The Amazing Benefits of Hanging – Do This Every Day!

By on April 15, 2022

Hanging is a fundamental human movement.

That is to say, that we all should hang from our arms from time to time, and that this simple activity can right a lot of wrongs: restore lost mobility, improve performance, and prevent shoulder and back pain.

Benefits of hanging

Hanging, as an exercise, is about as simple as it gets. All you need to do is to grab an anchor point (a bar, a tree branch, gymnastic  rings) and then hang from it. Usually, you use a pronated grip. There are a number of subtle tweaks and variations, however, which can alter the precise benefits you’re going to receive. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

But first: why should you be hanging?

Hanging for Spine Health

The first benefit of hanging is that it can decompress the spine. Hanging creates “traction” which helps to create space in the vertebrae, while also improving circulation around the area. I actually had a bit of backache before filming today’s hanging video but all the hanging has pretty much eliminated it!

If you spend a lot of time with huge amounts of weight on your shoulders, this becomes even more important!

Hanging Spinal Decompression

This traction is also great for the wrists and elbows.

Hanging also helps to straighten out the spine and combat kyphosis. This is likely an issue for you if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, or hunched over a phone. A lot of people lack mobility and extension in the thoracic and cervical spine because they’re always in that curved over position. This not only increases risk of injury, it also hampers performance. This makes it nearly impossible to perform a straight handstand, for instance.

I’m still working on both. While I can occasionally do a pretty good handstand, I still fall out of them a lot and have a lot of failed attempts. Shoulder mobility is at least part of the issue, and I’ve noticed some benefits from just a small amount of hanging. Which is why I’m currently ramping it up… big time.

Handstand Shoulder Mobility

The same goes for an overhead squat.

The other issue here, is shoulders. Once again, hanging can help to address this by getting you back in that overhead position. Not only does this restore a position that’s useful for a range of tasks, it also reduces the likelihood of shoulder impingement – and it can even reverse existing issues in this regard.

A Fundamental Human Movement

Dr. John Kirsch claims that hanging can actually physically move the acromion and reshape the coracoacromial-ligament to open up this space and allow for greater, unimpeded movement. This makes a LOT of sense to me. I’ve always wondered why it’s so easy to cause shoulder impingement. Just doing push ups wrong can cause this issue. Why can we so easily get into a position that’s going to hurt us? Seems like some bad evolutionary choices, to me.

Hanging is a Fundamental Human Movement

Unless you acknowledge that we evolved in an environment where climbing and hanging – brachiation – were more common (and sitting was far less so). Thus, primitive man had a physically different structure around this area, and was far less likely to cause injury.

This is why I describe hanging as a “fundamental human movement.” This is something that is conspicuously absent from our modern routines and our bodies are worse off for it. And it’s the perfect antidote to lots of sitting and typing. We should be able to easily get our hands above our heads. That’s why my 3 year old daughter has zero problem with shoulder dislocates. Just as she can squat with ease for minutes at a time.

See also: How the Environment Shapes You

Hanging is the perfect tool to get us back to where we should be at a baseline. We’re rediscovering basic skills we should never as lost. I want to be Batman, Emmy shouldn’t be kicking my ass at this stuff!

It’s also why “movement guru” Ido Portal recommends a challenge where you hang for seven minutes a day to build up the missing mobility and strength. I think this is an excellent tip for beginners.  This is done cumulatively throughout the day, not in one go.

Hang for 7 Minutes a Day

Which makes it another great way to keep moving throughout the day and to be shaped by your environment. Make sure you have some anchor points around your home!

Of course, lots of hanging will also straighten out your posture as a result of all this. A great blog, Petra Fisher Movement, explains how simply forcing shoulders back and puffing your chest back isn’t a great solution to bad posture. All you’re really doing, she argues, is tilting your rib cage to improve the appearance of your posture. It’s a band-aid that doesn’t address the root cause.

Moreover, simply forcing yourself into a better posture is NOT sufficient. You can’t possibly remember at all times to bring your shoulders back. And a little mobility training a few times a week is a very small stimulus compared to all those countless hours spent sitting.

But hanging for minutes a day is a big stimulus. This is enough to help the body re-discover its alignment. How do I explain the fact that primitive man likely didn’t climb all that often once we descended from trees? Simple: it’s much easier to maintain an adaptation than it is to achieve it in the first place. So, you won’t need to spend this long hanging after a while!

