Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One Arm Handstand Lessons From a Chinese Acrobat


March 23rd, 2011

This post will attempt to convey all that I was taught during my visit to the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. I traveled up there for more training information for the one arm handstand. While I've come a long way in my one arm handstand training, my holds are still only topping out at 3 or 4 seconds. I've seen acrobats holding one arm handstands much, much longer than that. I needed a new view on the skill to advance my training!

Now everything that I've written here is by no means a complete system, and certain points may not apply to you. I’ve recorded all the information I was given that day to the best of my abilities. I’ve also given my own thoughts about the advice and techniques presented to me. I apologize if I’ve written or interpreted any information incorrectly. This is a process for me. One that I enjoy and one that I hope you enjoy reading!


I’ve often heard the saying “when one is ready, a master will present themselves.” I say this is wrong. I say there are times you need to search out for your master.

I caught a video online from the Philly Circus School and soon after scheduled a private session with Lin Junming. His bio states:

"From the Fujian Acrobatics Group of China, Lin has practiced and coached acrobatics and juggling for 20 years. With the troupe, he performed in circuses all over the world; Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He specializes in handstands and tumbling, ring juggling, straw-hat juggling, ultimate wheel, rope-twirling, and Chinese pole."

If anyone can help me with my one arm handstand - it'll be him!

The Initial Assessment

Lin first asked me to show him my handstand. After showing him a solid two arm handstand, he told me that I needed to use my fingers more. “Don’t forget the fingers!!”, he would repeat throughout the lesson. Instead of a position like this –

He said I should practice my handstands like this -

Now this was nothing I had ever been taught before. One can hold a two arm handstand just fine with the hands flat on the ground, and pressing your fingers into the ground. He says in Chinese acrobatics though, the handstands are practiced like this to strengthen the fingers; the ultimate goal being the ability to do a handstand on another person.

I looked back at old tutorials, and noticed that a picture of a Chinese acrobat in my one arm elbow lever tutorial seems to use this same technique - grabbing into the ground.

Again, I can’t say I’ve ever been taught to use the hands and fingers specifically like this, but it makes sense as a variation. I can use my fingers to dig hard into the ground – which certainly must be useful for the one arm handstand.

Lin also said something very interesting. He said that when the hand is flat, you have two points that you’re balancing between – the palm and the fingers. When the fingers are curled up, you feel the balance between the palm, the first knuckle (where the finger meets the palm) and the fingers (finger tips) – three points. I found this a very interesting observation. I’m still not sure if I fully understand it at the moment, but will ponder it during practice.

After practicing handstands with the curled fingers, Lin motioned, using two hands to delineate the distance from my mid-forearm to my shoulder, “This is very strong”, he said. Then he motioned around my hands, “This, not so strong”.


I’ve deadlifted 500 lbs, done one arm chin-ups, closed an Ironmind 2.5 gripper, and picked up a 45 lb plate by the hub. I don't slack off with grip work, but my fingers weren’t conditioned for the specific handstand position shown above. I could already tell that this was going to change my handstand training.

Handstands on Blocks

I've often heard that working the one arm handstand on handbalancing blocks (a.k.a. canes) is easier. What are they? Well, here are two different sets that I've acquired over the years.

I'll go over the differences of each pair later, but just note that they're essentially elevated wooden blocks on which you perform handstands.

After the discussion with Lin over finger strength and positioning, I can see how these would make the process easier and a handstand stronger. You can grab the block and control the handstand with a much greater degree than on the flat ground. This is similar to the added control one gets when a handstand is done on parallettes

Picture explaining the balance on parallettes. From my freestanding handstand pushup tutorial.

One can "fight" to hold the handstand up with much greater leverage and force.

I have now been using the blocks for all my handbalancing practice. I'm am looking to see if it develops the strength and control in my fingers to hold a longer one arm handstand.

