Movement Minute - Hanging Variations

Hanging is Everyday Movement

Step back to see the big picture of modern life you see the ways in which technology and convenience enhance our lives but also deprive us of nutritious movement.  This concept of mindfulness is applicable here, observing the current reality without judging it.  Nevertheless, this thing called natural movement can really change your perspective on healthy living.  


Perhaps no other movement embodies the “movement phobia” we have in our culture better than hanging.  Life is simply not set up for us to climb.  Climbing gyms exist as a haven for specialized skill work; that’s awesome but hanging should be as common as walking.  In everyday life, there aren’t many easy opportunities to hang…so we don’t hang.  Habitual sitting and screen staring dominates our time as pulling movements are devalued.  We return to the monkey bars like it was a vintage toy only to find the ability is long gone.  


The focus for this week’s Movement Minute is an array of hanging variations to show some love to your shoulders and bring this very human movement back into regular rotation.  The video shows a lot of fun stuff but don’t worry we’ll also cover applications and progressions so you can figure out how to hang your way. 


Going Beyond Pull Ups

One of the reasons I think hanging gets swept under the rug is the 1:1 association with pull-ups.  People see a bar at the gym and that’s automatically a “pull-up bar.”  Now I have nothing against pull-ups, but they’re a small piece of the bigger picture of how we can use our shoulders in a climbing context.  Trying to do a pull-up before your body is ready is either demoralizing or it looks like a train wreck.  If you can do pull-ups and you’re mindlessly banging out reps, over time your tissues and joints can get bound up and become stiff and painful.


Balance the practice. Make pull-ups a part of a larger scheme of climbing and hanging movements in your training and everyday life.  Consider the possible reasons you would want / need to climb around as well as the design of your shoulder.  By thinking beyond the context of just exercise you’ll begin to get a sense of the many options and expressions for hanging.  Let’s take a look at some possible applications.


Shoulder Prehab

I mentioned the common imbalance that occurs when we sit and compute all day.  We end up slumped forward and when we spend enough time like this we mold into the shape.  This posture does nothing for our strength and mobility zero favors but sets us up for injury and breakdown.  

The standard active and passive hang, scapular retractions, bent arm pull thrus, German hangs, and spinning hangs are prime examples of variations that can rebalance the shoulders and prevent breakdown / injury.  Our shoulders are capable of a lot of movement, the goal is to develop this range of motion with build strength around it. 


Training Practical Skills

The practical application is always a good place to look when determining a “why” for training.  Endless pull-ups will get you swole (possibly overly swole) but can you hang for extended time? Can you climb on top of a surface and move in all planes?  Good questions when it comes to the idea of being strong for the real world.  Here are where some of the video variations apply in terms of practicality.  



Leg hooks and elbow hooks are useful tools for endurance hanging.  Bodyweight is distributed across more points of support and the connection is closer to the center of gravity which equates to hanging for longer.  Hanging for extended periods teaches a lot about breathing and learning to keep the effort where it’s needed and relax everywhere else.  


Climbing & Traversing

The leg hooks and the forearm hang provide additional support and better leverage for the practical task of getting on top of the bar.  The swinging traverse and power traverse build strength in the front and transverse planes. These skills are good options to diversify training and build adaptability for different environments.  


Rope Climbing

The rope can be intimidating as it demands greater grip strength.  However, the additional support provided by the leg wrapping techniques makes it very doable. The video highlights two different rope climbs - the inside wrap and the outside wrap.  Both are secured by squeezing your legs inward and clamping the rope with your feet.  



Holding the weight of your body in your shoulders and arms takes a great deal of strength.  Any of these variations can be modified but the tricky part is finding the right environment to practice in.

Hanging becomes more accessible when you can keep some of your bodyweight on the ground (or on a box) and exert effort. This effort is the stimulus that will strengthen the muscles, joints, and nervous system.  I’m not a huge fan of assisted pull-up machines or resistance band help because it’s easy to lose the internal focus on the sensations and the effort. These tools can create the appearance of strength without building a true foundation. 

Once again, mindfulness and consistency are the keys to unlock the potential.  The consistency piece comes together when you can infuse your lifestyle with more opportunities to climb. Install a bar, a set of gymnastics rings, or a climbing rope and take time each day to hang.  Hang for the sake of hanging. Hang because it feels like freedom. Hang because you value your health first and the performance goals will come together in time.