It is simple to assume that workouts must be intricate in order to be effective — gaze at you pistol squats, Turkish get-ups, and burpees. But one action, in particular, defies that notion entirely. Introduce yourself to: the dead hang.
A dead hang entails suspending oneself from a pull-up bar with both hands, as articulated by Rena Eleázar, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a certified specialist in sports physiotherapy and the co-founder of Match Fit Performance in New York City. “You’re not necessarily contracting any muscles — you’re just permitting your body to hang while clutching onto the bar,” she explains. Yes, it’s that uncomplicated.
And when regularly practiced, the dead hang can convey significant benefits. Here, Eleázar furnishes the details on all the advantages the dead hang has to present. Furthermore, she shares precisely how to execute and modify the move regardless of your fitness level.
How to Execute a Dead Hang
The dead hang is a moderately simple exercise, but there are a few guidelines you should bear in mind when initially incorporating the move into your routine. For one, evade springing up and seizing the bar in mid-air to commence your dead hang, as doing so will prompt swinging, which can be difficult to manage and potentially expose you to the risk of injury, says Eleázar. Instead, step onto a small platform or weight plate so that you are able to reach the bar while on your tiptoes and comfortably position your hands, she suggests.
While you are suspended, ensure to keep your slightly engaged core, which will prevent swinging, says Eleázar. And if you are completely new to the exercise — or any hanging movement, for that matter — do not anticipate hanging for a whole minute continuously. Instead, attempt to maintain your position for three sets of five to 10 seconds each, allowing yourself 30 seconds to a minute of rest between them, she suggests. “If it is your first time attempting it…then commence with minimal duration, perform a couple of rounds of 10-second holds, and strive to find a progression that feels demanding but still achievable for you,” she adds.
Rena Eleázar, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S.
Position yourself on a plate or container beneath a pull-up bar in such a way that your hands are just about able to touch the bar.
B. Transfer weight onto the balls of your feet and place your hands on the bar with a slightly wider grip than shoulder-width apart, palms facing outward. Make sure your feet are flat and lifted off the ground, with your legs hanging straight down and your core muscles engaged.
C. Maintain this position for 10 seconds without swinging, then release your hands and return to the starting position.
Benefits of Dead Hang
Enhances Grip Strength
The dead hang exercise primarily targets the muscles in your forearms, which in turn helps to strengthen your grip, according to Eleázar. Having a strong grip is not only useful for impressive handshakes, but it also has practical benefits for strength training. Eleázar explains that specifically training your grip can enable you to handle heavier weights. This means that keeping your forearm muscles in excellent condition can help you achieve new personal records in exercises such as bicep curls or deadlifts.
Furthermore, research indicates that weak grip strength is associated with a higher risk of mortality. Eleázar mentions that there are studies suggesting a strong connection between increased grip strength and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Conversely, poor grip strength is a significant predictor of future disability. These findings are supported by research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Therefore, striving for a strong grip should be a regular part of your fitness routine.
Enhances Shoulder Stability
Regularly incorporating dead hangs into your workout routine can strengthen the muscles around your shoulder blade, known as the scapular muscles. According to Eleázar, strengthening these muscles is crucial for maintaining shoulder joint stability, which is essential for everyday movements. Anything involving overhead reaching, like storing or retrieving items from high shelves, places a premium on shoulder stability. Eleázar emphasizes that if your body feels incapable of supporting the weight you are holding over your head, there is a risk of injury.
To illustrate this, imagine trying to place a heavy carry-on bag in the overhead compartment of an airplane. In this scenario, if your shoulders lack the necessary strength to support the weight as you lift and place the bag, you run the risk of straining a muscle or injuring yourself by dropping the suitcase.
Enhances Flexibility and Mobility
In addition to strength gains, the dead hang exercise also contributes to the flexibility and mobility of your latissimus dorsi muscles, as stated by Eleázar.
When the lat muscles, which are situated beneath the shoulder blade on each side of your spine and run down to the pelvis, are taut, your capability to extend overhead may be restricted, she elucidates. Suspending from the bar via dead hangs, nevertheless, can aid in providing this muscle a much-needed elongation and may amplify mobility, enabling you to attain the complete range of motion your body should possess, she expounds. “Functionally, being able to govern the shoulder as you’re reaching overhead is genuinely remarkable to work on,” she adds.
Relieves Pressure on Your Spine
Thanks to the force of gravity, simply hanging from the bar can assist in creating some traction — also known as small gaps — between the joints of the vertebrae in your spine, according to Eleázar. “This can provide a great sensation for individuals who spend long hours in front of their computers or experience overall stiffness or tightness in their back,” she explains. “At the very least, if it’s not impacting the joints themselves, hanging will offer a gentle stretch for the muscles of the back.”
Aids Progression towards a Pull-Up
If your current fitness objective is to execute a complete pull-up, mastering dead hangs serves as the initial step towards achieving it. “The dead hang serves as your starting point for a pull-up, so if you are unable to even support your own weight on the bar, it is unlikely that you will be able to perform the complete motion of a pull-up without any assistance,” states Eleázar.
Various Dead Hang Variations
Modify with Tools or Your Toes
If a regular dead hang feels a bit too demanding, attempt to counterbalance a portion of your body weight by performing the movement on a machine that assists with pull-ups or with a large loop resistance band wrapped around the pull-up bar or squat rack hooks, recommends Eleázar. “That just helps offset the weight of your body until you can develop the strength to support your entire weight,” she explains.
To alleviate some of the load from a dead hang without any additional equipment, Eleázar suggests lightly keeping one or two toes in contact with the floor (or a plyo box or a plate) throughout each hold. (
Progress the Exercise with an Active Hang
Once you have mastered the traditional dead hang, you can elevate the difficulty by performing an “active hang.” During this variation, your body is fully engaged, your shoulders are pulled slightly away from your ears, your legs are positioned slightly in front of your body (creating a “hollow hold” position), and your core is fully engaged, says Eleázar. “In a dead hang, you are more relaxed,” she explains. “An active hang requires coordination of your entire body. It can be slightly more challenging, but as you develop body awareness, you will be able to progress further towards an active hang. And that active hang…can make pull-ups a bit easier.”
Rena Eleázar, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S.
Individuals Who Should Avoid Dead Hangs
Despite the simplicity of the exercise, there are a few groups of people who should generally consult with their doctor or a fitness expert before attempting dead hangs. This includes individuals with a long history of shoulder pain, those who have experienced a shoulder dislocation, those diagnosed with a hypermobility disorder or consider themselves to be hypermobile, or those experiencing numbness or tingling in their upper body, says Eleázar.
Even if you do not have any shoulder issues, do not hesitate to seek advice from a professional before attempting dead hangs, she adds.
I would always suggest that if you’re ever hesitant about something and simply afraid to attempt something novel, then you should always inquire with a physical fitness expert initially.