Reasons You Should Add Inversions to Your Workout

Sometimes a change of perspective is enough. Discover the reasons why experts are behind this growing trend.

If you are not a trapeze artist, then hanging upside down is probably not part of your daily routine. But maybe it should be.

Spending a little time with your feet in the air every day has more benefits than you might expect: handstands and other inversions build strength and help you expand your yoga repertoire with new challenges. Similarly, inversion tables have been shown to improve the flexibility of the spine and relieve lower back pain.

If you’re curious about the body and mental benefits of hanging upside down, follow this advice to try inversions as part of your regular exercise routine.

BENEFITS OF HANGING UPSIDE DOWN FOR THE BODY


Among their many selling points, inversions improve blood circulation, develop core and arm strength, and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your immune system. They could also make you sharper. “When the head is under the heart, the blood flow to the brain is increased, which gives it more oxygen and nutrients so that the brain can function better,” says Sara Pittman, a yoga teacher in Chicago.

Hand and headstands can also benefit your agility and endurance, adds Franco Calabrese, a body therapist at React body Therapy in Chicago. “The position requires strength and flexibility in the lats, deltoid muscles, triceps, rotator cuff and forearm muscles in the upper body, and at the same time puts a strain on your core and trunk muscles,” he explains.

If handstands are too hard for your shoulders, inversion tables are another option to relieve back pain without straining your upper body. “When the body is in the inverted position, the intervertebral pressure between the bones in the spine can decrease, which reduces the load on the intervertebral discs, ” says Calabrese. “This can be a turning point for those who have chronic back pain or numbness or tingling in the legs, which are often diagnosed in patients with sciatica.”

The benefits also go beyond back pain. “Inversion therapy can provide pressure relief in places where tensions can build up in the joints,” says Calabrese. “It can also help in regulating heart rate, blood pressure and lymph circulation through the nervous system.”

MENTAL BENEFITS OF INVERSION


Learning to make yourself comfortable, to see the world from a wrong perspective, also has psychological benefits. “Inversions require an immense body-mind awareness that increases focus,” says Pittman, who adds that these exercises also build self-confidence, patience and courage.

Yogis divide inversions into two categories: heating and cooling. Heated inversions, which include headstands, handstands and forearm stands, are great for a boost of natural energy, Pittman says. These asanas direct blood flow to your brain to instantly revitalize it and give you more energy and mental clarity. Cooling inversions, meanwhile, are more restorative. “Inversions like legs on the wall and shoulder rest activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body and mind,” she says.

TRY UPSIDE DOWN
Before you start to kick yourself into a handstand, you need to overcome some checkpoints. “Ask yourself some questions first,” Calabrese advises. “Can you bend your wrists 90 degrees to yourself in an outstretched position? Can you bend and straighten your elbows without pain? Can you raise your arms above your head without effort or discomfort?”

If you answer yes to all three, you can make good progress. (Pro tip: If you try these handstands at the gym, wear a high-necked sports bra to avoid wardrobe malfunctions. Be prepared for pain the next day: a handstand or a full inversion position can put a strain on your body at first. If that’s the matter, Calabrese says, there are a few ways to get involved. “A starting point can be reached by lying flat on the floor with your lower legs and feet raised on a couch, chair or bed, and your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle,” he says. “It may feel uncomfortable at first, but you should feel relief quickly. If your symptoms worsen, it is best not to force this position.” (If you have hypertension, a history of heart disease, or a larger body mass, consult your doctor before starting inversion therapy.)

And finally, a little tip: it’s okay if you’re not a yogi or if kicking up in a wall-supported handstand makes you nervous. Inversions are not easy, but if you start slowly — one minute a day, every day for a week — you will get the hang of it. It’s a great break during the workday when you’re working from home and need a creative boost. If you’re at the gym, be sure to tuck your tank top into your leggings before trying the handstand. Do not give up if the first days are hard. Give yourself a week to adjust to the wrong life; changing perspectives is never easy, but seeing the world in a whole new way is worth it.