Sunday, January 23, 2005

Start With The Back Lever

In the ranking of strength skills on rings, on a scale from A to E, the back lever sits at the A level. This means it is one of the easiest strength skills to perform. That being said, it should also be one of the first skills you master. Especially if you are working towards higher level skills like the front lever (B level) and planche (C level). The back lever builds upper body strength and teaches the important skills of total body tension and coordination.

Alright, square one . . .

First, you'll grab the bar (or rings), get into a tuck, and invert yourself. Simple enough.

Continue bringing your feet over your head until you can get in the position shown above. For those who never did this as a kid, this exercise is called "skin the cat".

You'll want to then bring your feet and legs back up over your head to get back to the start. When you first start this exercise, you will want to stay tucked as you bring your legs up and down. As you get stronger, work on keeping your legs straight and moving your piked body back and forth.

Soon you'll get strong enough to start trying some positions. Whichever position you choose to work on, I find it helpful to straighten my body as soon as possible. On the rings, this is simply achieved by getting into an inverted straight hang. With a pullup bar, you have a bar and doorframe to contend with, so simply straighten like in the picture above.

If you feel ready, try lowering down into a one-legged back lever. Having one leg tucked-in will take some of the weight off the skill. This position feels a bit odd in comparision to a regular back lever, but it is easier.

If the one-legger gets too easy, just straighten yourself out and lower down into a back lever. I find it easiest when I look at my feet as I lower down, so I can see when I'm horizontal. After you level out, just pick up your head and look forward.

In performing any of these exercises or skills, make sure you land on your feet when you drop off the bar or rings. Smashing into the ground face-first isn't fun for anybody except the people watching. So don't do it. Land safe.

Other that that, the most important tip I can give you for performing the back lever, is to lock your back and arms together. Below, anatomy man will show you the muscles that you should be fusing together.

By keeping things tight, you will create tension in your upper body and recruit the large muscles in your back, instead of just your arm muscles.

I've tried to demonstrate the difference in muscle tension in the following pictures.

In this picture above, I am using my arm muscles when holding the bar, but I'm am not using my back muscles as greatly as I can.

Here, I have flexed my arms and back muscles to create tension in my entire upper body. As I said, it should feel like your arms are locked to your lats (your latissimus dorsi, your wings, your back!!). So in the end, this is what your back lever should look like if shot from above. Use as many muscles as you can. Why make it difficult by only using your arms?

The back lever really isn't that hard to get down. If you already have a bit of pull up and dip strength, you might be able to pull off this skill at first go.

Good luck!

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Progression of Things

First, my front lever is much more solid now. It use to be a strain and struggle to hold one. No longer...

a shot from the back


a shot from the front

I've been jumping up into a front lever just about every time I went through my door. No long workouts, just short, frequent ones. The constant repetition helped tremendously in strengthening the skill. I can actually say I have a front lever now.

My one arm handstand has become the forgotten child.

I don't tend to practice this too much at home due to the very real risk of injury when I fall over to one side. Therefore, I only work on it at my gym in the matted room... with plenty of space. In any case, I'm seeing a bit of progress and my current state has me up on one hand with a one finger assist.

It's always tempting to snap my assisting hand up to my hip and try and hold a one arm handstand in practice. While this generally gives me a short-held o.a.h., it's not going to give me a solid one! If I can gradually lower the assistance needed from that finger, until I can curl up my hand off the ground into a fist, then I'll have it solid.

What am I aiming for? CHECK THIS OUT. This guy holds a one arm handstand for an easy 10 seconds. The video is from style2ouf, a french breaking site with some incredible clips.

Guess that creates a good segue into a video of my straddle planche attempts. Like the last video, it'll only be hosted for a week.

(size 17.1 mb)

I filmed this on Jan. 6th when I was able to wrestle my work camera back to my place. The film is crappy, but you can see my current state of planche training. I still don't know where my hips and legs are, and the straddle planches are shaky, but there's something there! There is definitely something there. It's been such a long fight, so I'll take what I can get. I think if I start training this skill like the front lever - with a shorter number of reps more frequently - it will really help to bring things along.

OAP training took a bit of a blow this past weekend. The skill feels like a real grind, so I figured I would work on my endurance for the one arm chin, so I increased assistance to 15 lbs. With this assistance, I'm training to get 5 reps. When I can get 5 reps, I'll drop the assistance down to 10 lbs, etc...

Well, I got a bit overzealous since the reps were easier. Too many sets later, I still felt ok. But two days later when I went to do some regular chin ups?? Oh man, the elbows started screaming!! Tendonitis, damn. I tried some more chins today and the elbows still yelled a bit. Things are getting better, but I have to watch myself closer now. No more all-night one arm chin workouts. I'll still work for 5 reps, but I'll keep the sets at a much lower number.

