So recently I made the mistake of replying to a thread on the internet while attempting to give advice and use logic.  
Needless to say, it didn't go well.  It could have continued as a conversation about handstand technicalities, but my logic was met with a personal attack on myself and my teaching style(which I completely accept) and eventually a comment on my appearance.  
I won't bore you with the full conversation, but let's say I am once again put off by trying to help people over public forums on the internet.  

When I saw the argument was turned to being about me instead of the subject in question, I tried to end the argument and concede internet superiority, after which this classy gentleman pulled the LOTR card and called me Gimli.  
I'm not mad.  I fully respect peoples opinions and perspectives when there is logic and reason behind them.  It's just difficult to help sometimes in the age where everyone is an expert/guru.  


First off, Gimli was my favorite character in LOTR(apart from Tom Bombadil) so I don't take that as an insult but rather hilarity.  

Anyway, before I get side tracked I want to address the grievances against me.  It's more of an internal dialogue for me, but since I can express myself better through writing this might help some of my readers might learn more about how I teach.  
Luckily I mostly view the world from a negative/realist(none of this optimism/positive BS) point of view so this makes it easy to anticipate potential negative backlash(since I am more harsh on myself than anyone else can be). I hate receiving compliments anyway.  

Below are some of the grievances about my person and my responses to them:


-"Spends countless hours on Bailouts"
It's true, the bailout of the HS is a big part of my curriculum, especially in my beginner workshops.  Not being able to bail out safely is something that holds many people back from developing their freestanding handstand as it creates a psychological limitation for the skill.  I often see very fast results in students' handstand from just working on bailouts, as it gives them more confidence in their entry and takes away the fear of falling.  
Now I understand that this might be a trivial concept for intermediate and advanced practitioners attending a mixed level workshop.  I never thought much of bailouts myself(I learned it naturally from years of actual falling) until I started teaching adults with no prior inversion experience.  
To keep the higher level students entertained, I try to offer different challenges and perspectives within the context.  In addition I offer advice on how to teach this to beginners, since teaching cues and perspectives are also something that many of my workshop attendees are interested in(I take the time to ask).  
In an advanced workshop, the bailout is not something I touch on since I assume participants can already do it and have the control to not need to use it.  

-"Does not like presses very much"
I think this may have been taking out of context.  I think the press to HS is an incredibly valuable skill for anyone to learn, even if they are not handstand obsessed.  The combination of strength, flexibility, balance, timing, and control needed for a press is a huge achievement and it is worth anyone interested in the physical arts to pursue it.  
However for most people the press takes more energy than kicking or jumping to handstand.  
The original thread was about one-arm handstands, which is a very specific skill.  When learning this, I generally discourage students from using the press to go into their one-arm sets.  The reason is mainly for efficiency since you can save energy in the entry that can be used for additional one-arm training(you'll need it). The press can(and should) then be trained separately in the practice and eventually combined with the OAH work.  
The main reason I give this advice is because I have seen too many occurrences of people wasting energy and tiring themselves out quickly by trying to press into every OAH attempt.  
No right or wrong here, just viewing the skill from a specific perspective.  If your goal is OAH, the more reps you can do the better you will be.  

Of course there are also times when the press is the safest method of entry, like doing HS on something high or unstable but once again we are talking about as very specific context here as to why not to use the press.  


"Versatility"
I had also recommended the OP to avoid training OAH on mats and stick to hard floor or blocks.  The reason is that the mats change the weight distribution in the hand and dampen the sensation a bit. This may not make much difference for two arm HS but will make the OAH more frustrating to learn(even more so than it already is).  
Part of the conversation before it turned into the typical internet troll stupidity was about doing the HS on different surfaces to build versatility.  I am absolutely for this, in fact I wrote an ARTICLE about performing the HS on different surfaces and how it leads to different adaptations and a better understanding of the skill as a whole.  
However, for initial OAH training it will be a lot less frustrating if you can give yourself consistent conditions as there are already enough variables to worry about.  
The progressions here are skill-specific so being versatile is a good thing.  However no amount of versatility will get you to balance on one arm as it's something you have to specifically work on.  
This is why it is so rare for gymnasts to be able to do OAH, even though their versatility in HS is very high.  To get better at OAH you need to specifically work on it and there is no way around that.

-"Does so much other stuff"
I think this was a personal attack on my varied training, as some handstand purists see other training as a negative thing.  
The fact is that I have never called myself a hand balancer.  There was never a time when i trained only handstand, though there was a period when it was my main focus.  I have always trained in multiple disciplines, I just found handstands to be especially interesting.  
I think it broadens my perspective(and helps teaching people of different backgrounds) to train HS alongside with many other disciplines, but I understand how someone with a more narrow state of mind can see it as a negative.  
I am also well aware that my handstand level is quite mediocre, especially compared to some of the people have had the opportunity to train with.  That's why it is best not to compare but still maintain a healthy dose of realism as to where I stand.  
I think what I do have under my belt is the mistakes I have made in my journey, and the years of practical experience from teaching people of different backgrounds and abilities around the world.  This allows me to see certain perspectives that people with a formal background or narrow minded purists(not using this as a derogatory term) would have trouble expressing.  
Teaching to me is less about personal ability and more about communication and managing expectations and standards of your students. 
I believe the path I took in learning my skills may have been detrimental in my development as an athlete but was invaluable in my development as a teacher.  

I also believe the ultimate goal of a teacher should be to make themselves obsolete, so I try to think more in terms giving students concepts to develop and apply for themselves in their own practice rather than doing the work for them in the moment.  I think being largely self-taught also helped me to see things in this way.  
I understand this can also be a polarizing point of view if someone is too accustomed to a particular teaching or learning style.  No problem there.  Sometimes we have to take classes or get lessons to see what doesn't work.  A negative lesson is still a positive one as you learn what not to do.  

-"Would be pretty boring if we all looked this same"
I guess this is an attack on having people follow similar progressions towards their skill work.  

In response, Yes it would.  Except we do all look the same.  We all have two arms, two legs, head, torso, etc.  There's a cliche Bruce Lee quote here, something about 'when people have 3 arms and 4 legs, then you will see some different fighting styles".  
I think it is important to make creative variations of skills, but it is equally if not more important to build a base of technique to build that from.  That base technique is going to look similar(though never completely the same) for pretty much everyone and there is reason for that.  
After technique can come individual style.  

Also, one more cliche quite to add: "There is nothing new under the sun".  It's all been done, and probably before your lifetime under shittier conditions.  
With few exceptions, nobody is really doing anything "new" or unique in the realm of the physical arts.  It might be unique to you, but not to the world.  
I think what allows people to be unique is to put their own perspective and style behind what they do.  
There's nothing wrong with following a set standard, at least for a certain amount of time. 


-"Gimli"
This was the final retort.  
Yes, I am bearded. As is the dwarven character in Tolkien's novels.  This is a connection noone has made before (cue sarcasm).  
It is also very relevant to the original conversation and a super classy move(more sarcasm if the native English readers dd not catch it). 
I love being bearded and hate my face, so it's a win/win situation for me.  Beards are a long time symbol of manhood, wisdom, and virility.  Plus the ladies love it(wink wink).  

I will insert a couple of my favorite beard quotes just for grins:

"He who hath a beard is more than a child, and he who hath no beard is less than a man"
-Shakespeare

"There are two kinds of people without beards, women and children"

"It's better a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew."
-Yiddish proverb




The gentleman also eventually went on saying he was biased because he did not enjoy my seminar.  This is also perfect fine with me.  I try to do my best in helping everyone get something out of my workshop.  
However, I am well aware I normally work with a mixed group as far as ability, background, expectations and intentions for the class.  No matter how good I am, I cannot make everyone happy.  
I tell participants to keep an open mind, but I have no doubt that occasionally some are offended or disappointed by my language, delivery, skills, point of view, class organization, etc.  
As I say, I do my best but can't win them all.  Only can learn from experience and continue to improve.  

 


Those are my thoughts from this experience.  If you made it this far I hope you enjoyed the read.  

Until next time, you have my axe.  

Gimli out

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
5 CommentsPost a comment

Of all the questions I get, probably one of the most common has to do with wrist pain or injuries regarding hand balance practice.  
Common answers(not from me) might be "deal with it", "circus is pain", "welcome to hand balancing" or "get good, rookie".  
Due to this being a complex subject, I will attempt to give some thoughts, advice, and perspectives to aid people in their training.   Hopefully this article can help people prevent or better recover from their wrist ailments.  
With that said, there is still a lot to be said bout the subject that is not covered here.  It is a few thoughts based on my experience.  


Remember that hand balancing is a low-impact practice, so the goal is to find a technique such that the physical stress is minimal.  
Also I have to use the common disclaimer that if you think you have a serious injury it may be worth seeing a medical professional.  

KNOW YOUR INJURY
This is something you should keep track of, the more details you know about it the better.  Ask yourself these questions
-Is the injury acute or chronic?
-Did the pain begin without warning or only after a particular attempt/session?
-Did the joint receive an impact or did you catch yourself from a fall?
-Any noticeable swelling/inflammation?
-Does it hurt throughout the day or only when you train?
-Does the pain lessen or go away after you warm up?
-Are there any specific movements or positions that cause you more pain/discomfort?
-Is it a sharp or dull pain?
-etc.

This is very general but the idea is to give yourself a better understanding of your injury so you can have a more thorough protocol of what to do about it, both for the present and possible future occurrences.  
Next, we have some common causes of injury that are not obvious and often overlooked.  

CHECK YOUR TECHNIQUE
I cannot stress how important this is in creating a more sustainable practice over the long term.  Honestly, this is the number one thing you can do to save yourself many grievances later on.  

Many people when learning to handstand find it easier to planche their shoulders slightly in front of their hands.  Sometimes this is really obvious but other times it can be more subtle and difficult to catch without a sharp eye.  
In a well-aligned handstand the arms should be completely vertical to the floor.  When the shoulders lean forward, it places added stress on the wrists.  

Watch what happens to the wrists in the video when my shoulders go forward. Someone people use that as their base handstand position.  

While this may seem trivial to some, it can catch up with you in the long term after thousands of sets over months or years.  

PHYSICAL ACCLIMATION
Here is another massively important concept that is not often discussed.  Hand balancing places stress on the body it may not have otherwise experienced, and the majority of that is focused on the wrists.  
As an adult learning this, it may take some time for the body to fully acclimate to the new stress.  If you push too hard or too fast before you are ready, it can result in injury.  
This applies to beginners first learning to handstand, but also is important to remember during training for more advanced ability levels that call for higher workload.  

This is especially important when handstand practitioners begin to train for their one arm handstand, which requires massive amounts of repetition to make progress.  I have heard the same story too many times: HS training volume is massively increased to work OAH and it results in some nagging overuse injuries.  
Take your time to acclimate, and make sure your technique is good before you do.  

