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Abs – that’s what everyone wants to show off these days. Haven’t we all wanted to walk out of the sea like Daniel Craig in Casino Royal or pound down the finishing straight like Jessica Ennis-Hill?
One instructors meeting (all right, lunch) we were discussing physique, male gymnasts in particular. The World Gymnastics Championships had just finished. Pommel silver medallist Louis Smith has the classic V-shape and rippling abs – and those shoulders! Always impressive is that bit in the routines where the gymnast sits, lifts his straight legs back through his arms and goes into a handstand.
Now we do plenty of sit-ups and core strength in training, and were told that if you can do the sit-to-lift handstands then you have Ultimate Abs. How hard can it be? Instructor Adam Prout was (once again) our willing guinea pig.
“This is called an L-sit to handstand. You need abdominal strength to hold your legs straight out and off the ground. Shoulder and abdominal strength to rotate your legs under you without touching the ground to set yourself in the pre-
handstand position. Finally control and balance, with strength throughout your body to extend into the handstand
The kettlebells provide height to allow some leeway as I am not (yet) flexible enough bring my legs back.
My first few attempts were about rotating to the correct position to start the handstand. Put simply you need to stack everything you are going to extend upwards in one straight vertical line (arms, back and legs) so they can all work together and so you don’t fall off the kettle bells.
Once I had the position I realised what I would normally do in this situation is extend my legs up quickly and tense my abs momentarily taking some of my body weight off my shoulders so I could extend them into the handstand. If you are on the floor this is easy as you can move your hands to reset your balance as you extend. With my hands fixed on the kettle bells, I didn’t have this option so I had to engage my shoulders a lot more. My 40 year old shoulders. They do work for me but experience has taught me the value of warming up.
After two hours of stretching and warming up I tried again. I think it has been mentioned that with my own body I am a little reckless/brave/daft/courageous (delete as appropriate). Attempting this on a hard wooden floor in my lounge, with light kettle bells and only my couch to catch me if I fall is not a clever idea. Fear of pushing up into the hand stand and toppling meant I practiced three quarters of a hand stand many times. After bailing out for the umpteenth time I sat down, had a coffee, and had some strong words with my self. “Stop being an idiot!”
I would like to say that with this motivational speech running through my head and a dose of caffeine in my body I went straight up into a handstand. This was not to be. There were many more tries before I did get into a handstand, though it was just as one of the kettle bells tipped over and I had to roll out narrowly missing a door frame – thank you Chief for all the tumbling classes. With fatigue setting in I decided to call it a day.
I called Instructor Sharon Ngo – “So, did you do it? “Well, yes, sort of.” “Have you got proof?” Photos were what she wanted.
Using the Chief Instructor’s Friday night Kung Fu class as a warm-up for my shoulders I attempted to repeat my feat for the camera. My abs are strong enough so that I can pull my feet under my body and rotate round, My shoulders can balance me upside down on the kettlebells in a tuck position, but however hard I tried I couldn’t get up into the hand stand. I just couldn’t extend my arms fully and hold my balance. My shoulders didn’t have that last bit of strength for the final extension. After reviewing the photos and trying a normal handstand on the ground. Instructor Sharon pointed out that though I can do a handstand it isn’t straight. My back is curved. I rely on my feet overhanging my hands to maintain balance. This means that I am not pushing up straight on the kettle bells.
Looking back I’m not sure I actually managed this at home, I was probably over-balancing as I extended my legs and arms so though I was fully “extended” in a hand stand it was at an angle hence I had to roll out.
Ok, why not as I can do each individual element. Well that is the point. My handstands are slightly off, I don’t quite have the flexion and strength in my shoulders at full extension. I don’t quite have enough control in my wrists to direct the power directly downwards without the kettle bells shifting. I need each of these small things to be correct to do the full thing. Each small issue per element adds up to one big
issue with the whole exercise.
As yet I don’t have Ultimate Abs… My Martini will have to wait.”
So Adam’s sorry tale comes to an end. He can nearly do it. He’s not a trained gymnast and he’s not in his twenties (and he’s certainly not James Bond). But is that good enough? Using a fixed base would reduce the tension in the wrists and allow him to use a mat. But in answer to the question, “how hard can it be?” the answer is, just as hard as it looks. And remember, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!
PS – All these photos have been used from one shot-sequence – we haven’t pulled out all the best ones from each attempt to try to make Adam look good.