Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Technique for repeatability, safety and efficiency - or "why we learn techniques"

Picking Up where we left off
So if you read my previous post about technical aspects of the handstand, then you may have been left with a few unanswered questions. I deliberately left it very open and non-specific, to allow you to have a chance to think about your handstand and what makes it work without over stressing about form. What I want to have a look at in this post, is a few of the 'whys' behind why we focus so much on certain techniques and form. Again, I'm not going into the details of form itself, as I want to get you thinking about the things you are doing, rather than just copying what you saw in a tutorial.

If you recall in the previous post, I wrote that the benefits of technique training are to promote safety, efficiency, repeatability. Aesthetics of the handstand are a nice bonus, but it's important to focus on the other 3 points first.


Repeatability
Sarah M. of Portland displaying a
nice and repeatable handstand.
When learning a handstand, or any precise skill for that matter, repeatability is one of the most important factors. When trying to execute a handstand, we want every attempt to be similar, so that we can be able to control certain aspects of the technique and change what needs changing. When it comes to a handstand, just kicking up to a handstand over and over again doesn't usually provide great results, and one of the main reasons for this is that there are many many little changes to technique that go on every time. If your body position is changing again and again and again, (even in ways you may not notice) then it is very hard to develop balance and consistency. This is where learning a strict form comes in handy. By working towards a handstand position which is easily repeatable, we give ourselves the ability to make deliberate changes to what we are doing. An example of this, would be hand control in the handstand. If we are able to execute the same entry to handstand, and position every time, we can then shift our focus into what our hands are doing, i.e. balancing us. As soon as there are body changes or things that are taking our focus away from the balance, we are making it harder to allow improvements to happen in these areas we are focusing on. This applies to all aspects of the handstand, we want to create a nice repeatable base position, where we can make deliberate changes to as necessary to make it more efficient.


Safety
Now lets have a look at safety. Safety is a big deal, and beyond simply saying "don't just jump into position if you can't hold your bodyweight" (even so, I have heard of many people getting injured from instructors telling people to just kick up to handstand, and these stories make me cringe). It is another aspect of handstands which is too often overlooked.
Jess F.
When it comes to safety, we don't want to just look at immediate problems, such as a fall or impact, we also want to look at long term problems that can arise. This includes things such as wrist soreness, elbow soreness, shoulder injuries, back injuries, posture problems and such. While many of these are addressed in auxiliary work, such as wrist prep, cooling down, stretching and such; safety should be a focus of the handstand itself. When learning a handstand, certain body structural problems need to be taken into account, and this includes things like joint hyper-extensions, hypermobility through the back, wrist issues etc. The one I am going to briefly elaborate on is shoulder hypermobility. Now who has ever heard the cue, "open your shoulders" before? Chances are, you have heard it before and more than once. Opening shoulders is a fine cue for when it is relevant, however it is a bit of a 'double edged sword'. Someone who has hypermobility in their shoulders likely won't find this generic cue useful, and if anything it takes away from the safety of the handstand. By just opening the shoulders too much, it allows the shoulder to sit too deep in the joint, disengaging certain supporting musculature around the shoulder joint. This may feel fine at the time, and may even feel easier for some, but overtime, it risks causing injury. Instead, we want to use our supporting musculature, in a way which promotes long term safety, while still promoting....


While it may seem like a lot is going on here,
this is nice and repeatable, efficient and safe
Efficiency. 
The third point I want to talk about. With handstands, and any skill really, efficiency is a big deal. Maximum
output from minimal effort. When holding something like a handstand, and wanting to hold it for 1 minute, 2 minutes etc, or be able to train it for a long time, efficiency is a must. And by efficiency, I am not just talking about staving off fatigue, but also how hard you are having to work to maintain balance. A good way of thinking about your handstand is to think of it like standing on your feet. It shouldn't take a lot of effort as your weight sits nicely over your feet. In a nice handstand, your weight sits nicely over top of your hands in a nice and in a stable way, where you don't have to work hard to maintain balance. When you are able to do this - you are basically spreading the work load more evenly through your body, and allowing your structure to do a lot of the work for you. Often in a handstand, your shoulders or wrists that take the load, which means that parts of the body are working harder than is optimal. This is normal, as that is what is holding you up, but it is common to just assume that the area of fatigue is just the weak-link to be made stronger. This may be the case, but also likely, the handstand is not as efficient as it could be. By allowing your body's structure to do a lot of the work, and being precise with your balance the actual muscular effort is quite minimal, allowing more time to be spent in the handstand with less effort.

Conclusion
So what does all this mean? So when it comes to training technique to make things as repeatable, safe and efficient as possible nothing beats having a coach. There is an abundance of information out there with many techniques. Some are more popular than others, however it's important in my opinion to not just blindly follow generic cues. If you are trying to train yourself, ask yourself questions about the technique and whether it is the most repeatable, safe and efficient way for yourself. Cover all bases and your skill-level will climb.

For people in Melbourne, I currently run classes 3 times a week, and also teach the handstand classes at CrossFit 3039. I also teach Private Sessions at The Richmond Gym

For people not in Melbourne or unable to come to classes, consider looking into my Online Coaching packages.

In the meantime, swing past my website, follow me on Instagram, and enjoy what you are doing!

Until next time!

Dave

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