Do you even HANG bro?
Well, do you? Sisters too, not just bros, If you do, read on for a pat on the back, and you’ll feel mighty proud of yourself, as well as collect a couple of new ideas. If not, let’s see if we can’t inspire you to action, so you can enjoy the benefits of hanging around too.
The benefits of a good hang are many and varied, from improvements in posture and grip strength, reductions in back pain and injury, getting that upper body you’ve been chasing, to improving thoracolumbar function or being able to do that muscle up. Hanging, of some description, is for EVERY body and some big names in our industry are all recommending it. For example Ido Portal, Katy Bowman and Mike Fitch to name a few. In fact, I asked Mike himself about hanging, and he kindly offered this response:
I’m a big believer that our ability to hang, climb and swing is equally as important as our ability to walk, run and crawl. Similar to quadrupedal locomotion, brachiating comes down to information and load variability. Having the entire body move around the fixed point of the arm during brachiation is a very different sensory/motor response than moving the arm around the body. This closed chain scenario is generous with proprioceptive feedback and information. Just the act of hanging allows our body to experience our load in a way that’s very different from our day to day existence.
Where it starts
Let’s start with us as children. At a 2015 conference, West Australian author on parenting, Maggie Dent, revealed an incredible statistic; children today exhibit a 20% decrease in “arm strength” compared to 25 years ago. She and Nature Play WA attribute to less time spent in outdoor play (think: tree climbing) and the removal of monkey bars from playgrounds on health and safety grounds (they are now hastily returned to playgrounds across the country).
(Image from kcet.org)
Immediately this triggers alarming thoughts of the knock on effects into adulthood – poor stability through the shoulders and thoracic region. Also a tendency towards kyphotic posture leading to decreased breathing efficiency and associated health risks; increase in reliance on other areas of the body meaning everything from neck and low back problems, all the way through to such things as knee injuries and plantar fasciitis. Sound familiar?
Whether you attribute this to lack of outdoor play, too much sitting, screen time, sedentary working practices or pure laziness, it’s important to be aware you can change this. A complete understanding of the body is helpful here.
(Images from Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers, 2001)
As Thomas Myers has shown, our soft tissues are intimately connected, and body-wide. Think less of us as 600 individual muscles with different roles, and more of one muscle in 600 fascial (connective tissue) bags, within a larger, whole human shaped bag. There are distinctions in areas of soft tissue, meaning chains of muscle and fascia which form, to all intents and purposes, elastic bands up and down, as well as across, the body, from top to toe and finger tip to finger tip. All these elastic bands interact, and in an ideal world, slide and glide across each other. Now imagine the top end of several of those elastic bands, around the thoracic spine and shoulders, either glued, tied in knots, or overstretched and hanging at full length. Less than ideal. But it’s happening to a huge majority of us.
This situation creates compensations throughout the body, not just locally in the neck and shoulders, but EVERYWHERE. So what, I hear you ask, has hanging got to do with this? While there’s no such thing as a one-stop shop for ultimate health and fitness, hanging from different structures, following proper guidelines can be incredibly useful.
- Helps grip. Adequate grip strength can reduce stress on shoulders, so anything that improves grip, without creating compensations, is desirable. For any racquet, stick or bat sports, it’s essential.
- Increases wrist and arm strength, with improvements in mobility when multi-directional brachiation (locomotion, swinging) is involved.
- Improves shoulder mobility with concurrent improvements instability of the shoulder – Dr John Kirsch, orthopaedic shoulder surgeon, in his book, ‘Shoulder Pain? The solution & prevention’ (2010) calls hanging from a bar and light weight lifting the answer to “most shoulder problems” and prescribes a protocol of bar hanging and resistance training. Very few require the surgery expected as a result.
- Improves thoracic spine mobility
- Helps with ‘decompression’ of the spine, using gravity and body weight to create space between the vertebrae.
- – i.e., strength gains.
- Is simple and safe to introduce into daily life.
