As you might have guessed from my posts and challenges, I am totally obsessed with everything there is to learn and know about handstands. During my quest of the holy handstand grail: gathering as many repetitions, information and hours spent on my hands I have come across many wonderful practitioners and incredibly talented performers and teachers. This is the first issue of my new ALL ABOUT HANDSTANDS Interview series, which I have started to share the many beautiful souls out there who dedicate their time on one or two hands instead of their feet.
I met Elia during a handstand intensive workshop with Sainaa in London in February. We trained together for 5 days and I was amused and happy to be practicing alongside a group of Italian fellas who were incredibly stubborn, not taking breaks and still having fun with impeccable results. One of these was Elia who is a tall, bendy, young man wearing black framed glasses while being upside down. I'm glad that we can connect so easily in 2019 and share our lives through social media, which made me curious to find out more about Elia and his teachings, located in Pesaro, Italy.
1. Tell me something about yourself: Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Elia Bartolini, I'm 25 and I'm from Italy. What I do in life is something which is peculiar to describe. People tend to classify jobs like doctors, engineers, mechanics and so on. I never wanted to stay under prescribed rules. I tried to be an employee in a big company as an accountant. It lasted one year, a year where my everyday question was “is that the life I want to live?” The answer was a big NO: I was craving for more, for a life where my job and my passion for working out and staying in shape could live together. This big passion took me to start a blog, here in Italy. The blog was first called “BartoFlex training and gym” which is now called “Bodyweight Arena”. Bodyweight, cause the major concepts in the blog talk about bodyweight training. Arena, cause I imagine my blog as a big arena where people can interact, learn and discuss.
I also started to teach bodyweight training as a Personal Trainer. Now, after years in this fitness world, my main activities are writing for my blog and another famous Italian website called "Project Invictus", coaching in person and online, workshops of basic handstand and flexibility and I'm writing a book on flexibility training.
2. Your IG name is @elia_bodyweight does that imply that you only train with your bodyweight and no weights?
Well, when I first opened my Instagram profile I wondered what name describes my activities best. Other ideas besides my final name, elia_bodyweight, were @elia_onhands or @elia.handstandstands, @bartoflex and others. However, all those names were referring only to one aspect of my training and I didn't like that. I want my name to describe everything I do, and I always use my bodyweight!
That doesn't mean I don't lift weights, on the contrary, I use weights a lot during my strength training: I add weights to bodyweight exercises like pullups for example. I also use weights for the development of my weak areas, which I can't work with only bodyweight exercises: for example, my left external rotators are weak: I use weights to increase strength in those muscles. I barely use weights also for my legs training, with squats or deadlifts. However, the majority of my training is bodyweight based: handstands, flexibility, calisthenics... So @elia_bodyweight seemed to be the best choice.
3. What are your current goals?
My major goal is to learn a solid one arm handstand. Besides the one arm, I want to learn strength correlated movements in handstand like stalder press and handstand pushup, which are a common skill for men in this discipline but are extremely hard. After that, maybe I'd like to work on a more complex thing like a handstand act.
Talking about flexibility, I worked in the past for my splits and now that I can do both the front and side split, I'm working to maintain them and unexpectedly I'm also progressing a bit, but no big goals in flexibility for now.
4. At what age did you start training?
I started "training" relatively late during my late 17s. With "training" I mean lifting weights, going to the gym and do basic stuff just to keep my body in shape. Then I discovered Calisthenics training and began with bodyweight exercises, always with the purpose of staying in shape.
As you know, in Calisthenics there is a skill named "handstand", and Calisthenics people deal with that skill in a very superficial manner: they learn it, but in a wrong way and without going deep into it. I was one of those buddies. That's ok because in Calisthenics you are not a "handbalancer" or "gymnast" so you don't need to express anything special in a handstand. But, with time, behind handstands I discovered a huge and deep world. Slowly, I started to put the handstand on top of the list of my priorities and forget about that "staying in shape" thing that always seemed to be the major reason for training. That slow process continued until 2017 when I first started to get serious about handbalancing and decided to work hard for that. I flew to London to "the London School of Handbalancing" and took an intensive with the master there. At that time I was able to hold a good two arm handstand and could move a bit in the handstand shapes, but no one arms or anything else. The one arm handstand journey started there.
