"SJ, what's the point of hanging from a bar, shouldn't we just do pull-ups or chin-ups?"
Dead hangs are an exercise that literally everyone can benefit from, whether you're a mass monster, a committed CrossFitter or a weekend warrior...
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!
Chin-ups, pull-ups, muscle-ups, front levers, back levers, skin the cat... the majority of guys want to master these key exercises but fail to do so.
They go through the progressions of the exercise itself but they never go right back to basics.
In order to master pulling exercises you must first master hanging.
Rock climbers and gymnasts, two disciplines that require immense pulling strength recognise this and include a hell of a lot of hanging in their routines, be it from pull-ups bars, rings, rocks or hang boards - the benefits are the same.
Benefits of Dead Hangs
If you're willing to incorporate 3 - 4 sets of dead hangs into your workout regime twice a week here's what you can expect...
You'll Build Great Grip Strength
The only way to get better at gripping bars is to do just that... grip bars! gloves, straps and all other contraptions guys use in the gym to increase their pulling ability, be it on a barbell or a pull-up bar is merely a band-aid fix, they're never actually addressing the root issue... their lack of grip strength.
The grip strength you'll build performing dead hangs will transform across to exercises such as the pull-up, chin-up, muscle-up and lever variations.
Want to build grip strength with suicide grip? Perform your dead hangs with suicide grip.
Want to build grip strength with underhand grip? Perform your dead hangs with an underhand grip.
I recommend using a regular overhand grip with your thumb wrapped around the bar, but if you want to build a specific variation of grip strength then you're going to benefit most by using that exact grip when hitting your dead hangs.
You'll Build Beastly Forearms
Your forearms are under tension for the duration of your dead hang sets, I guarantee you when you're able to hang from a pull-up bar for 2+ minutes you'l never complain about having small forearms.
The pump, vascularity and growth I've noticed in my forearms cannot be compared to that of isolation exercises such a the reverse grip barbell curl.
Gains in size and strength come from progressive overload and time under tension, we're able to overload our forearms with our bodyweight (heavier than the barbell you're reverse curling) for a longer duration of time per set (your goal should be to aim for a 2 minute hang).
You'll Increase Your Shoulder Range of Motion
While you're hanging with a relaxed upper body and arms extended you're working on your shoulder range of motion.
Unless you're performing exercises such as the dead hang, skin the cat or shoulder dislocation you've likely got average shoulder range of motion - not only does this contribute to poor posture but you're also going to find it near impossible to perform overhead squats and overhead presses with correct form.
In short, increased shoulder range of motion = healthy shoulders and a lower risk of injury.
You'll Decompress Your Spine
When it comes to spinal decompression the majority of 'experts' recommend gravity boots and inversion tables.
That's great, but what if they don't have the room for an inversion table and don't want to fork out exponential amounts of cash for gravity boots?
You hang from a pull-up bar.
Dead hangs are great for spinal decompression.
A compressed spine is a tight spine, and the majority of movements and activities will compress your spine to a degree, be it sitting in the chair of your office, standing up tall or laying on your back while sleeping.
The relaxed hang gives your upper body the chance to stretch and decompress without spending a cent.
You'll Strengthen Your Rotator Cuffs
After spending hundreds of dollars on physiotherapy and massages I would recover, only to encounter the same issue again a few months down the track… besides a couple of warm up sets of the exercise I was about to perform I didn’t do any dynamic stretching, foam rolling or mobility oriented drills.
Ever since then I have implemented some dead hangs and rotator cuff stretches as part of my warm-up and have been fine ever since.
How To Perform Dead Hangs Correctly
- Begin with a pull-up bar.
- Grasp the bar with a shoulder width (or slightly wider) grip with your palms facing away from your body (overhand grip).
- Wrap your thumb around the bar.
- Ensure your arms are at a dead hang (straight, no bend in the elbow) you should not feel any muscle engagement from your lats.
- Relax your body while you hang for the desired amount of time - no swinging, no fidgeting. Focus.
Structuring Your Dead Hang Workout
Begin by starting a timer and performing a dead hang for as long as possible - the key before we begin training our dead hangs is to find out what you're currently capable of... there's no point in performing sets of 30 second dead hangs if you're able to hold a 2 minute dead hang off the bat!
Once you've found your max dead hang time I recommend performing 3 - 4 dead hangs 2 - 3 times per week at between 50% - 75% of your max time.
For example if my max dead hang is 2 minutes I'd opt to perform 3 or 4 'sets' (hangs) of between 1 minute and 1 minute 30 seconds at least twice a week.
Re-test your maximum dead hang monthly and re-adjust your hanging set times as necessary.
Common Dead Hang Mistakes
Not Extending Your Arms To Dead Hang
In order to reap the benefits of the dead hang your arms MUST be straight, they're called dead hangs because your arms are dead straight and you're merely hanging. No bend in the arm as per the photo above.
Engaging Your Lats
It's common to automatically try and engage your lats if you were going to perform a pull-up when you're hanging from the bar... but don't!
Focus on relaxing your upper body while your arms hang straight.
Relaxed torso = no muscle engagement.
Incorrect Workout Structure
If you're holding onto your pull-up bar as long as you can each and every day to increase your grip strength you're going to do more harm than good...
You must give your body time to recover and will benefit more from progressively increasing your hanging time based off your max dead hang.
As mentioned above focus on 50% - 75% of your max hang time for 3 - 4 sets between 2 and 3 times per week. That's all.
Dead Hang Variations
Want to mix it up? Here's a variety of dead hang variations to add to your regime once you've mastered the standard overhand grip dead hang from a pull-up bar.
- Neutral grip (palms facing each other) dead hangs
- Underhand grip (palms face towards your torso) dead hangs
- Dead hangs on uneven surfaces such as tree branches
- Dead hangs from gymnastic rings
- Suicide grip (thumbless overhand grip) dead hangs
- One arm dead hangs from a pull-up bar
- One arm dead hangs from gymnastic rings