Now you may have noticed a difference in the two different pairs of handbalancing canes that I just showed, other than the obvious difference in height.

One pair has sloped blocks.

One pair has flat, square blocks.

There was a pair of sloped handbalancing canes at the Philly Circus School. When I asked why they were sloped, Lin responded that they were for more advanced students and that usually beginners would start out on the flat blocks. I find the flat blocks to be much more comfortable and intuitive to use.

To replicate the flat blocks, Lin had me practice up on a wooden bench.

You can see how my fingers wrap over the edge. The fingers are then able to pull back into the bench and grab on.

The small wooden bench was a very interesting piece of training equipment that I'll touch upon later in this post.

Back to the finger technique, and to replicate this on my own blocks, I can put my hand in a similar position, with three fingers off the front edge of the block, and my thumb and little finger off the sides.

correct hand position

Lin mentioned that the hand is not wrapped around completely, as this reduces the amount of support provided by the hand.

wrong hand position

From the side shot above, it becomes clearer how this would reduce the amount that your hand is contacting with the top of the block, making the balance unnecessarily difficult.

In an amazing video that I recently saw of acrobat Willy Weldens, his one arm handstand technique seems to back up the hand position that I've been recently taught and have been practicing. Here are some screen shots that thankfully show his hand up-close for analysis.

From below, it looks like his hands wrap around completey (as I've been told not to do), but from the side, you can see this is simply a matter of working on a thinner block then I have. He his able to get that last finger joint around the underside of the block. The same amount of hand appears to be on top of the block.

So the conclusion seems to be that you want your palm and the first bone of your index, middle, and ring finger up on top of the block. The rest of those fingers are on the front or underside of your blocks (depending on the thickness of the blocks). With a thicker block, I am focusing on pulling my fingers into the block, not just pressing my hands down. This action made more sense after working the next exercise...

Handstand Walking

Besides work on the blocks, or holding the handstand with fingers curled up, it was also suggested that I practice walking on my hands.

Now I can walk on my hands quite well, but I was told to walk with my fingers facing forward, and place my hands down flat as I have normally done, but after each hand was placed flat, I was to curl my fingers back like I have previously shown

Each step was to repeat this process - hand down flat, curl fingers, try to momentarily balance on one hand as the other hand moves forward. repeat. This produced a new type of fatigue in my hands which felt very productive.

While doing a search for Chinese Acrobatics, I found this interesting photo of young Chinese Acrobats walking. I could see curled fingers on several of the youngsters -

I also noted all the kids against the wall. Which leads to the next part of the lesson.


For all the different holds and exercises that Lin showed me, Lin told me the amount of time that one was expected to hold each position or perform each exercise:

Two handed handstand against the wall (with curled fingers) – 10-15 minutes

One arm handstand against the wall (with assist from other hand) – 5 minutes

- In this exercise, my feet were resting against the wall and my assisting hand was up on the wooden bench that you saw in the picture above. I was to put as little supporting on the assisting hand as possible.

Freestanding one arm handstand with assist – 5 minutes

- Same exercise as above, but no wall.

Distance to walk on your hands – “2-3 laps total”, Lin said. For the space we’re in, I’d equate this to walking around the perimeter of a basketball court.

At this point you're probably wondering how you could possibly ever hope to hold those positions for that period of time. I'll give you two comments about those purported times. First was a warning from my client that he received from his doctor in regards to using an inversion table. His doctor told him that it was very dangerous to fall asleep upside-down in an inversion table, due to the fact that the body will have a difficult time pumping the blood out of the head and serious injuries could result. Do I think that someone will accidentally hold a handstand for 15 minutes? No, but it's something to consider.

The second warning was from a respected acrobat I spoke with after my visit. They said that in all their experiences they have never seen or heard an acrobat hold a skill for those times. That hold times that long may not be necessary. Also that the method of holding skills for extremely long periods of time may work for children, but often produces injuries in adults.