Practical application of this concept:

-See above point.  Check your technique, and exaggerate the concepts for OAH training or any time you add additional complexity to your practice.  Even if you think you fixed your bad habits, there is a good chance you will see them again once you start working harder skills.  
-Take the time to warm up properly.  This allows you to develop a better connection through your hands and the floor, which will result in better balance.  Plus a thorough warm-up can place controlled stress on the hands in positions you may not want to visit during your actual handstand practice.  This helps speed up the acclimation process.  
Check HERE for my wrist sequence I teach for hand balance.  
-Know when to back off.  Your body will give you signals, and it is beneficial to learn how to listen to them.  Keep in mind, backing off does not necessarily mean no training, it's more about knowing how to modify the training to avoid certain stressors.  
-Endurance work at the right time will help to increase blood flow to the upper body.  This can actually be quite helpful for prevention and recovery.  Be careful as a beginner though, as doing too much endurance can start to encourage bad habits.  Learn good technique first before trying to do too much.  
-Over a long term, it's generally better to be overly conservative with training efforts.  Leave a little bit of fuel in the tank so you can do it again the next day.  
Don't take this the wrong way though, there will still be plenty of moments where you will have to push hard to overcome a plateau.  


BACK OFF OR MODIFY THE TRAINING

If you know that you are injured or have tweaked your wrist, simply continuing to train like you were before is not the best option. 
One option is to back off training while focusing on rehab and letting your body heal.  Yes this sucks if you were used to training a certain amount, and you'll probably lose some progress during this time.  However, handstand "gains" are usually measured in years so taking a few weeks off is pretty trivial when you consider the long term. 

If you are too addicted to inversions to simply stop, there are a few other options to consider.  

-Parallettes or incline blocks reduce the pressure on the wrist compared to floor or flat blocks/canes.  Even rings handstand is an option here, though that's a completely different skillset.  
-You can train balances that don't require putting weight in the hands, such as headstands or forearm stands.  Just be careful.  Exercise control and make sure to protect the injured hand if you have to bail.  
-Work on attributes that will help your handstands.  This can include for example the hip and shoulder flexibility work that you've been meaning to do more of.  Especially if you are on the way towards more intermediate and advanced skills, this is a good time to prioritize your flexibility training to help you when you get back to training.  
-Do some research.  This is also a good time to learn more about the theory of what you are doing.  Watch videos, read books, observe trainings, etc.  
This is a way to still "train" without any physical stress.  

-Actually rest, as much as I hate to say it.  This one can be the most difficult to do.   However, the chances of aggravating the injury and making the recovery time longer can be quite high if you are still using the injured hand.  
I remember I suffered a pretty bad wrist sprain in Spring of 2010.  A couple weeks following the injury I attended a tricking event with the intention to take it easy, not use the hand, and only do leg related movements.  
At one point I landed off balance and out of habit went straight to do a windmill to stand back up, placing both hands on the ground to push off of.  At this point, my wrist was still in the early recovery stages and was not ready for such pressure.  So through an accidental reflex I set my injury recovery back another couple weeks.  Lesson learned.
Getting back on topic, if you are accustomed to a regular training schedule, a forced rest can actually be quite beneficial.  Just make sure you find something to do with your extra time and energy.  



EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES and OTHER THOUGHTS

What you do outside of your practice, or even years before it can also be significant.  
If you are a climber for example, chances are you have very tight forearms from the grip-heavy demands of the activity.  This means that you would probably have to spend more time on warmup/prehab in context of opening the wrists to get a more effective handstand session in.  

In contrast to that, a musician might approach the training differently.  This is a discipline that can also place a lot of stress on the hands, but the nature of the work will be very precise and delicate.  A musician would have to focus their warmup/prehab on building more resilience through their hands to handle the loads(usually the flexibility here is already well developed due to the nature of the work).  

To follow that thought, anyone who relies on their hands to make a living would also need to make some modifications.  Whether it's a musician, surgeon, craftsman, etc, being overly fatigued in the wrists can interfere with their work.  An injury can put them out of work.  
This means the training approach needs to be a bit more conservative in order to progress in handstands while still maintaining the quality of their profession.  

Past injuries is another thing to consider.  Maybe when you were 12 you fell and broke your wrist, and maybe it was no bother at all to you until you started training handstands and noticed it would fatigue quicker than the right.  This is just one example but I have seen many similar cases.  
These are all details to keep in mind.  Even if they seem trivial, they usually play a role in the big picture.  
Be aware of the risks you put yourself in and if they are worth the goals you have set.  
Perhaps you only train handstands for the physical benefit rather than the pursuit of the higher skills.  This approach will most likely result in less risk of injury but the practice itself is also not as deep or rewarding.  


PREVENTION AND RECOVERY PROTOCOLS

First off, learn to identify warning signs.  The wrists have a lot of sensory receptors so it shouldn't be too difficult to develop a connection to feel when you have to back off or add more prehab exercises
Most of the techniques I will list can be used for prehab, warmup or recovery.  None is necessarily superior to others, it's about having options to work with.  Remember if skill acquisition is the goal, try not to get caught in the trap of over-preparation.  However, if the skill you are working on requires certain physical attributes, make sure they are taken care of.  

With that said, here are some ideas on how to take care of the wrists:



-Keep the wrists warm.  I have had really good results with simple terry-cloth wristbands(neoprene work also, but you will sweat more through it).  You can wear them during training as a minimum, but if you want the full recovery benefit, just wear them all the time.  Many times in the past when I had tweaked my wrist, I simply wore the wristbands continuously for a few days straight(even slept with them).  Those of you with a 9-5 job and more social obligations than I have might not be able to pull this off, but I'm throwing the option out there.  
I also try to avoid anything that offers extra wrist support, as it can actually make the joint weaker over time as your body grows accustomed to relying on the additional support.  
Nothing fancy here, the thought process is that a warm joint gets more blood flow, which provides nutrients and flushes waste.  Since the wrist is an extremity, it won't receive as much blood and keeping it warm will help with the recovery process.  

-Movement.  
I love the sequence below, but this can even be something as simple as opening and closing your hands for 100 reps several times throughout the day.  
Like the above, this is going to keep the wrist warm and increase the blood flow to the joint.  Honestly, you should probably be doing this even if you have no interest in handstands.  

 

-Grip Work
This one is not necessarily handstand-specific but there is still some carry-over in training some old fashioned grip strength.  This can be anything from trying to crush foam balls, grippers, fat grip pullups, trying to crush walnuts in your pinch grip, etc.
I would also count various leverage related training tools in this category, such as clubs, hammers, mace, or cast-iron frying pan.  

-Banded Finger Extension
This is a fantastic complement to any grip work to create a balance in strength.  I keep a couple rubber wristbands in my car and use them for resistance as I work on opening my fingers.  
An equipment free alternative would be to pretend like you are going to flick something, but instead of letting said finger go, focus on resisting against the thumb to create a powerful isometric contraction.  

-Gyro Ball
This looks like a toy(it is in some sense), but it is actually a very nice grip workout. A couple minutes with this, and the wrists, forearms, and fingers feel pretty good.  
I also found this very useful when performing as an aerialist.  Usually backstage at gigs they don't have anything to hang from, and this is a great portable way to prime the grip before performing.  
The gyro ball can be a bit frustrating to learn how to start.  Be patient and eventually you will be able to start it by hand easily.  

-Rice Bucket
Amazing tool for training the hands. Essentially the rice acts as a viscous fluid, so it resists any movement you make.  I stick my hands in the rice and try to keep moving them for a couple minutes, after which I have a massive forearm pump.  There are a few specific patterns I use, and also leave some room for creativity in the movement.  
This is a great way to increase blood flow an strengthen the hands from every angle and has been one of my top injury recovery tools.  

Apologies for the sound quality, but this is an explanation of both the gyro ball and rice bucket.  

-Compression band
This is another quick way to get more blood flow to the wrist.  The idea is to wrap tight enough to restrict blood flow, but not completely cut it off(not a tourniquet).  Once the band is wrapped, take some time to stretch and move the hand in various ways, 1-2 minutes should be enough.  If you feel numbness or tingling that is a good sign to remove the band.  
After removal, the blood rushes into the joint and it feels quite good.  
As a bonus, this can also fall under the category of soft tissue release.  




-Soft tissue release
This is a topic I will only go into briefly as to go into it with any detail will warrant an article of its own.  
Regular soft tissue release of the forearms, and even the upper arm can make a big difference when it comes to relieving pressure on the wrists.  It's normal for this musculature to accumulate tension just from regular training, but even more so after an injury as the muscles will tense up to protect the joints.  
To release the forearm flexors, my favorite implement is my knee.  The extensors are a bit more complex, but I generally use my fingers, a thai massage stick, or the countertops of my kitchen to get the job done. I find guasha/graston type techniques helpful for both flexors and extensors of the forearm as well.  
It can take a bit of time and practice to learn what to feel and how to work on yourself, but this is a valuable skill for the long term.  
It is also very helpful to have a friend release your forearms, especially the extensors.  This can feel very invasive and uncomfortable but many people tend to shy away from using enough pressure on themselves to produce real change.  

-Hanging from a hand loop
This is something I only got exposed to after my introduction into the world of circus as you don't see the concept much outside of it.  
I love hanging in general, but I think there is a distinct value when it comes to hanging from a loop versus hanging from a bar/rings.  
By nature handstands are an exercise that compress the wrist joint, so the benefit of hanging from a loop lies in the joint distraction that it provides.  Here we are literally pulling the joint apart to create space in it.  There are alternate ways to do this, but none quite as effective as it is difficult to get the proper force and leverage.  
Hanging from a loop feels fantastic on the wrist after a handstand session, and there are some shoulder flexibility benefits than can also be attained here.  
The idea is that the loop wraps around your wrist so you can hang from joint the wrist without engaging the musculature of the hand.  On an aerial apparatus, this increases safety since the artist flying can effectively lock themselves in as opposed to hanging on.  This greatly reducing the chance of a fall(accidents can still happen) and makes it possible to perform longer sets and harder skills since grip is no longer the deciding factor.  
With that said, you don't have to be an aerial straps artist to take advantage of this concept.  You can use the straps from your rings, TRX straps at your local gym, karate belts, or even the ratchet straps from your car. With that being said, make sure you are being safe and take it slow.
The benefits of wrist distraction can be attained without your feet even leaving the floor.  
Final thoughts: yes this is similar to the rubber band sequence I use, but there is specific benefit for the wrist in hanging from a structure that has no give or elasticity.  



CONCLUSION

Chances are that in your hand balance practice you have encountered some wrist pain or injuries.  The best way to think about this is from a perspective of prevention and maintenance.  Ask yourself: "what can I do to avoid injury?"  Ultimately it will be a combination of technical assessment, good warmups and recovery work, and knowing how to modify the training when you feel something is off.   
If you end up being injured, make sure to learn what you can about it to come back stronger and avoid any future grievances.  Follow a recovery protocol and take your time to ease back into training.  
The above are a few ideas on helping you to deal with your injury, but they are based on my own experiences and are not universal.  Even personally I am still experimenting with new methods and techniques all the time.  

