How to invert; A helpful article I wish I had when I started pole

Below is the script I have made for the inversion tutorial I’ve posted. You can view the whole video HERE

The biggest hurdle to overcome in your invert is actually tipping back and away from the pole. If you’re a beginner trying to invert this is most likely where you’re stuck. But if you’re still stuck in the first part of the movement, lifting knees to chest, stick around we’ll get to how to work on that as well.

So it’s clear the goal of this movement is to position our center of mass posterior or behind the pole, and to be upside down. This is especially tricky since we start with our center of mass in front of the bar. Figuring out how to shift our weight and being able to support ourselves at the same time is why the invert can be such a major roadblock. 

 Let’s start by thinking of the invert as having a vertical pull and horizontal push. Focusing in on which muscles are responsible for each directional force. When I mention vertical pull you can think of any kind of movement that will displace your body in an upward direction. Like when we do a pull up. The initial step to invert is to vertically support your weight while your legs are coming, and remaining off the ground. Placing your body correctly against the pole before you even begin pulling up will help with this initial lift. The hold we start in is called a strong hold. If you’re a beginner struggling to get your placement right, I’d suggest holding your arm straight out and grasping to the pole. Walk into the pole without moving your hand. Crush the bar with your bicep/armpit region. Have the outside hand come right over the top of the other and GRAB. You’ll notice your hands and chin are about equal in height here. It can be pretty tempting to adjust your hands so they’re higher, but that’s actually gonna slow you down, and we’ll get to why soon. You’ll also want to close any gap between your side and the pole. Puffing your chest out, leaning slightly behind the bar, and pulling your shoulders back will close that space. We want to get really close to the pole, with our hips slightly in front. Being so close to the pole allows for skin contact, which will take away a little bit of our weight as the skin gets tugged on vertically during our lift. I’ve already begun to shift my weight behind the bar here as I open my chest by squeezing my deltoids. I should have a flat back if I’m engaging enough.

Pulling up

Okay, so now that that’s set up, let’s start pulling! The mechanics of this are similar to a narrow grip pull up. We pull our body weight up with hands positioned closely together. This is a full upper body movement. However, the primary muscles involved include your biceps, and lower lats. Using your biceps to pull up is pretty intuitive for most, but squeezing the lower lats is probably a bit more foreign. If you’ve got a mirror in front of you, try squeezing down on your pole and see if your shoulders shift down. If they’re shifting down those are partly your lower lats pulling on them. This is what we call a scapular depression. So, take some time to practice engaging both your biceps and lower lats as you pull up. A good way to practice this without a pole could actually be performing some assisted close grip pull ups. To target your lats more, try wide grip pull ups as well.

Now because we placed our hands at chin height we actually don’t need to lift very much. Had our hands been placed above our head, we would have to pull so that our chin is slightly above our hands. Because I placed them so low I can get away with pulling up just so I’m coming up on to the front pads of my feet. We’re also constantly squeezing our deltoids while pulling up, so our back should remain flat behind the pole.

Knees to chest

Now we can think about lifting our knees to our chest. It’s important we get our knees as high up to our chest as possible. Remember, the more mass we shift in the direction we want to go, the easier it is for us to tip back. If you’re struggling to get knees to chest i’d suggest some conditioning here. This movement is very similar to a hanging leg raise. We use our Rectus Abdominis, internal, and external obliques and the hip flexors. Simply trying to raise your legs up and down from your strong hold, in a set and rep fashion is a great exercise. If you’ve got access to gym equipment, eccentric hanging leg raises or leg raises in a captain chain are also very helpful. If those are still out of reach, lying leg raises, or crunching your legs into your chest while sitting down are a good option to work your way up. Again, full tutorials are coming!

If you’ve gotten to a point where your knees are up to your elbows and you can engage your upper back enough to where you’re not hunched over, youre ready to move on. If not, keep conditioning those muscles I mentioned. 

Tipping Back

At this point, you should be able to see your upper back behind the pole, and your knees are tucked all the way to your chest. Now we can think about tipping back. This is where we start to use horizontal forces to tip us backwards. To start the tip, look back and eccentrically push through your triceps in an elbow extension, all the while your legs are still being crunched in towards your chest. You’ll notice here, we start shifting our center of mass behind the pole. This tipping back motion can be combined with a little bit of momentum. If I throw back my head, tuck in my legs and push away with my triceps all at once, this creates a bit of momentum that will give us just enough of a boost to shift our weight behind the pole.This step requires the most strength, but once past this hurdle it gets easier. 

