This page is covering the key points involved in inversions and arm balancing. While not all inversions involve the use of the hands (ie. shoulderstand) the majority of them do, making the training of one relevant to the other.

I. Start from what you already know

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Dog is for many the 1st inversion they ever practiced. The checklist when practicing downward dog should be:

  1. Hands as wide as the shoulders & feet as wide as the hips
  2. Straight (as much as possible) spine – knees SHOULD be bend if hips & hamstrings are tight to allow for a straight back
  3. External rotation of the shoulders & elevation of the shoulder blades
  4. Heels towards the floor

Performing downward dog always this way will help you build the neuroconnections needed to activate the same muscles in more advanced inversions.

Good alignment

Downward Dog with shoulder internal rotation

Shoulders in Internal Rotation

Downward dog with shoulders overflexed

Over-Flexed Shoulders

Limiting factors: As downward-facing dog requires some action from muscles in the entire body it is likely the limitation to come from more than 1 muscle or joint. Weakness in the lats, shoulders, and wrists as well as tightness in the hip, hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves can challenge us performing this pose.

Shoulderstand

Shoulderstand is another commonly practiced inversion accessible to many, prior to headstands and handstands. The goal here is to: Maintain feet – hips – shoulders in one line.

It is worth working towards that provided the neck stays pain-free.

Alignment factors: A well-aligned shoulder stand will require forward flexion from the upper back and abdominal strength.

II. Core Strength

Core strength for inversions

In my books core strength involves abdominals, lower & upper back muscles. When it comes to inversions while there is a certain amount of abdominal strength needed this involves primarily inner unit strength as opposed to outer unit (ie. rectus abdominis – also known as 6-pack). In straight-line inversions, which is the main form most practitioners work towards initially, very little outer unit strength is needed. At the same time relying too much on “core” strength to hold the pose can promote bad habits and poor form.

If I was to chose 1 exercise to :

  • Promote awareness around the pelvis
  • Strengthen the core and
  • save time

that would be the plank between 2 elevated surfaces:

How much shoulder strength do you need in inversions?

Stable shoulders can go a long way towards supporting your inversions practice. The shoulder strength demands of different inversions varies a lot though, with headstands requiring less, handstands more and forearm stand even more.

Let’s look a bit closer into handstands :

While the shoulders will always be in flexion (arms towards the head), ultimately we want to be stable in :

  1. different degrees of flexion
  2. with the shoulders in both eternal and internal rotation

In a handstand press-up (for most people) the shoulders do not come into a full flexion. When opening the thoracic part of the spine the shoulders move into flexion beyond 180 degrees. In both cases, we need them stable.