What is my take? I do believe that longer static holds against the wall will aid in longer freestanding holds, but I think it best not to go overboard. Working a static hold a minute or two at the most will give you more than enough strength to hold the freestanding skill for a decent time. After that, I feel that you can focus more on figuring out the balance - which is much harder than just gutting out a long, supported hold.

Bench Exercises

As I mentioned before, we used the small bench you see pictured above for several different exercises. I found it an interesting piece of equipment that was similar in use to a set of parallettes.

There were regular one arm and two arm handstand holds on the bench, as you see above. We also did wall-supported and freestanding handstand pushups on the bench.

I've done a large number of seminars now, and the one thing that I see wrong in everyone's handstand pushups is that their elbows flare out to the side, instead of staying slightly tucked in. Flaring out the elbows puts the hands and arms at an inefficient pressing angle, and makes full range handstand pushups very difficult.

If you're not sure whether your elbows are flaring out or not, check to see if your hands remain flat on the parellettes during full range handstand pushup work -

Of course, you can do the same exercise in a pike position with your feet on a bench/box to make it easier, but what should remain the same is that the hands are flat on the parallettes. If it feels like you're rolling onto the side of your hands, then your elbows are probably flaring out. Think of the handstand pushup like an overhead barbell press, and keep your elbows slightly tucked in both cases.

Now with full range handstand pushups on the parallettes, people will flare their elbows and their head will go down directly between their hands. At this point they then get stuck. With a bench, there's no possible way that your head will go down directly between your hands. You're forced to move your head and shoulders forward of the bench to get a full range of motion - and the elbows absolutely have to remain tucked! I think using the bench could fix a lot of people's problems with that issue.

For freestanding handstand pushups on the bench, Lin also had me fold my body into a pike position when I descended to the bench, and then straighten my body back out as I pressed out. He said that for beginners, this leg movement could be used to give momentum and help press the skill out. For the advanced handbalancer, it can get them more accustomed to controlling extra body movement in a handstand.


While I had Lin’s time, I asked him absolutely everything about the one arm handstand that I could think about. There are probably more questions that answers here, but I will enjoy exploring those questions. Here are those miscellaneous notes –

Balance in the one arm handstand

- I was told that the balance should still be more focused on front and back. Do not twist or move sideways too much, as that’s for the more advanced handbalancers. I have always twisted slightly as I shifted over to my supporting hand. I also twist out of my one arm handstand often, so perhaps this is to blame?


-They should be kept as straight as possible, again minimize the twist at first.

Frequency of workouts

- The Chinese acrobats would practice nearly every day, and more frequent practice will allow faster progress. Of course many of us are balancing other training aspects, so he said 3x/week to start is good. I look for 2-3x/week, at least, on days/times that I feel fresh.


- We should hold our breath when stopping the handstand, when we are over-balanced and fighting for balance. Breath again when we are back under control. This makes complete sense, as I think all of us instinctually hold our breath when we are kicking up into the handstand. Of course, we also need to remember to start breathing regularly again!

- When doing any movement in the handstand, hold breath for control.


- During practice, I mentioned that I would focus on a single spot on the ground, hoping that this would help with my focus and balance. Lin said to just look at the ground in general, that focusing on a very small, specific spot should not be necessary and that where I was looking would matter less in time.

- I have wondered whether more blindfolded two arm and one arm handstand work is a possible way to "feel" the balance of the handstand quicker.


I'd like to thank Lin and the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts again for everything! It was an excellent trip and very informative. So what have I learned and what am I applying to my training?

I've been working my handstands on the blocks now, to work the fingers as Lin emphasized. I have also been working the hand walking/finger curling exercise, which feels like it works the hands quite well. And finally, while I haven't been working to hold a handstand for 15 minutes, I have been working to hold my one arm assisted handstand (on blocks), for longer periods of time.

As I said, this is an ongoing process.

