Finding Alignment Upside Down
Finding Alignment Upside Down
Not too long ago I wrote a post teaching you how to structure your own workout. Specifically, I focused on how I helped my friend build strength in her handstand. If you’re struggling to figure out where your body is in space when you’re inverted it can be SUPER helpful to know what is going on, so you can figure out how to address any issues you might be having.
You have to use your legs for leverage and play around and explore the positioning. Most of the time we tend to hyperextend in our back and throw our legs too far behind us, this is especially true when we are kicking up to a wall. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to hold my tongue while watching people perform handstand holds and handstand push-ups against a wall at the gym, silently thinking “you’re never going to get off that wall with your ribs popping out…” *sigh*.
Like I said this is a SUPER common fault, and for most of us it comes from one of two things:
Our bodies natural instinct to find balance when we are bringing our legs behind us
Our tight shoulders that make it difficult for us to get into a good overhead position, consequently forcing us to “sacrifice” our thoracic spine and pop those ribs forward.
Can you stand with your back totally FLAT against a wall while bringing your arms overhead, and generate any pressure against that wall?
Give it a try. Put your arms overhead, push the back of your hands and triceps into the wall. It’s not as easy as you think. Watch that video if you need more guidance. If you have trouble with this, I’m willing to bet your HANDSTAND is suffering.
How do you avoid all that shoulder tightness getting in your way while figuring out what your SPINE should be doing?
Give the HEADSTAND a try. This position won’t force you to compensate for tight shoulders because they are put at ease, just a bit more than when in a handstand. Your overall lever length will be shorter too, because instead of being on your hands, you’re on your forearms. Shorter levers are easier to manage. The longer the lever, the more force you need to move it!
So you're either working on your handstand, or your headstand, but either way, let’s talk about what the torso is doing here. You want your body to be in a fairly straight line, a little extension is necessary, but you better be sure you’ve got your abdominals all fired up too, or your back is not going to be too pleased about this. Watch the video and I'll walk you through this, and then continue reading below so you can dive in a little deeper and help you feel right side up when you're upside down!
If you check out the still pictures below, you can see exactly how my body faults from one side to the other.
Picture One: I reach back TOO FAR with my leg in an effort to find balance, this causes me to hyperextend my back a bit, and I don't have the ability to really use my abs to support my body.
Picture Two: I find a vertical line and correct my spine, reaching my tailbone towards the ceiling. I'm still extended in my back, but much less compressed.
Picture Three: In an effort to correct my initial fault, I passed right through that vertical position. I over corrected and my leg is now forward of my body, still not vertical.
Picture Four: Finally, I've found that straight line, reaching my entire body, especially though my torso and tailbone, towards the ceiling to allow my to squeeze pretty much everything and brace into that shape.
Here's a closer look into a few of these positions:
I reach back TOO FAR with my leg in an effort to find balance, this causes me to hyperextend my back a bit, and I don't have the ability to really use my abs to support my body. The pink lines show you the direction my torso vs my leg are going in, the blue line helps you to see just how much I've sacrificed my lower back to allow my leg to get that far behind my body. Because the leg is attached to the torso through the front of the hip at the psoas if you pull your leg far enough behind you, you'll eventually force your pelvic to tilt out of the optimal position and into an anterior pelvic tilt.
IN ENGLISH: your low back compresses, collapses, and you can't balance.
This is my favorite picture. Why? Because I'm a physiology nerd. But also because I'm demonstrating a "hollow body" position that's seen across lots of super functional movements. What do pull-ups, tricep dips, push-ups, planks, and any (well executed) ab work have in common? THE HOLLOW BODY POSITION. This shape is an example of using your abs to brace your spine... but if you go TOO far into this shape when you're upside down, you'll still end up falling over. The trick is keeping the TORSO hollow, while still allowing the leg to reach vertical. Tricky, tricky... the body is amazing.
*PS: I'm not in a perfect hollow body shape, my ribs are poking out a bit... but I promise I'm fighting it as much as I can!
IN ENGLISH: while it might be harder to balance here, it can be done, and overall it's a much safer way to practice getting upside and building your strength towards good movement patterning.
PS: If you look at this sideways... what do you see??? Your good old, tried and true, ab series movements! So keep practicing nailing those and it WILL transfer over. Even if you aren't ready to go upside down quite yet!
Ok, so I think we've dissected the upside thing enough for one week. Another "alignment upside down" post will be coming soon with more detailed info on how to work on these positions and find your alignment, without worrying about falling over and crash landing on your face (which totally won't happen, by the way!)
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Ashley is a Pilates instructor and entrepreneur in NYC who specializes in biomechanics and exercise nutrition for women. She uses the science behind exercise physiology to empower her clients to lead healthy, happy lives. Her passion project is writing “The LEAN Life Newsletter” which goes out every Tuesday and focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Active recovery, and Nutrition and serves as the backbone for her L.E.A.N. Life online health and fitness programs. She aims to get this information into the hands of as many women as possible so they can feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. For more information head to AshleyBrownPilates.com or @AshleyBrownPilates on instagram, or click here to get on the L.E.A.N. Life List!