In this solo-episode Mikael discusses the myths that persist in the handstand world.
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S2E82 – Training Myths
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Transcript of Episode 82: Training Myths
MK: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstandcast, this time without the Emmet Louis. He is busy with things. So, this week you listen to me rambling on having a monologue with myself. Yeah, so I guess I have to start this in the regular manner of things.
Rambling on for several minutes before actually starting to talk about anything of substance. So, what is there to ramble about?
Not much news, really.
I’m in Norway at my mom’s place, having played a few shows for some schoolchildren around this region of Norway. The region is called antidrug, and it’s pretty much, yeah, there’s not much here, really.
And it was a rather interesting experience traveling from basically living in Manhattan, where I was when I was visiting New York a few weeks back. And then I traveled to a place called Lekin Varrick, where the population density of that area is around, I think three people per square kilometer. So, it is rather small. And yeah, I’ve been playing (inaudible) around there. It’s really cold. It’s really pretty. And that’s about it, I guess.
So, the topic of this episode that I was thinking to talk a little bit about were a couple of the common myths of handstands. And I mean, I guess you’ve seen several breakdowns of those like scattered across the internet for several years. I’ve done some myself as well, and I just thought to take a little bit of an analysis of this because of course, there are certain of these myths that are more relevant to dig into than others, and you have to start off with this. I mean, what is a myth?
So, I mean, what we commonly refer to, of course, in this context is like things that are said that you need to do that aren’t all necessarily true. Basically, people not necessarily knowing what they’re talking about and they tell you that you need to do this or else you won’t be successful in doing the thing. And then that can kind of solidify into a cue, which then people start thinking is very relevant where in reality might not be so relevant. So, to kind of define what or like the way I like to define this. It’s like, first, we need to look at the things that are, quote unquote “necessary” to stand on their hands, and then we can look at the things that are optional. And there are many of the optional things that are very good to do, and I definitely recommend a lot of the optional things myself.
But we need to distinguish between the two because the necessary things, while you cannot stand on your hands, if you do not do them, whereas you can stand, you will be able to stand on your hands and then perhaps have certain pros and cons in relation to what you want to learn and technique and all that stuff with the optional ones. So, the necessary components, I mean, it’s of course you need to resist the ground. I mean, you need to apply some force into the ground in some way or other.
I mean, you need to tense some muscles or else you will fall down. There is no option if you do not tense muscles in any way, shape or form, you will just fall to the floor like a pudding. So, you need to use muscular force and you need to, to some degree, flex your shoulders, meaning bringing the arms above head to some degree or other. If you don’t bring them very far, you are in a planche, you’re on your hands, but you’re in a planche. If you bring them further and further up, you become more vertical and you get into what we know as a handstand. So, you need to resist the ground, i.e. tense some muscles, and you need to flex your shoulders so that you can put your body inverted onto your hands.
Another thing you need to do is then to rebalance the body, like if you do not respond to the various things that happened, happen to basically the fluid bag that you are – full of blood and bones and things – if you don’t respond to the movement of it, you will always also fall. So, these things are necessary. It won’t be a prolonged handstand unless you do both of these things. And then there’s like, of course, a myriad of other things we could could look into and let’s say, if we would look at one arm hands down or depressed, there would be more necessary things, but these are the main ones, I’d say.
We need to get ourselves inverted and we need to make sure we have enough force through the shoulders and arms and torso, even hips, legs, etc. so that we don’t just fall down and we need to respond to the movements of the body, i.e. balance.
So, these are the same things we would be doing on our legs if we were just standing. You are using the muscles of your legs and your hips and your everything to maintain an erect posture. And then you need to respond to the movements of the body to maintain balance if that means walking or standing or anything. Process is the same.
If we look at the more optional ones, and I guess this is where the actual interesting chunk of things start coming into play, there is a myriad of them. Exact hand placement, exact elbow placement, exact shoulder placement. Where you have your head, where you have your torso. All these things end up literally being optional to some degree or other. You could contort your body into more or less any position as long as you do the previous two things you have enough resistance and enough muscular tension in whatever posture you’re in to maintain the position and you balance it. If you do those things, you are still in the… We could start looking at things that are more of these myths and kind of the things that people tend to sometimes promote as very necessary, even though they are more optional.