5. You’re incredibly flexible, which is rather unusual for a guy because women tend to be the more flexible gender. What would be your best tips for inflexible dudes, who would like to improve their weaknesses?
Here are my 5 best tips for increasing flexibility, which I continue to follow every day.
1) Consistency is the key. Don't expect results, work for them. If you don't see them, learn something new, get into a class, work hard, and I'm sure the results will follow.
2) No rush. Flexibility training takes time.
3) Have an intelligent approach. There are methodologies that work better than others. For example, PNF stretching brings results faster than passive stretching in most cases, so use it!
4) Don't overdo it, especially if you are a beginner. There's no point in doing a bunch of stretching in the beginning and then, after a few months, give up. If you start, you need to know that you have years of practice in front of you. So, choose a smart practice that you can do almost every day without any discomfort and repeat it. As in point 1, consistency is the key.
5) Don't listen to your body too much! It will hurt, of course. Some poses will be tremendously hard, you'll sweat, you'll be out of breath. Some days you don't want to stretch. Keep doing it. Of course, I'm not saying that in every circumstance you need to keep on training, I'm saying that you don't need to be lazy! Even if you're tired or not 100% fresh, work has to be done to see results. So, make a good routine and try to follow it. Sometimes your body simply wants to do nothing (a LOT of times) so, if you listen to it too much you'll end up staying on the sofa chilling and watching Netflix every day.
6. Which are the 3 most important exercises you think everyone should do?
Hard to say! In reality, I think that we don't need any exercise in particular. The human body is designed to do a little of everything, not much of a little. So, when it comes to sports, exercises and so on, it is difficult to say: "you need to do that". Everything depends on the preferences and tastes of everyone.
Talking personally, if I have to pick just 3: I like to train one arm handstand, stalder press, and pull-ups. Talking more generally, for a balanced body in terms of strength I think squats, overhead presses, and pull-ups is a good choice. If we talk about different disciplines, these 3 could be very interesting for everyone: Yoga, bodyweight training and acrobatics.
"It's the sensation of reaching what seemed impossible."
7. Is the world prettier upside down?
The world upside down is different. Handstands changed my mind and also, a little bit, my life. Now for my friends, I'm the "upside down man". I always respond to them that I'm nothing compared to the real monsters and performers out there, but they say to me "for us you're great as you are" and everything ends up in laughs.
I know well why I train handstands. It's the sensation of reaching the impossible, or better, what seemed impossible in the past, for you. With handstands, you prove yourself that you can reach something that you weren't able to do before. For humans, this is one of the best sensations you can feel. I can see it in the eyes of people who reach a goal for the first time. That's amazing. If someone felt it at least once, knows well what I'm talking about. But to be successful you need trust in yourself, patience, and determination.
8. What are the most common mistakes in training handstands and how to solve them? There are technical and psychological mistakes.
Technical mistakes are those mistakes where you are not keeping a good technique. The most common, in the beginning, is the positioning of the shoulders. Shoulders are the most important element in a handstand, so you need to place them in the correct way, which is on top of the wrists, in a position that forms an almost 180° angle between your arms and torso. I say "almost" cause you even don't need to open that much, if you open (which means opening the arms and torso angle) too much your shoulders, you'll end up in an incorrect position. However, the majority of people tends to close the shoulders, positioning them in front of the wrists (not on top) and ending up in a "closed" shoulder positioning which is famous for causing the "banana handstand". If you are in this category, there are no real problems besides practicing handstands in the correct manner, with the shoulders on top of the wrists. If you close your shoulders too much and can't open them more, you probably need to stretch your shoulders until you can open them in the correct way. Pay attention to chest, lats, delts, and triceps muscles which hind the shoulder 180° mobility.
