All right, so today’s show is going to be all about building arm strength. The thing about arm strength that is tricky for students is you either fall into two categories generally. One of the categories is not having any arm strength, but the other category is having too much arm strength. When it comes to hand balancing, specifically when it comes to handstands, press handstands, any hand balancing in general, having too much strength can actually be as good as having no arm strength. I’ll explain what I mean in a little bit. It’s a little bit tricky, but it’ll make sense to you once you start to understand the concepts.
So one of the most difficult things that students have to overcome when it comes to learning handstand is what is the proper way to hold themselves stable and, in addition to that, what should I invest my time in first, arm strength or core strength. That’s a very important question that a lot of students tend to ask. Well, yes, core strength is extremely important. It isn’t oftentimes the first thing that you should be focusing on. That’s sometimes difficult for students to understand is that arm strength is actually the first thing you want to work on even before developing core strength. That’s probably contrary to a lot of advice you see out there and just a lot of what’s written you read is it’s all about core strength. Yes, I’m not discounting core strength. It’s true.
But let me give you an analogy that’ll help you to understand why you want to go the arm strength route first. Think of a table, think of a really nice table. It doesn’t matter how solid or how beautiful, I guess, the table could be. Imagine you have a nice marble table. But if the foundation, if the legs of the table, so to speak, weren’t super stable and, say, maybe two to four legs were like not stable and they couldn’t hold the table properly and it felt like the top was going to fall off every time you put your hands on it because the foundation wasn’t stable, no matter how beautiful that table is you’d probably never use it simply because you wouldn’t want to worry about the top falling off.
That is the equivalent of arm strength. When you don’t have enough arm strength, it doesn’t really matter how much core strength you have or it doesn’t really matter how much technical ability you have. None of it’s going to be put to good use because you don’t have the arm strength to hold yourself stable to begin with. Does that make sense? It’s like not having the proper amount of arm strength is going to just prevent you from utilizing all the core strength that you have or utilizing all of the technical ability you have. It’s really important to focus on developing that arm strength first.
Now, here’s the thing. When I’m teaching someone how to do a handstand, I use the wall for a couple of things. First of all, I like to make it clear, let’s say I was working with you one-on-one, and I was teaching you how to do a handstand, I like to make it clear from the start that the wall isn’t really going to be an integral part of the training strategy because it’s very easy for students especially who practice on their own a lot to become overly reliant on the wall and it becomes a crutch of some sort.
The first thing that you want to use the wall for is developing arm strength. Here’s the thing. We’ll just get really basic here, is if you can kick up to the wall in a handstand, great. So you want to work on being able to hold yourself solid for a good minute of a time. That’s like a solid first goal to get yourself to. But let’s take a step back further and say you can’t even kick up yet. So that’s one of the things I see. The phases of handstand are these: there’s some struggles that happen before you even get to the free balancing part. So one of the thing that students struggle with before the free balancing part is not even being able to do it at the wall, and that’s 100% dependent on arm strength. That’s the beauty of the wall in this case is that if you can’t kick up to the wall in a handstand, it means you lack the arm strength so you have to take a step back even more.
So the question becomes the what do you do to build that arm strength when you can’t even kick yourself up at the wall. So that’s a big sticking point for students who are brand new, working on any type of hand balancing in general. Arm balancing, hand balancing, it’s being able to have the strength to support the body weight. How do you start to build that? So there’s a couple of things that you really want to think about here. First is refining the basics. I go back to this all the time, and really working on drilling down on basic things that you tend to overlook. I say this, and as unsexy as it sounds to some people, it’s not always the more complicated or the most intricate exercises that make changes and that get results; it’s sometimes going back to the basics and hyper-focusing on them.
You want to be able to extract the maximum amount of information possible from the basics and you want to learn from the basics. Like one of them is plank. I’ll just give this as an example, because it’s really good one. Most people don’t like doing plank and I see it all the time where students who are super eager to learn handstand are not really eager to learn plank. It’s not something that is part of their vocabulary, so to speak. You see plank down in a whole bunch of difficult strange ways with like the hips really sagging down or the back really rounded and the opposite. Yes, it’s a core strength thing, but also the important part here is learning to develop the arm strength.
Here’s the different focus for today. Generally, that’s what people always talk about in planks. It’s, “Well, what are the hips doing? Are they creating a straight line? Is the core properly engaged so the back isn’t collapsing and the lower back isn’t collapsing or the back isn’t like up to high, or the hips aren’t up too high like downward dog?” But it’s the arms. So one of the things about plank is it’s very common to have, and this is very actually akin to handstand, in that it’s really common for students to want to collapse in the joints. By that I mean not being active at all, where it is just all the body weight is collecting right down into the wrist joints and there’s not really any focus on how to place the hands, how to distribute the weight properly in the hands. All of that stuff is just completely left out and it’s basically getting to the shape as quickly as possible and then get out of it.