As always, if you are unsure of anything please see a medical professional.  



//SELF PROMOTION
Since this article is free and I have bills to pay I am going to end with the necessary evil of self-promotion.  This way I can continue to put quality information out there without being overly pretentious or putting out clickbait articles that use a lot of words to either say nothing or state the obvious(don't forget about regurgitating information that has been written and rewritten hundreds of times).
Notice how this article is not titled any of the following:
"The Ultimate Guide to Wrist Injuries" "Heal your wrist injury with these 10 tips from a professional acrobat" "Must-Read if you have ever suffered from a wrist injury" "Top tips to build bullet-proof hands and wrists" "This is what happens to your body after 30 days of wrist protocols" "got wrist pain? you won't after reading this article" etc.
It's your support that helps me to put out quality information while keeping things real.  
 
Interested in learning handstands as an adult?  My ebook "Balancing the Equation" breaks down the process to help you develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of the skill.  Handstand progress not guaranteed.  


Also, I travel around the world teaching my approach to developing handstands, acrobatics, and other movement or physical arts based  skills and attributes.  If you are interested in learning from me in person, check out my upcoming events here:
http://www.yuri-mar.com/events/

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
2 CommentsPost a comment

I want to talk a little bit about one arm handstand holds against the wall; the benefits, the flaws, and where they stand in a realistic skill progression.  



I think there is a common misconception that OAH against the wall is somehow a progression for the freestanding one arm handstand.  This is simply not the case despite the many benefits of the exercise.  
It makes sense to me why people might think this way, and I think part of it comes from ignorance and lack of appreciation of what it really takes to balance a freestanding OAH.  

When it comes to balancing a regular two arm handstand, the wall is quite a valuable tool.  It can help to help feel what it is to control the balance while minimizing over-stimulation and frustration.  
Even still, the progression is not as direct as wall HS -> Free HS. There are many steps and details along the way which I discuss in MY EBOOK

So where does a OAH against the wall come into play?  If your goals do not include the freestanding one arm balance, this can still be a very useful exercise for conditioning work, endurance, and coordination.  It can be implemented pretty early on once you are solid with two arms against the wall and know how to bail out when needed.  

Here are some benefits of OAH against the wall:

-Creating better support structure through the uper body
-Increasing strength to prepare for more advanced skills
-Enhancing endurance work by allowing to switch between arms

If you are working your true one arm handstand, the wall variation has different uses:

-Increase strength and endurance in one arm holds
-Learning to understand the weight shift from hand to hand while taking the balance one of the equation
-Improving form and technique for the one arm position
-Using the wall as a tactile cue to detect hip rotation

So now that we got that out of the way, here is a very important concept to understand:

NO AMOUNT OF OAH WORK AGAINST THE WALL WILL EVER TEACH YOU HOW TO BALANCE ON ONE ARM
Sorry if this breaks your world.  Balancing a one arm handstand can take years of specific training, and no amount of wall work or fake one arm social media photos can change that.  

Take a look at this one arm handstand progression video I made over 4 years ago:



See where the OAH wall work is? Almost at the bottom rung of the actual one arm training(you can do it much earlier than this in your practice, but it needs to be done in a very specific way for true OAH).    
While I may have a different perspective now than I did then, I still agree with the ideas and progressions in this video. 
Use the wall to help learn how to shift weight, build strength, or correct imbalances/faults.
I also prefer the work be done facing the wall since it encourages better form and build a more realistic alignment for freestanding one arms.  
Other than that, the bulk of your practice should be freestanding if you are at that level.  

Here is the final takeaway analogy from this article:

THE FREESTANDING FINGERTIP SUPPORTED ONE ARM HANDSTAND IS THE EQUIVALENT OF THE WALL HANDSTAND ON TWO ARMS

This is where the majority of your OAH skill work should be spent when learning it

This is where the majority of your OAH skill work should be spent when learning it



Summary:

-Do OAH against the wall.  It's good for you and will help to build endurance, strength and awareness.
-Once you get higher in skill level however, it's uses become more limited and specialized. 
-Since it takes away the element of balance, the wall supported OAH is mostly only useful as
 assistance work when it comes to the true one arm handstand.  

Final thoughts:
This whole article is a massive oversimplification, but I want to help clarify things and give people more realistic standards to have.  
If your goal is to learn how to balance on one arm, please give the skill the respect it deserves.
 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

Spotting balancing based skills can be a tricky subject. The difficulty and complexity lies not in spotting the skill, but how to do it in a way that encourages the student to learn it on their own(the ultimate goal of any teacher should be to eventually make themselves obsolete to their student).

Take this example of my spotting and helping to cue a student in her negative straddle press, which is an important step in later learning to press up. 

Spotting balancing based skills can be a tricky subject. The difficulty and complexity lies not in spotting the skill, but how to do it in a way that encourages the student to learn it on their own(the ultimate goal of any teacher should be to eventually make themselves obsolete to their student). Take this example of my spotting and helping to cue @_smillz_ in her negative straddle press, which is an important step in later learning to press up. The negative press is something she can already do to some degree, so why not just spot this student for heaps of presses? Well one reason is because my main focus here is on technique and quality. Quantity of repetitions is still a major factor, but when teaching adults I put that at a lower priority. If I spot someone for multiple reps before they perfect their single, often times it is me who is doing most of the work. Also, working through fatigue in a skill-based movement too soon can be detrimental since it can destroy those movement patterns we worked so hard to build. On top of that, if I am working with a student who I do not see on a regular basis I want to give them a greater conceptual understanding to take home and help develop their practice. The press HS is a combination of many factors including strength, flexibility, and coordination/timing. When I teach this I see just as many faults in the coordination as with the strength/flex. Coordination and technique is something that can be improved or at least better understood in one session. Strength and flexibility require more long-term efforts to see a difference in. This leads me onto my point. Here are some of my considerations when spotting someone for a handstand related skill: continued in comments so please keep reading



 The negative press is something she can already do to some degree, so why not just spot this student for heaps of presses?
Well one reason is because my main focus here is on technique and quality. Quantity of repetitions is still a major factor, but when teaching adults I put that at a lower priority.

If I spot someone for multiple reps before they perfect their single, often times it is me who is doing most of the work. Also, working through fatigue in a skill-based movement too soon can be detrimental since it can destroy those movement patterns we worked so hard to build. 
 On top of that, if I am working with a student who I do not see on a regular basis I want to give them a greater conceptual understanding to take home and help develop their practice. 
 The press HS is a combination of many factors including strength, flexibility, and coordination/timing. When I teach this I see just as many faults in the coordination as with the strength/flex. 
 Coordination and technique is something that can be improved or at least better understood in one session. Strength and flexibility require more long-term efforts to see a difference in.

This leads me onto my point. Here are some of my considerations when spotting someone for a handstand related skill:
-Assuming safety or fear are no concern, I try to be as lazy as possible when I spot. The goal is for the student to learn the skill for themselves, so overspotting here is only boosting both of our egos. 
 -Try not to hold, but rather guide them through what they need to do. 
 -Don't let the practitioner try to lean or push against the spotter. This is not only working incorrect movement patterns but also builds reliance rather than independence. 
 -It is more effective for the student to make the correction in their own body through verbal cues rather than my physical intervention. This helps them with recollection when they don't have a hands-on spot. 
 -Try to help the student be aware of their own sticking points and what is lacking. The current example is the moment I place my knee into Sara's shoulders to signal to her she was not pushing enough to maintain the stacked position, thus pointing out a place of collapse in her press. 
 -Never take someone off their balance point. I see this all the time in people spotting presses or HSPU where they allow the balancer's weight to fall behind the heel of the hand. This completely changes the movement pattern and would have resulted in an automatic failure had the practitioner tried it themselves using the same technique. 
 -It's not a necessity, but being able to already perform the skill you are spotting is helpful. If not, at least try to have seen enough of the movement to understand it well. 
 -Keep it real. Encouragement is important but I don't like to give false hopes either. The development of most skills takes a lot longer than people expect or set their goals towards.

As always, I end with a disclaimer. These are some of my opinions based on personal beliefs and experience. No wrong/right here. There are a plethora of ways to successfully spot these skills, you just have to be aware of the perspectives, constraints, and learning processes of the students you are working with.

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

Please watch the following video and compare the two handstands you see.  



Both are freestanding handstands and both accomplish the same goal of maintaining the center of mass over the base of support. for a given amount of time  However, the way this goal is accomplished is very different between the two examples.  

I want to offer an in-depth explanation of what is going on in the two clips, as well as some insight of how to incorporate that knowledge into one's handstand practice.  

As a little bit of background, the only way to hold a perfectly still handstand is to be supported by something(like a wall or a partner).  A freestanding balance involves continuously making corrections to avoid falling(I hope this is starting to become common knowledge).  
The difference in what the balance looks like depends on how those corrections are made.  

STILL HANDSTAND
The first handstand you see is what I would call a 'still" handstand, even though that's not completely accurate.  See there's no such thing as being perfectly still in a handstand. Even a handstand that appears to be static is still in constant motion.  
The reason this pose can appear to be motionless is for two reasons:
-The parts of the body with which the balancing corrections are made
-The speed and amplitude with which the balancing corrections are made.  

In this balance, the corrections are being made solely through the wrists and the fingers.  Finely adjusting the weight distribution through the hands allows the whole body to be controlled in this fashion.  Also because the movement is coming from hands, it allows the other major joints in the body to stay locked out.  This gives a much cleaner aesthetic and is generally a more efficient way to hold a balance.  

This brings me to my second point: to create a still balance by only using the hands for correction requires a high degree of accuracy and precision.  This is because the hands have a relatively small surface area and thus do not offer much leverage in terms of manipulating the center of mass.   
This method of balance also generally requires more corrections to be made in a smaller time frame compared the other technique we are going to discuss.  To give you some idea of the speed at which corrections through the hands can be made in real time, check out the first 30 seconds of this video of mine from a few years ago;


Of course on one arm the balance is much more complex, but the idea is to see how adjustments to the balance are constant.  

The above points are also what make a still balance more refined.  It generally takes longer to learn and is not always the intuitive path when first learning.  However, this is a good long-term goal to have because as you improve you can learn to make smaller corrections and less of them.   This will save a lot of energy for learning the more advanced balances.  


WOBBLY HANDSTAND
I admit that my demonstration here might be somewhat exaggerated, but that's something I did intentionally to make my point easier to see.  
The wobbly handstand changes the shape of the body in order to manipulate the location of the center of mass.  This can manifest as flexion/extension of the elbows, shoulders, back, hips, and knees.  
My hands are still active by all means, but the balance corrections are not isolated to the hands.  
Usually this kind of balance is characterized by a distinct "sway" or dramatic moments of catching a possible fall. The main cause of this is often a lack of accuracy or precision; people unable to make rapid fine-tuned adjustments through the hands find it easier sometimes to make bigger corrections through their bodies.  It allows for a balance to be maintained while accounting for a slower reaction time.  
This is also more common in students who tend to favor their attributes like strength or flexibility over technique.  

