Making of a hand balancer
Story of a kid that hated handstands and then went on to become a one arm balancer.
Have you ever wondered how one goes to become a hand balancer? Neither have I but here I am, typing away and here you are reading… so why not.
This is not some story of a poor Russian kid rising to fame through a series of unlikely events,… Although I am from a Slavic country, events happened and I am nowhere near being famous… but, you might learn a thing or two about handstands, learning itself and the crooked ways of life.
The little kid
Once upon a time there was a kid who loved to run... but not that it mattered. He lived in a village on the South-East border of Slovenia surrounded by nature, living a regular life.
Hand balancing always seemed like an impossible feat to him. He never liked doing handstands. He couldn’t stand up even for a second. Even when he had to try it at school next to the wall, he would be afraid. He thought he was going to hit his legs too hard into the wall. It was just no fun. And no kid likes to do not fun things, so he decided not to learn it. “Who needs this skill anyway” he thought.
Despite that fear, the fear of heights and fear of hitting his head… a wimpy kid… he was drawn to twists and flips of acrobats. He became a part of a free running team called Flame runners (yt). Well it was actually me and my two friends from the same village — Borna Miljavac P. (yt) and Dominik Sky (Starašinič) (yt). Oh…ahem, I guess I can just switch to me huh..? Anyway… We were watching Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle do their thing and decided we want to try it to. So we took some pillows and mattresses from our houses and learned by throwing ourselves onto them. All this while recording ourselves, watching clips of professionals and trying some more flips at school while teachers weren’t looking. Oh the painful beginnings, neighbours and parents screaming “Why are you doing this?!” and thinking to themselves “I’ll have to make a new kid, this one’s no good…”.
Over the years the “crazy” village trio jumping off hay stacks progressed. We learned new tricks, made videos, met other crazy people and even shot a feature length acton film. Two of them actually. Great action, terrible acting. But as all good things, this too had to come to an end — ta daa daaaa damm.
It happened one faithful day when I was trying my very first double front flip with a twist. The height and insufficient trust in my own ability got me and I sprained my ankle. I tore some ligaments and broke a small piece off bone inside. And that’s what ended my acrobatics career — if there ever was such a thing. After that my progression slowed down. I still trained here or there, but I didn’t feel like recording it. Just as I’m writing this I’m recovering from a surgery — about 6 years later.
The beginning of the upside down
After some sad time due to a break up with my ankle (or a girlfriend, but who cares anyway), inspiration came. 4 years ago in June I decided I was going to not suck at handstands. It was something I could try to do despite the injury. So I turned back on the youtube tutorials and made myself go stand next to the wall, upside down, almost every day for the next few months.
- Obviously, getting rid of the legs to the wall fear was the first thing to do. And I did it by first walking on all four up next to the wall and then doing it the regular way as carefully as I could. And that’s how I gained confidence to start real training.
- By watching videos and trying it out I learned that pushing with fingers or pressing on the heel of your spread out palms helped maintain the balance.
- But as I trained in tight spaces I acquired a habit of stepping forward with my hand when I was about to tip over. Cartwheel save wasn’t an option even though I knew how to do it. I countered that by counting how many times I make a hand step in order to bail instead of pushing with fingers. I worked on lowering that number by resisting the step and it worked.
And eventually this came about:
Gaining strength but not balance
Slowly but surely I had small insights one by one and didn’t care to stop.
- Eventually it hit me that elevating the shoulders was very important, so I learned how to do that... to some extent… over a period of time. It’s not a simple concept to get.
- As I got better at handstanding I thought “Huh I wonder if I could now learn handstand pushup?” and that was a terrible idea. It slowed down my progress, but I did gain some strength. You see, I thought handstand was a strength move, but it isn’t and I started trying some handstand pushups despite not being ready.
- Quite some time later I realised I was always standing with my hands way too wide and I was using more strength to counter that. Hands should be directly beneath the shoulders so you can lock them straight and improve the shoulder elevation (or make it easier).
