Hanging (Dead Hang) for Health, Essential Bodyweight Exercise
Updated: May 1
For some the first step to completing a pull-up is a dead hang, for others the dead hang is a fantastic stretch. For these two reasons alone, everyone can benefit from hanging. As a foundation of many ‘pull exercises’ the dead hang also provides additional benefits for those looking to improve their strength and health. Grip strength has even been identified as a proxy for longevity although, unfortunately, simply squeezing a hand grip or tennis ball to get strong will not suffice.
Before we start, a word of caution: always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine and always work-out within your limits. A personal trainer can also help with technique and specific skills.
From opening a jar of cherries to carrying heavy shopping bags, a strong grip is useful at any stage of life. This is especially true as one ages and age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) commences from the ‘40s onwards. Developing and maintaining a strong grip is vital to maintaining independence in later years.
Muscle groups worked during a dead hang include the forearms, shoulders, upper back and core. Aside from developing a strong grip, all these muscles are important for general strength and health. Building grip strength and conditioning the hands is the first step towards doing pull-ups: full pull-ups if you are able or inverted (Aussie) rows if you are not. These are basic and important ‘pull exercises’ that are needed to perform functional pulling actions, a sometimes neglected part of training regimens.
Spinal Decompression and Upper Body Stretch
Using gravity to decompress the spine and stretch muscles is a great way to relieve stress from an awkward posture, sitting too long at one; desk. For most of our day the body and spine are compressed, hanging provides relief from this. Plus, after a workout, a dead hang is a useful stretch. If you are feeling tight try hanging for 30 to 60 seconds. A dead hang will stretch out your arms, shoulders, pecs and back muscles. This can help you to have better posture and to feel more relaxed.
Rotator cuff injuries are common to the shoulder. A dead hang can relieve the pain by opening up the upper back and shoulder area, stretching out the muscles.
How to Hang
If you’ve not hung out recently, gently grab onto the bar. Use an overhand grip, curling your hand over the bar. Do not jump-up and put yourself under sudden tension and strain.
Get used to hanging and maintaining a grip. If you’ve not done this in a while it can be hard. If you are unable to hang for more than 10 seconds, try an assisted hang. Keep your feet on the floor to reduce the load until you are strong enough. Use a lower parallel bar with yo9ur feet on the ground, rather than the high bar. Gradually work up to a minute or 90 seconds of hanging, at a time.
If you have made progress with a passive hang, an ‘active hang’. There are numerous online resources that show correct form and progressions, especially for beginners. Find your baseline and work safely up from there. Remember to rest sufficiently between workout days. If it takes a couple of days for any soreness to go, and for you to feel back to normal, then take a couple of days to recover.
Hanging is an accessible exercise; most gyms or outdoor exercise areas are likely to have a bar to hang from. At home a pull-up bar is a simple, easy to install (and to remove) item and can be purchased cheaply.
As important as it is to do pull exercises, and a dead hang is the first exercise that many to start with, push exercises (e.g. push-ups) are equally important. As are squats for leg strength. Proper diet, nutrition and sleep are all vital for growth and recovery. To make maximum progress and justify the investment of your time and energy, do not ignore these other elements of your health.
Strength training is essential for long-term health, it cannot be ignored. Alternatives to traditional calisthenics exercises such as push-ups include yoga or animal flows. These provide excellent workouts that involve strength, mobility and flexibility. Not sure what exercise you want to do or might enjoy? Experiment. Sign-up to local trial classes, meet new people, explore the opportunities and have fun!
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