The downside is that balancing with the body takes more energy and can slow down the progression towards more complex movements.  
Aesthetically, it can look unstable or chaotic.  This isn't necessarily a negative depending on the intentions of the performer.  

I actually believe that learning a handstand that wobbles is often a necessary step towards eventually building up to a still handstand.  As time goes on and awareness/control increases, the student can begin to "trim the fat" so to speak and learn to isolate their balance corrections.  


FINAL THOUGHTS
-The still handstand looks much more "professional"
-You can build a ton of strength and control through bigger movements of falling and catching yourself. 
-Some apparatus like rings or canes have a built-in instability.  The still technique needs modification in order to be successful in these cases.
-Keeping the weight spread out sometimes allows for more wobble, while having more weight over the center forces more stillness due to higher need for accuracy in balance.  As examples, a split or stag two arm handstand is more likely to wobble compared to a straight handstand.  Likewise holding a candle style one arm handstand generally requires more stillness compared to a straddle one-arm.  
-Fighting for the handstand is an important part of learning how to balance, but a long term goal should be to learn to hold it without having to fight. 
-Even my still handstand moves quite a bit if you look at it from the right perspective
-Though true stillness is an illusion, it's a nice direction to head towards
-The still balance is an amazing display of control, but an unstable chaotic handstand might be more interesting to watch because of the fight/struggle going on.  


One last disclaimer:
I am not writing this article with a preference for either technique.  I want to help people understand the theory behind each method and the value they can have in their balance practice.  

Ultimately it's good to have the versatility to understand both methods of control.  

Interested in learning more details behind the process of learning a handstand?
Check out my ebook here:



Or come learn from me in person at my workshops all over the world:






 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

This might be a departure from what I normally write about, but I feel that learning how to take naps is very important when it comes to physical and mental recovery from training.  In addition, I feel it is beneficial towards general health.  

As always, bear in mind I do not consider myself an expert on the subject by any means.  These are simply conclusions drawn from my own experiences and techniques I have found successful.

-The "Goal"
Let's be clear about this, falling asleep isn't necessarily the goal of a good nap.  I try to think about being able to properly relax my mind and body for a short amount of time in order to replenish my mental capacity and energy.  Sleeping is one way to achieve this, but far from the only way.  
In fact, I often have successful naps where I never fall out of my own consciousness.  Likewise, naps where I have fallen asleep have sometimes led me to be even more tired.  
I think in being successful it is important to have a clear idea what you are trying to achieve.  Just to sleep is a very over simplified generalization of a nap.  

-The Conditions
When I sleep at night I am very picky about things like light, noise, temperature, humidity, etc.  However, during a nap I actually prefer different conditions to when I sleep.  This helps me to awaken easily and not get too attached to the sleep state.  
Similar for me with the preferred napping position. At night I usually sleep on my side and have trouble sleeping on my back.  When I nap, on the back is the preferred position.  Usually in a variation of the "Savasana" pose from yoga is my favorite.   
Same goes with the surface.  At home I already sleep on a Japanese futon, which is a fancy way of saying a thin minimalist floor mattress.  Napping I have no problem being on a hard floor and most of the time I actually prefer it to a bed, couch, or other similar options.  
I think it is very important to be able to separate the concepts of napping and sleeping so your body and subconscious mind know there is a clear difference.  

-Physical Relaxation
This is an important concept, as throughout the day we build tension in our body based on different stresses we encounter.  Consciously trying to release that tension can be a big step in helping to relax.  
This is what I personally think about to help me relax:
Every breath out, I imagine my body melting onto the floor(this visualization is also why I prefer a hard floor and napping on the back).  Every part of my body gets heavier and continues to sink deeper until it almost molds itself with the floor. After a few breaths, most body parts will be as far as they can go. 
However, the body parts where I hold the most tension will resist melting onto the floor.  This allows me to either focus on them more or take a note to save them later for more invasive release techniques.  
Common areas I hold tension might be: shoulders, hips, back, biceps, etc. 
Also the idea of the relaxation cue goes beyond just napping and can be applied to daily life.  

-Mental Relaxation
This one is a bit more complex and will take some individual tinkering to get right.  I generally have an overactive mind and my goal is to get it to "shut off".  However, it's very important to do this without trying to force anything.  
Sometimes when I go for a nap, I am dominated by many thoughts.  Rather than forcing relaxation, I let these thoughts go without resistance.  When they have run their course, it becomes quite easy to relax and turn off.  
Sometimes those thoughts never run their full course through the duration of the nap, but by letting it happen I have still in a sense cleared up some mental space.  
Some people may find success by focusing on something like their breathing, but personally I prefer not to focus on anything in particular and let my mind go where it wants to.  

-Duration
I usually find anywhere from 20-30 minutes the most effective for a typical workday split.  Longer may risk hitting a deeper sleep state, which can lead to grogginess in waking.  The only time I nap longer is if I am notably sleep deprived from the previous night.  
If I am short on time, less than 20 minutes is also fine but generally not as ideal.  

-Tools of the trade
I like to use a sleep mask/blindfold to help shut out the visual stimulus.  Some people may like to use earplugs as well, but they don't work too well for me personally. 
I also use my phone as a timer just in case.  If my nap was performed properly, I usually automatically wake within 25 minutes or so.  However, if I have a schedule to keep then sleeping longer is not a risk I am willing to take.  
An eye pillow seems like it could be useful but it's something I haven't played with much.  

-The "Salvador Dali" nap
I am not completely sure the origins of this technique, but my first experiences with it were from reading about the surrealist painter.  
You know when you are driving the car for a long time and start nodding off?  The idea is to take advantage of this reflex to create a controlled nap for a one-second duration.  This is more relaxing than it seems and is good if you are short on time.  It is also useful if you get tired while in the car or sitting at a desk(please make sure the car is safely parked before trying this).  
Here are the instructions:
Hold an object gently in your hand while sitting(car keys work well for this). Now simply let yourself drift off like you wanted to in the first place.  The moment you fall asleep, your hand will let go of the object which will in turn wake you.  The one-second spent in a sleep state is actually more refreshing than it may seem.  

-Final thoughts
Remember, napping is a skill.  That mean that you might fail a number of times before you start to succeed regularly.  Do not worry if certain techniques do not seem to be working; keep modifying until you get something that works for you.  
There are no rules, so make your nap what you need it to be for you to help recover and relax. 
Also from a higher level training standpoint, I find naps to be invaluable for anyone doing two-a-day training sessions or multiple sessions/rehearsals in one day.  This can help greatly with skill acquisition, patterning, and memory with things you are trying to learn/achieve.  

As always, I am not quoting any science to back up my claims. This means to take with a grain of salt what you need to from this article.  This is a summation with some of my own experiences with the idea that others my benefit from the concepts as well.  
 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
2 CommentsPost a comment

The handstand can be a very time consuming skill to achieve.  
A question I get fairly often in my workshops is how to program the handstand alongside other physical practices to still be able to make progress.  

Now in this case when I say "programming" I'm not necessarily talking about sets and reps, but conceptually where and when to perform the handstands to still make progress while prioritizing other physical arts.  

First let's review a couple attributes that are important to understand about handstand training.  
-It is precise skill work
-Though stress is placed on the wrists and shoulders, the goal is to make the skill less physically draining by using the appropriate technique
-Consistent practice is required to learn how to adjust for differences within the body
-When learning to build proper movement patterns, fatigue is not your friend unless you are specifically working endurance
-Understand your place in the progressions, but do not be afraid to add some time to play as well

As a beginner learning handstands, it is best to practice as often as possible while staying as fresh as possible.  In addition, it's best to keep efforts sub-maximal, both for safety and to encourage better movement habits.  
If you are curious about progressions, or priorities for different level practitioners I have them outlined in my EBOOK.  

Now let's go over some of the options on how to make progress in handstand training when it is not the priority of your physical practice.

 
1.  GREASING THE GROOVE
This is a concept made popular by Pavel Tsatouline, the basic idea is to do sub-maximal sets throughout the day to get more numbers in and build up to a higher workload.  
This can be a very powerful concept and can allow more time to "play" with the skill, but also has a couple downsides.
Though the handstand is skill work it is also very much dependent on other attributes like mobility and body awareness.  

With the GTG method, it is basically assumed that all the sets are performed with no warm-up.  While performing the skill cold is a good indicator of confidence level, it can compromise the quality of the skill itself.  
I use a very specific warm-up to help develop body position, physical acclimation, proper activation, and awareness(check out my VIMEO page for my wrist and shoulder warm-ups).  It's not just about warming up but rather priming my mind and body to have a more productive skill session.  When I don't warm up my wrists properly for example, I can feel how my balance corrections are considerably slower.  
To use another example, many people have a shoulder or wrist mobility deficit which they need to address to improve their handstands.  GTG means they will continue to work through their compensations.  Since we are what we do often, these are the habits built that later become difficult to correct.  

I'm all for the "Greasing the Groove" method to get more numbers in, just be aware of an compensations that arise from performing the skill cold. 

 

2. INCLUDE HANDSTANDS IN YOUR REGULAR TRAINING SESSIONS

This one can be a bit tricky but if you're already training it's not that difficult to allow some extra time in your session for the skill work.  I believe that handstand training can complement other physical practices quite well.  Old time weightlifters and strongmen were also avid hand balancers.  
Hand balancing also can play an important role in evening out the upper body development in pulling based athletes, such as climbers, aerialists and pole dancers.  

-Handstands during warm-up

This is probably the best option for most people.  Allow some extra time in your warm-up for your handstand practice.  This way you can get the skill work in while you're fresh, and the meditative benefits of the handstand can even help get you in the right state of mind for your other training. 
The key is to is to keep efforts sub-maximal and sessions short. Stop before you get tired; this way you will develop better movement patterns without impeding the training for your primary discipline.  
Remember that you can easily build up to a moderate skill level in handbalancing without putting in hours a day as long as you are consistent(more advanced skillsets will require more training time).  

-Handstands After Training your primary discipline

I would recommend this less than the previous approach.  You may find it difficult to "get in the zone" both mentally and physically.  Certain muscle groups may have tightened up or blood flow may be going to the wrong places.  Either way, it's going to be harder to find the balance here(especially for beginner levels).  
If you are practicing your handstands post-training, you will be better off sticking to less precise conditioning based exercises like wall walks, handstand walks, endurance holds, or basic strength and flexibility.  Save the balance acquisition part of the skill for when you are more fresh.  
 

 

-Final thoughts

The above concepts are to include handstand training alongside your other physical practices.  Do not forget what your goals and aspirations are.  
If hand balancing is a primary goal, it would make more sense to schedule dedicated handstand sessions.  After all, you will make faster progress that way.  

Progress can also be streamlined by understanding the proper progressions.  Check out my ebook for those:
 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

The handstand enthusiasts out there know there are infinite ways to vary how to perform a handstand.  This is one of the reasons why such a simple skill can keep someone occupied for years. 
One of the easiest ways to add variation is to change what you perform the handstand on.  Every new surface or apparatus has its own adaptation that goes with it.  

