even if someone’s going for the first kick up and you go like, “OK, I’m going to let you kick up and then I’m going to grab your leg and pull you up.” Don’t go like, Oh yeah, I’ll just be here. Or, you know, make sure the person knows what’s going to happen during the spot. So, it’s not a surprise when you’re like, “Oh shit, you know, I expected them to touch my thighs and they grabbed my ribs.” You know, it will throw someone off.

MK: Yeah, super important. I mean, as a coach, as important people not falling on her face, you need to make people feel safe. So, yeah, make sure everyone is understanding what’s going on. But yeah, I think for this. And for sporting balance and stuff like that, I think the ultimate way of balance of being a good spotter is if you are the helping wheels on the bike for a kid. If you’re able to be those wheels because they’re not touching the ground for the majority of the time that even the child is biking just gives them the safety that, OK, they’ll touch now and then. But as soon as they get up a little bit of speed, the bike will do its job and they will actually stay in the middle. Due to the bike rather than to side wheels. And I think that, yeah, I mean, as you’re making sure people are safe or when people come up, you use the grip of your hands. You just make sure you know where they are, they can feel your support. 

Of course, for someone who is very advanced, you don’t need this. But for someone learning. For those who are more advanced, you have to move your fingertips. You’re not sensitive enough in your hand to get the idea of exactly where a person is and the fingertips can do a lot better of a job because what your goal is not to put them in balance. Your goal is to put them in the area where they can assume their own balance. Yeah, from your hands. And that means that you need to be going gradually. It’s a very analog kind of thing you have. You’re touching, you’re touching less and less and less and less until they start assuming their own balance within whatever capacity they have. And this needs to happen painfully slowly and you be mega patient. But it’s like, sometimes I stand there and I’m like like, I really want to just go off the person now with just like skin touch kind of know I’m going to be here for five more seconds because I don’t know what’s going to happen of a reaction, because as long as there’s more points of contact, you will interfere with their central mass as you move off.

And this is where it gets difficult and on two arms is not particularly difficult because you can put people one percent into over balance and then have the person apply pressure with the fingers and they can take the weight off of you and get into their hand by the force of fingers and then stabilize while on one-arm. This is extremely difficult because they will spin in all directions. And I think some of the most useless and I’m sad to say… it’s useful in the beginning spotting people’s hips and holding them and our knees and so on, and move them across into a correct position. But to me, this is primarily important until the person is able to do a very good fingertip support and or straight arm support from there, on the balancing ability isn’t going to happen if someone holds your hips. It’s not the same thing. You don’t get the biofeedback and your fucking brain doesn’t need to do the job. So why on earth should it get good at doing the job?

EL: Yeah, basically, it is that kind of thing or it’s once again you’re taking over the software. 

I always found that being spotted by the hips or by the knees, it’s useful for learning flags and a bit of endurance work but I always found that a bit weird. I started years and years ago when I was teaching more advanced people in person like just not doing any of the waist or the hip spotting, but actually just spotting the rib cage. So generally, back then I was using a lot of canes with people as coach. I put them onto canes and then they’d be up higher. So then normally you stand on a box and then you can spot the hips. But then I just started spotting people around the rib cage and just to basically force them to coordinate, basically their waist, their pelvis and their legs, themselves. I think it seemed to work much better because then it was just kind of like, you’re just kind of basically making that kind of surrounding on the ribs. You could tilt them over. You could stop the shoulder shooting out to the side or shooting to the inside. And then other than that, it was an easier transition. It seems like that kind of take the fingers off, as Mikael explained. Take the fingers off. And it wouldn’t be an immediate chaos because they still got some of the inverted pendulum, I suppose, is already going above the arms.

MK: Mm-hmm. But yeah, yeah, yeah, go on.

EL: Yeah, but it is that kind of zone of going from, say no two-arm, but have the body shape to being able to balance a two arm. To the same as going from like no one-arm like fingertips supports to one-arm it kind of has to be done a lot by the person. Yeah, like we can get your body shape, we can get your conditioning, we can help with that but at a certain point, you just have to call it an initiation process. You’re getting initiated into the cult of one-arms or two-arms, and you just have to do it. You just have to, yeah, throw yourself into the pit, climb back out.

MK: I do the same thing. Like, I spot a lot. I spot to the shoulders a lot. I do think, like all that kind of spotting is a lot more complex and requires a lot more experience. I’ve shown kind of the way I spot shoulders and ribcage and stuff to people, and it just seems difficult to do. And I have no fucking idea what I do when I do it, because it’s just I try to stay sensitive to the person’s balance and respond in a very small manner. And as you say, I am not helping up by the hips at all. And like your central mass is by your hips. 

