On Inversions and the Big Picture of Pursuing Health and Fitness

posted in: Lifestyle Design, Uncategorized | 1
Oh yeah. I could do that. Hold my beer.

Note: you will receive 10 Siffer-points if you read this article while you’re upside down.

I read an article this morning by yoga instructor, Rachel Hector, on the value of doing inversions (e.g. handstands, or any other exercise/movement/pose where you’re upside down in some way, shape, or form). She went over some of the benefits of inversions such as improving immune function and cardiovascular health, boosting your mood, etc. She makes some good points and the article is worth the read if you’re a movement geek like me.

Of course, the take-home point is that we would all benefit from doing inversions and should find a way to incorporate them into our training and life – even if it just means putting your feet up more often. So, naturally, the typical reaction to an article like this is to start inverting yourself more often. We might even think…

Oh boy, I’m going to start doing inversions! I’ll do handstands, hang upside down, and put my feet up whenever I get the chance. And then I’ll let the results roll in. My immune system will be stronger. My heart health will improve. Heck, maybe I’ll even lose a few pounds. Inversions are awesome!

And that’s a good thing, right?

But what struck me after reading this article is that these benefits are just the result of using, or moving, your body. They aren’t just unique to inversions, but the full spectrum of physical activity. Our health, fitness, and quality of life improves when we’re active. And being active in a variety of ways – inversions being one way – is a great way to reap a variety of benefits.

And I think we lose sight of that when we fixate on any one domain of human movement – like inversions, for instance. I mean, when you think of all the possible ways we can move, you realize that there are truly unlimited options.

Let’s take a look at how MovNat classifies human movement in its list of natural movement skills:

  • walking
  • running
  • jumping
  • balancing
  • crawling
  • climbing
  • lifting
  • carrying
  • catching
  • throwing
  • swimming
  • self defense (e.g. striking and grappling)

And don’t forget that there are many different ways to crawl, climb, lift (etc.) – and even walk. And each one of these activities has a unique set of benefits.

And then we could also list out some other basic human movement patterns like this list of the 7 “primal” movement patterns that is popular in the strength and conditioning community:

  • pushing
  • pulling
  • twisting
  • squatting
  • lunging
  • hinging or bending
  • gait (e.g. walking)

Or, we could even go a step further by looking at the way the CST and TACFIT fitness systems classify human movement using not just a 3D matrix, but the six degrees of freedom:

  • Heaving: moving up and down (e.g. squat)
  • Swaying: moving right and left (e.g. lateral lunge)
  • Surging: moving forward and backward (e.g. running)
  • Pitching: bending forward and backward (e.g. kettlebell swing)
  • Yawing: twisting right and left (e.g. any side swinging motion)
  • Rolling: bending or tilting right and left (e.g. sandbag shoulder carry)

And just try to wrap your head around all of the possibilities when you combine more than one degree of freedom.

Ido Portal would probably include hanging in his list of movement skills. Steve Atlas would probably include hand balances in his list. Dan John would add loaded carries to his list. And no doubt, Rachel Hector would probably include inversions in her list. A gymnast would probably include flips. A martial artist would probably include rolls and tumbling. A dancer would probably include the moonwalk…

The point is that using our body’s is really really good for us. Whether it’s traditional exercise or a sport, a movement practice, or just physical activity, in general. It all does the body good. Nobody is arguing that.

Obviously, each activity will have some general health and fitness benefits and also some specific ones that are unique to that particular activity. For example, hanging is a great movement skill to practice. Not only will some of the general health benefits of strength training be provided, but hanging can also be very beneficial for your shoulder and back health. Jumping is very effective at activating the glutes and the abs. And now, I’ve just learned that inversions can help to streamline blood flow.

But instead of fixating on these little details, why don’t we just acknowledge that more physical activity, movement, exercise – call it what you want – is what we need. Because inversions are great. I use them regularly – love ’em. And I’m glad that people like Ms. Hector are advocating for them to help more people take advantage of them (and enjoy them!). But let’s not lose the forest for the trees. Because it’s all good medicine. That’s the big picture.

And here’s the thing: the fewer activities you do and the more specialized you get in your training (e.g. like specializing in yoga, strength training, or running), the narrower the list of benefits gets (and the greater the risks).

Sure. Any kind of exercise or physical activity will result in some general health and fitness benefits. But if you neglect the many different functions and abilities of the human body, they will deteriorate. Move it or lose it.

So, next time you read an article espousing the benefits of one particular exercise, sport, or movement discipline, remember the big picture. Take it for what it’s worth and be glad that you can appreciate both the big picture of health and fitness and the little, interesting details.


I’d like to wrap up by quoting a friend of mine who is a regular reader of this blog. He goes by the name “dubbahdee.” We were having a conversation on Facebook about specificity and specialization in training for optimal results, and he shared this gem:

“It is important to remove the sense of wretched urgency from endeavors like health, fitness and physical training. Remove the “invented morality” from it, and simply train to live the life you want to live. This enables one to restore joy and play back into physical training.”

Well said, Dave! Carry on, folks.

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Photo credit: 1.


Inversions are great. But…

One Response

  1. Hi John,

    Good article. I appreciate your perspective that doing physical activity is more important than any one specialized exercise/activity/workout. The more varied activity we do the more completely we can enjoy the bodies we’ve been given.

    Quick question for you concerning handstands. The advice on breakingmuscle.com I’ve read for handstands recommends shrugging your shoulders while inverted to make a more solid structure. What are your thoughts on handstand form and the benefits/drawbacks of unpacking the shoulder?

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