Hang tough – the benefits of hanging
When we were kids, bar hanging was one of our favourite activities. But as we grow older, heavier and less playful, we start to lose interest in the simple things that make us happy and healthy. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the benefits of hanging.
We all spend most of our time hunched over – whether it’s working at a desk, cradling our children, or worse – scrolling through social media. Can you remember the last time you reached over your head? Swinging from bar to bar, without a care in the world? The consequence of this lifelong habit, is that most people struggle to lift their arms above their heads with straight elbows. With less mobility more tension in the shoulders, many other problems arise.
There is an easy way to combat this, and develop our shoulder mobility – for free!
So, what do healthy shoulders look like? We’re looking for pain-free range of motion, with no pinching or catching sensations and good grip strength – Aiming for what we call “straight arm strength.”
- Stand in a room with enough space around you
- Start with your arm by your side and draw full circle with your hand, like doing the backstroke
- Try to keep your arm as close as possible to your body
This circular motion should feel smooth, unhindered and without pain.
Hanging – even without swinging or doing pull-ups, has enormous benefits for our overall health and wellbeing:
Hanging improves grip and forearm strength
Most of us overlook this type of strength. We tend to focus only on the bigger muscles when we train, but unless we train these less predominant muscles, we can’t hold onto something heavy for very long.
Your wrist flexors and extensors are important for your ‘core’ strength, are key in coordinating movements, and they help stabilise you whilst doing free weights and body weight activity.
Hanging increases shoulder blade stabilization
The most common cause of injury to shoulders, is the lack of control or stability the shoulder blade imposes on the whole joint system. By hanging, we can increase the stability of the this awkward-looking piece of hardware on the human body. Now, hanging will not increase the size of your muscles, like lifting weights in the gym, but it will create a strong and stable joint, so you can do more things, with less pain.
Hanging helps facilitate spinal decompression
Sitting, standing, and long static postures create an enormous amount of loading in the spine, compressing the joints. The day-to-day routine of life can be weighing you down, and, of course, gravity itself!
Hanging can be used to decompress the spine, alleviating the stress and pressure created during the day. The benefits not only compliment spinal health, but also improve the in the nerves and other tissues of the body. If you are experiencing some pain or lower back discomfort, it is best practice to get this managed first, then start with your hanging practice as a preventative measure going forward.
Our aim is to improve overall function – things you may lost during our transition into adulthood. By strengthening, the smaller, intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, you will see an increase in both mobility (active range), stability (control) and your overall posture.
Types of hanging exercises
These passive hanging exercises can be done by most people, but if you ran into a few road blocks whilst doing the test (described above), I would suggest doing the test a few times until you feel comfortable. If you suffer from usual discomfort, not pain, and stiffness in the shoulders, then this is for you.
Find a bar, your feet can touch the floor if you need support in the beginning and basically let gravity do the work. You’ll find your shoulder blades want to come together, so try to keep them apart and enjoy the stretching sensations through the arms and body.
- Grip the bar overhand grip, with shoulder width apart.
- Let your body, relax and become ‘limp’.
- Keep your ribcage down, elbows straight and shoulders apart.
- Use your thumb, just like a monkey.
This is great for most people and especially if you have known shoulder instability or recovering from a shoulder injury. (I have dislocated my shoulder a few times and mostly focus on active hanging.)
You want to feel your muscles working, and try your best to keep your whole body in the vertical plane (up and down), for as long as you can. Start in the passive position as you grab the bar, pulling your shoulders down and keeping the elbows locked, without bending. Things to watch out for:
- Don’t bend the elbows.
- Keep the ribcage down and flat – not flaring out to the front.
- Try your best to stay in the vertical plan, no tipping forward or back.
My top hanging tips
- Try to space out your cumulative hang time throughout the day, doing less but more often. The body and brain like to receive intermittent bouts of movement stimulation, instead of big one-time doses.
- Vary your environment, using different bars (thick or thin), throw a towel over to increase grip strength and maybe a tree.
- Most of all, you don’t want to experience pain, but discomfort – especially in the beginning – is absolutely normal.
Now go monkey around!