Below is a reprint, in its entirety, of an interview between Arthur Costi and balance artist Mikael Krstiansen.
Arthur is a highly skilled yoga artist in his own right, practicing and teaching the DeRose method of yoga. He initiated this interview to help with some of the advanced skills he’s working to perfect.
For some this may all be up in the stratosphere, but hopefully all will find it insightful, inspirational, and lead us to push our own performance limits.
Following the interview you will find a couple of nice videos.
This conversation happened trough Private Messages, it’ll be useful to everyone who wants to improve on handbalancing and specially to those who’ve already conquered a solid two arm handstand and are training for the one arm handstand and the one arm press.
Q: Let´s start with the basics, you´ve trained breakdancing before entering the Stockholm Circus School, so how was your handstand prior the breakdancing and how long did you take to achieve a really good 3 minutes two arm handstand?
A: I learned to do a handstand when I started to learn breaking. In the beginning I could only walk around, and I learned to balance in place after some months. I never had any specific technique to it, I just balanced off finger pressure, and my legs were all over the place. I remember I learned to press handstands by just doing negatives every time I fell down. I didnt know that it was negatives I was doing, but I just tried as hard as I could to stay whenever I fell. When I got seriously into breaking, I liked a lot of the handstand moves, so I learned air babies and I 1 hand hops. I also started to learn a 1 arm handstand on my right arm after seeing Bboy Darkness. I never trained this seriously though, it was something I maybe tried 4-5 times during a training session, so I on a good shot I could hold it for 5-7 seconds, but nothing consistent. The technique was horrible too, hehe. Everything changed when I met my first handstand coach though. I dont know how long it took me to get a 3 min HS, because I havent done that too many times, and I cant remember when I did it the first time. 2 minutes I got maybe after 5 months of training with my first coach, but even at that point I still had serious work to do on my alignment.
Q: And today how is your training volume and frequency?
A: Nowadays, I train handbalancing for at least 1 hour every day, more or less 7 days a week(though I do rest sometimes, based on how I feel). I have a lot of other things to train as well, most of which are upper body based, so I try to keep the sessions shorter and more effective. When I say effective, I dont mean that I stress through all the exercises to get as many in as possible, but I rather chose the ones I feel I need to work on.
Usually I warm up, do some position work on the floor to get going, go to 1 arm press training, do jump changes, some flags, and then train kick-up and lower-down from 1 arm crokodile. I try to not do too many sets of each exercise. As I know I am training every day, I want to keep the frequency high, but stay lower on the reps, so I can keep the quality through the week.
Q: If you can pick only 3 of them, what are the most important exercises or training routines that made you go from the breakdancer to a very promising handbalancer?
A: It is hard for me to say what took me from where I was to where I am, but I think that basically learning to get a good line in my handstand was the most important, as I never had that before. I quite quickly got the straddle 1 arm, and I started training negative 1 arm presses relatively early in my process. I think those have been maybe the most important exercise I have done in many ways because of the insane strenght that it builds. Flags became easy to learn, and I also got the ability to get back from bad alignment very easily. Also general position work got me going fast. Learning to control my legs and feel where they are got me rapidly improving. Third, I think I would say Lsit-HS presses. I dont want to put these in any order, because they have all been important and supported eachother.
I think also one very important factor for my part, is that I experiment a lot. I try things all the time, wether it be positions or training methods. I believe it is easy to get too stuck in one way of thinking with this. Since you need to master your entire body upside down, I think it is good to play a lot. Experiment, and be concious of where your limbs are, see how different leg positions feel, what makes you fall, etc.
Q: What kind of advice can you do regarding the manipulation of volume x intesity x frequency for an optimal performance in handstands?
A: Regarding training frequency and such, I really tend to take it very much on how I feel and manipulate from there. The last year I rested very(maybe too) little, something like 1 or 2 days a month, which I will change now to restitute better. Even so I did great improvements with that amount of training, as I have built up a good work capacity. During my training sessions, I have a general outline of what I am training on, and I see how I feel on how many sets, and how heavy I make it. On a good day I would maybe do 5 sets of quality reps of harder variations of 1 arm pressing, while on a bad day maybe only 3 reps of lighter variations. Some things, like jump-changing, requires more precision and balance than the raw strenght of the presses and flags, so they can be done much more reps of.
In general I think I would advise to train at least 5-6 days a week to really progress in handbalancing, because the more you can handle, the better. I also think it is important to have good time, so you can rest in between and focus on the technical qualities as well as staying fresh to do several repetitions of the harder stuff.
Q: Can you make a template of how would be your training routine if you only have available 1 hour/day to cover all the main aspects of the handbalancing art, what kind of drills and exercises and how would you separate them through the week?
A: For my personal routine, it pretty much goes like this on the days that I have only 1 hour. I actually try to cover most of it within one hour, since I am also training other things and I train every day. If I do too much I just end up tired.
Stretching: a routine that covers all the splits, pancake pike, back, sides, shoulders and wrists which I do 3 times during the entire training. Helps me warm up and ready the hips and shoulders for alignment.
warm up training:
-1 set of 3-5 L-sit HS presses on bars
-1-2 sets of stradlle planche/drop to straddle planche
If I feel my wrists are ready after this, I go on to 1 arm work.
-3x straddle 1 arm, closing into legs together, arm up(candle, or “sivitscha” in russian) on both arms.
-3x stradlle 1 arm, into Figa(where the legs are piked over you) on both arms.
-alternatively some jump changes on block. Often I do these after my pressing strength to not get tired, but it depends.
Cane, 1 arm press training:
I usually go for 3-5 quality reps on both arms. I vary what I do here, weighted negatives, pressing gliding up the cane, 1 arm pike press on floor, or pressing up from stradlle L with a weight(and hopefully eventually without).
-jump changes of block and cane as well as some flags.
-kick up and drops from 1 arm crokodile. These I go for maybe 5 or 6 of as I do them with spot.
I basically do this every single session, with some small variation since it has given me very good results lately.
For me, this more or less covers everything, but it would vary a LOT for people on different levels.
Alignment work with either coach or wall, block walking, hand jumping both 1 and 2 arms, HS pushups, crokodile work, positions on 1 arm, etc.
Q: Do you have any tipping point or “AHA!” moment that helps you in your journey?
A: I have had many aha moments, and I still have. Of course the biggest was to understand the 1 arm balance and how you can maintain it with very small movements. Also when I realized how to relax the free arm, while still keeping tension in the trapezius to get free movement in it. Actually most of the technical things I have learned has had such a point of realization where I suddenly felt something significant and started to change my approach based on that.
Q: What are your main goals and the next steps from where you are now?
A: My main goals as of now is:
-to press 1 arm from stradlle L without any counterweigth in my free arm. I have done it with 1.5 kg, once and I am able to slowly descend with 2.5 kg on each ankle, but Im still far away from pressing out of the bottom without counterweigth. I will hopefully be able to do it to the summer.
On the left arm I want to do the press where I glide up the cane.
-Become consistent on jump changes on cane so I can do only 1 cane. To be able to do 1 cane consistently, with 1 arm get-ups, changes, positions and descent, is maybe my main technical goal as of now. Will take another year I suppose.
Kick up and controlled descent from 1 arm crokodile. Im very close on both, so I suppose I should have them both within the summer.
Hope this answers some of your questions! Hope you have a good new year and good trainign!
I also include a nice video montage filmed by Bozo Jonic of Mikael’s 2010 workshop at my former yoga studio.