But the thing is as you can learn a lot in plank by learning to use your arms properly. So one of the things that is very important to learn with arm strength in general is learning to press with your triceps versus to press with the shoulders. Your tricep muscles are pushing muscles and they’re designed to help that arm strength. They’re part of muscles in the arms. Back to this thing that I talked about at the beginning of having too much arm strength can effectively be like having no arm strength, and here’s why.
If you see someone who’s super strong, like sometimes people who come from a workout background, who come from a weightlifting background specifically, and then get into hand balancing, they think they can muscle everything with the shoulders. They think they can overuse the shoulders to just brute force everything. Yeah, that may work short-term and it may work for a couple things here and there, but it doesn’t really work long-term and it doesn’t really work for good mechanics. So having that type of arm strength and wanting to brute force everything you do like that leads to an alternative bad habit, which is your arms are overshadowing or trying to take over the role of the rest of the mechanics. Does that make sense?
Then you really have to go back and say, “Well, now I have to undo this habit that I’m naturally used to doing,” and there’s a whole ramification of effects that happen from there, too, and people who fall into that category also then tend to not use their core as much as their cores aren’t nearly as strong as they think because they tend to overuse the arms. They tend to overuse the shoulders. Really, the shoulders and the back are designed for stabilizing muscles. They are designed to be pushing with. That’s like the big question, I guess, the big anatomical mystery, so to speak, is, “Well, what are you supposed to do with the shoulders? What is the position of the shoulders?”
The reality is there’s a lot of different scenarios for how you can use the shoulders and the shoulders along with the trap muscles and the rhomboid muscles back there have a similar role but can look different from body type to body type. So that’s something I’m not going to tackle on this. I’m more so focusing on arm strength. So the big take away from the whole thing is that you want to focus on pressing with your triceps versus pressing with your shoulders or overusing the shoulders. In fact, just thinking about it, I’m going to teach a class here in a couple of hours. That’s something I’m going to focus on today is actually getting the students to press with the triceps because it’s such an important concept that a lot of students miss out on.
So the other thing that contributes to lack of arm strength is hyperextending joints. This is another category where if you have elbows that hyperextend, you want to think of your elbows almost as shock absorbers and you want to think of the elbows as something that helps to absorb the shock for the wrist in the body. There’s always a real slight bend. You hear the term microbend? That’s essentially what you’re going for. So, essentially, this is what you want to think about, especially if you hyperextend. You will actually feel more pain in the shoulders, traps and neck because oftentimes what you’re doing is locking out the arm all together and then just shooting energy basically straight up into all the weight and force up into the shoulders, traps and beck.
So if you hyperextend then you really have to work on correcting that and work on the hyperextension aspect of it. So another thing that will contribute to weak arms basically is having joints that hyperextend. The way you do that if you have hyperextending joints is you focus on building pulling muscle strengths. On this case, in the arms, it’s the biceps. What you’re going to do is do something like you can hold basically like a lightweight, like a five-pound weight or what I recommend is a pizza tray or something that you have access to, and then you can stack it with textbooks, and then just hold them out in front of you with the biceps engaged for two minutes at a time. Do three sets of that.
You want to train the muscular pattern. If you are in that category of joints that hyperextend, you have to train your muscles basically to support the joints properly, and if you do have that bone structure where the joints hyperextend, you got to really be aware of using your bicep muscles even more. There is like another thing, really, that contributes to weak arms. So those are ways that you can work on developing arm strength and it’s something more so to think about, which is, depending on what your big goal is, you want to break it down into smaller phases and you want to look at what is something that I can immediately do to help correct my situation.
So, I guess, the big takeaway of this show today is if you feel like you have weak arms, the first thing you want to do is go back to the basics and be really disciplined on learning what it feels like to press with the triceps versus to muscle with the shoulders. Then if you have hyperextending joints, then you want to go back and make sure you correct that problem. That could be a big, big indicator of weak arms is hyperextending joints. If you don’t learn how to control that or take control or mastery over the elbows, over your hyperextending elbows, it’s going to cause perpetually weak arms simply because everything else is in pain.
So that’s it for today’s show. It’s a shorter one and a lot of you guys have told me you like the shorter shows. You like the quick, to the point, learn the quick lesson type thing. So this is one where a lot of you guys have been asking me about arm strength and I’ve been focusing a lot of flexibility for a while. So this is one now. We’re going to shift gears a little bit; talk about some arm strength, talk about some core strength for a while, and building that up and the proper ways to build that. That’s it for today’s show.
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