One of the ones I thought to take up in the beginning is basically this notion, it’s quite out spread, that there is a specific way that you need to train your handstands to get good at them. So, with them, the emphasis on need, as if there is a rather narrow path that you need to be following in terms of both the way you practice and the way you configure your body upside down because you cannot get good at it unless you do this.
And this is true to a degree, the better you want to become, the more of a strong understanding of your general positioning needs to be because you want to do a lot with this upside-down structure you’re creating. You want to be able to move it around, you want to be able to be stable in a certain way to be able to let’s say you want to do a side bend, you want to make sure you bend as much from the waist as possible. Not bending the arms as much as possible, because that’s going to make it possible to do flags, et cetera, in a different way than if you would bend the arms a lot. So yes, there’s a lot to this sentiment, but I think it can certainly be taken too far where there is presented a certain way that you need to be training like this or else you will not get the results you desire.
It can be very problematic because as a coach, of course, you want the best for your students and you try to guide them in the direction you want to and that you think is appropriate for them. And then it’s therefore, of course, a bunch of things that you would want to say and guide someone. Let’s say someone wants to learn to press, but they have no hamstring flexibility whatsoever and their shoulders are leaned forwards in their handstand. Well, if they want to get good at learning the press, then they need more or less “need” in quotation marks. But they need to align their hands down better, and they need to work on their hamstring flexibility so that the movement will be more approachable, more easy to learn, less stress on wrists, et cetera, et cetera. So, in such a case, it’s a very valid point. But let us say we go more specific like someone is working on fingertip support at one arm handstand and the instruction is you need to hold this for five sets of 30 seconds, for example. It’s not an unreasonable thing to say, but there is no magic about five sets nor 30 seconds, but it’s it could act as kind of a signifier of control, et cetera, which is good.
But then there’s a bunch of other things. Ok is the person actually aligned in the position where it’ll carry over to a further learning of one arm balancing? What is the quality with which the exercise is done essentially speaking? But also just the idea that you must be able to do this to progress or else it will not work. This is basically the thing that I am skeptical towards because you will find you’ll find a lot of variation within this. And of course, you will have some sort of bell curve in relationship to certain amount of control and strength and endurance and so on. But you will find a lot of variation and this is important because that puts it very much in the optional category and where it becomes a very personal practice where you need to understand, OK, so what, where, where am I at in my practice? Like, do I need to adhere specifically to these seconds or is there another means of progress that that could also be relevant, for example?
And like, as I said, it might certainly be a good thing, and I also use similar kind of criteria myself, but we need to just know that these are not universal. They are good indicators, but the kind of universal nature of them needs to be put in question. And this you can kind of look at through all of the various types of skills you can see, you can see this in weightlifting as well. If someone wants to lift, like to increase their max by this and this much, you will have people coming out with different methods telling them, Well, you should work like this, like this for this long and then you move up your weight and so on.
And this will have variation. What they do have in common is, of course, that there will exist some sort of a progression in it, i.e. getting better. So yeah, there is a lot to unpack within that one. But as I said, gist of it being there, there are several ways to Rome here and we just need to remember that.
And that also brings me over towards the next thing, which is very connected in the sense that it’s the thing about technique. Technique is kind of this perfect solution as if for me, the issue is that technique is something that in many ways can be explained. I can tell you what the technique is for the exact setup of a one arm handstand, for example, you need to have the hips in more or less these angles, depending on your body, then you need to have the pressure like so on, like so in the shoulder and feel this in your hand. You move your other hand off in this particular manner. And that, to me is technique.
This blueprint that you can explain in words and in drawing and in concept, you can make someone understand what you’re trying to achieve very well, but they might not be able to do it whatsoever. And I think since technique is kind of a vague thing, it’s very much a sort of a symbol that is like it’s easy to kind of visualize and get the notions of. But to implement into your body is a very long-term process. And then there is this idea with technique that, oh yeah, when your technique is good, you don’t need to use so much strength. You don’t need to, like, make so much effort and so on, which is true, certainly.