So you want the person to be controlling that to the degree that they can. And the interesting part, I mean, to me with spotting is ultimately I mean, it’s that you can learn the entire process without ever having been spotted, while if you’re only ever spotted, you basically won’t learn anything. If we say it like that, if spotting is all you get, you do not get much. And I have seen it firsthand, people having gone to class for years. 

And there is also another example which I’m actually very happy that I have that example, and that is there was a guy who contacted me. I probably mentioned before, a guy contacted me online asking me about one-arm, and I asked him what he could do. And he said he had been doing sets of 20 minutes on the wall legs together, one arm shifting back and forth for 20 minutes like one minute, one minute, one minute for 20 minutes. And I was like, Geez, that’s pretty crazy. I can’t do 20 minutes like that. So, it’s like, whoa! So how are you on the floor then? Nah, I can barely make 10 seconds sometimes, and I’m like, wow. It just tells me so much about that. Holding the body up and balancing the body are just two extremely separate skills. 

When you’re holding the body up, you just bring your shoulder joint into a degree of appropriate tension for the weight you hold. And that static contraction is more or less kept. I guess there’s some slight kind of oscillation there, but not a lot. While when you balance your joint, there is a constant, really quick interplay of firing and relaxation of various muscles that needs to happen several times per second to make sure that you maintain the humerus at the place where you can keep the hip above and then your rib cage moves and your legs move and your hip moves and your elbow moves and your hand moves, everything is a constant mess that needs to be kind of untangled.

So that very process is the learning of balance. So, unless you’re exposing yourself to that your brain has zero reason to start adapting and muscles are one thing, but like the vestibular system and your brain just needs that feedback. And on the other hand, this is also where spotting can come in because like you can at least be taught to be placed in in a solid position. Yeah, you also can learn yourself, and you can learn to spend some time there with good spotting. You can approximate yourself this position and this process, but ultimately, like, you are not doing it until you’re doing it yourself. And like a lot of the time or the people that I see becoming really good are the ones that just they accept the fact that they fall down and they just keep at it, but they keep doing it themselves. They’re not, oh, I’m not going to train because my coach isn’t here to hold me up for a minute at a time.

EL: It is just that difficult thing, it’s like chasing the Dragon. They were going to catch the dragon basically, if you’ve been spotted too much and it’s just kind of… I wonder if there’s this optimum ratio of spotting a movement. To doing the movement because there is some benefits of like, OK, I’ll give you an idea of a body map of where you should be, what kind of contractions. And then could there be an optimal combined part of if you had someone obviously someone sensitive to spotting and all that stuff, but still you have to do it. So, is there like 10 percent spotting to 90 percent solo or 20 percent like 50/50 would almost be too much? 

MK: That’s too much.

EL: This is the other thing about spotting that can be a double edged sword. When you’re being spotted, you can do longer sets. That’s great if the goal of the set is endurance. That can be terrible for load and fatigue management over the course of a training cycle or training week or training month. Whereas you’re basically just going beyond failure. If you imagine it takes like whatever amount of force to elevate your shoulders, correct position, regardless of what you’re doing in your handstands and then your force output drops, you’d fall out and say, we’re going two-arm, one-arm, whatever it is. But the spotting can kind of go, oh, you would have dropped here, and I’m just going to hold you a bit longer. It’s like a drop set. So doing them on weightlifting, like we know from weightlifting, unless you’re on steroids, you kind of want to not do drop sets too often and not do too many every set. But then every set becomes a drop set. Hmm. So then you’re just like, oh, you’re just pushing into the fatigue zone a bit too much.

MK: But now I come up with a really bad joke. And that is that every handstand is in a sense it’s essentially a drop set because you always drop down in the end. You’re welcome to shoot me in the head.

EL: Every set is a drop set in handstands. Hold on.

MK: Exactly.

EL: I mean, where is the laugh. 

MK: Gravity always wins.

EL: Gravity does always win.

MK: Do another sound effect for gravity always wins. Thank you. This podcast is becoming more degenerate each time, 

EL: You just have to get degenerate as time progresses. 

MK: Yeah, but like one thing I was thinking about the about spotting is. Yeah, that’s a good screenshot, you fucker.

EL: He’s going up on my story.

MK: Yeah, Jesus Christ. Yeah, that’s a good one. I’m the fucking Borg. Oh God, I look like a fucking idiot. But anyway, what was I talking about? Yeah, spotting. So yeah, the thing that I think is really interesting with spotting is children, and I don’t have any like direct…

EL: I don’t have any children to test this out on. So, if you have some, please send us some of your children.

MK: Yes. Donate to children for tests. But I do think that with or it seems to, I mean, in gymnastics, they do a ton of spotted reps with kids for all kinds of stuff, and they become really, really good. So, I do think there’s definitely a thing now. I have no um, how to say, qualifications for speaking about the neurological learning between kids and adults. But what we do know is kids learn really damn fast. And I like to use the analogy of language. Since a child would learn to speak a language with perfect intonation within just a few years in a way that an adult might not ever be able to replicate. Even with 20 30 years of practice, just in terms of the small minute nuances of language and so on. And I do think that it does seem like spotting is more effective on kids in one way. And again, this is purely anecdotal. I have no real knowledge.