On a positive note, my regular chins feel weightless. And my one arm assisted chins are definitely moving faster than before.

I've been very pleased with my hand strength training. Here is a picture of my #2 close.

Hmm, well you'll have to trust me that it's a #2.

I first closed a #2 a few weeks ago, but some KTA training has me smashing it consistently now - even with my left hand. I even no-set closed it with my right hand! For those unfamiliar with the grippers, a set is assistance from the non-closing hand so that you can get all your fingers around the gripper. The set puts your fingers in a better position and gives you a bit of a headstart on the close. When I can no-set the #2 consistently with both my hands, I'll start up another cycle of KTA training to mash my beef builder super master gripper - it's about a 2.5 in terms of difficulty.

If you have any sort of interest in training your grip, please check out the gripboard in my links section to the right. It's free to register and is home of some of the strongest hands in the world.

What else has my hand strength gotten me? How about some airtime under a 40 pound block weight!

I finally picked it up this past week.

This is a training breakthrough that's very exciting for me. That 40 lb chunk of metal had been glued to the ground for far too long. I had been working two handed lifts with the block, as well as some assisted one hand lifts. KTA training had strengthened my hands, and I have been doing some additional thumb work after I stopped the KTA. It's the thumb work that I feel really helped push my hand strength over the edge. So grab those pony clamps and get training!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Video! and more chair handstands...

I was able to make this quick video of myself demonstrating and briefly explaining the chair handstand. The video is grainy, the sound is iffy, and my ad-libbing leaves something to be desired, but it should clarify the entire process I outlined in my last post.

(size 20.8 mb)

Due to the way in which I'm hosting this video, it'll only be available for one week. If you really want to see the video after that time, just shoot me an e-mail.

This next picture is a shot of me doing a chair handstand on a "high stack". It's just three chairs stacked on top of each other. I'd only try this trick with those particular chairs, because they are identical, sturdy, and have flat tops and bottoms.

And despite what every single spectator said, they are not held together in any way. Oh yee of little faith...

I hope this shows that the chair handstand - and perhaps any skill I mention on this page - is as much a matter of mental control as physical. There's really no difference between a handstand on a high stack and one on the ground. Only your mind makes the distinction and creates the fear.

This next picture is a skill called "the illusion". I tried to describe it in a previous post, but this picture will do a better job explaining. It's what I'm doing in my profile pic (the pics are same event, a year apart).

It's easy to see that my left hand has a straight shot to the ground, so that the seat of that top chair is completely unnecessary. If you want to give this a shot, start by putting another chair under the front legs of the top one, then work on tilting the top chair off that support chair. Or better yet, ask me. I won't throw up anymore about the illusion unless there's demand for it.

Whatever you do, do not... please do not try the illusion unless your regular chair handstand is spot on perfect. Another chair and two more feet in height can really hurt you in a fall.

And finally... the double illusion. You can see the idea of the single illusion taken to another level (literally!). I'm the top dude on the left side.

I've seen pictures of professional performing groups have 7 or 8 people in one of these illusion poses. They make the chairs smaller as you get to the top, and the lean is greater to fit everyone in. It looks pretty amazing!

Whew, that's enough chair handstands for awhile now. I'll make another post regarding my training progression in a day or two. I also hope to put together a few more tutorials soon. Good luck to everyone with their training.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Handstands on Chairs

Performing a handstand on a chair is one of my favorite skills to do. Not surprisingly, it's also the skill I'm most requested to do. A handstand on the floor is impressive to many people, and handstand pushups even more so - but as soon as you throw a familiar object into the mix, people tend to pay a bit more attention. Everyone is familiar with a chair, and the thought that someone could press a handstand on one seems impossible.

Physical Prerequisites:
First, you should be able to hold a solid handstand before you even look at a chair. I'm not talking about a 3 second hold, I'm talking about a 30 second hold. Each and every handstand you do on the ground should be in control, and you should be able to come down on your feet in control from every handstand.

Having a press handstand is tremendously helpful, although not entirely essential. The ability to do handstand pushups is also a great help. The more arm and shoulder strength you have, the easier this should be.

I'm laying out these physical requirements because I want anyone who tries this skill to be ready and safe. You must remember that this is not a handstand on the ground. Whereas you might fall forward onto your head and shoulders when learning a regular handstand, this is not an option on the chair. Everytime you come down, you should be in control.

Training Precautions:
1. Start up against a wall, just like learning a regular handstand. Chances are that you aren't use to the arm position and things will feel a bit odd. The wall will help should you need it.

