Even if you haven’t hung on the monkey bars since elementary school recess, you may be inspired to hit the nearest (pull-up) bar again soon. While the exercise known as “dead hangs,” which involves simply hanging with straight arms from an overhead pull-up bar, isn’t a new move, the exercise is gaining popularity.Willspace is a fitness studio in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood that incorporates hanging into their classes, and other gyms are starting to pick up on the trend.
“Hanging has many benefits, as it stretches the spine, improves the grip and forearm strength, and helps with shoulder health,” a publicist for Willspace said in an email. “You’re not just stretching, in other words. Your full body gets involved in a strengthening and lengthening combo.” For anyone who spends their days hunched over a computer or a phone, hanging is a great way to create space between the discs in the back so you can stand a bit taller and straighter, and maybe even carry less tension in the shoulders.
If you don’t want to shell out major cash to go hang in a group fitness class or with a personal trainer (one class at Willspace will run you$40), you could always hang at home if you have a secure bar, at your gym, or even at a playground.
To correctly hang and avoid injury, Nicolle Harwood-Nash, afitness blogger and trainer, says to make sure your palms are facing away from you, and that your hands are shoulder-width apart. You’ll also want to step up to the bar using a chair or bench, so you don’t have to jump, which can injure the back. Keep your arms straight, and hang for ten or so seconds if you’re new to the exercise. You can gradually increase your time as you get more comfortable.
Hanging doesn’t always have to be a precursor to pull-ups, though it can be. The act of hanging sculpts lean muscles, and improves grip strength (Captain Marvel herself,Brie Larson, posted an Instagram video of her workout with the caption, “Messing around with new grips, building grip strength.”)
Hanging also helps support shoulder stability. “When done in proper form, hanging helps you keep your spine in alignment through gravity,” Lynell Ross, founder and managing editor of Zivadream tellsLively. “It can also keep your back from becoming stiff by decompression of the vertebral discs. Hanging also helps create better posture and spinal awareness by helping the body pull into a symmetrical line.”
People who do not have the arm strength to do a proper pull-up can also greatly benefit from hanging.
"Before I was a personal trainer I was 305 lbs. and when I started to work out, I couldn’t do any pull-ups and was having back discomfort because of it,” says Jamie Hickey, personal trainer, nutritionist and founder ofTruism Fitness. He was told to try bar hangs instead, and he now hosts small scale hang bar classes at his gym.
“When done on a regular basis post- and pre-workout [bar hangs] help you align your spine and decompress your discs, helping you stretch … The act of holding yourself on the bar target[s] and strengthen[s] your upper back, shoulders, core, forearms, hands and wrist flexors,” Hickey says.
The exercise also works to lengthen and strengthen the core, so really, it’s a full-body exercise that doesn’t require you to move much at all. So the next time someone asks if you want to hang out, maybe you can suggest you do so in a literal sense. Your spine (and core, and wrists and arms) will thank you.