Here is a breakdown of some of the more common surfaces you will encounter, and what they mean for different levels of balance.  
 

HARD FLOOR:

Hard floor is the most unforgiving surface, but in my opinion quite necessary to learn to understand the concept of balance corrections.  Because the floor is unyielding, you must learn how to use your own body to correct the balance.  Balance can be adjusted through the hands, elbows, shoulders, back, and hips(see my ebook for a breakdown on how balance works).  
This is the first surface I like to expose beginners to because it's one that gives instant feedback.  Practicing on the hard floor will teach practitioners exactly where to distribute weight about the hands, and how to progress their balance by using specific movements throughout the body.  
-My personal preference is concrete or hard wood as it gives an even surface.  Something like grass can be an option but usually has some softness and/or uneven spots making the connection to the floor more difficult to find.  




TUMBLING MATS:

This is a surface that seems like it should be safer for beginners, but in fact it can hinder balance progress.  
Yes, it's safer to fall on a matted floor.  However, if you learned to bail out properly, the surface should make little difference.  
The difference in a softer surface is in the weight distribution and balance corrections.  
When I balance here my hands sink in slightly, so the weight is shifted further to the heels of the hand.  To compensate, I need to apply more weight to the fingers and because of this I tend to grip the floor harder than I prefer.  
In addition, when I make a balance correction through the hands, there is a dampening effect because the floor absorbs some of my movement.  This means I cannot react as quickly to changes in my balance.  
I think of it like trying to drive a car wearing ski boots and boxing gloves.  
Personally, I would not recommend students practice on a soft floor until they previously understand how to balance on a hard floor.  




PLYOMETRIC FLOORING:

This is something you will see in most modern gymnastics or cheer gyms.  A plyo floor consists of vertical springs under sheets of plywood with foam mats on top.  The purpose is to give athletes higher rebounds and better shock absorption in their tumbling.  
Balancing on this kind of floor is similar to balance on a soft surface such as regular mats, but sometimes the springs can cause unexpected oscillations and vibrations. This further complicates the feedback you receive as well as the correction dampening you experience.  
Again, I suggest learning on a hard floor first unless you are training as a competitive gymnast.  




PARALLEL BARS:

Parallel bars are an event in men's artistic gymnastics.  Many people find balance on the p-bars easier to that of floor.  This is usually because the apparatus allows for a more comfortable grip  It also lessens pressure on the wrist by allowing the hands to turn out with the wrist in a more neutral position compared to that of floor.  
The height of competition p-bars can induce some fears in people,
so parallettes can also give the same benefits with an apparatus that's more portable and closer to the floor.  
Balancing is done through radial and ulnar deviation of the wrist as opposed to palm versus fingers, so that's something to get used to.  

pbars.jpg

 


GYMNASTICS RINGS:

The rings are an amazing and simple tool for upper body strength development.  In modern times, the rings are getting more popular outside the world of men's artistic gymnastics.  
The handstand on rings is a completely different beast compared to other surfaces.  
-First off, the position is different.  The handstand here is ideally performed in a slight external rotation(~10 degrees past parallel).  This not only makes it a greater mobility challenge, but now also adds a new stress on the elbows unique to rings.  It is helpful to already be proficient in a straight arm turned out rings support hold to acclimate the body to this stress.  
-The unique difficulty of the rings lies in their instability.  They move in all directions and independently of each other.  The main balance correction on the rings is movement of the shoulders to move the rings underneath the center of mass.  This can build tremendous shoulder strength, however balancing from the shoulder is not the best habit for a refined handstand on a more stable surface.  
-It is highly recommended to already have a press to handstand and a solid rings support before attempting the handstand.  When learning this skill, it's best to begin with the rings low(like a finger's length from the floor) and spend lots of time with the feet on the straps to acclimate.  





BLOCKS:

Wooden blocks are very common among circus school hand balancing programs.  Typically rectangular or square shaped(though some people use circular blocks), then can offer some benefits.  
Blocks allow you to drape your fingers around the edge, giving your grip more contact with the apparatus compared to the floor.  This can make it easier to find the balance and reduces stress on the wrists.  
Be careful how hard you grip though, my first few experiences on blocks resulted in the tips of my fingers going numb for a couple days.  
Incline blocks are also an option for equilibrists whose wrists are not happy working on the floor or want to better simulate hand to hand.  My personal preference is a flat surface.  
The blocks allow a large variety of exercises to help build towards a one arm handstand, which would be their main purpose.  




CANES:

Handstand canes are an apparatus specific to circus style hand balancing.  They consist of blocks on the ends of vertical poles attached to a solid base.  Canes have several purposes when it comes to hand balance:
-First of all, they give the performer a raised surface.  This makes it easier for a larger audience to see what they're doing.  
-The raised surface of the canes also allow for a more possibility of tricks that can be performed.  
-Even though it looks harder, canes can actually make balance easier when someone knows how to use them.  The sway in the poles allows the equilibrist to move the apparatus as an extension of their arm.  This allows for considerably greater control in balance.  Be careful though, balance on canes does not always transfer to floor and you don't want to get too accustomed to one particular technique.  
-Because of the nature of the canes, the entry to handstand(and bailout as well) is more complex than on floor.  Canes require either pressing or jumping up to handstand with precision.  It's useful to have a spotter if you are not experienced with the apparatus.  
-Quality matters.  Not all canes are built the same.  There can be a massive difference between some professional and homemade canes.  Don't be too picky though, it's good to have the versatility to adapt to imperfect apparatus.  

 

CHAIRS:

A chair is a common object to balance on, mainly because it's easily accessible and looks more interesting than a floor balance.  
The typical chair handstand has one arm on the seat, and the other on the backrest.  The weight can be evenly distributed on both arms.  As for difficulty, the balance isn't really any harder than a floor handstand but the entry and exit need to be more precise.  It's recommended to have a press beforehand, though kicking up is also acceptable.    
Always make sure the object you are balancing on is sturdy.  To add to that, be gentle when "mounting" said object.  It's never fun to have something collapse under you.  
If it's your first time trying this, it may not be a bad idea to have a spotter.  


 

ON HANDS:

Performing a handstand on someone is a great way to completely challenge what you think you know about the skill.  So many elements about the skill are different, from the grip to the way balance is maintained.  
Hand to hand flying takes a lot of specialized practice to become proficient in, especially when it comes to working with different bases.  
-Because of  the different dynamic of the skill, a freestanding handstand on floor or canes is not required to fly hand to hand.  In fact, many sports acro flyers learn to balance on their base first.  
-Getting too used to being in control of your own balance can actually hinder your progress as a flyer.  

-There is definitely a greater risk of injury here compared to solo handstands due to the height and increased number of variables.  If it's your first time, make sure you learn form someone who has experience.  Remember that safety should be the top priority.  

Once in a while I get some questions about acro or hand to hand balancing. While I have dabbled in hand to hand as both a base and a flyer, it's still not something I have a much experience in. What I realized after teaching for some time is that my method of learning to balance the handstand is a horrible system for flyers. I teach a feedback system where the practitioner feels which direction they are falling, and learns to react by correcting the weight distribution through the hands and eventually the shoulders, elbows, and hips. This teaches the balancer complete control and awareness of their body while holding the position. As a counter, what if someone else is supposed to be balancing you? In that case, this teaches the flyer to fight against their base which can make them very difficult to hold. During my brief training as a flyer, my need for control was a habit I was trying to overcome. Before I got accustomed to it, I would have to "death grip" my base through the duration of the set in order to learn how to turn off the natural balance reactions my hands wants to make. Eventually I learned how to lock the position of my hands without using so much energy, but it was a completely new experience to me at the time. One of the best tips I got for flying was from Sports Acro champion and cirque performer @kristinallen4 To paraphrase, she said something along the lines of: "You are going to know that you're falling before your base does. You have to let yourself fall so that your base can correct you". Indeed, it's a very different concept from the solo balancing skills I teach. As always, there is no perfect system. Remember why you're doing something. If your goal is to be a flyer, you need to learn how to differentiate between balancing yourself and being balanced. #handstand #acrobatics #acro #handtohand #duo #acroyoga #calisthenics #fitness


 

ODD OBJECTS:

One way to really begin to challenge yourself is to try to perform a handstand on something that wasn't designed for it.  Be creative here.  The only limits are the ones you create.  Here are a couple photos of odd object handstands I have done(beware, artistic partial nudity ahead).  

 

 

CONCLUSION:
 

Basically, what it comes down to is versatility in variation.  You will greatly improve your practice by exposing yourself to different challenges and variables that force you to be able to adapt your style and technique.  Eventually, these adjustments can be made on the spot.  
Each new surface or object has its own learning curve and will force you to do things differently.  
Once again, I cannot stress enough the concept of safety first.  If you can't yet hold a handstand consistently on floor, it may not be time to expand yet.  
Make sure you always have an exit strategy if things fail.  Get a spotter if you need it.  
ALWAYS check your apparatus to make sure it's sturdy before inverting on it.  

Other than that, go try something new.  

 

Still working on learning how to control your freestanding handstand on the floor?  Check out my ebook to help you understand and develop that process before moving on to other surfaces and apparatus.  

 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
6 CommentsPost a comment

Handstands can be one of the most difficult and frustrating physical disciplines to learn.  
Progress can be very inconsistent.  

However, at the same time I notice people who do the same thing for years and make little to no improvement.  
The process towards progressing in this skill can be counter-intuitive, so here are a few common pitfalls experienced by beginner and advanced practitioners alike:

 


-You don't practice enough
Handstands take serious work, so if your practice consists of "messing around every once in a while", you're probably not getting better.  
This is a skill you need to devote some real time to; on top of that consistency of practice is key.  Luckily, it takes zero equipment so there should not be any excuses.  

-You move too fast
Wall handstand<freestanding handstand<one arm handstand.  These are the progressions, right?
Not exactly.  There are a multitude of concepts and steps in between that need to be addressed.  Many people are too eager to see the final product that they miss the process to get there.  
The basic rule is that you should feel complete control in your practice.  Any "wildness" means that it may be worth it to regress a step or two or reevaluate your technique.  

-You haven't properly refined your basics
This is about optimization of technique.  Understanding the concepts behind alignment, arm support, breathing, body tension and balance can help a lot when it comes to learning the more advanced skills.  
As a beginner, it's worth it to build a base.  As an advanced practitioner, it's worth it to keep refining your base.  If you advanced learning a technique that is not ideal, it's worth going back to solidify your basics.  
Case in point: if it takes you more than one try to find balance on two arms; you are not yet ready to progress to one arm work.  

-You spend too much time working on basics
The base is important, but at the same time it's important to begin exposure to higher level skills.  Some people spend so much time chasing perfection here that they don't get enough time to train what they're actually trying to work on.  
Yes, working basics will help with the advanced skills.  However, you won't achieve the advanced skills unless you actually practice them.  

