The Power of Inversions

One of best things I ever did was add gymnastic rings to MoveStrong Kettlebells. After learning how to use them myself at the PCC (Progressive Calisthenics Certification), and then how to work with beginners (thank you Master RKC Max Shank.) I began using them often for shoulder mobility, stability, and strength.

I also highly recommend this book, Rings of Power,  by Mike Gillette.

We are already strong and mobile from our kettlebell and bodyweight training, so inverting on the rings is possible for many healthy, physically strong and active adults who have normal blood pressure and are cleared by their physician for this type of training.

Strong abdominals, internal and external obliques, upper and lower back are essential for inversions ... along with a courageous spirit.

Three Observations about the Rings

First, the rings are safe. We are unfamiliar with the rings because female gymnasts don't use rings, so we weren't exposed to rings as kids. Even most men haven't used rings unless they have a background in gymnastics or calisthenics. This is a tool that is not found in most gyms because close monitoring / coaching is necessary for safety.

Often the feeling of blood running into your head feels odd, but the more you do it, the more you relax and get used to it -- and the brain is protected.

Second, the rings are fun. Remember hanging upside down on the monkey bars as a kid? Sure you do. It's still fun and it feels like play once you get comfortable.

Third, the rings can help conquer a fear of being off-the-ground and upside down. That is where a coach can help. I was nervous at first as well. But there are safe regressions that help us to progress slowly and comfortably. Make sure you have a spotter and know how to dismount safely before you invert. We started practicing initially with a giant, thick mat under the rings for some peace-of-mind (whether real or imagined) so we were not upside down over a wood floor.

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Other Ways to Invert

There are many ways to invert even if you are not someone who relishes hanging upside down. Other ways to invert: down-dogs, handstands, headstands, frogstands, head-bridges, full bridges and tripod headstands. A down-dog is a great place to start to get your head below your heart to see how it feels.

How long to invert? A couple of seconds to a minute is common. If you are on the floor. In the yoga community 3-5 minutes is common for advanced students.

Health Benefits of Inversions

Inverting the body has many health benefits. Here are a few that I found based on my experience with people in the gym and in researching this topic in the yoga and physical therapy communities.

Empowerment - it feels great to conquer a fear of being upside down as an adult -- even if we hang for only a few seconds. All ages and fitness levels, 20s-60s, men and women, are training this in the gym.

When a dragonfly flutters by, you may not realize, but it’s the greatest flier in nature. It can hover, fly backwards, even upside down.
— Louie Schwartzberg

Defy Gravity for a Few Minutes - According to David Coulter, Ph.D., who taught anatomy at the University of Minnesota for 18 years, when one inverts, tissue fluids of the lower extremities drain. Congestion clears. Coulter claims, "If you can remain in an inverted posture for 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities, abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries."

Improve Shoulder Mobility - because the rings allow for a neutral shoulder position (not internally or externally rotated) it is safe and even helpful for shoulders. The movement is great for shoulder joint range of motion work. As students progress to skin-the-cat and other movements on the rings, there can be even more beneficial shoulder and fascial mobilization.

All Systems Go - inverting has been shown to positively impact the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine systems with increased fluid flow, blood flow and immune system benefits.

More Calm and Mental Clarity - this is feedback from gym members and I have experienced this myself. How do we explain this? The common assumption is that an inversion floods the brain with freshly oxygenated blood and the brain is 'refreshed.' Also, inverting flushes the adrenal glands to stimulate release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that help us feel good.

Rest the Heart - inversions give the heart a break from the work of constantly pumping blood. Receptors in the brain that regulate blood flow sense the change and signal the heart rate and blood pressure to lower. 

Reduce Muscle Tension - one study (LJ Nose) found that EMG activity, which is a measure of muscle tension, declined by 35 percent within 10 seconds of inverting. Inverting has been shown to assist with reducing muscles spasms in the neck, back, shoulders, ease headaches caused by muscle tension.

Relieve Back Pain - clinical studies show that when inverted, the separation between the vertebrae increases. This allows the absorption of moisture into the soft tissue of the discs. The result is increased nutrient content as well as the plumping of the discs for better shock absorption and flexibility. 

 Align the Spine - the pressure in the spine drops to zero in an inversion of 60 degrees of more, with pressure off the vertebrae. This is why Inversion tables are so popular.

Contact us if you'd like to stop by the gym and learn more about inversions or to give it a try.