2. Use a sturdy chair. I'm using a folding chair in the pictures below, but I'd consider that slightly advanced. You want to start with a solid wood chair with a back that is not too high. If the chair back is too high, your bent arm will be crammed up against your body and the handstand will be much more difficult, if not impossible. You also don't want to use a chair that may fall to pieces while you're upside-down on top of it.

3. Clear things away from you. Yes, I realize that I'm in the middle of my room with weights, computer, bed, and/or windows to kick, but I have tremendous confidence in my technique. When you first try this skill, your technique might need some work. Clear a space around you for safety's sake.

4. Look out above! Some forget that they will be trying a handstand a couple feet off the ground. If you have low ceiling or light work above you, find another place. Some may not appreciate footprints on their ceilings either.

5. Come down safely. When you are lowering yourself back down to your feet, try to do so in a controlled fashion. This will prevent any stupid injuries caused by slamming back down into the chair and then tossing yourself backwards onto the floor. In the event that you lean too far forward/left/right and start to fall, pirouette while holding onto the chair so that you can land on your feet standing.

Alright, now that the disclaimer is over, onto the skill.

The first important detail is proper hand placement.

Your hands will be a bit off-center. If you picture the chair as a square, then your hands will be on opposite corners. This placement is essential for balance and control. If you place your hands in the middle like you are lining up a regular handstand, then balance will be difficult.

Make sure that the hand that is on the back of the chair is the closest one to you. That arm will be bent during the handstand, so it needs to be back close to you.

The hand that is on the seat of the chair will be further away from you. Grab around the front of the seat for greater control. This arm will be straight during the handstand, so make sure the palm is well on the chair for a solid base.

If it feels more comfortable, you can spin the chair around and switch hand positions. The right hand would then be closer to you and the left arm farther away. I'd actually suggest practicing both ways to keep your strength balanced, but it's very likely that you'll develop a favorite side.

We'll now start off with the basic way to get up into a handstand. While keeping the hand placement described above, squat up onto the chair.

The next step is where your feet leave the terra firma and things can get dangerous. If you already have a solid press handstand, this step should be self-explanatory. Press up with this different hand placement.

If you do not have a press handstand, or it is not that solid yet, you may want to try straightening your knees to get your hips up, then extending into a handstand and/or giving a slight hop to get your hips up. I have not personally used this technique, but a number of girls capable of doing this skill have described it to me.

Whichever method you use, make sure that your legs remain tucked close to your body. If you try and extend into a handstand before your hips are over your head, then you'll be "planching" the handstand and the weight of your legs will bring you down. Lift your hips completely, then extend your legs.

If all went according to plan, you are now in a handstand on top of the chair. I like to think of the straightened arm as a solid base where I am placing more of my weight. My other arm is bent to 90 degress and works on control. Of course it has some weight on it, but it should be less than the straightened arm, so that it doesn't tire out quickly. Understand the role of each arm? Base and Control. It'll make more sense when you're there.

When you are done, just reverse the steps. Tuck your legs in first. Then lower your hips, land in a squat on the chair, and step off. If you fail to tuck your legs and simply fall down out of the handstand, you run a good risk of smashing your shins into the chair. I've seen this happen plenty of times. This is why I ask you to be in control of both the handstand, and coming down out of the handstand. You're not entirely safe until you get down, step down off the chair, unplug your computer and stop trying crazy things you read on the internet ;)

Too easy you say?

Need more of a challenge?

Try pressing into a handstand while you're sitting on the chair. If you try this at your next social soiree, I guarantee you'll be the talk/weirdo of the night.

Instead of a squating onto the chair, you're simply going to twist your body and reach one arm between your legs to grab the chair, and another one behind you to grab the back. You're striving for the same exact hand placement as the first method, except now you've got the rest of your body in the way.

Next, start pressing so that your hips start to lift off the seat. You'll have to tuck that trapped leg (my left leg in this case) so that it'll clear over the chair seat.

It's just a basic press from there, same as the last one. Bam. You're upside-down.

Now if you want to finish things off with style, come back down the same way you got up. This will require a controlled descent until you can split your legs and straddle your posting arm. In the last few inches, while your butt is hovering over the seat, turn yourself into the proper sitting position. Touch down, then let go of the chair and cross your leg up on your knee. Smooth.

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial. The chair handstand is a lot of fun and not too hard once you get the hang of it. And I can predict with absolute certainty that someone will ask you to do this, once they find out you can. Stay safe!

Hope you guys had a great holiday season and a happy new year. Goodluck to everyone with their 2005 goals!