This is the 11th issue of my ALL ABOUT HANDSTANDS Interview series and today it's all about GIRL POWER since today's handbalancer is a very KICK ASS lady. My curiosity seems to be endless when it comes to picking the brains of my favorite Instagram Handbalancers, as I am "just" a yogi who loves being upside down, compared to professional contemporary circus artists who have turned their passion into their profession for life.
MEET NATALIE RECKERT
I've met Natalie for one of her workshops in Munich a couple of years ago and was amazed by her strength and lightness on two or one arm. I have never seen a woman move so gracefully and with so much ease. I got curious how she started her handstand journey which is why I was very happy she agreed to join my interview series. Let's find out out more about Natalie:
1. Tell me something about yourself: Who are you and what are you passionate about?
I am a professional acrobat passionate about making my physical expertise and my mindset accessible to as many people as possible, through my online courses, through teaching and with my performances.
2. Your IG name is @natalie_handbalancing How much time do you spend upside down per day?
I work as a freelancer so it is hard to keep a similar routine every week. In an ideal week I like to train handstands 3 times a week for approximately three hours and then do other types of training throughout the week. If am rehearsing for a performance I will do a 45 minute technical handstand training in the morning and then do a lot of handstands throughout the day.
3. What is the craziest One Arm Handstand variation you can do and what is your favorite Handstand of all?
One of the hardest sequences I do is this one here where I go from a figa shape to the sideways shape with pulling my leg and then lever down to straddle. It is really challenging as it passes though three different shoulder positions and balance points. From a very open shoulder with my hips above me in the figa, to the more closed and compressed shoulder position in the sideways handstand with the deep side bend and then to a full leverage position. Handstands is very much about negotiating the hip to shoulder ratio.
My favourite handstand is this sideways handstand with pulling my leg.
On its own, this handstand is not difficult for me, in fact it is one of the safest handstands I can do. It works out 99.9% of the time for me. When I do this shape on stage, during a performance, it always gets a big audience reaction because it looks impossibly hard. This handstand works with a bit of a visual illusion. I bend to the side a lot but I am also pulling my leg to the front of me, which makes it look like I am bending more than I really am. Actually holding on to the leg stabilizes the position. So while I hear the audience react I have a little giggle and a smile inside my head, thinking this is really very easy for me.
4. At what age did you start training? Did you do Ballet or…?
I started doing sports acrobatics at the age of five which I competed in until I was 16. I continued to practice handstands on my own at home after that and started doing ballet at the age of 16 in a local evening class, together with my mother. We started together, she was in her forties and I was a teenager. It was fun!
I then auditioned for the National Centre of Circus Arts in London, where I specialized in handbalancing. I also spent a study year at Sozo Vim contemporary dance school, to learn more about different approaches to moving and training the body.
5. You’re very flexible and strong at the same time. What would be your best advice for women on how to become stronger?
I would say first of all: Get to know your body really well because you can appear to be very strong but have weaknesses in some parts of the body and the same applies to flexibility.
I used to have a very weak core despite of my handstand skills and that caused injuries and problems.
You want to have a balanced body in order to stay healthy and free of injuries.
In terms of getting stronger I would say the most important is to move away from maximum strength exercises like pull ups and squats until you are ready for them. Otherwise you get frustrated. I used to hate conditioning because I could not do maximum strength exercises, now I enjoy conditioning because I have adjusted the exercises to a level where I feel pleasantly challenged.
What has proven to be very beneficial for me over the years is to do conditioning that involves controlled small movements with many repetitions.
I have a core workout that involves 120 sit-up variations, working a diverse group of muscles. I do two sets of this two-three times a week and I feel like my core has a corset from steel now :), which also provides excellent protection for my spine.
I have a similar set for the back and a push up variation with 40 repetitions.
So my advice if you want to get strong is: Sets of small movements with many reps, especially core upper body and back. Start small and build it over time! Don't be impatient.
6. What are the 3 most important warm ups for handstands?
Opening up the range of your hips and shoulders, not holding the stretches for long, just moving through your range of movement to prepare the body for training.
Wrists and a core activation. Also a gentle cardio or movement exercise.
7. What is it about handstands that makes it so fascinating for you (and possibly others)?
It's hard, it takes a long time to learn and when it works out you feel like a superhero :)
In other words, it is a challenge, it is a solitary activity that requires you to focus and work hard.
The moment of balance however, feels very powerful, it is kind of addictive, you want to repeat the success of balance. Handstands are also very impressive to others and there is an element of showing off which I enjoy. I think handstands are an introvert's way to get attention (that's how it is for me at least ;))
Handstand training humbles you, too. Which is a good thing, I believe.
There are no shortcuts to handstands, you have to put in the work. So when you have mastered a skill like a freestanding handstand or a one arm handstand you can be sure that success is well deserved.
8. What are the most common mistakes in training handstands and how to solve them?
Not realizing how important the shoulder opening and the mobility in the hips are.
Many people think they can muscle through to the correct shape. They practice in a banana shape for a long time due to the lack of mobility and get used to a very inefficient handstand shape.
There is also the expectation that when you can do a handstand against the wall you will be able to do a freestanding handstand. However learning how to actively balance takes time and specific training. The kick-up is also often neglected. You really need to build everything step-by-step and be patient.
9. Beginners always wonder on how to get started with training handstands when there is a lack of strength. How would a short training sequence for strength building (for absolute beginners) look like?
Getting started is hard. I just released a 30 day handstand program on Youtube called “Couch to Handstand”. I tried to find the most gentle introduction into handbalancing that I could come up with, so that was quite a challenge for me.
I would suggest to start with strengthening exercises for the wrists, some mobility drills, core workouts and plank holds (we all love plank holds ;)) and handstand prep exercises. The Couch to Handstand program as well as my 7 week course on Vimeo (also available in German) contain a lot of prep and entry level exercises.
10. How do you eat? Meaning, what style… vegan, veggie, paleo etc.. or is nutrition something that comes natural to you?
Throughout the years I tried many different types of nutritional regimes but I actually found most of them to be counterproductive for me personally. They cut me off from my body's intuition. I try to eat clean, I remind myself to eat fruit and vegetables and chose high protein options (vegetarian) if it corresponds with what I feel like eating in that moment. I find my body to be quite reliable if left to it's own devices.
I don't eat gluten, because I'm intolerant. I don't like to eat in the morning or late in the evening. I don't tend to eat after training. I eat a lot of nuts! like most circus athletes do I think :) I also eat a lot of corn crackers and cheese. I take nutritional supplements for my joints, whichever ones are available at the local store. I am not sure if it makes a difference, but I like to think so.
11. What was the last book you read?
I am reading the handmaid's tale by Margaret Atwood. It reminds me that as a woman being able to make independent choices over how to use my body is not to be taken for granted. Having autonomy over your body an making use of it continues to be a political act of self determination.
Before that I read Awakenings by Jonathan Sacks. I love his books and how he sees the mind and body as interconnected.
12. What was the last thing (tool, toy, food… anything!) you bought that made your life easier?
I think it was a Zoom H1 microphone for recording my Youtube videos. It means I don't have to wear a body mic or a transmitter on me while I am filming and I can re-record the sound if I am unhappy with it.
13. Where can I train with you? Any upcoming events?
There will be another intensive training at 'the GYM' in Aschaffenburg next March/February (dates to be confirmed), and a workshop on the 25./26 th of January 2020 in Freiburg at www.yolaya.de
Find out more about Natalie:
Facebook: Natalie Reckert Handbalancing