If you are new to inversions it may feel overwhelming to go upside! If you want to start learning inversions safely, I suggest you read this article fully and start dedicating some time daily to them.
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:
Hands as wide as the shoulders & feet as wide as the hips
Straight (as much as possible) spine – knees SHOULD be bent if hips & hamstrings are tight to allow for a straight back
External rotation of the shoulders & elevation of the shoulder blades
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.
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 in performing this pose.
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 the 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 choose 1 exercise to :
- Promote awareness around the pelvis
- Strengthen the core and
- save time
that would be the plank between 2 elevated surfaces [Instagram image].
How much shoulder strength do you need in inversions?
Stable shoulders can go a long way toward supporting your inversion practice. The shoulder strength demands of different inversions vary a lot though, with headstands requiring less, handstands more and forearmstand 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 :
- different degrees of flexion
- with the shoulders in both eternal and internal rotation
In a handstand press-up (for most people) the shoulders do not come into 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.