Note - I’m talking about Hand to Hand the wider discipline, not just the specific trick of ‘Hand to Hand’. By including images of us performing the technique I’m also not trying to insinuate that our technique is perfect, but it’s the best we have access to and we’ve worked incredibly hard to make sure it’s as close to perfect as we can get it.
Here’s the thing about Hand to Hand: it’s really, really, incredibly simple. It’s just that it’s also really, really, incredibly hard.
Within the entire discipline of Hand to Hand there are only four positions the base has to do:
- ¼ Squat
Today we’ll look at and define these archetypal positions, how they come into play and what they do.
The whole idea behind this approach to Hand to Hand and this training methodology is that every single trick you will ever do in Hand to Hand is built from these archetypal positions. By the end of this you will fully understand not only what I mean by that, but also why that is so important.
The tricks and skills you’re trying will be made or broken by your affinity with these positions.
So on one level, being good at Hand to Hand is just a game of ‘How good can I get at those positions?’.
The Hand to Hand Hierarchy
To understand why this is sort of approach is so important, and so effective, we have to understand the 'Hand to Hand Hierarchy'. This is as much a hierarchy as it is also a chronological outline of how skills work. You have your start position, then there’s a movement into a different position, the tempo, and then there’s the trick. If you’re doing a balance skill, it’s much simpler. You have a position, and then the trick immediately relies on that position.
The trick is what we want, but the trick stands on top of the tempo, and the tempo stands on top of the positions. When people talk about your ‘foundations’ in acrobatics being important, this is what they mean.
If your positions aren’t solid, your tempo will suffer, and if your tempo suffers your trick is going to suffer. Each element rests on and relies on the one preceding it and if one of those isn’t great it has a knock-on effect.
I have lost count of the times people beefed a trick because the position they started in was poor. You can’t do a great tempo from a bad position, and you can’t do a great trick off a bad tempo. As a coach, I can call if a trick is going to catch or not from the bottom of the tempo. It's wild.
We always like to think the trick is the most complex part about what we’re doing, and it rarely is. And even if it was the most complex part, which it isn’t, it would still be ruined if everything that came before it wasn’t great.
If you don’t have your foundations in place, it’s also going to make your learning experience that much harder. As you’ll have to learn trick, tempo and positions all at the same time. You can very quickly get overwhelmed because you have to focus on or learn these three things at once.
If you take the time to work on and solidify your positions (and tempo) separately, you don’t have to spend precious brain power and time focusing on them when you have other more pressing elements to focus on.
So, without-further-ado can you guess our first archetypal position?
Our first archetypal position is your ‘Short’ or sometimes called ‘Low’ basing position. This is where you’ll likely spend the majority of your time, as well as being the position all your other positions are ‘built’ off of. So you’d better make sure it’s the tippity-top, the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks and also the tits.
Our number one priority is your lumbo-pelvic position and tension. Basically, what are your lower back and hips doing. As a base, you want to be creating the most amount of stability for your flyer possible and it’s very easy for your lumbar spine and hips to be a source of instability. You have to actively and deliberately work to create tension through proper bracing mechanics, otherwise you open yourself up to a whole lot of force and stability ‘leakage’. We’ll go into what this is, and why it's so important to understand in the next archetype.
Our next concern is the ‘location’ of the flyers weight. If we were to draw a straight line down through the flyer all the way to the ground, that line should intersect through the bases hands, abdomen and the middle of their foot.
Complicatedly put: we want both the flyers center of mass and bases center of mass to be located inside their body, and that the flyers COM is directly on top of the bases COM and their base of support.
Simply put: we want the flyer’s weight to be over the base. This sounds obvious but it’s incredibly easy to be in a position where the flyers weight isn’t on top and we’re using something similar to a counterbalance to keep the balance.
The exact position of the bases arms and whether the elbows are in or out, high or low, will depend on their individual limb lengths. However, if your spine is correctly organized, and the flyer’s weight is in the right spot; 99% of the time your arms will be in the right place.
To get a rough approximation of where a bases arms should go, stand with your arms by your side, externally rotate your shoulder until the palm is facing forwards, then flex the shoulder and elbow up into a Hand to Hand position. This will roughly resemble where your body wants to base Hand to Hand skills.
Lastly is your foot position. Your foot position is a variable you can manipulate depending on what you’re doing. Doing a tempo skill and need the most power? Go feet in parallel, a hip-ish distance apart. Doing a balance skill and need a bit of room to maneuver? Go for a wider, staggered stance to let you search for the balance. Your foot position should be a deliberate choice dictated by what you’re doing. Don’t just allow your body to pick whatever it feels like doing.
Make a smart choice.
If you didn’t see this one coming, I forgive you. It’s a sneaky one.
Our second archetypal position is, in my opinion, one of the most important. This is your ‘catch’ position and it’s also the position of the bottom of your tempo.
Same crucial components as above: organized spine, weight over the bases midfoot, and feet where you need them. Everything from our first position applies here too.
One extra crucial component of this is that the hip has to sit back. It’s a common error when people are learning that their body feels it wants to prioritize a more upright / vertical torso. Your body is stupid. Don’t listen to it. Listen to me.
While there are definitely some advantages to maintaining a more upright torso, the downsides of not being able to utilize your hips strongly outweigh them.
