Exercises for Inversions (Bent Arm!)

Updated: May 3, 2019

As a beginner aerialist, once you’ve gotten your climbs and footknots down, being able to invert is the next big strength feat. That is, if you do vertical apparatuses. If you are on a bar you’ll have to learn to invert much sooner in order to mount!


Getting your inversion, and I mean either inverting in the air or VERY controlled from the ground (no feet, no hoisting) can take a really long time. I’ve seen it take students years to get a solid inversion. It takes a lot of strength in muscle groups you probably haven't typically worked unless you were a former gymnast, lift weights, or do CrossFit. And it can take a long time to build up the strength if you are not targeting the muscles properly.

So lets analyze it a bit. Most people starting out think it’s a “core” movement. I hear students all the time say “oh I need to work on my core” as they struggle with the inversion. Not here to argue semantics and on the word "core", but students are typically referring to ab strength when they make this comment. Your ab muscles (and there are 4 groups) help control the flexion of the spine, rotation of the torso, and side bending while stabilizing your trunk and controlling your breathing.


Does the inversion require core/ab strength? Yes, to an extent. You are bringing your knees to your chest (for a bent knee version - otherwise you’re lifting your whole leg for the straight leg version) and then you are tucking your pelvis or rolling it under/up. So this is that spinal flexion I mentioned above.


Your back muscles are the real heavy hitters of this movement though. And most people’s weak points come at 1 of these 3 parts of the inversion that I'm outlining below. I'm also adding a slow-mo video where I explain all of these parts in case you are more visual than verbal (*raises hand*).


  1. The bent arm hang This is sort of the precursor to the inversion. You need the strength to execute the hang before you can really successfully move on to inverting. Here our lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps and a whole bunch of other tiny muscles work to hold you up vertically against gravity’s downward pull.

  2. The horizontal front lever point This is the point where your arms are totally straight and your body is horizontal. Thankfully you only briefly pass through this position. As you get closer and closer to this lever point, your body is forced to work harder and harder. This is because in the inversion, the lever is the point of most disadvantageous leverage; your mass is farthest from your holding point. If you are weak here, you’ll feel gravity aggressively pull your booty down and your arms straighten, prohibiting you from tipping upside down.

  3. The final lift This is where you finish the last of the tipping and pull your arms in completely to get fully upside down. If you’re weak in this part you'll look droopy in the air or maybe only be able to hold yourself upside down briefly before getting pulled out.


As you can see, there are a lot of big parts to inverting - it's no easy task! We are going to have to strengthen a lot of muscles to get there. So let's take a look at some specific exercises. I've given exercises you can do in the aerial studio or a traditional gym to give you some options. You don't have to do all of these exercises in one day - in fact, you typically don't want to hit a single muscle group hard more than 2 days a week. These exercises are just meant to be a sample of some things you can pull from to increase your strength for this movement.


As always, the prescribed workouts will be notated as sets x reps or sets x (rep range). For the studio exercises, If you can't do that many reps just work up to it. The videos to the right show the exercises.





Studio Exercises

  1. Bent knee raises 3 x 10 Rest 30s - 1 min The progression for these is in a hammock, straight arm, then bent arm

  2. Bent arm hang 3 x max hold Rest 30s - 1 min

  3. Jumping pull ups w/ slow negative 3 x (2-5) Rest 1 min

  4. Inverted rows (Really helps with the second part of the invert) 3 x (5-10) Rest 1 - 2 min

  5. Pistons (Really helps with the third part of the invert) 3 x (5-10) Rest 30s - 1 min




Gym Exercises

  1. Lat Pull Down 3 x (8-12) Rest 1 - 2 min

  2. Face Pulls 3 x (8-12) Rest 1 - 2 min

  3. Inverted Row (Really helps with the second part of the invert) 3 x (5-10) Rest 1 - 2 min

  4. 3 Point row 3 x (8-12) each arm Rest 1 - 2 min


For the gym exercises, choose a weight that allows you to complete the prescribed number of reps. Too easy? Go up in weight! Can't finish? Take a few pounds off and work up (no shame!!!) Check out this post for more info on how to choose your weights at the gym!


Want more individualized lessons and programming? I'm available for private lessons. Shoot me an email to info@vitalmovementatl.com or send me a message on social media.


Happy inverting!

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Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for working with a trained coach! You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Vital Movement from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Vital Movement.

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