First, ascertain your starting point:
- In pain right now – consult a professional for advice
- Exercising but not able to hang full body weight
- Exercising with the ability to hang full body weight
- Well conditioned and looking for improvements and challenge
Categories 2 & 3
Assuming category 1 are off seeing an associated health professional, let’s take you guys through some introductory hangs.
Start with your feet on the floor and find something (a vertical or horizontal structure) to hang from at between head and chest height. Take hold and drop your body away, maintaining length in the spine. Allow your arms to lengthen and straighten, but don’t hyper-extend at the elbows.
Hold for 10 seconds to start with, and repeat several times either now, or through the day.
Build up the time to 40 seconds. Then add a lateral hip shift to the time spent hanging low. Once you can comfortably do this, try pelvic rotations each way for the duration.
As you feel yourself strengthen, try holding your structure lower down, so you can let more weight drop into your arms. Once you ‘own’ all this hanging and movement, then move into category 4.
So you’re able to do all of the above and looking for more. Choose a structure which will hold your bodyweight, and that has something you can grip. Hold on and let your feet lift off the ground and just feel yourself lengthen and open. You may find yourself enter into a gentle swing as you lift your feet. Don’t be in any hurry to control things. Stop when your hands/arms/shoulders get tired and recover and go again. Now create a lateral swing and let the lats
- Angle of grip – from internal to external rotation of the shoulders, to height changes
- Thickness of gripping point – vary how narrow or ‘fat’ your structure is
- Uniformity of gripping point – try tree branches, natural structures with every grip point different to the last
- Uniformity of angle on gripping point – as above only don’t look for horizontal grips, look for angle changes according to your wrist mobility
- The durability of skin on hands and arms – don’t do too much too soon! Your skin will guide you.
Keeping all these points in mind, now you can:
- Hang on a single arm
- Hang from the crook of the elbow plus back knee
- Hang from elbow only
- Brachiate, literally swing from non-uniform point to non-uniform point
- Locomote, travelling with hands and feet point to point
- Hang and ward with a partner, gently at first, trying to ‘encourage’ loss of grip through easy pushes and pulls with hands or feet
- Finally hang and wrestle, all out for victory!
Things to remember
- If you have pain, stop immediately and consult your chosen health/movement professional
- Be aware of both passive and active hanging, as we need both. Start passive, gripping firmly with the hands but letting go completely through the shoulders. Active hangs where you pull your shoulders down with a straight arm is a progression; a strength move if you will. Ido Portal extends these principles in his 7 minutes hanging challenge (2014)
- At first, this will be a new stimulus to the body and can create more DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) than you expect in the days that follow a good hanging session
- Progress yourself gradually – your muscles will strengthen quickly, within a few weeks but fascia changes slowly, over months and years
- Depending on your goal, hang frequently. For fascial mobility, posture and reductions in discomfort through the neck and spine, a lightly loaded (i.e., light for you) session every day is perfect. Kate Lundon (2007) when studying the effect of mechanical loading on connective tissues concluded that there are both “immediate and long term sustained effects” from doing so. You’ll feel better straight away but notice improvements over time too.
For improvements in strength, treat hanging like any other strength workout and add into your schedule two or three times per week.
- Have fun – this should mimic a return to childhood play, the benefits of which are well documented, from physical development to cognitive skills. Involving a friend in your hanging sessions will always create happiness. Taking it outdoors into nature is the ultimate experience!
Enjoy your hang time everyone, JP
Thomas Myers, Anatomy Trains 2001 Buy the book here http://www.anatomytrainsaustralia.com/store/9-anatomy-trains
Dr John Kirsch, ‘Shoulder Pain? The solution & prevention’ 2010 listen to his explanation here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae9nW7acekk
Kate Lundon, The Effect of Mechanical Load on Soft Connective Tissues, 2007 in ‘Functional Soft Tissue Examination and Treatment’ Warren I Hammer http://www.areazenit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/schleip2003.pdf
Ido Portal Hanging blog, 2014 http://www.idoportal.com/blog/hanging
Wild Movement Perth www.wildmovement.com.au