Yes, just hanging from a bar. Dead hands are more than just hanging around!
It might look like you’re just hanging on a bar, but in fact, this exercise has so many benefits. It’s great for everyone from beginner to advanced, no matter your goals.
Dead hangs are an exercise that literally everyone can benefit from, whether you’re a mass monster, a committed CrossFitter or just a morning exerciser… And here’s the best part – In terms of form they’re extremely easy to perform and you can reap all the rewards of dead hangs with only 10~ minutes a week!
The dead hang is a good exercise to practice if you’re training to do pullups from an overhead bar or just want to improve your upper body strength. Dead hangs also help stretch out and decompress the spine. Perhaps, the next time a friend asks you to ‘hang out’ you should consider trying out this simple hanging together!
In this article we’re going to cover everything to do with this hanging exercise: from what it is and its benefits to how to incorporate it into your daily life.
What is a Dead Hang?
What is this hanging business all about I hear you ask? The dead hang is an exercise that requires you to simply hang from an overhead/pull up bar like a dead weight. No repetitions, no pushes or pulls, just a plain, old, simple hang.
As with most exercises, there are variations to make it easier or more challenging. But the standard dead hang requires you only to hold the hanging position over a set amount of time.
Its simplicity does not mean it is only for beginners. There are benefits to be had by everyone, at all fitness levels, from doing this exercise. Read on to find out what they are!
Dead Hang Benefits
From mobility to strength, to gains and muscle elongation – this passive hang exercise has you covered. Here is what you can expect to get out of doing this exercise.
1. Spine relaxation
Most of the activities and movements involved in our modern-day lifestyles compress our spine. Extended periods of sitting, for one! But also, things like carrying heavy objects, squatting, and even sleeping can compress the spine.
Hanging in the dead hang position for even a few seconds at a time is effective in decompressing the spine, i.e. replacing space that has been lost between your bones, joints, and discs in your back. Not only does this relieve back pain and tension, but it is valuable in injury prevention.
2. Stretching the upper body
The dead hang primarily works your upper body. It’s a great stretching exercise for your back, arms, shoulders and abdominal muscles, made possible with the opposite forces of your palms’ grip on the bar and the gravitational pull of the rest of the body.
It releases any sort of stiffness inside the body, which is why playing on monkey bars used to feel so good as a child. The dead hang loosens up the muscles of the upper body.
3. Grip strength
There are a lot of “band-aid fixes” for grip strength, such as the use of weight-lifting gloves, straps, and hooks. But the one true way to increase your grip strength is to … well, grip a bar! Whilst performing a dead hang, you are holding onto a bar and hanging your body weight off it.
Dead hangs are by far the most effective way to increase your grip strength.
Having good grip strength benefits your performance across all exercises where good grip is required, for example, pull ups, rows, deadlifts, rack pulls and lever variation exercises.
4. Improving shoulder health
Hanging in this passive position allows your upper body to fully relax with your arms overhead. Every second spent in this position is working on your shoulder joint range of motion and improving your overall shoulder health.
Many of us are strength and size orientated. Consequently, mobility/range of motion takes a back seat. Doing this exercise will benefit the range of motion through the shoulder joint capsule, which not only allows you to safely perform overhead movements (overhead squats, snatches, and presses), but is key in preventing injury!
5. Increasing shoulder mobility
In a dead hang, the entire weight of the body is held by the arms and given that the arms are connected to your shoulders, how flexible your shoulders are make decide how easy or difficult the activity is for you. If you practice it regularly, it opens up the shoulder muscles and increases their range of motion. This means you can now flex your shoulders across a larger radius, without it feeling like a struggle.
6. Shoulder injury repair
There have been numerous cases of people recovering from shoulder injuries, aches and pains, specifically through the rotator cuff, by simply performing the dead hang.
We are not currently participating in nature intended movement patterns for our shoulders. This leaves us both weak and injury-prone.
So before spending thousands on physio and other corrective measures, give the dead hang a go.
7. Forearm gains
It’s time to ditch the mindless forearm curls and do a few sets of these each week instead. Dead hangs are an excellent way to build both size and strength through your forearms, whilst reeling in other benefits at the same time!
Unlike a forearm curl, your forearms are under tension constantly during a dead hang. If you’re able to perfect your dead hang, i.e. do it over a long period of time, forearm gains (and vascularity) will be yours!
8. Strengthening your core
Core strength is important to do any strength training exercise like push ups, planks or crunches. The dead hang helps improve your core power, as it’s a holistic exercise working all parts of the upper body from the back to the abdomen, from the arms to the shoulders. It increases your strength and endurance overall.
9. Posture correction
Last, but not least – dead hangs are awesome for correcting your posture! Previously touched on in other points above is how dead hangs can strengthen, decompress, loosen, and mobilize your upper body. All four of these factors are major contributors to better posture.
Before spending any money on posture correcting gimmicks (there are SO many), just hang in there. Literally.