- Still thinking handstand was better if you were strong I started learning pike press. I learned it by doing negatives (slowly going down from handstand in the same form as I wanted to go up) and training the first part to the point I could do it. I got it eventually but my handstand was still not that stable.
Still the progress was quite nice progress.
- On day while trying different variations of head positions I got the concept of being directly above your head — feeling of being upside down that adds to the balance.
- Another breakthrough happened while attending a workshop from Udruga Amazonas with Nikola and Katjuša, where I learned about the pelvic tilt. It’s hard to describe it so I won’t try. Here’s a video. I’m still yet to fully understand this concept myself.
Era of balance
I had a break from regular handstanding for some time and then June 2017 came… ta da dan. And I decided I wanted to learn one arm handstand until December! Holy mother of handstands. Poor kid thinking he knew a thing about handstanding… But I tried anyway.
- From past trainings I understood that doing little bits every day is better than 1h once per week, so I started doing handstand for at least 2 min every day anywhere I felt like. This is useful in whatever sport and whatever goal. A little everyday is better than a lot once per week.
- First thing I knew I needed to work on, was my straddle handstand. At that point I understood the connection within the body I need to feel to maintain balance. That was the point in time when I learned the importance of pointing toes. But my legs weren’t completely streight.
I was looking for someone who knew how to do a controlled one arm handstand and by sheer luck of me asking around — a friend introduced me to a friend who knew a friend that knew a bit about that and could hold it for a something like 10 seconds sometimes — Bboy Micho (aka. Mitja Andrejka) from Unity Crew.
- He pointed out to me that I need to gain more control over the legs, so I started doing 10 repetitions of normal handstand to straddle and back every day (I didn’t go to sleep until I finished 10 of these even if one by one). This is where I again learned the importance of straightening legs and pointing toes to maintain control.
- A month later it happened that I stopped doing this straddle to handstand exercises for a few weeks and went on to only side to side leaning for one arm handstand set. My technique and balance got worse so I realised the importance of maintaining the basics and continue doing them every day along with the advanced training. Which means you need more time to continue developing than just quick 10 reps/day.
- The last tip from him that clicked for me was that during one arm handstand the rib cage is where he feels tension. This was where I focused and it again improved my elevation as you need to push from the rib cage in two arm handstand (at least that’s how it felt).
At this point I could do side bends called PIANO where you are standing on one hand and only on the fingers of the other for balance.
Eventually I managed to pull off a few one arm stands, but to be honest I had no control. I was also rushing things as it seemed that the one arm was very close.
The fall and the rise
And then the ankle surgery came and my level dropped as I stopped training for 2 months due to danger of messing up my leg and the pain I had post surgery. Crazy painful I tell you! I didn’t dare to move a muscle. My body went out of balance due to ankle losing range and strength diminishing in the whole leg. It felt like I’m back to June 2017, but I didn’t give up.
Fortunately for me I managed to get some insights from Yuval Ayalon, when trying to figure out how to get back.
- Handstand is not a strength exercise. Goal should be to use the least amount of energy as possible. Gain balance so you use only center of your palm and push with fingers only when you need to. Relax your belly, and lower back. Pull your belly in. Straighten your legs, point your toes, knees together. Do the pelvic tilt.
- Be patient and have respect for One arm Handstand. Master two handed handstand firs. Quality over quantity. This skill has spread to the wider public only in the last 10 years. Before you had to go to russian circus academy or an italian circus family where they decided if they should teach you their family balancing secrets.
So what now? Well, I’m slowly going to get back to my basics and then again back to chasing one arm handstand again. Patience and focus is the final lesson and the lesson at the end of this article.
This year, 2018, the kid really will master the one arm handstand… well maybe not master, but you will be seeing it at least for a few seconds and with some control.
Thanks to all the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped me learn. May the balancing spirits be with you!
I’d love to talk to anyone about hand balancing if you have any questions or comments. Also ask me anything about life coaching or business and product design that I do as my main career.