EL: I think you need to look at the things I’ve done. I’ve done a fair amount of coaching kids and spotting when you’re spotting kids is spotting for correct body shape. Like this is the nice is the nice thing about when you have a 10 kilo kid. I can get a kid. They could do a round off towards me. I can catch them in the right body shape. Basically, dunk them over my head. Stop them at the movement at the point the movement would go. Ok, now change your arms to this position as they were doing a back layout or something and then dunk them backwards and slowly control them through at an increasing speed. So, you’re getting this kind of idea of body shape and sequence. But at the same time, your body shape and sequence has already been built up on a strong pedagogy. I can say that when I write, someone said a word anyway. Pedagogy, I can never say words, right? Anyway, uh yeah. But you’re still building on a very strong foundation of stuff they’re doing by themselves. Like, that’s the kind of thing, yes, you do a lot of spotting in gymnastics. But once the kid is kind of making the right shape, you’re sending them into the pit or off a springboard themselves and then spotting. So it kind of goes like spotting for shape, then spotting for safety almost would be the way I’d say it will be done. But then for safety as well, and then different coaches spot different amounts. 

Well, this is the kind of thing for all the kids you see who are machines and become really good. You’ll find an equal amount of them who can’t do a front lever after four years of gymnastics just being bounced up and down on the spot.

MK: And it also it also makes me think about this because I think often with spotting, we have then the idea that, OK, I’ll just place you in the exact right place, you’ll be in the exact right spot and you’ll learn exactly the right thing. And I always find it fascinating. Like we have spoken about this a lot, the kids at the school VERIFY SCHOOL NAME in Kiev, like I was looking at like a lot of clips of the really small ones because she has tons of really tiny girls, like 9, they wobble all over the place. It all looks kind of messy and it’s kind of like the legs together and they separate and the split. It all kind of wobbles and moves like expected for a child learning. And then you see the 14 year olds and they wobble less and then you see the best ones or the ones that are slightly  older than that again, that are just absolute mega mutant machines. 

So, I mean, that is a little bit of a different discussion, but it’s funny that we as adults, we often think it needs to have a perfect shape because that’s how you get good at it and then you kind of accept that, oh, the kid gets it. Yay. And then the kids has done it for seven years and it has made a solid. And then you try to replicate the solid rather than the process. 

EL: Yeah, you do something for 15 to 20 hours a week, for seven years, and let’s see how good you get.

MK: Yeah, and I think I think that spotting has that that thing that since you’re being kept in the exact zone, you don’t respond outside neither in micro or macro corrections. And you need to be able to do both micro and macro corrections. If you are going to basically get so much better at the skill level you are at that you can start taking steps towards more difficult skills because if you can’t micro macro correct on two arms very well, there’s no point for you starting on one arm because  what feels like macro corrections on two-arms or a micro corrections on one-arm, it’s a drastic step in difficulty. So, I think, yeah, having that is where I think spotting gets it wrong in many ways and people think they can’t. Oh yeah, but I think I know how it feels. 

And I think also that that notion of, oh yeah, I think the legs together looks or feels easier than the straddle. It also comes from like, OK, it’s very easy to spot the legs together very well. “Yeah, but I think I know how it feels now. “You don’t. You’re not, you’re not. You’re not responding to the fucking hurricane that is your body. So you’re not learning that correction speed and so on. So, but again, with good spotting, if it’s well-executed and if it aligns with a proper purpose of what the spotted person needs to be working on, then I think it’s invaluable. 

But yeah, I think if any of you that are listening that are just like you’re doing day in, day out spotted sets and if there’s a large discrepancy between what you can do spotted and what you can do alone while you are quietly or at some point you need to work a lot alone to start getting it. So you might as well get on with it, at least to a higher percentage than you might currently be doing.

EL: Yeah, I think that kind of sums it up, really. I think we’ll wrap it up there for today. Yeah, yeah. Spotting! It works, but don’t do too much of sometimes just like methamphetamine. It works but just don’t do too much.

MK: This is getting worse and worse.

EL: I just need someone to post me some Adderall, please. I need to get this book written. Yeah. Anyway, yeah, we’ve been the Handstand Cast. We’ve been back together once again. Uh, how are we looking for next week’s episode? We’re looking good. Are you going to be busy? 

MK: Oh, I’m looking good. 

EL: Awesome, awesome, cool. So, we will speak to you next week. You’re here with me and Mikael and hopefully I can wrap this up without breaking my shit laughing.


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