The concept of inverting is often used in sport jiu jitsu as a way to preserve guard, sweep and/or attack an opponent’s leg. While it is a useful movement for competitors is it safe? The safety of the technique is based on two principles: The proper technical skill and having adequate mobility to perform without compensation.
Mobility requirements to invert safely:
The key to reducing injury is having sufficient spinal mobility. The goal is to roll over the shoulders which requires thoracic and cervical flexion. The neck needs to bend enough so there is minimal load on the cervical spine.
Injury risk: Insufficient spine mobility, either neck or upper body will cause unnecessary stress on the cervical spine. Too much time spent in the inverted position leads to an increased likelihood of injury. If you are going to invert quickly transition to the next position.
Exercises to improve cervical mobility:
Global cervical controlled articular rotations. Slow rotations at your maximum pain-free range of motion.
Exercises to improve thoracic mobility:
Global thoracic controlled articular rotations. Slow rotations at your maximum pain-free range of motion.
Cat cow / Segmental Cat cow
Having the kinesthetic awareness to isolate spinal movement is the first step of mobility. As mobility improves stabilize will be required in these new ranges. Controlled active movement is the first step in developing stability. The goal for both end positions is to have equal motion at each segment. Often when people perform this movement there are hinges where large amounts of movements occurs and flat lines where no movement occurs.
Proper Inversion Technique:
Basic inversion drill: Granby roll. This is an old school wrestling drill. Focus on rolling over the shoulder blades.
Intermediate inversion drill: Sit-up guard. Control one leg and invert/roll to the other leg.
Do you need to invert for competition? Absolutely not, but the ability to invert opens up sweeps, position maintenance and leg attacks. As a healthcare professional I may recommend avoiding this position with a pre-existing neck injury.