All regular exercise brings its benefits, but a daily dead hang can optimize your health in ways you likely never knew.
As an everyday exercise, dead hangs are often overlooked. But hanging from an overhead bar will not only help your spine and give your muscles a much-needed stretch, but it can actually lower your risk for deadly cardiovascular and respiratory diseases too. In other words, doing a daily dead hang might just save your life.
Justin Jones, Spartan SGX Coach and founder of Active Choice UK, agrees.
“The simplicity of dead hangs belies the benefits that people, both athlete and nonathlete, can receive from them,” Jones says, noting that one of the most important of these benefits is “improved grip strength and endurance.”
The Health Benefits of Doing Dead Hangs
1. Dead Hangs Improve Grip Strength
While grip strength is crucial in obstacle course racing and other sports such as wrestling, climbing, and gymnastics, it’s also necessary for normal, everyday tasks like carrying groceries, opening jars, and even holding a pencil.
Related: A Guide to Grip Strength Workouts
But grip strength does more than highlight your ability to lift heavy: As a proven indicator of general body strength and muscle mass (both of which decrease as we get older), a good grip can correlate to a long and healthy life.
In one study published in The Lancet, researchers collected 142,000 grip strength measurements in diverse societies in 17 different countries. When they followed up to assess the relationship between grip strength and incidences of death, they discovered that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. But further, they found that each 11-pound decrease in grip strength was matched with a not-to-be-welcomed 7% increased risk of heart attack and a 16% higher risk of death from any cause.
2. Dead Hangs Help Minimize Muscular Imbalances
Of course, dead hangs are not just about a good grip either. They can “increase shoulder mobility, improve shoulder and lat strength, and reduce shoulder pain,” Jones says, which, in turn, can minimize the chance of muscular imbalance (along with serious injury).
3. Dead Hangs Decompress the Spine
Furthermore, he adds, “Dead hangs can be used to decompress the spine.”
Modern society’s sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on our spines, Jones, who — as a personal trainer and nutrition coach — works with clients to ditch bad health habits as well as build better ones, explains.
Sitting positions can lump untold stress upon your back and neck muscles and can result in the tightening of the hip flexors, as well as impeding blood flow to the gluteus maximus — both of which are super important supporters of the spine.
“So, for those of us who spend a lot of time sitting in front of a screen or behind the steering wheel, also spending time 'hanging out' everyday can be really beneficial to overall health,” he says.
He’s not wrong. In addition to doing untold damage to the spine, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine points the finger at a proven link between prolonged sitting and a greater risk of dying from all causes (even for those who regularly log hours exercising).
How to Hang From a Pull-Up Bar Properly
So, how do you go about incorporating dead hangs into your daily routine, particularly if you’ve never done one before?
“If low strength is an issue, you can have your feet on a platform to support yourself to begin with," Jones says. "As you get stronger, take one foot away and then both.”
Always use a secure overhead bar. If you’re performing dead hangs at home, a wide and sturdy branch on a backyard tree could suffice.
Related: The 12 Best Exercises for Your Back
“To begin, aim to build up to a time of 90 seconds hanging if you weigh less than 200 pounds, or 60 seconds if over 200 pounds,” Jones says.
Steps to Perform a Simple Dead Hang:
- Use a step or bench to help you reach the bar with your arms.
- With your arms should width apart, grip the bar with your palms facing away from you (i.e. an overhand grip).
- Then, once you’re sure of your grip, step off of the bench below and hang down from the bar with your arms straight.
- Don’t let your lower back arch. Squeeze your glutes and quads while engaging your core.
- Keep your chin tucked down towards your chest.
- Slowly step back onto the step or bench before releasing your arms, and then repeat three times.
For variety, Jones also suggests using different grips, from overhand and underhand (palms facing toward you) to mixed grip (left palm facing you, right palm facing forward or vice versa) and neutral grip (palms facing each other), as well as utilizing gymnastic rings and scaffolding bars.
And for those who fear doing a daily dead hang will make exercising feel deadly dull, Jones encourages shaking those worries. In fact, he says, “The dead hang forms the foundation for chin-ups, pull-ups, knee raises, and Garhammer raises.”
Related: 3 Ways to Start Doing More Pull-Ups
That means that, in addition to possibly saving your life, a daily dead hang can breathe new life into your workouts as well.