But very often from my experience, it kind of comes in the opposite direction. Like because if we say that technique is a specific execution requiring strength, flexibility and body awareness, I think that it and I’ve experienced and seen that it often kind of emerges as a result of enough body awareness, enough strength, enough flexibility to be able to pull off the thing. So, it’s becoming sort of more of an emergent property of several other kind of subsets of skills. And I think it’s a reasonable thing to say, and that also means that it’s less mystical because also in my early years of training, I was like looking for, whoa, but if there’s just this, this thing I need to get, if I’m just there with the weight and just there to wait.
And I was spending a lot of time analyzing and thinking and trying to find this perfect solution chasing this thing that was always out of reach. But maybe I could find the right one and everything would be easy, and it’s the other way around. And basically, what I mean is, like you, over the time you develop the capacity of strength that you need to be able to hold your body in the particular position so that that becomes easy because it’s past — your level of strength is past what you need to just hold it for a bit. So, it goes more into the lower intensity ranges. Your body doesn’t need to tense up everything at the same time anymore, because like, it’s comfortable there. Your mobility is good enough, so that you have favorable angles when you enter, you have good body awareness, so you don’t make any large mistakes on the way there. So, you don’t need to add extra variables and speed and movement to an otherwise already unstable position. And that is what technique kind of becomes. You become able to execute it technically well because of the other subsets of things. And of course, there is kind of an interplay and kind of an oscillation back and forth.
You need to think about it. You need to kind of be aware of what you’re trying to do and all of this. But it’s also very important to remember how big of an impact just basically the days and the weeks and the months and years of practice adapts your body to being able to do this. And then you come in after several years. And hey, it’s actually not so heavy to do what was crushingly heavy before is certainly not a big deal because all of these things kind of start aligning in the sense that like you become a little bit better placed, you actually do use a little bit less force because you know what you’re doing and your body configuration is better and so on. So, it’s a very large interplay between many factors, and I think technique is kind of the emergent property of all of those coming together.
And of course, that is something that is just kind of a definition. I feel technique is a very how to say it’s a word that you can put a lot of different things into. I guess everyone kind of does or everyone does put different things into it. So, it’s certainly not a end b-all explanation of what it is, but also just another kind of technical fallacy just to continue on.
This is alignment versus balance, which is essentially the same thing, because you can’t find people with perfect of one of them and none of the other, and particularly on kind of low and mid level, you will find people that are fantastically well aligned and simply struggle like hell to balance. Some of the best examples of this are sport, acrobatics, flyers and people that can one arm and do all kinds of stuff when they’re on the base and their placement and their understanding of where they are in space and the lines and stuff is rock solid, but they do not need to balance. They don’t have or they haven’t developed the response mechanism of the entire body to react to everything that’s happening because their job is the opposite to not react to the basic job.
So, you can find very high level of just alignment and no balance whatsoever, and you’ll find this with beginners too. They kick up their first times and it’s just, it’s perfect, it looks great, but they just don’t understand what to do there. And then you have the opposite people who can balance like killers are absolutely glorious at holding their body in the handstand for very long periods of time or in very large positions. But the alignment of such, it’s just not there.
The thing is, of course, at the absolute highest levels, and I would say again, bell curve on average, the people that are pretty good have a decent amount of both, and it has to be said, in favor of alignment, that there is a reason that this technique has a certain way of placing the body in this straight line and so on. Has come to be the kind of, how to say, the meme that has taken over. And I mean meme in the scientific sense, not the internet lol, but the concept that has kind of overtaken the arched back and so on.
It does contribute to more variations than the arched back does, and it allows us to use it in. It gives the handstandt more versatility as well as it actually you’re stacking the joints rather well so that you don’t need as much brute force to hold yourself there once you actually know what to do well, i.e., technique.
