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.

Is This Warmup or Workout?

I have heard this a lot lately in classes and it makes me happy.

Warmup is a series of dynamic movements to get blood and nutrients moving into your muscles and joints. 

Warmup wakes up the nervous system and helps us dial in our movement patterns. It reveals any tightnesses / strengths / weaknesses / imbalances that may need attention and it gives us a sense of how we feel that day.

Our particular way of training is about half-and-half strength and mobility -- and sometimes the mobility work, that spans both Warmup and Workout, feels harder than the strength work.

Warmup should relate in some way to the Workout. For example, squat prying is a good practice in warmup if you are squatting in the workout. T-spine, hip and shoulder opening is always helpful to prime the body for kettlebell lifts. 

Prepping complex movements with lighter weight, no weight or movement regressions in warmup makes sense. For example, we don’t train Snatch-to-Lunge without doing some light snatches and unweighted lunges -- separately beforehand.

Warmup can be weighted or unweighted.

Kettlebells. Bodyweight. Olympic Lifts. TRX. Calisthenics. Primal Movement. Play. Warmup and Workout mix and match to include upper body pull and push and lower body pull and push using varied tools and methods.

Master RKC Dan John advises no separation between warmup and workout and recommends warming up with a lighter version of what you will do in the workout. This is when I most often hear these words, ‘Is this workout yet?’

We know that skipping Warmup will negatively impact the Workout and put us at risk for injury. 

Once we truly dive into the Workout, there are more reps, higher intensity, heavier weight, and more more varied movements and rest periods than during Warmup. There is a more serious mental focus and perhaps an accumulation of fatigue that builds, needs to be monitored by checking biofeedback, and reduced with some calming mobility / flexibility movements between sets.

Warmup and Workout should work seamlessly together.

Train safely. Move to increase range of motion, add stability and increase flexibility. Get stronger while maintaining or improving movement quality. Build cardiovascular endurance (yes, you will begin to breath hard during warmup.)

My role is to facilitate your understanding of how your body is moving and dosing the specific movements in just the right amount so you feel energized, re-charged and renewed afterward. I try to expand your physical horizons with varied, but targeted, warmups and workouts.

The lines are blurred with Warmup and Workout, but this makes the experience rich and varied and keeps our training fresh. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Book Review: Rings of Power by Mike Gillette

Shoulder health is a primary issue for me as a coach and an athlete.

As a former swimmer, I asked a lot from my shoulders then, and I continue to do so as an adult with daily use of kettlebells, barbells and bodyweight exercises. I don't intend to give those up, but much like Rings of Power author Mike Gillette, I discovered the surprising benefits of using the rings in the gym for shoulder health shortly after attending the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC) last year.

Prior to reading Mike's book, my approach to using rings was occasional and haphazard -- practicing skin-the-cats, upside-down holds and L-sits maybe once-a-week. I really wasn't aware of all the other movements I could safely practice and progress with using the rings.

As Mike details, the rings are ideal for strength training and shoulder stability; the neutral arm position with the rings reduces joint involvement while allowing the wrists and elbows to move freely.

Mike, who has a background in military service, law enforcement, the martial arts and executive protection, had suffered injuries and had stopped strength training altogether until he discovered that the mechanics of the rings allowed him to again develop superior functional movement and strength without joint wear-and-tear.. 

He summarizes the on-the-ground and off-the-ground movements with five principles: 1) gravity 2) ergonomics 3) planes of movement 4) leverage and loading and 5) tension as technique.

I prefer the off-the-ground exercises, but I am incorporating more on-the-ground moves thanks to his book with photos, points-of-performance and regressions and progressions.

It is pretty exciting to realize that I have a piece of equipment in my gym that is pure gold and practicing with it is serious stuff ... but it feels like play as I explore new ranges of motion at my own pace.

I have been using moves such as ring roll-outs, inverted ring pushups, trunk extensions, rows, dips and vertical pulling -- all described in his book in detail.

Interested? Grab the book for yourself, along with a pair of rings, and head to the gym or find a goal post or monkey bars to attach them to. Practice, train and play and feel good afterward.

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!

 

PCC Calisthenics and a New View of Strength

I had an awesome Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC) experience.

It was amazing to learn from Al and Danny Kavadlo and now the all MoveStrong KB members get to share in the joy of more bodyweight training ... which is simple, fun and has amazing strength, stability and mobility benefits.

Read the full story on Dragon Door here!