800m run/30 front squat/800m run

WARMUP (limited time budget)
20 pullups
15 knees to elbows

800m run
30 front squat, 85#
800m run

1-hr power yoga

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

800m run/30 deadlift/800m run

30 pullups
30 pushups
30 GHD situps
2:00 jump rope
handstand holds

800m run
30 deadlift, 135#
800m run

(should have lifted 150#)

Monday, June 27, 2011

800m run/30 C&J/800m run

@103 degrees

mobility warmup
30 wall ball shots, 15#
30 pullups
30 GHD situps
30 back extensions
30 pushups
30 squats
15 slamballs, 15#

run 800m
30 clean & jerks, 75#
run 800m

(could have gone heavier on the C&J. they were terribly sloppy, regardless.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

UNPRECENTED personal challenge

Last night, my family and I viewed a documentary, "Running the Sahara", that was both inspiring and entirely enthralling. It was a scenario I could relate to, albeit GINORMOUS in comparison to any personal challenge I've ever presented myself. My husband and I are big on challenging our limits. We enjoy races of all kinds, whether they be 5k or 10k distance races, marathons, triathlons, mud runs, obstacle courses, we enjoy pushing ourselves to meet and surpass a current goal.

What strength is in these human bodies we've been given, if we allow ourselves to try them! Much of the ALLOWING comes with MENTAL strength and a WILLINGNESS to work hard and apply maximum effort regularly. Building mental stamina is my primary goal in training for any race. I see this as an effective goal and an essential one, in my novice opinion. It’s one thing to be motivated to begin training. It’s another to stay motivated. But staying motivated and developing the proper mindset will be a necessary tool to both enduring and finishing a race. Building mental stamina involves preparing your BODY, as well as your MIND, for the task at hand. Being assured that you have prepared your body does wonders for the mind. Crossing the finish line happy and in one piece is the (easily attainable and desired) goal...ALWAYS.

The last few moments of a race are intense. It's a culmination of emotion, pain, discomfort and fulfillment. There's only ONE thing that I compare my marathon experiences to...CHILDBIRTH. It's the intense labor that is involved in those miles; it's the emotion that is built in the anticipation of the race...and of it's completion; it's the personal reward that comes from enduring with ZEAL, praying for deliverance and strength the entire way... Whether I run a 5K, a 10K, 13.1 or 26.2 miles, I purpose do so diligently...that I may finish the race set before me... The prize comes in the finish.

The men that did this expedition across the Sahara encountered a plethora of physical setbacks (brief and mild), were slapped with several bouts of emotional fatigue, and dealt blows with many of the elements of the desert. The inspiration, for me, was their UNWAVERING perseverance and determination to FINISH.

Watch the trailer. Check out the documentary (available also on Netflix). And wait to be motivated and inspired...

On February 20, Charlie, Ray and Kevin touched the Red Sea, just a few hours before sunset. Their quest had lasted 111 days and taken them through 6 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. By the team's daily GPS record, they had traveled over 4,300 miles (6,920 kilometers). They fought through injury and extreme fatigue to reach their goal, which changed them forever.

Image: The runners embrace hands in strength at the starting line of the expedition.
The runners embrace hands in strength at the starting line of the expedition.
Photograph by Don Holtz

Image: Charlie <span class=
Charlie Engle meets the children of a local village.
Photograph by Don Holtz

Image: The runners using a Magellan GPS device
The runners using Magellan GPS devices to navigate their way across 4,000 miles of the Sahara Desert.
Photograph by Don Holtz
These last days of the expedition were emblematic of the entire expedition, with highs and lows, camaraderie and solitude, and encounters with both the natural wonders and teeming societies of Africa. Over their quest, the runners learned that it was necessary for them and their team to avoid fighting against the elements served up by the Sahara, because the immeasurable power of the continent will always win out. Instead, they learned how to adapt to their climate and surroundings as best they could, in order to make the steady progress that each of the 111 days required of their minds and bodies. Thus, they were able to save their energy for their physical achievement, which led to success as measured by their achievement and the depth of their experience.