-You haven't addressed your physical restrictions
In most adults, excess tension and restrictions in and around the shoulder, wrist, and elbow can impede handstand progress.  If you don't take care of these issues, they can have a significant effect on your practice, both technically and aesthetically.  
Check out my Wrist and Shoulder sequences on Vimeo to help address some of these issues
Wrist Sequence
Shoulder Sequence

 

-You haven't addressed your psychological restrictions
Handstands are as much mental as they are physical.  Being in a handstand can put people into an uncomfortable positions, and the tendency here can be either to collapse or fight.  
The key is to feel comfortable every step of the way.  If training handstands triggers a fear or panic response, it's worth it to spend some time developing comfort before moving on.  

-You train with the wrong methodology
Always remember what your goals and expectations are.  Are you training as a competitive gymnast?  If the answer is no, it may not be worth learning your handstand like one.  The same applies with yoga, circus, breakdance, and other handstand styles.  
Ultimately, this is an individual practice, so find what works for you without getting caught up in too many dogmas.  
Different acrobatic skills will also require different variations of the handstand.  

-Your view of 'progress' is too narrow
There are many ways to get better at a skill, and many of them are not as obvious as you would think.  Handstand hold time and body line are pretty obvious things to work towards, but things like efficiency in entry/exit, cleanliness of balance, consistency, fluidity of transitions and ability to save a fall also very important elements.  
Improving on these is just as important, even if you're not actively improving your line of hold times by doing so.  

-You get too caught up in PRs
Unless you were performing a feat of endurance, your longest hold time is not something you should get too caught up on.  
Hit 60 seconds?  Great!  How many attempts in a row can you hit that same number?  Ascending skill levels is going to take thousands of repetitions, so what we're looking for is consistency.  How long can you hold your handstand on the first attempt after rolling out of bed in the morning?  That's what I would be more interested in.  


-You spend too much time training on your own
I love training alone, but it has its pitfalls.  It reminds me of this quote:
"Solitude has but one disadvantage--it is apt to give one too high an opinion of one's self. In the world we are sure to be often reminded of every known or supposed defect we may have."
- Lord Byron
We all have a skewed perception of ourselves, so there are simply things we cannot notice or correct when it comes to our personal form.  For this reason, it's useful to have a teacher or training partner, at least every so often.  

-You don't do enough research
You might be someone who just likes to try something to see what happens.  In handstands, it's possible to progress this way for some people.  However, eventually there will come a point where some guidance is needed to continue progress or correct bad habits.  
This is where it helps to observe, watch videos, and take notes to get ideas from other sources.  

-You do too much research
Knowledge is important, but ultimately meaningless without proper implementation.  I encourage vast amounts of research, but there should be a good ratio between researching and doing.  There are too many people well versed in theory but with little practice in it.  
Don't be that guy.  


FINAL WORDS
Just some guidance to help some people along in their handstand practice.  
Interested in more information on learning this illusive skill?

Check out my ebook on handstands, "Balancing the Equation"
 

In addition, check out my events page for a list of upcoming seminars I will be teaching
 


Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

With the internet the way it is these days, it's often easy to lose authenticity in our own image.  It's a fantastic way to reach more people, but at the same time there is a lot of sneakiness and manipulation involved.  

Basically, what is seen on someone's internet profile is not them as a person, but a crafted image they are trying to project.  Sometimes this image differs quite a bit from the individual creating it. 

This is not meant to call anyone out.  What I want to do is to talk about the authenticity of my approach towards learning acrobatics and other physical arts as an adult.  
Hopefully people will have a better idea of what my intention is and what direction I'm coming from.  




-I started for completely personal reasons.  Basically I thought it was a cool thing to try. I also thought that learning a few party tricks would make up for what I thought was my lack of social ability and personality.  

-I was training long before I knew any kind of money or career could come from it.  It was always about personal development.  
There was even a point where I told a friend I didn't think it was a good idea to try to become a professional stuntman because there are too many unknowns and risks involved.  Not only did I not know a career could be made from it, I actually believed it was not possible.  I was wrong.  

-I was not sedentary, but by no means athletic as a child.  I really didn't do much in my childhood that prepared me for the kind of training I currently do.  

-I started teaching not long after starting to train seriously.  Again this was for mainly selfish reasons.  
Basically I just wanted some people to train with and to create a community of sorts.  I tried to cultivate interest by teaching people to get them interested.  
Also since I had very limited feedback or reference material in my own training, teaching others was a way to access a different learning process.  This helped to eventually understand the techniques to a greater depth.  
Basically, teaching is a completely separate skill compared to training, performing or completing as an athlete.  It does not come natural and needs to be developed over time like anything else.  Teaching people early on gave me an advantage for what I do now.  
I like to explain it like this:
"Teaching is about getting into someone else's head in order to get them out of theirs."

-I am self-taught.  Most of my progress in the first few years was made through a vague knowledge of possibilities combined with obsession, dedication and experimentation.  I was stubborn and in reality not a very good student.  
I had somewhat of a scientific experimental method to training, but sometimes science is more art than science.  
It took me about 5 years into training to learn how to embrace criticism.
I used to have a sizable ego and had to learn the hard way that I wasn't as good as I thought.  

-When I say I'm self taught that doesn't mean I didn't learn from anyone, quite the opposite.  I learned from countless people directly and indirectly.  All these people influenced my style, but nobody formally trained me in anything on a regular basis.    
I learned everything the worst way possible, and had to go back to fix it after all the bad habits were built up.  

-I also spent about 5 years teaching kids gymnastics and cheerleading, both recreational and competitive.  The learning process of a child is completely different to that of an adult, and it is very important to understand this difference.  Adolescents have their own individual learning styles as well.  
Having exposure to all of this helps greatly to be able to modify my teaching style on the spot.  I still enjoy working with the younger generations.  The main reasons I quit were the high energy cost of the work, the low pay, and most important having to work for superiors whose approach I did not agree with.
The advantage of this line of work is that I got to stay close to what I was passionate about and still had some free time to pursue my interests.   

-I do not consider myself well-read.  I never really found reading that helpful for skill learning.  Too much theory and not enough practice.  It's not difficult to be well versed in theory; absorption and regurgitation of information was my specialty in school.  Too many people know how to make it sound like they know what they're talking about when they haven't gone through the process themselves.  
I'm not undermining the benefits of reading, but there needs to be an even ratio between reading and doing.  
When I read about something that interests me, I immediately go out and try it.  Until you understand how concepts apply to the real world, the theory is just that.  

-I went to school and got a Bachelor's Degree in Physics with minor in math.  I basically picked it on a whim after being undecided in Major for my first year.  
It's not something I was super passionate about but it sounded cool.  I wouldn't say I use a lot of it now, but the development of the analytical mindset definitely helped.  
Out of college, I got a job related to my field doing quality and environmental testing on massive radiation detectors.  

-I have no letters after my name, no certifications and I hold no value in pieces of paper.  Feel free to call me uneducated in that regard, I just don't care for formalities.    
I do hold value in someone's name, reputation, and ability.  No piece of paper or fancy acronym can accurately represent that.  
This is what I do and this is what I can do.  Let my name act as my resume.

-My business title is my name; the one that I was born with(and made fun of for in my younger years).  After moving to the US as a child, I used to hate not having a "normal" name but now I embrace it.  
Rather than having a flashy or catchy title, I prefer to put my name and reputation on the line.  I let my own name represent me.  

-I have done my research in different methods.  Most teachers have one narrow method of teaching a skill, which is not a bad thing at all.  
I however, prefer to research as many different options as possible of reaching the same goal.  This is why I spent time studying martial arts, gymnastics, various forms of weightlifting, dance, circus, etc.  Not only do you get to see the options, but it gives a better view of what limitations people of different backgrounds have when learning different skills.  

-I practice what I preach.  This means that I have tried everything I recommend.  
Likewise, I do all demonstrations myself rather than hire models or assistants, even if they may be prettier than me.  

-I learned my skills as an adult, and I have spent a lot of time working with the adult population of various backgrounds and levels.  Teaching an adult is very different to teaching an adolescent or young child and takes a unique approach.  

-My format is completely open.  No trade secrets or no inner circles here.   I prefer to demystify this kind of training as much as possible and I will answer any question anyone asks me to the best of my ability.  
Plus, pretty much everything I teach in person I've put out online for free at some point in the last few years.  

-Handstands are not the end goal of what I'm trying to do.  These are simple party tricks that I try to use as a tool to carry a greater purpose.  
The idea is to understand the control, awareness,. and attention to detail it takes to learn these skills.  This allows you to develop a greater connection to your own body, which many people in the modern world are disconnected to.  
An added bonus is that it helps keep you healthy and makes you look cool.  


Hopefully this post helps people to understand my background, methods and process a little better.  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
4 CommentsPost a comment

I talk a lot about how hand balancing is a very individual journey and process.  This means that you have to learn the restrictions, strengths, and limitations of your own body.  After this, you need to learn how to apply these to in order to create a more fulfilling practice.  

Hand balance is also very much an art of fine details.  Since the practice has grown more popular recently, a lot of teachers of the art are popping up.  
This is a great thing, as I believe that handstands are a staple of the physical arts and integral to building control and awareness of one's own body.  
However, what ends up happening is that a lot of the finer details in the development of the art get overlooked when trying to reach a higher number of people.  

I want to discuss a little bit about the chest to wall handstand.  This is an introductory exercise, so it is accessible to a lot of people.  
I'm not going to talk about right and wrong here, because that's subjective depending on the individual.  There are, however a couple subtle errors I see many people make in my classes, other people's classes, and photos/videos I see online.  These errors can create habits that are less than ideal for freestanding balance later on.  
 

DISTANCE FROM THE WALL

The typical cue given here is to be as close to the wall as possible.  This is a good cue...up to a point.  
There is such a thing as being too close to the wall in some scenarios.  A lot of it depends on body type and the situation the exercise is being used for.  
The universal concept I teach in arm support for handstand is that the arms should be vertical.  In order for me to hit that sweet spot in a CTW(chest to wall) handstand, I typically place the heels of my palms several centimeters from the wall.  
I am built fairly thick in the chest, which means that sometimes it can get in the way.  If I were to go as close to the wall as I could in a CTW handstand, it actually forces me to break my line by leaning my shoulders forward.  I have to do this to stay on the wall, because my chest actually pushes me away when I get closer and maintain open shoulders.  

If I had a slimmer profile, I could probably get away with being closer.  Just remember every cue is good until it's taken too far.  We want the arms vertical and ideally for the rest of the body to stack along the same line.  If this isn't happening, it may be a good time to reevaluate your technique.  

 

HEAD POSITION

Next, I want to talk about "proper" head position.  The cue most people are working with is "head in", and I feel when this is taken too far it can hinder progress in the freestanding handstand.  
I am not a fan of the "head in" cue for several reasons.  

"Head In"

"Head In"


First, the ideal handstand alignment is about getting the arms, torso, and legs to stack about the same vertical line.  The head and shoulders move independently of each other.  Moving the head does not change the alignment of the body, so head positioning is less of a priority. 

