There’s nothing like getting upside down to change the way you look at things.

Hand balancing and other inverted skills definitely have that wow! factor because they not only look cool, but it’s also apparent how difficult these moves really are.

Being upside down or inverted, is simply not part of most people’s everyday lives. As soon as things turn downside up, our sense of space and direction gets skewed, equilibrium is disrupted, and there is simply a general sense of unease.

But these difficulties are also a great reason to practice these positions. Placing yourself in positions that are unusual and awkward for you is a wonderful way to improve spatial and body awareness. Add exercises that build strength and coordination, and you’ll get a great combination of benefits from one exercise.

It can be intimidating and a bit scary when you first start practicing inverted moves, which is why learning the right way to start is so very important.

A great place to start with this type of practice is to work on the inverted leg raise, which is the headstand position. There are several types of headstands, but the easiest to begin with is the tripod style.

Practicing Inversions in the Safest Manner

Though we’ll focus on the inverted leg raise in this post, the following tips are important for practicing any kind of inversion safely:

  • Keep your head neutral
  • The majority of your weight should be on your hands
  • Keep pushing through your hands, and don’t rest on your head
  • Watch and anticipate fatigue so you can stop the exercise before you are too tired to end it safely.
  • Breathe! And more specifically breathe lower into the abdomen. This helps decrease the pressure complaints some have with being upside down
  • Enter the position with the same sequence of events every time. This consistency prevents issues that can happen from simple mistakes. Injuries often occur from a deviation in a routine.

Headstand

First, a disclaimer:

Please approach this practice as safely as possible. Not only is simply being upside down itself precarious, but with your head on the ground, the possibility of injuring your neck is very real. Don’t let that stop you from this practice, but be mindful of safety and read the following advice carefully to keep your training safe and effective.

Follow this sequence for the most effective practice of the inverted leg raise:

  1. Kneel down, lean forward and place your hands shoulder width or a bit wider.
  2. Tuck your chin and place the top part of your forehead on the ground, a few inches in front and right in the center between your hands.
  3. As you lean forward, lift your hips up high and begin to push down into the ground with your hands. You will now be more on top of your head than on the forehead.
  4. Keep your stomach braced – but don’t hold your breath! – and kick up (or use the frogger kick-up).
  5. Squeeze your butt and quads tightly, and point your toes. Remember Tighter is Lighter!

If you are worried about overkicking at first, it’s perfectly fine to do this with a wall in front you. With practice, you’ll quickly grow more comfortable and ditch the wall in no time.

If the pressure of your head on the ground bothers you, feel free to use a small pillow or cushion. However be careful of too thick of a padding because it can interfere with proper positioning and also you may rely on the cushion and place too much weight on your head. Remember most of your weight should be borne on your hands.

A 5-Step Progression to Mastering the Inverted Leg Raise

The basic sequencing for this skill will be pretty much the same for each progression. In this video, I’ll demonstrate the progressions you’ll want to work through to get this skill.

The following are presented in the video, but it’s important to also read them carefully and practice them diligently to get the most out of this great exercise.

Step_Number_1Inverted Leg Raise Step One

  • For the first progression, keep your hips high, in line with your head.
  • Your knees will remain straight, with your toes on the ground.
  • Rock forward and hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Step_Number_2Inverted Leg Raise Step Two

  • For the next progression, the position you’re aiming for is a tripod, with your knees resting on your elbows.
  • First, bring one knee in at a time, alternate for reps.
  • Do 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
  • Then, work up to bringing both knees in.
  • Do 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
  • Next, bring one leg straight up, alternate for reps.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Step_Number_3Inverted Leg Raise Step Three

  • For this progression, you’ll do a tucked raise from the tripod position.
  • Start with your knees straight and toes on the ground.
  • Bend the knees into your chest, then lift the knees (still bent) up over your head.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Step_Number_4Inverted Leg Raise Step Four

  • After practicing the first three steps, you’re now ready to progress to the full tripod headstand.
  • Bend your knees into your chest.
  • Extend your legs straight so that you are in the full tripod headstand.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Step_Number_5Inverted Leg Raise Step Five

  • You made it to the full tripod Inverted Leg Raise!
  • For the final progression, you’ll raise your legs straight up, with a slight bend in your knees.
  • Perform the move slowly and with control.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

The Far-Reaching Benefits of Practicing the Inverted Leg Raise

The performance of this exercise, starting from the lowest stage to the highest level of the skill, cultivates total body strength and coordination. It literally flips you over and makes you work on using your upper body as a stable base upon which to move your lower body.

This is the complete opposite of what we do everyday! As such, it’s a great way to turn things around and build strength in a very different way.

Headstands, and inverted leg raises as a conditioning exercise, are a wonderful segue into handstand training and other bodyweight skills. They help get you used to the disorienting position of being upside down and get you started in finding your balance and equilibrium and learning how to “stack” your body to stay in position with the least effort.

Build Fundamental Bodyweight Skills with Floor One

Image via Christopher Berry