Whether it was encounters with the Tuaregs of Niger or running through the wondrous Pyramids of Giza, the experiences endure. The children that received them with shouts of greeting and ran alongside them refreshed and renewed their vigor in every country. The lands they visited mixed natural beauty with the harshest living conditions: from the solitude of the Tenere Desert to the bustling heat of Dakar, Senegal, and the overwhelming crush of Cairo, Africa's largest metropolis. Every location along the way provided its own challenge and held a unique reward for the three explorers and their team.

And now the expedition has concluded.



Incredible, but true.

More than ever, the runners and their team are committed to the land and people they visited.

Friday, June 24, 2011

HPC/Pullups/Medicine Ball Shots

15 minutes mobility and stretching

AMRAP 3 mins x 3
1 min rest between each round

3 Hang Power Clean, 95#
6 Pullups
9 Medicine Ball Shots, 15#

1) 3 rounds
2) 3 rounds
3) 3 rounds + 1 hang power clean

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

times have changed...

(where's the ironized yeast when a girl needs it?)


1 hour yoga burn

10 pullups
15 GHD situps
15 back extension

30 clean and jerks for time

AMRAP 12 mins...and YOGA

mobility & stretching

AMRAP 12 mins
run 200m
6 pullups
12 situps
24 lunges, 25# overhead

1 hour power yoga session

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Helen" & Yoga

Tranquility is probably not the word most people would use to describe Times Square in New York City, but every year on the first day of summer, yoga enthusiasts from all over the world flock to the hectic tourist destination to roll out their mats for the Mind Over Madness Yoga event
mobility and stretching

400m run
21 KB swings, 1 pood
12 pullups

1 hr yoga session

Friday, June 17, 2011

400m runs w/ pullups, pushups, situps, squats

mobility and stretching

run 400m
50 pullups
run 400m
50 pushups
run 400m
50 squats

2:00 jump rope skip

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuesday's park WOD & Wednesday's Fran


HOT "Fran"
Thrusters, 65#

5:44, no PR today. bleh.

Run, 1.82 miles
(went for a 5k, but I ran out of time...)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

deadlift/squat/push press

jump rope, 200 skips
30 back ext.
30 GHD situps

21 deadlift
50 squats
21 push press
15 deadlift
50 squats
15 push press
9 deadlift
50 squats
9 push press

(used 135# for deadlift, 85# for push press)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

KB swings/burpees/GHD situps ("Hanson")

15 pullups
mobility and stretching

KB swings, 1 pood
GHD situps

TIME -- 30:46

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

hang power clean/GHD situps/back extensions

3:00 jump rope
400m BACKWARD run

hang power clean
GHD situps
back extensions

2:00 front plank
:30/side, side planks

400m runs w/ KBS,GHD situps, jumping squats, pullups

back extensions
walking lunges, 35# OH
forward lunges/back lunges, 35# OH

2:00 jump rope skip
2:00 front plank
:30/side, side planks

400m run
30 GHD situps
400m run
30 KBS
400m run
30 jumping squats
30 pullups

Less than a century ago, this man,

Frank Williams was considered so fat he
could be part of a circus freak show...

article below from

America is one of the richest, most progressive countries in the world. Shouldn't it be one of the healthiest too? Maybe it should, but the sad truth is that Americans are some of the unhealthiest people in the world. Even though we are living in a country with great economic power and technological advancement, we are also living in a country with the smallest fund of practical nutritional knowledge. We are living in a land plagued with obesity.