Second, one of the biggest reasons people like to pull their heads in is to create an illusion of better alignment.  The head in makes it feel like the shoulders are more open when the line does not actually change.  
Going further, take the standard "arms to ears" cue you hear often in kids gymnastics.  This does not specify shoulder position, which should be the priority.  I can achieve arms to ears with a 45 degree shoulder angle.  My shoulders are more open in relation to my head, but not in relation to my back which is the target alignment.  

As you can see in the photo, pulling my head in to touch the wall in a CTW handstand is actually stopping my shoulders from being able to reach the ideal position.  
 

Third, inversion can invoke a fear response in beginners.  Being able to see the floor helps with both balance and orientation, whereas the "head in" position gives you no point of reference for where you are.  
 

HOW TO CORRECT

Effective cues in coaching are massively important.  The goal is to hit as many birds as possible with one stone to simplify it for your students.  
After finding the proper distance from the wall, the cue I use to activate good shoulder position is "upper chest to the wall".  
By trying to pull your upper chest to the wall(even if it never touches), this takes care of both the open shoulder and ribs in requirements for the straight handstand.  It also does this with little chance of compromising shoulder stability.
In order to touch your upper chest to the wall, the head needs to be slightly extended to allow clearance for the shoulders to open.  This will also simulate the typical freestanding handstand position during which the practitioner is looking at the floor.   

Upper Chest touching the wall

Upper Chest touching the wall

 

As always, just something to think about and apply to your own practice and teaching.  

See the accompanied video explanation here:




P.S.
Of course the head does not have to be static.  Changing head position can be an important part of a more advanced practice, it's just not something I would introduce to beginners.  Check out Yuval Ayalon's video for a beautiful demonstration on head positioning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3K9SMNKL7Y

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
4 CommentsPost a comment

I was recently reminded of a story I was told by Valentin Kirichenko, a former olympic level USSR gymnast who I was very lucky to have been able to train with.  

Valentin said that towards the end of his competitive career he was recruited by a well known circus company.  They tested him on his skills and offered him a job.
Valentin turned down the circus, saying "I am an athlete, not an artist."

This got me to thinking; at what point someone be classified as an artist at what they do?

Well, when most of us learn something new, it is often performed as mimicry.  We see something or are told something, and try to reflect it.  Depending on our knowledge and perception, that reflection can parallel or drift far from the original(reminds me of the Salvador Dali painting of the same title).  

How is this important in what makes someone an artist?  It's a complex subject but I can offer one opinionated standard:

You are an "artist" when you are evolved enough in your subject/art that your thoughts/ideas/progressions become uniquely your own. 

Mimicking ideas is still very important for learning and progress; few people would achieve a high level without it.   

The goal is to develop oneself to a point where you no longer rely on what other people have done in order to formulate your own ideas.  

This does not mean you have to be a leader; it means that one of the goals of a long-term practice is to eventually cultivate some independent thought.  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
2 CommentsPost a comment

"Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I've understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum. It is the halfway cultivation that leads to ornamentation. Jeet Kune-Do is basically a sophisticated fighting style stripped to its essentials."

-Bruce Lee

I know that Bruce Lee quotes can be overused these days.  Let me explain how this particular one is an excellent metaphor for how to learn skills at different levels.  

Different stages of skill development can require different methods of learning in order to maximize progress.  

Beginners will make gains the most easily and quickly.  This is the stage where to a degree you can get better just by showing up.  It is best to keep things as simple as possible here: attempt to do the movement as best as you can without over analyzing.  
Many beginners make the mistake of trying to think too much and thus hinder their own progress.  Learn how to drive your car before worrying about the traffic laws.  

We have a very limited amount of concentration we can allocate to different facets of the skill being performed.  As a beginner, it's important to know where to place the focus.  This way you can create a good base to build upon.  
In terms of handstands, one of the things many beginners need to focus on is bypassing the survival instinct.  Often times the body needs to be assured that the position is safe and comfortable.  
Beginners should be focused on building comfort in the position.  Once the survival mechanism is broken, we can focus on a little bit more on alignment and body tension.  Still, it's best to keep things as simple as possible while we acclimate to the new stress on the body.

Intermediate level is where we can start to add some thought and complexity after the fundamentals have been taken care of.   In handstands, we can be more picky on the alignment, weight distribution over the hands, balance corrections, etc.  The idea is now to think a bit more over the purpose of every movement and body part.  The theoretical stage is very important to be able to eventually individualize your technique.  Find out what works well for you, what doesn't, and learn how to apply both.  
Avoid getting caught up in too much thinking though, it's still important to maintain a ratio between thought and action.  

At an advanced level, we attempt to purify the skill.  Purification is achieved through trimming down what is extra.  After the thinking stage is over, we should now have a good idea of the technique we are using.  We want to take these techniques and make them happen without conscious thought.  The advanced stage of skill development is about refinement through doing less.  
At a high level of refinement in a handstand, you can think of every visible movement or balance correction as an error.  

This is where things can get a little confusing.  Students of different levels working on the same skill can sometimes receive opposing advice.  It's not about right or wrong, it's about finding the right cue for the level and situation.    

Using the base handstand as the example, here are some oversimplified situations of advice I may give people of different levels to improve the same movement.  
All the more reason to keep an open mind since a concept you learn as a beginner may change completely once you have developed yourself.  

HANDS
Beg: More weight over the hands
Int: Engage the fingers more
Adv: Relax the fingers

HIPS
Beg: Hips up
Int: Open the hips
Adv: Still your hips

SHOULDERS:
Beg: Push into the floor
Int: Open the shoulders
Adv: Lock the shoulders

BODY TENSION:
Beg: More Tight
Int: Engage/Relax this or that
Adv: More relaxed

BALANCE:
Beg: Weight on top of the hands
Int: Fight more to stay up
Adv: Anticipate balance to fight less

ELBOWS:
Beg: Lock your elbows
Int: Learn how to correct balance from the elbows if need be
Adv: Lock your elbows


The purpose of all of this is to give you an idea of how ideals, techniques, and perspective can completely change throughout the course of training.  As always, there is no universal clearly defined concept of right and wrong.

When learning or teaching skills, remember this:

Beginner:  Do Something
Intermediate: Do More
Advanced: Do Less

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein
3 CommentsPost a comment

These days there are a lot of buzz words being thrown around.  While I'm all for promotion and getting the word out, there are times when meaning is lost.  

I want to talk a little bit about the word "movement" and what it means to me based on my experiences.  

First off, let me just say that I am happy with the direction things are going in the fitness world.  Slowly but surely, we are getting back into the trend of using and building a connection with our own bodies, as opposed to being concerned with how many calories we can burn in a workout.  

However, what people are calling "movement" these days does not always please me.  

Movement is intricacy, precision, and obsession.  Movement is skill, performed for thousands of repetitions over many years until there exists a shred of consistency.  
Movement is researching and learning.  Rather than harvesting bits and pieces from different physical arts, learn to appreciate the art itself.  
Movement is humbling; it is realizing you understand less after learning more.  

Some of my experiences with movement:

Consistently being made to tap out within seconds after believing I wasn't bad at grappling.  

After having practiced capoeira for the better part of 10 years, finding that I still don't really understand certain movements I learned on day 1.  

Despite having all my splits and being able to kick above head height, my hips are still too tight to hold a decent 5th position in ballet class.  

Taking several years to acquire my tumbling skills, then taking the same amount of time to try to fix bad habits developed from ignorance.  

Training hand balancing for years before meeting someone who was actually better than me.  Then getting the opportunity to train with some of the best in the world for a truly humbling view of where my own skill level is.  

Learning the difference between doing tricks and "performing" them.  

Taking up dance class and realizing how stiff I really am.  

Learning to not break form during transitions.  

Obsessing over single details, and literally watching every video on the internet(on the subject matter) at the time to be able to better assess and analyze the technique.  

 

The idea is not to discourage anyone, but to help people understand the meaning behind the word and the community.  Movement has to have a purpose, but above all it's a way of life.  It's someone you are 24/7.  
Understand that the world you think you are part of is bigger than you know.  Learn to appreciate the work and dedication it takes takes to not be terrible at something.  

Above all, enjoy the process.  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

Control of the scapula is immensely important for development of upper body strength, posture, and general control of oneself.  I have seen far too many people who are either locked up in this area or lack the coordination to be able to control, move, and stabilize from their shoulders.  

 

The shoulder joint is incredibly complicated, and today will not be an anatomy lesson.  I simply want to make you aware of several positions to be able to use them in your training and daily life.  

 

The scapula(shoulder blades) are floating bones located around the sides of your upper back.  Their specific placement will have a massive effect on total body output. This is especially important when working on handstands and other acrobatic movements.  
 

To simplify things, let's say the scapula move in two directions.  They move forwards and backwards, also known as protraction and retraction.  Also they move up and down, known as elevation and depression.  

 

In a relaxed standing position we want(more or less) the shoulders depressed and neutral in terms of protraction and retraction.  

IMG_2627[1].JPG

 

From here, you can elevate the scaps by strongly pressing your shoulders up:

 

You can go into protraction by rolling your shoulders forward and around your back to create a round shape: 

 

You can go into retraction by strongly pressing the shoulder blades together behind you: 

 

You can also combine elevation with protraction:

 

As well as elevation and retraction:



These exercises are to develop control of the scapula as well as to diagnose what your restrictions are.  

After you have mastered these position the true value can be demonstrated.  


Attempt to go through these positions of the scapula in loaded position, examples being a pushup position, handstand, hanging, etc.  Make notes of how they feel differently, and what feels more stable. 

When you have understanding and appreciation of shoulder placement, it will do quite a bit for your movement efficiency.  Every upper body strength movement has a very specific scapular position that will make the movement work best.  The answer is not always the obvious one.  

This is why I think it is very important in someone's personal development to be able to explore enough to do things differently.  The placement of the shoulders is only one small part of the whole.  

The idea is to be able to experiment enough to be able to find out for yourself why we do things the way we do.  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

I just got back from my third trip to New York City since I've had a "regular job".  This time I was there to assist Kit Laughlin in his Stretch Therapy for Gymnastics Strength training.  

I had a good time, met lots of new people, and reconnected with some old friends.  This is always good to do, but I will be honest, I don't love New York.  I find it to be too stressful, fast paced, and an over-stimulation of the senses.  I don't think I could survive there very long.  

The hardest thing for me is navigating my way through the city.  Transport is not very user-friendly to someone who is not a New Yorker.  I feel like every direction I go is a gamble to see if I'm going the right way or not.  
I am very grateful to the friends who helped me find my way to the different places I had to go.  However, one thing I find is that most New Yorkers give me directions as if I was from NYC.  This is only slightly helpful as most of the time I have no clue what they're talking about.

What kind of blog post would this be if we didn't draw a parallel to something else we do.  

Everything we know is based on the previous experiences we have had.  This is something we have to keep in mind when teaching or explaining anything to someone else.  Assuming someone has a similar perspective to yourself is the biggest flaw of most teachers.  If something is completely foreign, there will be no connections drawn in terms of understanding it.  