If your hip does not move back / bend / crease in this position you are not able to utilize your glutes, you will be leaving a lot of power and stability on the table. These are powerful muscles, these are the muscles that have allowed humanity to thrust its way through history. Literally.
Sit your hips back. Just a little. It will feel weird at first but trust me; you’ll like it eventually. And even if you don’t like it, you’ll need it eventually.
What you’ll find is that as your hips sit back, the torso has to incline forwards a little. In order to stop the flyer from just slowly falling off forwards, the base will need to make minor, subtle adjustments to the height of their elbows and the pressure they’re applying to the flyer. This isn’t something that should require excessive thought or cueing, as the bases and their body should quickly figure this out by themselves / itself.
The second important component of this position is keeping your spine tight and organized as this position going to be where we generate power in Tempo and we want to keep as much of that power as possible. Allow me to explain.
When a base throws a flyer, or even pushes them from short to extension, we generate power from the ground upwards. The base’s legs start the push, that push is transferred through the hips and spine into the torso, and from there into the arms and then finally into the flyer.
Look at the above picture and look at all the joints present. From the bottom to the top we have the base’s ankle, knee, hip, spine, shoulder, elbow, wrist and then the flyer’s wrist, elbow, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, ankle.
Every single one of those joints wants to move, and every single one of those joints wants to ‘steal’ power. If a joint moves in a way that that is not contributing to the push, we can say it’s ‘leaking’ force and that means we’re losing power. That’s why creating tension and stability is so important, but why spinal stability is even more important. You have 33 vertebrae, and they can all move individually. They can all move in a way that we don’t want them to. So that’s 33 places where you can bleed power.
Having the correct, high levels of tension is what allows us to transfer power efficiently and effectively from the legs & hips to the torso & arms. Without that tension you’re going to be putting in 100% and getting 50% back.
Tension is important. Tension is love. Tension is life.
The third position is where you’ll base overhead, sometimes called ‘extended’ or ‘long’, and will also be an approximation of where your tempo or throw will finish.
The crucial components? You guessed it: spine, weight over the midfoot, feet where you need them.
Our other crucial component is that the hands should be directly above you, without any significant compensations. The biggest limiting factor here is likely to be your mobility. If you cannot get your hands directly above your feet without any compensation in your rib-cage or spine, this position is going to be difficult for you.
You will have to make a sacrifice somewhere else in order to get your hands above you. Typically, we see arching in the lower back or at the spot where your lumbar spots and thoracic begins or the elbows won’t fully lock out. This compensation should not be considered a permanent solution. These compensations are a short term, band-aid fix to a bigger problem that needs addressing.
These compensations are causing you to lose stability if you’re balancing overhead, and to lose power if you’re throwing overhead. Fixing the underlying cause of the compensation should be a priority.
Bases (and flyers) should work on their shoulder mobility until they can express 180 degrees of shoulder flexion easily without any compensation from elsewhere. We've posted a number of exercises that you can use to help achieve this.
Pitch / Deep Hip Hinge
This one is a little tricky. As much as this is a ‘pitch’ position, it’s also just a position you’ll move through when doing Inlocate, Cannonball, Whip/Drag-up and other similar dynamic tricks. It’s not quite as black & white as the other positions. As, other than pitch, it’s not a position we ‘hold’, but a-sort-of ‘family’ of positions we move through.
I almost didn’t include this as you (I) can make an argument (with myself) that this isn’t an archetypal position. But, because this position is so crucial to so many tricks I’ve included it for posterities sake. Being confident in this position and movement, and able to generate tension & power from here is going to be crucial to your Hand to Hand practice.
Remember our three crucial components we’ve had in all the other positions? Bring them back. But for pitching, strike the one about foot placement. The bases feet should be in parallel at a distance that allows the base to get low enough to accommodate their flyer.
What becomes incredibly crucial here is keeping a tight, braced spine for the same reasons as we discussed in the ¼ Squat section. Our primary goal with this position is to have it generate power, and to do that we need to create and transfer force effectively. Bracing is the key to doing that. As you move through this position, we shouldn’t see any change in your spinal position, it should remain rigid the entire time. Any change in your spinal position indicates a loss of tension, which indicates a loss of power.
Assume The Position
As I said in the beginning, Hand to Hand as a base is incredibly simple. Your life involves the same 4 positions repeated over and over again sometimes in a slightly different order, but most of the time it’ll be the same order.
Deep Hip Hinge – ¼ Squat – Standing – ¼ Squat – Extended – ¼ Squat – Standing.
I have just described 90% of Hand to Hand. Pitch to RF2H, back tuck recatch? Described above. Inlocate, courbette? Described above. Reverse Inlocate, press to extended? Described above.
You can break down every single skill you’ll ever do into these four component parts.
The sooner you understand the ubiquity of these positions and how crucial they are to everything, the sooner you can start training and improving those positions, and the sooner you can start unlocking bigger, better skills.
Want to know how to do that? Our new E-Book; ‘Building The Base: Strength Training For Bases’ will get you there. It’s the most comprehensive guide to Strength training for Hand to Hand ever created and is over 50 pages of key insight, contains 30+ videos and has exercises to help you achieve your goals.
You’ll learn the exercises that will build the necessary strength in these positions, you’ll see how to modify them to your current level to ensure you’re always appropriately challenged & able to make progress, you’ll get custom designed Hand to Hand and Partner strength workouts to take you to the next level.
Every question you ever had about how to be a strong base will be answered.