Now to be clear we’re not letting gravity cause this elbow extension, nor are we extending our arms entirely. As the triceps push you back your biceps and back muscles are still trying to pull you up. It’s a controlled push combined with constant scapular retraction and shoulder extension(vertical pulling). Scapular retraction is accomplished with the trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids and lats which all work to pull our shoulder blades together. While a shoulder extension drives our elbows back with the deltoids and lats. The constant scapular retraction and shoulder extension is what’s keeping your back flat instead of hunched. As we approach a more horizontal posture to the floor, more weight is placed on the back. It’s common for people to forget their scapular retraction and shoulder extension, and rely solely on the biceps to stay up. If you’re noticing a lot of curving in your back when tipping, you are guilty of this. But don’t beat yourself up, you may not have a strong enough back to hold your weight yet. To strengthen your scapular retraction, try wide grip rows using an upward posture to target the traps and rear deltoids, or inverted pull ups. Working on your shoulder extension can be accomplished using dumbbells, or cable rows. You can also set up resistance bands around your pole to mimic these workouts. I really wouldn’t skimp on strengthening this area, so make sure you’ve got some way of working on it.

Helpful Exercises for the invert

Engaging your back correctly while upside down isn’t easy so, if you’re not at the point where you can even tip back without having a lot of hunching, but still want to practice having an engaged back, there are some modified suggestions. The first one uses a stability ball to mimic the tip back motion without having to deal with our body weight. Set up in a strong hold while placing your mid/low back on a stability ball. Crunch in your knees and use your triceps to push away. Practice squeezing your shoulder blades together and sending your elbows back. Another version of this is jumping into an invert. Using a bit of momentum by stepping into the pole gently kick your outside leg in front aiming for it to hook on the face of the pole. Try to avoid watching to see if your leg catches. Keep your spine straight and back engaged the whole time looking at the wall behind you. Once you’ve successfully planted your leg, check your form in a mirror. Practice your scapular retraction and shoulder extension. Try disengaging and engaging your back, so you know how to correct it.

A quick word of advice on dismounting from a tip back, or an invert you jumped into. Make sure your back is engaged 100% of the time when you dismount. It’s not a matter of if, but when you will injure your back if it’s not. So if you’re still not able to support your body weight through your upper back, I highly suggest you work on strengthening that area, before jumping in and out of your invert. A proper invert dismount has one leg at a time softly landing on the ground, with a flat back. 

Looking Back is Key

I mentioned a little earlier that you should simultaneously be pulling your legs in towards yourself as you rock back. This crunch in motion is often intuitively paired with our body wanting to crunch in our upper body as well, creating that rounded upper back that we are trying so desperately to avoid. You’ve got to take some time to train your body to do the opposite. What we’re going for is a posterior tilt of the lower body going in towards the chest while having an anterior tilt in the upper back, with shoulders pointed towards the ground below us. This is why looking back is so important. Tipping your head back in the direction you desire to go is an extremely powerful way of contradicting this unwanted hunching. Your head will naturally cause the elongation of the spine.. 

Extend Legs into a Chopper

Once you feel confident properly engaging your back while extending through the elbow and crunching in your legs you can try tipping back further and further. Try rocking in and out of your tip-back, making sure you can hold a neutral spine. If this is feeling good all that’s left is to do is extend your legs out with an external rotation. You’ll need your hips to stack up high to get a nice straddled invert. Again, if your back is hunched your hips will be lower making your invert hard to hold, and probably not the best looking. Later on you’ll also want to be able to do leg hooks from an invert. If your hips are too low, you’ll need to hop your leg into a knee hook, which also doesn’t look that great.

Flexibility Requirements

 Something that people don’t mention on the invert is also flexibility. Holding a straddle above and close to your upper body does require a lot of hip hinging. Now because we are crunching in our legs to begin with, our hips are in a posterior tilt. However, after we get our hips stacked high up we can start to shift our hips to an anterior tilt as we extend through the legs. This will allow our hips to open up and bring our legs closer into our upper body. However, we can’t just expect our legs to open up on their own. We have to be actively squeezing the quads, and opening up our straddle with the glutes. This is a lot like a pancake stretch. You may, or may not have good range in your pancake. To check, sit on the floor in a straddle about arms length wide, and lean as far forward as you can with a flat back. If you’re noticing curving in your spine, this is a sign of a limit in your range of motion. Learning how to hinge at the hip and deepen your pancake is a whole other video in itself. And yes I will be making it. Now you don’t have to have a deep pancake to invert, but strengthening it can definitely help beautify this movement. 

Okay, so that was a lot. A ton of muscles involved in this movement that takes about 1.5 seconds to actually perform. But it is totally worth it. The invert is such as parimeount movement on the pole, and being able to healthily unlock it opens up so many doors for you. And of course we only covered inverting on the floor, on a static pole, but it can evolve further into aerial inverts, and of course forward and reverse spinning inverts. There’s a lot of cross over to those more complex forms of the invert, but I do recommend being comfortable performing a floor inversion, with proper form before continuing onto those.

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