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.

patrick.jpg

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.

Strong Member Spotlight: Patty Rinella

Patty joined MoveStrong Kettlebells after she retired from the City of Dublin. I had met her in some classes I was teaching at the City and I always enjoyed her willingness to try new things. Patty has an infectious laugh which makes her a blast to have in class.

Patty also enjoys yoga and walks regularly so when she came to MoveStrong KBs, she was already a very good mover and she learned the kettlebell movements quickly. 

I will never forget the first time she walked into class and saw the barbells all lined up for deadlifts. She turned around like she was going to leave! But of course she didn't -- and now she loves deadlift day and has a PR of 185#.

Patty likes to lift heavy. The heavier the better with deadlifts, sled pushes and carries. She also excels at squats and swings. The cardiovascular work we do with swings, snatches and cleans is challenging for all of us, but Patty never backs away from a challenge. 

When Patty first started, she attended noon classes, and after I moved out of Old Dublin, I didn't have the foot traffic to support noon classes any more, so Patty adjusted her schedule (and her life!) to attend the 7:30 a.m. class --- for which I am very grateful.

Kettlebell Training in Patty's words ...

What surprised you the most about strength training?  

The variety of workouts and training programs; it's never boring, always challenging and rewarding. The amount of cardio involvement has been a real wake up call for me, and "form" really does matter. I walk out at the end of every class and think to myself, "I can't believe I do this and I love it."

What is the Impact of kettlebell training in your everyday life?  

I feel great, I'm strong and high energy. I am also more aware of what I eat. I honestly believe I'm more toned than I have ever been. As you know, for me the health benefits are a perk, my main reason for starting this journey was to keep my arms strong.

goblet squat.jpg

What are your favorite kettlebell lifts?

I like the push press, it makes me feel powerful, I think it's probably because I can use a heavier bell. I also like goblet squats and after an extremely long learning curve, I really like getups. I feel like I'm using every muscle in my body when we do these moves.

Advice to someone considering kettlebell training ...

Choose a trainer wisely; you must like and trust that person. Make a deal with yourself to commit for at least 3 months and show up.  This is what worked for me along with some Biofreeze! 

The moves are not complicated, kettlebell training make me happy, keeps me moving (which keeps me healthy) so I can do what I want to in life. Since I retired, I don't do complicated. Right now I can do this, and I have fun with it, so I do.

Listening to Your Body

Listening to your body is the most important skill you will develop in the gym.

Much like learning the kettlebell swing, or the barbell deadlift, it takes time and practice to become a really good listener.

Many of us have spent a lot of time ignoring signals from our bodies, so this may be something totally new for you.

I promise there will be times when you want to do something in your brain, but your body doesn't feel ready -- and you know it and ignore it any way.

I can't tell you how many times I have trained alone and raised the 24kg KB to start a getup -- only to put it back down. My body says no ... over and over and over. My head says yes over and over and over. But it doesn't feel right. I feel wobbly and unsure. Fortunately, I detest being injured, so I have learned to listen and react accordlingly. I will continue to listen because I have learned through experience that ignoring my body will result in an issue I will have to REALLY listen to later.

Listening usually requires a response. So do it. You know I support you. If you want to go lighter, sit out, go heavier, stretch, or go home. I will support whatever your body tells you to do.

Listening is the essential skill to keep you safe and safely progressing in the gym.

I can't feel what you feel. I wish I could. I joke about attaching a meter to you to get the same feedback you are getting. I wish it were possible.

I do see signs of what you are feeling, but I depend on you to confirm them. And most of the time, you are great about listening. You are learning to take charge of your body so that you know what to do and how to respond no matter where you are and what physical activity you are doing.

I believe that listening is the greatest PR you can ever achieve. 

And what you hear and feel will change constantly. Once moment you might feel strong and fresh and ready to bump up weight. In an instant, there could be a muscle twinge, or an empty feeling like you just ran out of energy. You could feel like you are on top-of-the-world, or tired from a lack of sleep the night before. You will experience so many scenarios that I can't even begin to summarize them here. There is never a moment off from listening, feeling, discerning and learning.

Here are some tips to improve your listening ability:

  • Nourish your body with food, sleep, water and rest so that you can really hear what your body is saying to you when you train in the gym.
  • Train with a coach who will guide you and help you discern what your body is telling you.
  • Never let a muscle twinge or joint issue, or anything that feels weird, go unnoticed. Stop, assess and address.
  • Pay attention to changes, such as a loss of balance, reduced grip strength, extreme tightness, light-headedness, an inability to concentrate, pain and so on. Listen and react.
  • If in doubt about how much is too much, take a day off and rest! Training should not deplete you; it should energize you.
  • Keep a journal to log how you feel or use our online skills tracking program to log results/concerns in the Notes section. Review often. Share with your coach if you wish.
  • Add some gentle movement and stretching outside the gym "to feel it out" if your body is sending you signals of concern. Address the signals now.
  • Talk with your coach if you have questions or concerns. Don't stay quiet because you don't want to call attention to yourself in class. I always want to know.
  • Listen during the training session, afterward, later in the day, the next morning, two days later and at the end of the week, month, year. How do you feel? Yep, listening, and therefore, learning, never stops. 

Being a good listener will help you keep your body safe in the gym and in your everyday life. 

Never lose sight of why you are training in the first place: to be healthy, strong and vibrant for life and sport. Nothing is worth compromising that overarching goal.

A Little Play to Get Stronger

Ever since I started teaching strength and movement, I have included play components in personal training and in our small group class programming ... and of course in my own training. I refer to this as Fitness Freedom.

We all need time to explore, learn, be free from reps, sets, time and be allowed to challenge our bodies in new and different ways.

Any movement or lift can be considered a play component -- Fitness Freedom has less structure and allows the individual to make decisions about whether to push forward or pull back.

It needs to be safe, fun, and even a little bit challenging. It may be different than our typical gym programming or it may build on what we do every day.

Read my full blog post about Play on Dragon Door.

So much is gained from play: besides strength and conditioning ... there is confidence and excitement, in addition to the opportunity to develop (or improve) skills.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!