So, since you can find these, these two categories of people that are great at one and not at the other. I mean, there are different capacities of the body, and it has often been kind of proclaimed that a great alignment just makes you amazing at hand balancing. Whereas like, it doesn’t make the balancing any easier in the beginning. If you do not know what to do because you need to learn how to respond with your fingers and you need to learn how to respond to your shoulders.
Once you start approaching intermediate level stuff and controlling under balance and learning tucks and that sort of stuff, then yes, it does make it easier because your shoulders will not need to travel as far to be able to tuck the legs or to control under balance as they would need to.
If you have more of an arched back or shoulders in front type of position, so there are certainly something to be said for it, but they are different concepts entirely. That is just one is being able to configure your body in a particular shape. The other is being able to maintain central mass over base of support. So of course, if you want to get good at this stuff, then you are very well off working on both of them. And since they are different capacities, I usually argue for the fact that you can work on both at the same time and since you work in both Arctic, since they are so different, you’re just learning, you’re teaching the body to respond with fingers. So that’s kind of the first thing that needs to happen, for example. And then you are also working it like without the balancing component. You work on the wall, like with alignment drills and so on, and you’re teaching your body several parts of the skill, but separated into different exercises and hence over time you start putting these together.
The further on you go into the vocabulary, the more complicated these things become, because that’s the main thing that me and Emmet usually rant on the about like bodies are different, people are different, and this will start expressing further and further on into the vocabulary that you are. So the harder level things that require like much more kind of strength to weight ratio or they require a lot of specific flexibility, et cetera. You will see more kind of adjustments in relation to the body changing and or you changing the technique to suit your body rather than trying to force the body to do something that it might not be as comfortable with. And on certain skills, this is very, very hard to do, and you will usually find people with very similar capacities of being able to do them. For example, for planche while with others… Since there are not too many ways of doing a full planche, traits that apply force to the floor and stay horizontal, and that is basically it.
Of course, there is some technique to that too. But yeah, like it is entirely. I forgot what I was supposed to say, but I’m sure it wasn’t that important. I mean, we were talking about handstands here. So, yes, another one is, are there any magic cues or are there just different things that fit people at the time they learn them? And what I mean with that is basically oftentimes including myself I hear people like, “Oh yeah, I got this one tip that just like I changed everything” or “Yeah, now my handstand is completely different.” As if, like the internal sensation of everything is different after one cue. And then often you look at them and I don’t see so much difference, but nice that you feel great. And sometimes you do see the difference, of course, but what I’ve been thinking about is since you have so many different people that are taught with different methodologies, slightly different techniques, even that are able to pull off a lot of the same stuff. The thing is, when you look at them perform it, even on high level, the difference of the aesthetics, the stability, isn’t that great. It’s more or less within a similar category, if you, and I’ve done this, if you screenshot a bunch of different hand balancers in one arm straddle handstand it looks pretty similar. And I would argue to a degree that the difference you see is more up to their body shape, structure, et cetera, rather than them being, radically different, differently placed with a body than someone else. It seems that since we’re trying to create stability, for example, in a word handstand in a way which is rather hard for the body to do, there are a couple of ways where you are able to utilize more of or utilize muscles and angles that are more favorable for keeping the balance, and that it seems that most people that are pretty good at this gravitate towards a similar spectrum of placements.
You usually see the diagonal hips with the legs tilted to one side. To some degree, you’ll see an elevated shoulder position. They will be looking at the floor. Often they have a good straddle because a good straddle helps. The free arm will be either 90 degree angle or slightly above it. It’ll be pretty similar, even with people who cue very differently. And one thing I started to think about is… because if you if you are kind of giving feedback to someone and say, hey, yeah, try this and it clicks for them and they go, “Whoa, this cue is magic. This is incredible. This changed everything.
Either it might be… because it doesn’t need to be that the queue is magical. It might just be that like, yeah, the right thing got said at the right time. And even for me, like many of the cues that I use, I started thinking about them well, maybe the reason I use them is just that I had success with them on a few people in the beginning and then I thought, “Hey, this must be the thing.”