How to Correctly Perform the Dead Hang
Correct technique is imperative when doing any exercise effectively and safely. Here’s how to do the perfect dead hang:
- Use a bar at suitable height, preferably a pull up bar. Should you not have access to one, a high racked barbell will work.
- Stand on a bench/steps to easily reach the bar. Leaping up ferociously to grab the bar is not a good start.
- Grip the bar just over shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you).
- Move your feet off the bench/steps so you are hanging.
- Keep your arms straight and relax your body to create a passive/dead weight hanging position.
- Hold for set amount of time.
Tips for Doing Dead Hang Exercise
Even though the dead hang is an easy exercise to get right, there are still a few no-no’s and commonly made mistakes. Here are a few tips and things to avoid when performing this exercise to make sure you get the best results from it.
- Your arms must be DEAD straight, hence “dead hang”. If there is a bend in your elbows, you’re doing it wrong.
- Don’t keep tension in your lats. You need to fully relax your upper body to allow this exercise to work its magic. This coincides with the first point – if you’re bending your arms, chances are you’re engaging your lats too.
- Stay still. If you’re fidgeting or your body is swinging about, the dead hang is no longer a dead hang. Dead, got it?
- Don’t hold your breath. As with any exercise, breathing assists and compliments the movement. Apart from aiding blood flow, concentrated breathing will allow your body to fully relax into the hang.
- Overdoing it will do more harm than good. You shouldn’t be performing this exercise for as long as you can and as often as you can. It is recommended that you perform the dead hang for 3 or 4 sets at 50% – 75% of your maximum hang time, and up to 3 times per week.
Add a Swing
While hanging in a stationary position provides plenty of benefits, adding a swing to your hang can increase the intensity, work different muscles, and add some diversity into your hanging protocol. Begins with two simple hanging swings that lay the foundation for more advanced climbing skills:
- side to side
- front to back
Side to side swing
Begin with an active hang with an overhand grip. Raise your hips and legs to one side. Let gravity pull your lower body back down and swing you to the other side. The momentum you generate for the swing should come entirely from your lower body.
Also try this little addition to your hanging swings: as your legs swing up to the right, lift your right hand off the bar; when they swing to the left, lift your left hand off the bar. This is a movement that serves as the beginning of traversing a bar sideways.
Forward and backward swing
Begin with an active hang. Swing your hips and legs forward. Let gravity swing your lower body back down and to the back. Again, all the momentum should be generated with your lower body. Bring your swing to a stop by lifting your legs up so that they’re perpendicular to the floor. Or you can dismount like a cool dude by letting go at the top of the forward swing.
How to Incorporate Hanging Into Your Daily Life
Besides dedicating training time to hanging, try to find ways you can incorporate this exercise throughout your day.
You can grease the groove with hanging by installing a pull-up bar on a door frame inside your house. Anytime you walk under it, hang from it for 30 seconds.
When you’re out on a walk or a hike, and you see a tree with a killer hanging limb, hang from it!
At the playground with your kids? Hang from the monkey bars!
When your body starts getting stiff and immobile, and you want to get in greater touch with your capacity for movement, just remember to hang in there!
Frequently Asked Questions About the Dead Hang
If you have a few questions about the dead hang, hopefully, you will find most of the answers below.
What muscles does a dead hang strengthen?
There are lots of variations of the dead hang and the muscles worked depend on the version of the exercise you do. In terms of the standard dead hang, it primarily strengthens your hand and wrist flexors, your forearm muscles, your shoulders (specifically your rotator cuffs) and your core stabilizers.
Do dead hangs help pull ups?
A dead hang is an exercise that is commonly used to condition and progress people to being able to do a pull up.
Why? Because it increases your grip strength as well as your shoulder and core stability. Not only does it increase strength and stability, but it aids mobility. And a lack of mobility is one of the biggest hinderances of strength.
How can I improve my dead hang?
By doing it sensibly and consistently. As mentioned in the “don’t do” section above, overdoing it does more harm than good. Practice the dead hang for manageable amounts of time, and a few times per week as opposed to smashing them out until failure at every opportunity.
What is a good dead hang time to aim for?
I’m not a fan of questions like this, as in my opinion, it’s totally irrelevant. However, this is one of the “FAQ’s” surrounding dead hangs, and I said I was here to answer them! There are many contributing factors to what a good dead hang time for YOU to aim for would be. For example, current strength, height, weight and arm span.
A good dead hang time to aim for is more than the time you were able to do last week. Here’s a fun fact for you though: the world record for the longest dead hang time is… wait for it… 1 hour, 12 minutes and 18 seconds.
Are dead hangs good for your back?
Dead hangs are great for your back! The spinal decompression and lengthening of the upper back muscles that the dead hang provides contribute majorly to back health and injury prevention.
Who would have thought that simply hanging around could be so complex and rewarding? If you’re not already doing this exercise, I hope this article has inspired you to add it into your workout regime.
Regardless of your fitness goals or what sport you are involved in, the dead hang will have a positive effect on your performance and functionality. It is the answer to many strength and mobility related questions.
And whether you’re a novice to the workout world or a seasoned gym-goer, the dead hang is for you.