Hand Balancer Sammy Dinneen On Spending Two Hours A Day Upside Down And Why It's A Full Body Workout

'If you keep training the same thing every day, your brain goes into autopilot.'

Perfecting a headstand in yoga is one of our ultimate goals - one that, at times, seems almost impossible to do.

But believe it or not, for some people this is the basis of their career.

It might sound niche, but that’s exactly what athlete and hand balancer, Sammy Dinneen, has done.

According to the handstand artist, the key to success is not only strengthening your arms, but creating a full body workout training regime to make you stronger all over.

Dinneen trained at The National Centre for Circus Arts and specialised in his acrobatic skills. His career has taken him all over the world, performing in shows including ‘Batman Live’ and ′Pippin the Musical’.

We asked him all the vital questions for the latest in our ‘Fit Fix’ series, to learn about how you train like a hand balancer and what his career is really like.

My Journey 🌎

What do you credit to your success in your fitness journey?

“Passion, commitment and determination. I can’t pretend my determination has always been for the right reasons – sometimes I just wanted to prove my teachers wrong. I was told I would never be a hand balancer.

“I’m not saying this is the best kind of determination, but it pushed me through some very hard times. When I make the decision to do something, I see it through. If you’re passionate about your sport then you will always keep going.”

What’s one of the most memorable moments in your career and why?

“When I was on stage performing a solo act in a show called ‘Traces’. This was special because I had watched the show at the Edinburgh Fringe around five years earlier and it was what made me want to start my career in circus and gave me my passion for this art.”

Was there ever a low point where you wanted to throw in the towel and how did you get past it?

“Handstands are challenging and so, over the years, there have been many low points. Hand balancing does not progress in a straight forward pattern; one day you learn a new trick and then you may not be able to do it again for weeks or even months.

“I had to learn to treat each session in its own right and remain motivated no matter what. I’ve got through all these things by staying mentally strong. This may sound mad but if you want to master this discipline then it’s important to treat it as you would walking or standing; handstands have to become an everyday activity.”

My Training 💪

Talk us through your week in fitness.

“My training schedule is a little sporadic as I teach a lot, but I try to do two hours of handstands a day where I work on technique, flexibility, strength and endurance. I also work on the acts I perform, to clean them up.”

“When I’m training, I go through all the positions I can do, then I work on new ones. Each session, I do 30 minutes of cardio, either running or swimming, then an hour of weight training.

“For me, it’s good to mix up my training so that neurologically, I keep learning and don’t stagnate. If you keep training the same thing every day, your brain goes into autopilot and you stop concentrating.”

What’s your favourite type of workout and why?

“Handstands are my true passion. One of the most exciting parts of my training is that I get to perform for a living. When people watch me perform seemingly ‘impossible’ tricks, I see the true results of my training. It’s rewarding to show people that I can teach what I do if they’re willing to put the time and effort in.”

What’s your favourite way to spend your rest day?

“I make sure I have a rest day once a week, usually a Sunday. Occasionally I have to perform but, if I have the full day off, I cook a good meal, watch TV or go to the cinema. I like to watch other circus shows, plays and musicals so days off are a good opportunity for me to catch up with London’s culture scene.”

My Food 🍳

What do you eat throughout the week to complement your training schedule?

“My diet is based on Paleo, which means I don’t eat any processed food, wheat, grains or refined sugars. So I eat lots of meat, fruit and vegetables. Because most of my meals aren’t too heavy, I can train quickly afterwards.”

What are your pre- and post-workout snacks?

“I just listen to my body and eat if I want to and what I feel I need, rather than eating because I think I should.”

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about food?

“Listen to what your body needs and eat when you want to eat. And remember that pasta, rice and bread don’t always fill you up.”

My Motivation 🙌

Do you have a motivational mantra that keeps you going?

″‘Go big or go home’. You can’t do anything in a half-hearted way. If you are going to do something, put your all into it, commit and be passionate. Otherwise you might as well not bother. If it doesn’t work out then at least you can say you tried your hardest.”

Do you always have fitness goals you are aiming for?

“Yes, always. I find that if I don’t, then my training stagnates and it becomes a routine - a job I am doing because I’m supposed to, rather than because I love it. Handstands are a fantastic all-round body workout and the feeling of a successful handstand session is fantastic.”

What’s your ultimate workout track and why?

“That’s quite difficult to answer. For handstands I actually like to listen to a lot of piano by artists such as Ludovic Einaudi or Max Richter. Their music is slow and calm, just like handstands. For a weight training session I like to listen to more upbeat music, things that are in the charts that get me moving and grooving.”

Fit Fix’ is a weekly dose of fitspiration from leading athletes and fitness fanatics. Each week we chat to stars about their weekly workouts, the food they eat and what keeps them going.

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