As a teacher(and we are all teachers to some degree) you must be able to speak in a language that someone with no perspective on the subject matter can understand and follow.  This is one of the biggest flaws I see in most teachers.  They speak to new students as though they already have some understanding of what is going on, when in reality this is rarely the case.  

It's not about making a comparison to something the beginner already knows, though it does work sometimes.  A good teacher should be able to continually break something down to a more basic level.  This should continue down to a point that the student can understand in their own words and perspective.  

Though beginners make the most gains in the shortest amount of time, they are the most difficult students to teach well. Teaching an advanced student is much easier as they already know the language.  

Next time you test yourself or someone else as a teacher, see how well they can explain their subject to someone who knows nothing about it, child or adult.


Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

I just left Bellingham, Washington which is a very small town where people are almost unnecessarily friendly(compared to what I'm used to.)  I went to Bellingham to take the "Into the Stretch" workshop with Kit Laughlin.  

Bellingham Sunset

Bellingham Sunset


First I want to talk a little bit about Kit, then share some thoughts on workshops in general.  

I met Kit at a Gymnastic Bodies seminar in Arizona a couple years ago, where he attended the seminar as well as taught a flexibility module as part of it.  I was interested in his work because of how genuine he was when he talked about it.  Anytime someone sounds like a salesman or businessman it is a massive turn-off for me.  Kit comes across as someone who legitimately enjoys what he does.  The other reason why I recommend Kit's work so highly is that he doesn't regard it as complete.  I have worked with many teachers, and many of them think they know something.  Once they release a body of work, that's it.  The fact is that your work, whatever it may be, should be an organic being capable of changing and evolving as new information becomes present.  
Since our first meeting, I attended a six day workshop with Kit in Charlottesville, VA and he hosted me for a handstand workshop in his home of Canberra, the Australian capital.  

Superficially, Kit appears to be a teacher of flexibility and movement.  The true nature of his work(and mine as well) goes way deeper than that.  Our bodies are the only true home we ever live in, and for the majority of the population it goes largely unexplored.  It's surprising how much of a disconnect people have with their own bodies.  

In fact, an analogy I use for people's treatment of their own bodies is similar to that of a rental car.  It gets you from one place to another for the amount of time you have it, but ultimately you are not responsible for it.  I prefer to think of my body as the ship I am captain of.  If something goes wrong, it is my own responsibility.  

Well flexibility among other things, is an excellent tool for developing a deep awareness of yourself, as well as the mind-body connection.  
Here are a few concepts I learned or was reminded of while taking Kit's workshop:

-It's not the muscle being stretched.  Muscle behaves like any elastic material, when it is lengthened it goes back to its resting position in a shorter time than it took to elongate.  Limits to flexibility originate in the brain.  People who are anesthetized are completely flexible and can be put into any position.  As soon as they regain consciousness they revert back to their original state.  

-"Your body is smarter than you are".  This a concept I work with in my teachings as well.  We are all a series of compensations created by our weaknesses and shortcomings.  Your body is an expert at making compensations to avoid movements that cause any stress to the system.  It is also an expert at resisting change; if left to its own devices it will run purely on habit.  However, to grow as individuals we must be able to get past the discomfort or making change in ourselves.  

-Lowest energy state.  So many of us hold unnecessary tension within our bodies, and it happens for a number of reasons.  By default, we should be completely soft and relaxed until action is required.  Control of tension and relaxation is a massively important concept for athletics, movement, and life in general.  

I definitely learned a lot more at Kit's event my second time around, which brings me to my next point today.  

Why attend a workshop or seminar in the first place?  Here are some of the less obvious reasons:

-To get a different perspective on something you already know.  There are a lot of teachers who teach the same thing, but all of them have a different viewpoint.  Learning different perspectives can only benefit you more as a student or teacher.  Just remember to keep an open mind.  

-As my friend Samantha Star mentioned to me, going to a workshop can be a great way to validate what you already do.  Seeing someone else use the same methods as you is a good way to legitimize your system. 

-Repeating the same workshop can really help you understand the subject matter.  You can focus much more on the subtleties once you know what the foundation will be.  Both Kit and myself give discounts for repeating a workshop(I plan on making mine more substantial once the business is a bit more situated).  Maybe there is that one piece of advice that you just weren't ready for the first time around, and all of a sudden it clicks.  Either way, it's impossible to learn all the ins and outs of a system from going to just one workshop.  

-Meeting a community of like minded people can have quite an invigorating effect.  

As a student, you should aim to get at least one concept you can take away from any workshop or class you take.  If you learn even one thing, consider it a success.  

To learn more about Kit's work, check out www.kitlaughlin.com for more information.  


Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

Today I want to write a little bit about a mentality I used to have, and a lesson I learned from having it.  We are all guilty of having an ego from time to time, and it is important to appreciate the reasons to stay humble.   

During my college years early on in my movement journey, I trained with the MMA club.  It wasn't anything too hardcore, mostly just some basic Muay Thai and BJJ.  Occasionally we did some weapons work like Escrima or Kali.  
The club was run and frequented by average college students, so my having above average strength, flexibility, pain tolerance, and work ethic came as an advantage.  I was able to progress pretty quickly, though it may have been attributed to my preferring training over partying.  

I felt especially confident during the grappling portion, but I would soon find out that my confidence was very misplaced.  
I had played around with some wresting as well but never had any formal training.  I found if someone was close to my size, I was able to overpower them.  However, someone who had actually trained in wresting was usually able to pin me.  

Fast forward a year or so, I am visiting a friend's college during my long winter break.  They have an open BJJ training where visitors can sign a waiver and roll.  At this point I had already been training(many bad habits, though I didn't know it then) capoeira, MMA, tricking, basic tumbling, and some gymnastics strength so I had a pretty high self opinion.  Prior to rolling with who I believe was the teacher for the BJJ club, I thought I would have at least been able to hold my own against him due to the stuff I had been doing.  I could not have been more wrong.  

I did several rounds with the BJJ teacher, and every time he would literally have me in a lock within seconds.  It didn't matter how much stronger than him I may have been or thought I was, superior technique and experience beat me every time.  

So this is what it's like to actually be good at grappling, I thought to myself.  Turns out I was a big fish in a small pond.  I had never previously experienced BJJ at a higher level, and that caused an ego to form.  
I have gone through similar experiences with other forms of movement, but none as profound as this.  I had completely gotten my ass handed to me. 

Here are several lessons I learned from the experience(I didn't grasp a lot of these until many years later):

There is always someone better than you

If there is nobody in your circle better than you, seek someone out on occasion to be inspired and/or humbled

As soon as you think you'e "good", you automatically lower your guard

As soon as you think you know something, it impedes your learning capabilities and closes off your mind

 

Stay humble, continue through life as a beginner and a student.  I have found that the further I go, the further I see there is to go.  Every step I take forward gives me a better view of the world, and I see how vast and overwhelming it really is.  It's not discouraging by any means; I would rather be aware of the possibilities.  You could be the biggest fish in your aquarium, but there is a whole ocean out there. 
 

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

Understanding how skills are learned is a vital thing to know for both a student and a teacher.  However, it seems to me that many people are unaware of the intricacies of this process.  

I want to offer an analogy that may shed some light on the matter.  

You can think of achieving "mastery" of a skill similar to accelerating to highway speed from a dead stop in a car with manual transmission.  Some of us may start with an uphill or downhill grade.  There will be people who can naturally learn a skill without putting conscious effort into it.  As a counter to that, others will have restrictions, either mental or physical that hinder them from the skill at hand.  Their current lifestyle or mindset is not conductive, therefore lack of effort will actually bring them further from the goal in hand.  

First things first, you have to put the car in gear.  This means you have to want to learn the skill in question.  Unless you are a wizard or mutant, it won't happen on its own.  
In first gear you will be able to accelerate the fastest, thus you will make the most gains as a beginner in anything.  However, first gear will only take you so far.  Eventually you will have to switch to second gear.  

In the case of skill learning, second gear would be modifying your training approach after building a solid foundation.  Note that it is important to have a bit of momentum prior to shifting gears.  

As the gears get higher it gets easier to maintain speed, but it becomes more difficult to accelerate.  The higher skill level you are the more work it takes to reach the next level, but the skills become more ingrained.  

With every new gear, you can pick up speed to a certain point after which slamming the accelerator will no longer propel you.  Then you must shift again.  A shift could be trying a new method, consulting a different teacher, doing some cross training, etc.  

If you don't regularly maintain your vehicle, acceleration will be rough.  If you have issues with the engine, you may need to fix them prior to taking your car to higher speeds.  

If you shift to a high gear without the necessary speed, your engine can stall out.  

Sometimes it is necessary to downshift to allow faster acceleration(going back to basics).  

Familiarity with your car will result in smoother acceleration.  

Riding each gear to its appropriate speed prior to shifting will result in smoother acceleration.  

It always takes more energy to accelerate than to maintain speed.  

If you put the car in neutral, you will lose speed.  The faster you were going, the slower you will lose speed.  

Every model car accelerates a bit differently.  

 

It is easy here to draw lines and make connections.  The point here is that the learning process is not linear.  Any approach will continue to work to a certain point after which you will plateau your gains.  There is not necessarily any one approach that will lead to mastery, rather understanding many different ones.  

Lastly, everyone will take a slightly different path toward their goal and will require different guidance along the way.  

Hopefully this is helpful in understanding where you stand in your own learning curve, as well as where your students are.  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein

I want to address a mindset I see quite a bit in many realms of physical training.  It is something that I do my best to avoid in my own training and teaching.  

The soldier mentality refers to blindly following orders without any thought or hesitation.  This approach definitely has its place in the world and certain hierarchies, but I think that over the long term it is detrimental to our personal and mental health.  

Because we have access to so much information it is vital to learn to think for ourselves.  

Ask someone why they do a technique a certain way.  "Because coach told me to" should never be the correct answer.  This shows that they do not have a fundamental understanding of the movement they are practicing.  Now what happens when they go out and teach the same thing?  We have a case of the blind leading the blind.  

My preference is for students and teachers alike to always stay informed, which is not as difficult as it seems.  If you have a teacher, there is a reason for that.  There is no need to question their every motive; you should place sufficient trust in them to know what they are doing to a certain degree.  

Every once in a while, ask "WHY?"  Ask both your teacher and yourself.  If you do not get a satisfactory explanation, that should raise a red flag.  

I had no consistent teachers for years, so in my process of exploration I had to constantly ask myself why.  This attitude helped me learn a lot and greatly heightened my ability to analyze and break down movement.  However, as a student it made me a bit rebellious and resistant to tutelage.  This would be a massive juxtaposition to the many athletes who only do what they're told.  

 

Here is my point in all this:  everything we do is for a reason.  It is important to understand why.  

What it comes down to is that everything we learn should not be duplicated but interpreted as to how it works for us individually.  
If you want to increase your understanding and awareness, do not forget to ask "Why?".  

Posted
AuthorYuri Marmerstein