With the rise in popularity of inversion tables, I thought it would be helpful to include and define a list of the top terminology used today when talking about inversion therapy equipment. This has to be the single biggest fear holding most potential inversion table buyers back from making an informed decision. The fact that they are about to purchase a product described with words they don’t clearly understand.
[toc]After all, the internet is full of hype claiming one table is better than another because of this feature or that. When you combine this problem with the fact that most online user reviews are more about how it felt to try the inversion process, rather than telling you if the bed they bought really had the right parts to give them the best possible user experience. They simply talk about how it felt to hang upside down, or worse they tell you the table didn’t work at all because they bought it never reading how to get the best experience out of using it. That’s why you’re here first.
Let me set the record straight for you here. If you find the right inversion table, the one that best fits your space, budget, and above all expected user habits, you will have an amazing user experience no matter your age, or health condition. (provided that you don’t have any health concerns to warrant not using inversion therapy) When I get on my inversion table I will often bring my kindle reader along and simply lay back, relax, and read for a while it’s that relaxing. Two notes here, always stretch first to prepare the muscles and ligaments for the effects of inversion and second, understand that with a properly set up balance on your table, you will not be going to any specific inversion angle, just wherever you land that feels comfortable to decompress the spine and adjoining tissues.
So let’s talk about the most common terminology used to describe inversion table parts and functions.
We were meant to walk the earth in an upright position. Now this is actually a very good thing but gravity is always working against us and that is why so many people suffer needlessly from back pain. During normal day to day life gravity is always pressing down on our spine. This causes pressure on the discs or spaces between the vertebrae and over time this can lead to many forms of degeneration, pinched nerves, and eventually pain.
Decompression is the process of taking that pressure off the spine and allowing it to stretch back out in order to let a natural healing effect take place. During Decompression the spaces between the vertebrae are able to receive more fluids which can aid in the natural repair of tissue as well as helping heal inflamed tissue in the disc area. Regular decompression sessions twice a day will lead to significant healing effects of surrounding tissues.
Inversion angle is probably the single most confusing term used when talking about any inversion table. First off, every inversion table is capable of going into full inversion or pivoting until the head of the table points straight down. You will read terms like 180-degree inversion or more commonly 135 or 140-degree inversion by mistake. What I mean here is that the person writing that description started from where the foot rest was when you climb on and created an arc until the foot rest pointed straight up which is typically 135 degrees.
Here is how you determine the real inversion angle. The term inversion begins when the head reaches a point where it is lower than the feet, think straight across or like laying on the bed you sleep on. From this point each degree the head pivots farther down becomes a degree of inversion. So when the head is pointing straight down the user is in a 90-degree inversion. This is why many correct descriptions call out 20 40 60 or 80 degree inversions.
One last note that relates to above where I stated that any bed can go into full inversion. Since this process is about a pivoting balance, reaching full inversion is not a simple process and requires extreme settings to achieve. Most people will find their use limited to a maximum of about 80 degrees of inversion unless they make specific adjustments to the roller hinges (see below) and set the height adjustment to a shorter setting to make the table balance top heavy.
Angle Locking Device
Many newer inversion table models offer some form of angle locking device. An angle locking device works similar to a safety tether in that it limits the angle of inversion to whatever degree setting you lock in before mounting the table. A good example of a unit with an angle locking device is the Innova Fitness ITX9600 Inversion Table which has a hinge mounted angle lock you set to 20 – 40 – 60 – 80 degrees. This type of table works well for someone who wants a simple to set angle adjustment. But keep in mind that this device does not lock the table at the incline, it only keeps it from going beyond the setting.
A breaking gear system works differently than an angle locking device. If you select a table with breaking gear you will set the maximum angle with an attached tether strap and then once you reach the point of incline you are comfortable with, you simply reach for the locking handle and set the brake. From this point the table will not pivot until you release the break handle. A breaking device is most useful if your plans include doing a workout routine like sit-ups, crunches, back arching stretches, or even inverted squats while on your machine.
Locking Out or Lockout
Locking out or being in a state of lockout refers to a term often used by someone wanting to be able to perform some form of workout or extended stretching routine while inverted. In order to perform many workout movements the bed must be in a state of non-movement so as not to work against your efforts. Some tables can achieve a state of lockout by simply inverting to a position just beyond 90 degrees, but as mentioned above, this can be very challenging to achieve. If you desire a machine that can achieve lockout easily for daily use, then I recommend shopping for a table with some form of breaking gear.
Safety Tether Strap
Every inversion table has some form of inversion degree safety limit system. For most units this is in the form of a safety tether strap. The safety tether is a simple to adjust nylon strap that usually connects one end to the back of the foot rest area and the other end to the center of the lower frame cross member. As the name implies, the strap will limit how far around the table bed can swing during use.
It’s worth noting here that the core design of an inversion table is to achieve an almost perfect balance. This means adjusting the height settings up or down, possibly 1 or 2 steps above or below your regular height until you find perfect balance of your body mass on the pivot points of your table. (On my table I use a 6’-0” setting even though I’m only 5’-10” tall to achieve perfect balance) Once you have set your table correctly you will be able to simply lay back and the table will gently swing back and come to rest at a point that feels like you are simply floating in air.
This is why I point out that if you set your bed up correctly, this safety tether strap may never have any tension on it at all. It’s just there in case your adjustment is not set correctly and being top heavy the unit wants to keep reclining.