America is home to the most obese people in the world. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), obesity in adults has increased by 60% within the past twenty years and obesity in children has tripled in the past thirty years. A staggering 33% of American adults are obese and obesity-related deaths have climbed to more than 300,000 a year, second only to tobacco-related deaths. Not excluded from this statistic, Native Hawaiians have alarmingly high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The number of Hawaiian children suffering from obesity is double that of children throughout the nation. In May 2001 the University of Hawaii Kinesiology and Leisure Science Department along with the Brigham Young University Exercise and Sport Science Department conducted a local study and found that more than 20% of Hawaiian children were overweight.

Hawaiians aren't the only indigenous people in America that have high rates of obesity. According to Dr. Kelly Brownell, PhD, an expert on American diet and health, a study was conducted with the Pima Indians who live both in Mexico and Arizona. It was found that those Pima Indians who live in Arizona have much higher rates of obesity than their counterparts in Mexico, even though both groups of people have the same genetic and ethnic background. This is also true for many migrants of the US who have a much higher obesity rate than their relatives back home.

So the question is, why the American people? What do we do that is so different than the rest of the world? There is no mystery behind this epidemic- we simply need to examine the American diet and lifestyle. Living a life on the go, eating fast-food and microwave dinners, the health of the American people has been sacrificed. Instead of eating a diet of pure, wholesome foods coming directly from the land, Americans eat a diet of packaged, processed, and refined foods.

Through technological advancement we have found ways to produce food in mass quantities, make it last longer and taste better. Unfortunately, during this processing somewhere along the line, we seemed to have lost the food. The highly processed and refined products that pack our supermarket shelves are loaded with sugar, hydrogenated oils, and plenty more ingredients that we can't even pronounce.

Calories galore.

Fast-food restaurants have become mainstream in the past 30 years and practically all of America takes advantage of the cheap prices, quick service and tasty meals. Convenient as they may be, these meals contain practically no nutrients. They are comprised mostly of saturated fats and highly refined carbohydrates and are loaded with sodium and sugar. The average adult shouldn't have more than 65 grams of fat or 2000 calories a day. One meal from Burger King, a hamburger and French fries, has 50 grams of fat and 2000 calories, which is almost enough to fill someone's fat and calorie quota for the day!

The average child sees more than 10,000 food ads on TV each year, most for high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar meals. Not only does the fast food industry spend billions per year on marketing, but they have also infiltrated our schools, signing contracts with them. Our children are bombarded from every angle with these toxic foods making it virtually impossible for them to eat anything else. It is no wonder that we have an increasingly obese population of children (who in time will become an obese population of adults).

At no time in history have humans eaten such refined, processed and fatty foodAmericans have re-defined the word food. In the Webster's dictionary food is any nourishing substance eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc. In American society food is that which is fatty, tasty, processed, refined and contains no nutrients; a substance detrimental to the body's functions, creating disease, and resulting in death. At no time in history have humans eaten such refined, processed and fatty food and at no time in history have humans had such an obesity epidemic.

Since before anyone can remember, our ancestors, and our ancestors' ancestors ate a diet coming directly from the land. In those days obesity wasn't even a word. With modern technology, much has been gained, but some things have been lost. What was instinct for our ancestors must be taught to our children. Today, backwards as we may be in regards to our health, there is always hope.

Out of necessity, many obese people suffering from various complications and diseases have learned to change their diet. Those people, with determination and a will to survive, have succeeded in becoming healthy once again. They have learned that cutting out meat products, processed foods, fast-foods, high sugar and high sodium foods, while incorporating whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes into the diet is the only way to return back to health. It is not easy to go against the strong current of an unhealthy society but it is a necessity.

Monday, June 6, 2011

HEAT SHOCK therapy...

So the run today was hot, sweaty, sticky...but FUN.

3.35 mile run...100 degrees.

Ah...gotta love those summer runs!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


back extensions
KB swings

abmat situps

100m bear crawl
yoga stretches

KB swings/thrusters/pullups

forward lunges, 25# overhead
GHD situps
back extensions

30 KB swings
25 thrusters
20 pullups

1 minute front plank
5:00 yoga stretches