Benefits of Hanging for Shoulder Strength

Another reason to hang is to build shoulder strength and stability in an inherently unstable position. This can again reduce the risk of injury and build a lot more strength for a range of other movements.

Hanging Shoulder Strength

This is where the distinction needs to be made between the “dead hang” or “passive hang” and the “active hang.” In dead hang or passive hang, you allow the shoulders to raise up by the ears and try to relax all the muscles as much as possible. This is best for mobility and you should feel that stretch on the pecs and lats. It’s also a great opportunity to practice relaxation and breathing during physical exertion.

In an active hang, however, you depress the shoulders and support your weight slightly. Keep your arms straight, but contract the shoulders to make yourself rigid. This is best for stability and can help with everything from your bench press, to rock climbing.

See also: Building Bulletproof Shoulders: Strength, Mobility, Resilience

Ido and others recommend training a combination of both for optimal results.

Hanging and Grip Strength

More profound still when it comes to your performance, is the amazing work hanging does for your grip. Hold onto a branch or bar after a while, you’ll start feeling the burn in your forearms and your hands.

This translates to a better grip in any lift, which means stronger lifts. It also means a great grip for climbing.

Hanging Grip

Getting Started With Hanging

So, hopefully that’s convinced you. Now, how do you get started?

The key is to build up to this and NOT to work through pain. If you have a painful shoulder impingement, then hanging off of it will only exacerbate the issue. Instead, you should get to a position that you can hang comfortably – potentially while supporting your weight slightly on your feet. As you improve, you can reduce the amount of support you give yourself more and more.

For those with no issues, the aim is to increase your time. Start with the aim of 30 seconds, and then build up from there!

Increasing the Challenge: Hanging Variations

For those that want to take this further, there are lots of cool variations and ways to increase the challenge.

Obviously, you can add weight. My favourite way to do this is by keeping a med ball between my feet, as this adds to the traction moreso than wearing a vest. Hanging from one arm is also an option, if you have the necessary strength.

I also HIGHLY recommend getting outside and doing this on a tree branch. This massively increases the challenge as your hands will likely be at different heights and you’ll probably struggle to get your thumb around the branch. This forces you to grip as you would when climbing anything outside of the gym – making it more akin to a tactical pull up.

Swinging vs Hanging

Sometimes the branch will be wet, too.

Keep in mind that it’s sometimes hard to find the right type of tree, with a nice horizontal branch. I’ve been to woods where I can’t find a single one, so keep your eyes open and make a note of them!

My favorite variations also benefit from the space that a branch offers. For example, traversing the branch sideways is awesome. This is fun, it feels practical, and it requires you to take all your weight on one hand – a great precursor to other things.

Or why not turn around on the spot? You can also lift the legs and hang in a v-sit, in order to engage the abs and hip flexors a little more.

Another great variation is to swing. This can mean swinging side to side, which creates a bigger, dynamic stretch on the lats; or swinging forward and backwards, which is a bigger grip challenge and builds even more shoulder and back mobility. Swinging is loads of fun and it’s great for building up to movements like the parkour lache. Hangs are popular with traceurs in general, so if you want to move like our friend Liam from Parkour Journeys, you need this in your life.

Monkey Bars

Monkey bars are even better for all this stuff.

(Don’t worry, I left as soon as any children arrived. As a parent, I know how annoying it is when youths monopolize the playground. I’m a youth.)

Oh, and did I mention all this is great for the core too? Spend some time hanging and swinging and you’ll feel it in your abs the next day… big time!

So, what do you guys think? Will you be hanging and swinging?

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Blair Chafe says:

    I’m not a doctor, but the shoulder pain i use to have is gone, and this is largely due to hangs, I think. I do a minute at a time.

  2. Mehmet Kaya says:

    Hi. Thanks for this post. Whats your weight and height? And whats your maximum duration for one set, for two hands – pronated dead bar hang?

  3. Daniel says:

    Hey Adam,

    Another great post! I’ve been keeping my eyes open for branches in my back woods and hanging from a bar around work when I can. I really think it’s starting to help with a stiffness I’ve “always had” in my shoulders, so thanks for the tip! I was wondering if any similar benefits could be gained from hanging my torso off the edge of something like my bed. Would it have a similar lengthening effect since gravity would pull my top half towards the floor and my bottom half would remain on the bed?
    I got your functional training and beyond book in just the other day through amazon and loved it. Left you a review too. You’re easily the most insightful fitness persons I’ve ever come across. Keep the good stuff coming my friend 🙂

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