Or when I learned it, I felt the specific thing that was maybe specific to my body to some degree. And then I go, “Oh, this must be the holy grail or the key to all of this.” So, I think it’s really important to just keep some level of you need call bullshit on yourself because we all are full of bullshit. So, I think this is an important one to remember that there are again, there are many generalized cues that are great and I would stick to them and defend them as well. But we just need to remember that this might not be the same for everyone. And we are human beings and people learn differently. People are at different places in their process with a unique body. So, I think that even though there are certain things that might give someone a very specific experience of a certain kind of level up in skill, that might not be the same for someone else. It might be that it was just the right thing at the right time. And then if that’s the case, then that’s great. It might be that it was also just something that that person really needed and so on and so on. So, yeah, important stuff to remember and not get too stuck in up in that like, yeah, there is this, there is this like end b all process. And if you fail, follow that exactly, then it’ll all be great.
And yeah, moving a little on to some body stuff. Uh, yeah, of course. Myths. And this is maybe one of the most classical ones, and I see everyone and their dog has finally caught up to this one. Now, even in circles of people where who seem like less kind of deep into the hand balancing stuff, and that is kind of the the abs thing and what I call belly button magic. And that that is not really the case in terms of balancing a handstand. And that is the good old one. Yeah, a handstand is a core exercise and you need to be strong in your core. And press to handstand is all about some pulling up something inside your stomach and then your legs will float and you will lengthen the alignment and stuff. And whereas of course, there is a speck of truth within some of these thing. It’s the point is that first of all, handstand is not a core exercise whatsoever. It’s often presented like that and used like that actually in gymnastics, where you’re traveling through the handstand and use it to generate speed and swings and tumbling and stuff like that. So, there is a very sensible idea, actually. It’s just that it doesn’t carry over to just standing on your hands because if you’re in a handstand, you should be tensing your core about as much as when you stand on your feet.
Of course, there’s some tension happening inside all of the muscle structure there to keep the spine straight and stuff. But there is not necessarily extra tension that is needed to keep yourself up in that position. For some people, it might feel good to add some tension there and just awareness or comfort, et cetera. But it’s not a necessary thing to keep tense at all times and for belly button magic. Yeah, that is the idea that the press just happens from some sort of magic powers inside your abdomen. Yeah, which is a lie. And I think that one thing which I think is helped to spread this myth, it’s like the presses to head start because it’s rather easy to press the head start.
And here’s the thing, if you’re in a head stand and you’re good at head standing to some degree and you can, for example, press two hands down, you are in a position that is extremely stable, so your head is on the floor. You have a straight line from head to hip, and it’s very easy to sense. It’s such an easy position to hold. You can be very aware of the body and you can concentrate on the midsection and you can really feel OK.
You shift your hips slightly backwards and then as the legs come off the floor, you kind of rotate the pelvis slightly. You start moving the pelvis upwards, which brings the legs up and you, of course, feel some tension in the hips and stuff like that. And that makes it. And then the assumption is made that, oh yeah, this must be one to one the same as in handstand. But we forget that the leverage that goes on the shoulders and where the leverage on the shoulders is the main thing that most people need to handle and learn to deal with when they learned the handstand.
So, of course, there is a bunch of midsection action needed when you’re doing a press, and I would still argue that the best way to feel the actual compression for a press is to do a negative, because then you’re actively pulling the legs towards the body for a long time because you are pulling them down and pulling them towards your chest. Whereas when you press up, you lean towards your hands and your legs are as close to your chest as you can. And as soon as your feet comes off the floor, you start extending your legs away from the body. So, your abs will still have loads of tension in them as your legs go up to stabilize your entire midsection.
But you feel more of the compression going down than you feel going up very often. So, particularly for people that are new because they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for in terms of sensation. So yep, that is a classic one. It is a shoulder exercise primarily, but there is, of course, a reasonable amount of core compression and flexibility going into the press as well. And if you are very flexible, you can pull off a press without being able to handstand. I’ve seen it several times, but it’s rare. It’s not something you come across too often, and the people that are able to do this have usually incredibly flexible shoulders and very flexible hips. Or they are just absolute muscle monsters that can just plan up something and not be able to have that at all. So this can be solved from these two angles of just force or just very favorable flexibility angles. And ideally, you would want a decent dose, for the most amount of options.