The second mistake is hip activation. You need to stay in a ppt position= tucking your butt but "opening" your hips. That's a strange sensation to explain, so I want to make an example to let you know well what I'm talking about. To understand the correct positioning of the hips in a handstand, a good exercise to practice is chest to wall handstand, but paying attention at your hip bones. While you stay in a chest to wall hs, try to pull your chest out of the wall, suck your tummy in and push your hip bones to the wall, touching it. In this way, you tucked your butt but opened your hips. There are plenty of drills to understand this positioning, I also made a video that talks about that. You can find it here.
Another error is not working enough on basics and drills that really count. Nowadays you can find everything on the internet, and handstands tutorials and drills are not an exception: there are plenty of them out there. This "information overload" can confuse beginners. There are not a hundred exercises to work on, but just 5/6 basics exercises you need to repeat over and over with correct technique and belief. Making a selection and knowing how to start is not an easy thing, for that reason, it's better to have a coach or a reliable source to guide you. This is true for beginners and also for intermediates that want to start to learn more complicated things like press to handstand, handstand shapes and stuff like that.
9. Who inspires you the most?
First, we need to divide life in general and my sports life. In life, I like Bono Vox, the frontman of U2. I grew up with U2's music and I always liked his way of singing, writing songs, and style of life.
In handstands, there are plenty of handbalancers out there and I have no preferences cause everyone has his or her own style and I respect and like them all. But inspiration is another thing. It's more then "I like him or her". Is something that makes you think "I'd like to be like that one day". Well, that sensation pervaded me the first time I encountered my master in London, Janchivdorj Sainbayar, who at almost 50 years old can hold easily a one arm handstand! That makes me happy, cause I know that what I love has no age and even when I'll get older I can continue to do that.
10. How do you eat? Meaning, what style... vegan, veggie, paleo, etc... or is nutrition something that comes naturally to you?
Well, as I said I live in Italy. And as you may know, here we have one of the best cuisines in the world: I'm in love with pasta, pizza, piadina, and a lot of other things we do here. However, I try to keep my diet clean and my body in shape. I don't follow a structured diet plan, I eat almost everything I want but with some precise rules: almost no processed food, no fast foods, no high sugar food and drinks (like cola, cakes and stuff like that), no alcohol at all, and as little meat as possible.
Talking about supplements, yes, I use some of them. A multivitamin powder in the morning every morning, an omega-3 fats supplement and sometimes a protein powder if I'm in a hurry and can't eat a proper meal. I also use an intra-workout powder based on BCAA to keep my energy level up especially when I’m tired. 4 hours of training sometimes are long for me so it’s important to keep my body hydrated and with energy.
11. What was the last book you read?
I like narrative books or psychological books. The last I enjoyed was "Deep Work" by Cal Newport.
12. What was the last thing you bought that made your life easier?
Talking about things, my new MacBook Pro, I work a lot at the PC so having a high performing machine really helps my work.
13. Where can I train with you? Any upcoming events?
I train and live in Pesaro, situated in the middle-east of Italy. I teach basic handstand and flexibility workshops in Italy and cities like Milan, Bari, Florence, Naples and an event in Sardinia. Pretty much almost all the Italian territory!
I also organize a 3 days intensive training, called "IMove Summer Camp" every year in the end of August. During those three days, teachers from different parts of Italy come to teach different disciplines: acrobatics, handbalancing, capoeira, yoga, hand2hand, meditation, and stretching are this year's disciplines. Every day there is a schedule of training and people join the classes of each teacher. We eat and sleep together, living in a beautiful villa with exclusive use.
Thank you so much for all your very interesting questions, I had a great time responding to them all and I hope I've been clear!
Dear Elia, Thank you for being so honest and sharing your passion!
Want to learn more? You can find Elia here:
Facebook: Elia Bartolini