Workshop Review – Handstands with Yuri Marmenstein
Sacramento – February 2014
This was the first movement workshop that I attended, and it’s mildly ironic that it occurred on the weekend before I started my new corporate job. It reminded me of that movie The 25th Hour where it shows how a convicted drug dealer spends the last 24 hours of his life before starting his prison sentence. Depressing, right? Well, I knew how I was spending my last 2 days of freedom – doing handstands.
When I started The Pursuit of Movement, the handstand was the move that spearheaded my motivation to succeed. This was a move I always made excuses to avoid learning. It’s boring. It’s not useful. I went more than 10 years engaged in other movement activities without having this basic skill. And so when it came to making the biggest change in my life, I started with my biggest weakness.
I had made a 4 month commitment to learning a handstand, with the goal of being able to hold one for 30 seconds. By the end of the first phase I had come close with a personal best 25 second handstand, and kind of put the technique on the back burner for the next 4 month phase. I didn’t give the move as much attention as I used to, so naturally I didn’t improve my hold or my line all that much. Prior to attending the workshop, I had a handstand with a crooked line, semi-consistent balance, and around a 20 second hold.
It was raining that day, and rather cold. I eat a calculatedly portioned breakfast of 3 hard boiled eggs, a banana, and a mug of espresso. Enough energy to get me through a few hours of training, but not to puke-worthy levels in case the training gets a bit rigorous.
I arrive at the training facility a few minutes before the start of the workshop. Walking in, I see a small group of 6 or 7 guys stretching and warming up. One of them actually looked like Ido Portal (maybe it was the long hair and beard), and embarrassingly enough for a few seconds I did get a bit excited. Yuri walks by and we exchange hellos. He’s shorter than I thought he’d be… perhaps that’s a trend among high level movers. No one else is really saying anything. Everyone looks like they are sizing each other up.
We start with some brief introductions to get everyone comfortable and alleviate some of the lingering testosterone. It’s a pretty diverse group with people from different movement backgrounds. There were some acro yogis, aerial silks practitioners, Ido Portal method followers, Gold Medal Bodies trainers, and one or two general movement guys.
Yuri led us through a thorough stretch and warm up session, giving special attention to the wrists, the squat, and the pancake stretch. Some of the wrist stretches I’ve never seen. He also emphasized that stretching should be an active process, with very little time spent in a completely static position.
A lot of emphasis was put on creating that ideal line before even getting into the handstand. This is a commonly overlooked (and somewhat boring) aspect for people who practice handstands intuitively. We tend to worry more about getting up and balancing rather than concentrating on the most efficient form where balancing is minimized.
For these drills, we focused on maintaining a hollow body position while keeping shoulders elevated and open. We did this from a variety of different positions: lying down (on chest, then on back), standing chest to wall, and standing back to wall. I have to say there is a certain challenge and fatigue to keeping a tense straight line with your body.
After lunch we went over the concept of catching your handstand when you get off balance, a big area of interest for me. I learned a few cues for helping to counterbalance against tipping forward (open up and push out your chest) and against tipping back (bend elbows and planche).
We finish up the day with some more wrist stretches and were introduced to some self massage techniques. I never knew pinning my forearm with my knee could feel so nice.
It’s not raining today, but still cold.
I arrive to a tangibly less tense environment than yesterday. Everyone is sore and tired after having devoted 6 hours to handstands. No one mentions it of course. Stoic faces all around.
We begin with a series of shoulder stretches using elastic bands. Band work is commonly perceived as unnecessary and “weak”, but is in fact one of the best methods of strengthening, conditioning, warming, and stretching the complex series of muscles and tendons in your shoulders. The elasticity and design of the band allow us to maintain tension through different ranges of motion, and we could play around with different variables such as height, angle, and rotation.
Various handstand work
This session was an opportunity for people to practice and learn handstand elements that they were interested in. Yuri gave the more advanced folks an up close clinic on the one armed handstand. Others focused a bit on various handstand presses. A few of us worked on handstands in straddle position and used the wall to practice some negative straddle presses.
Yuri has us work on some pulling to counteract all the pushing we did the previous day. He starts with a demonstration of proper pull up technique and shows a variety of pull ups across multiple planes. This progresses on to front levers, which I later discover is one of Yuri’s nemesis moves. We drill some different variations of the front lever, some on bar and some on rings. One form I found particularly helpful was the negative front lever in straddle position. This eccentric approach allowed me to have more control over the load and stay in the technique longer than I was used to.
I also got to learn a pretty cool skill on the rings. It’s called a meathook and it feels lovely.
We finish off our pulling clinic with some rope climbing. Yuri taught us a few different techniques of climbing and got to show off some of his silks skills.
Yuri is a very talented and knowledgeable individual. There was a lot of hard work and experience that went into developing his skills and it shows. He has a pretty casual and informal teaching style, creating more of a collaborative learning environment than a traditional “I talk and you listen” one. This has its pros and cons. I know I went into the workshop looking for the latter type of teacher, having been following Ido Portal’s work and almost manifesting his stern teaching style in my mind. But reflecting back on this experience over a year later I must say I see the value of Yuri’s openness and approachable demeanor. He was also cool enough to grant me an interview.
I got to meet some pretty cool people through this workshop, and was given a glimpse of the movement community out there. It turns out it’s a small world. One of the guys at the workshop, Daniel, is a trainer at Gold Medal Bodies, a resource I used for watching handstand tutorials and learning wrist stretches. Daniel is friends with Andres, who’s friends with my friend that I went to college with. In the movement world, everybody knows everybody through somebody.
This workshop taught me one very important thing about my handstand: I needed to open my shoulders. Taking that knowledge I had to deconstruct my old technique and instill new habits. This took a lot of time. I went from what I felt was a semi-consistent comfortably balanced handstand to not being able to find any balance for several months. It was a stressful process and it totally sucked.
But on the plus side, that period of struggle helped me to build a habit of consistent practice, and reignited my interest for handstands. I dedicated myself to practicing 5 days a week, 20 minutes a day, mostly on my breaks at work. After 4 to 5 months of this, my line got straighter, my balance took less effort, and I was clocking consistent 40 second holds. Once I nearly hit a minute with my personal best of 55 seconds. w00t!