Another thing is I think this has been kind of purported to be from internet with information overload and this classical kind of internet age thing. And that is the desire or need to know everything about a practice or a skill to be able to do it. And that like you need to study up and down and understand and understand and again, going back to this technique thing as if there is an understanding component or I just need to understand how to fire the muscles correctly.
I remember I heard that once of a girl trying to do a Stalder and then she was falling forward at a certain point in the press, and one teacher said, “Oh yeah, but you are just not understanding how to fire your muscles correctly.” Yet, she said, because you need to stop sticking your head up. And the teacher said. I was like, well, they’re sticking their head out. Head out part correlates exactly perfectly with the point of the movement, where she lacks the strength to be able to hold her body and they had most forwards and she fall front. I tested her in the tug plant exactly the same angles, but the observation then being then from someone who can do the press being, oh well. But it’s just about understanding, quote unquote, what you need to do.
And again, I think that understanding comes from developing the parameters that you need to be able to do it, i.e. strength flexibility. Primarily particularly for things such as the press where you need to just generate enough force through the particular angles and it will happen. They can’t get in the Guinness. We’ve talked about it many times. If you do not give yourself any leverage advantage in the press whatsoever, you are literally doing a full plant press and throwing floor body straight.
You lean front until feed come off the floor and then you leave the fleet to field all the way to hands. And then if you do a version where you leverage flexibility, then you compress the body as much as possible. You press down into the ground, rolling up, trying to make the movement length of the shoulders as short as possible, rather than as long as possible, making it de facto easier in relation to how much force you need to produce. But you still need to produce enough force in the in this direction.
The amount of force needed again can be mitigated by the amount of flexibility, compression, strength, et cetera you have. So, if you are extremely good at this, you might need to use almost nothing but again for the person with the best stalder in the world. Once they come to their last rep, they’re going to start breaking form because it starts being empty in the direction that we’re looking to work, then ideally. So, I hope that makes my point clear enough. And yeah, we don’t always need to know everything in that sense. Like you need to practice. It’s a very physical it’s a very body experience sensation thing, and this is why no one can explain to you how it feels to balance, and this is also why someone who can do a one arm really will go, “Yeah, but you just put your weight here and then it’s just you just stay there. You don’t need to move so much.”
Whereas someone who is new to it might need to move a lot because they don’t have the development of neither the muscles nor the vestibular system and brain to be able to respond fast and precise enough. So, it is a process that’s learned, of course, through reflection of technique and of understanding but also just the hours spent on your hands.
And the last one I thought to go through is the hold-. It also relates to holding the body versus balancing the body and how different things these two are because you can be very good at one or you can be very good at holding the body without being good at balancing the body. The other way around: You’ll probably be good at holding the body if you can balance the body simply because there is a causal relationship of being able to do the first before being able to do the second. So, when you hold the body, all you do is you just create one contraction and you maintain it as if you’re doing a stomach to wall handstand. You just hold the contraction. And since you do not need to respond to movements, you just hold that contraction and then you do that for as long as you have endurance for and your fatigue and then you start sinking down. And in the end you come down.
The balancing the body. You are constantly responding to everything that happens inside the fluid bag that is your body, and there is a ton more stuff needing to happen. And I’m sure most of you that have done a handstand that listen to this know that the amount of time you can stay free standing versus on the wall, it’s like usually there is a decent discrepancy there just because of like once you start making a mistake, which sends your central mass too far outside of the base of support and you cannot recover it, you fall immediately. While on the wall you can just resist and resist and resist literally until the muscles have no more give, whereas you usually have more give in the muscles when you lose balance, it’s just that they were reaching a level of fatigue where they can no longer respond fast enough to be able to keep you up there. And this again, this goes for everyone. If you are the best Chinese Balancer versus just someone — when you reach the end, it’s the end for breaks and you need to come down. And yeah, I think I will conclude it there with my favorite new quotes regarding handstands. And that is: “Gravity Always Wins.”