About Inverted Exercise Machines

By Joan Firstenberg

Inverting yourself is almost like re-inventing yourself. A few minutes each day on an inverted exercise machine, and you may wind up feeling completely refreshed and renewed. Inversion has wonderful benefits, like fresher skin, better health, greater circulation, and more relaxation. But there are also many people who should not invert themselves because of chronic conditions or diseases.

What Is an Inversion Therapy Exercise Machine?

Hanging upside down sounds like fun for kids. But more and more adults are doing it, in an effort to exercise, to look beautiful, and to become more healthy. And, in fact, there are many benefits to looking at the world from the bottom up.

With inversion therapy, you hang upside down by your feet, as your body weight and gravity release all your aches and pains, knots and stiff joints. Doctors do not often prescribe it for treating anything, but some people who use it, say it does a wonderful job of rejuvenating the body. An inversion table is really simply a padded board that you sit on and strap your ankles to at the bottom. Then you lie back, pushing the board backward with your body, rotating your head to the floor, and your feet toward the ceiling. Voila, there you will be, hanging by your feet.

When looking to buy an inversion machine, first make sure that the frame is made from heavy metal, so there will be no accidents while exercising. Another feature you might explore are padded areas, like in the handlebars to make is easier to invert and then return to an upright position. Make sure you can get on and off it easily. Buy a machine that has clearly marked height adjustments so you can get the right fit. The leg locks should fit securely and give you a feeling of security while you're inverted. The frame should ideally have rubber floor protectors on it, to keep you stable and to protect the floor. Some of the leading manufacturers of inversion exercise machines are Teeter, Ironman, Paradigm, and Stamina.

History of Inversion Therapy

Inversion therapy is definitely not new. It actually was used as early as 400 BC by the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, who made use of ropes and pulleys to string up a patient on a ladder to let gravity help him. Then, in the late 1800s, C.A. Sampson presented an inversion device he called the Roman Column. And John Grimek, a famous body builder in the 40's and 50's, let it be known that he trained upside down.

But it was in the early 1960s that California Dr. Robert Martin, an osteopath, a chiropractor and an MD, came up with the "Gravity Guidance System," based on the idea of inverting the patient and letting the effect of gravity do its work. It was the first plain-English explanation of what inversion therapy was all about. Then came the now-famous Joseph Pilates, whose exercise system contains a number of inverted postures.

Nowadays, inversion is a growing phenomenon, both for exercise and for health purposes. Even the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School, which operates on a worldwide basis, has now incorporated inversion into its training doctrine. At Fort Benning in Georgia, Army Rangers wear gravity boots to invert. The goal for them to do this is to heal the damage inflicted on their bodies during their training. The soldiers often stretch while they are upside down to further enhance the effects of inversion.

Benefits of Using an Inversion Exercise Machine

Over the years, many claims, true and false, have been made concerning the benefits of inverted exercise. There have been some reports that it has helped brain-damaged children, or given relief from the symptoms of cerebral palsy, and offered new vistas of spatial awareness for the blind. Many of these claims have not been investigated or approved by the medical community. But for the general public, it is generally agreed that the decompression, mobilization and oscillation of the human skeletal structure might offer many health-related benefits:

  1. It offers a reduction in pain and muscle spasms in common back problems.
  2. You will feel extremely relaxed after inversion.
  3. It improves the body's circulation.
  4. It can decompress inter-vertebral discs simply because you are upside down.
  5. You will find increased spinal mobility.
  6. By inverting, you will automatically be stretching your muscles and ligaments.
  7. Relief for sufferers of painful varicose veins.
  8. Inversion sends more oxygen to the brain.
  9. It offers an increase in rhythm for children suffering from autism or cerebral palsy.
  10. Your spatial orientation will be widened.

Who Should NOT Use Inversion Exercise Equipment?

Inversion is a wonderful experience for many of us, but it's not appropriate for everyone. There are many known health conditions that can prevent a prevent a person from inverting. In most of these cases, the best thing to do would be to check with your doctor about inversion exercise, and see if it can work for you.

If you are taking anti-coagulants (like blood-thinning drugs or aspirin to reduce the clotting of arteries and blood vessels.

People with bone weakness, or recent fractures, and skeletal implants could get worse if they invert.

Heart and circulatory disorders should keep you away from inversion.

If you have suffered hernias, either hiatal or ventral, your diaphragm or abdominal wall may be weak, and vulnerable to inversion.

High blood pressure or hypertension: Doctors say an elevated blood pressure exceeds 140/90. Most medical personnel advise this group not to invert, but some say since it can create a feeling of relaxation, and actually result in a decrease in the heart rate and BP it can be helpful. And there are some physicians who have recommended inversion to treat high blood pressure.

A middle ear infection can cause discomfort or disorientation during inversion. Check with your doctor before doing that.

Extreme obesity can be a problem because the inversion equipment usually has a weight capacity, which should not be exceeded. If you are not above that weight, then invert, by all means.

Pregnant women should be very careful about inversion. Best thing is to check with your doctor or midwife.

People with eye problems, including conjunctivitis (pink eye), and the more serious glaucoma are not recommended for the use of inversion equipment.

Retinal detachment, when the retina, which covers the back part of the eye, separates from the optic nerve, is almost always treated surgically, and inversion is not recommended with this condition.

If you've experienced any severe trauma to your spinal cord, a check with your doctor is a must before inverting.

Stroke victims should be very careful about inversion therapy, depending on their symptoms.

Transient ischemic attack, or a "ministroke," happens when the blood supply is temporarily interrupted to a part of the brain because of a blockage and it can precede the onset of a full stroke. It requires immediate medical attention.

What a Difference Inversion Therapy Can Make!

As children, most of us tried and succeeded in hanging upside down. We used to do it in the playground, dangling by the backs of the knees from a slide or a tree branch. Even before that, our parents might have played with us like we were baby airplanes or rockets, holding us up high in the air. It was a great feeling of freedom, excitement and safety, all rolled up into one fantastic experience. Then, around age 10, we stop all that nonsense, and unless we practice yoga or gymnastics, inversion and its benefits become a thing of the past.

The increasing use of inversion therapy around the world is touching people everywhere. On a UK website recently appeared a post from "Kindred Spirit" magazine, issue 45, December 1998. The author says,

"In the case of inversion therapy the unique feature is the permission to return to the womb and re-experience the feeling of wholeness, safety, trust and nurturing. It is about letting go and falling effortlessly into a place of surrender, to exorcise the past and receive initiation into the future. "I felt like I was giving birth to myself" is occasionally heard after a session as well as "I feel reborn" or "I feel more me".. The trust that occurs between giver and receiver is intense as the experience of total physical support is undeniable and this reflects through all levels of the energy body."

The author says inversion therapy is actually a unique combination of well-known healing principles. They are trust/letting go, balance/alignment, inner journeying, rebirth/transformation, initiation, vulnerability/empowerment, and centering/connection. She says it's a new development in bodywork and healing because it offers the client and the patient an altered state of consciousness and creates a real bond of trust between the two.

In 1998 in the United Kingdom, most of the inversion work was done by a health worker and a client. Now, in the U.S. much of the inversion therapy is done on our own, in our own home. But there is no doubt that the same benefits exist.

About the Author

Born and bred in New York City, Joan Firstenberg has been a journalist for broadcast, print and online since 1997. Her work has been published by the "Wall Street Journal," Fox News and Bloomberg L.P. She holds a bachelor's degree in communication arts and sciences from The City University of New York's Queens College.

Related Articles

More Related