Roller hinges refer to a popular part of the pivot adjustment bar. This is a metal bar that joins the table assembly with the frame pivot point. There is one located on each side of the table frame. The bar has a pivot rod on one end and usually 3 or 4 holes’ space apart on the other end. Teeter calls their assembly a roller hinge because the user has an adjustable hinge that allows them to switch their table between different hole settings. (see chart for settings) Many other brands require you to set one hole setting during assembly and disassemble part of the machine to change this setting.
As an example, setting the outer most hole will cause a wider arc when the table swings and is considered a beginners setting. This setting will also not allow the table to go into full inversion. As shown in the chart above, the closest setting to the pivot rod will allow the table to arc the quickest and also will allow it to go into full 90-degree inversion.
Inversion Table Ankle System
The ankle system of any inversion table takes into account 3 major areas that all affect the user experience to different degrees. They are the padding system that presses against the ankle, the type of locking system used to hold the feet in place, and the platform you stand on when mounting the inversion table.
Ankle Padding System
The first and most talked about section has to do with the type of padding system used to hold the ankles in place. Since this can have a great effect on user comfort. The ankle padding system consists of pads that press against the rear of the ankle just above the heel and pads that press against the front of the foot between the ankle and top of the foot. There are two basic types of ankle padding used today. The most basic pad design is a simple round roller pad that slides over the metal tube and presses to form around the ankle where it makes contact. The better and more comfortable design is what I refer to as a cuff style ankle pad which wraps around the surface applying pressure more evenly around the foot.
It’s no surprise that the original gravity boots were of the cuff wrap around style because the wearer was supporting all their weight by their ankles in those boots. So if full inversion, or supporting all your weight by your ankles is in your future, you need to find an inversion system that uses a full cuff design ankle support system front and back.
Ankle Locking System
The next part of the ankle system is the locking and release mechanism. The most basic models use a spring loaded pin that you simply pull and then use your other hand to slide the T-bar holding the front ankle support snug against the front of your foot. Once there, release the pin to lock in place. See this on the Teeter Hang Ups EP 560 Inversion Table. For an easier to use option consider a palm activated ratchet type lock that engages and disengages with a one handed action. Check out the Ironman Gravity 4000 Inversion Table to learn more. If low back pain is a concern, then consider the palm activated model because of the extended handle which allows getting in and out without bending over so far.
Ankle Assembly Foot Platform
The last part of the ankle support system is the foot bed platform. This is usually a flat steel platform that you step onto before going into inversion. One nice feature of the Teeter EP series of inversion tables is their flip over foot bed. It is designed so that the user can rotate the platform 180 degrees which creates a surface 1 inch closer to the ankle pads. This is great if you switch back and forth between wearing shoes or not as it takes up the gap left with no shoes on.
Inversion or Gravity Boots
Gravity or inversion boots were where it all began. Those boots had to wrap comfortably around the ankle to distribute the users entire weight while inverted. I am mentioning them here because inversion table creator Teeter who also created some of the first inversion or gravity boots, still offers a system in their EP 560 Sport table that lets the user swap out the front ankle pads for a set of Hang Ups inversion boots. For anyone who plans on extensive workouts this option gives you the most comfortable ankle workout option available. These boots are probably not the answer for most casual user because of the extra work involved in using them.
Folding vs Fixed Frames
Many people are looking for a system that they can fold up and store away when not in use. To this I caution you that while most popular inversion tables will fold for storage, the shear bulk and weight of their design makes daily set-up and take down a bad idea. If you are set on a unit that can be folded down to store daily, then I encourage you to check out a model like the Teeter EP 560 which is well built, folds flat to 17 inches tall and weighs in at about 68 lbs, which weight wise is on the low side for quality tables.
If you are shopping for an inversion table to be used in a home gym or exercise room, one that will remain set up all the time, then consider a fixed frame unit like the Ironman ATIS 4000 Inversion Table which features a solid frame rated for a user weighing up to 325 lb. and also includes a 10 position (AB Inversion Training System) breaking gear system. This unit weighs in at a solid 111 lbs. and is designed for an all-around intensive workout as well as full inversion therapy.
Acupressure nodes are an advance therapy option designed for the Teeter EP series inversion tables. These are small plastic rounded nodules that the user places so they meet certain pressure points on the back for use during decompression. These nodes lock into long slots located up and down the table and the user simply places the desired size node in place and locks it with a quarter turn.
Lumbar Pad or Bridge
Many inversion table users find the prefer some form of additional lumbar support to help maintain correct back arch during decompression. The simplest way to achieve this is through the use of an adjustable pad or plastic bridge Teeter Lumbar Bridge that mounts to the table allowing the user to position higher or lower for comfort.
Far Infrared Heat Therapy
Today you have the option of adding infrared heat therapy to your inversion experience as a way of loosening tight muscles with the added heat therapy. Models are offered that have the infrared heat feature built right into the bed and Teeter offers an add-on cushion for their EP series tables that gives the user a 10 motor massage system with 2-unit infrared heat system.
As I mentioned in the beginning, understanding the terminology of features available to you is one of the most important parts of finding the right inversion table for your needs. If you still have questions about how something works, then leave me a comment in the form of a question here and I’ll get back to you quickly with an answer.
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