Dead Hangs: Are They Good For Your Spine?
What’s a dead hang, and is it good for you?
A simple bodyweight exercise is the newest viral trend on TikTok. But what exactly is the dead hang exercise, and is it good for your spine and shoulders? It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently as a chiropractor in Brookfield, WI.
Dead hangs – essentially just hanging from a horizontal pull-up bar – aren’t just for relaxing. And while they have none of the glamour of a squat or the muscle-building potential of a bench press, done right, they can be a great way to decompress your spine, reduce back pain, improve shoulder mobility, strengthen your grip and forearms, reverse bad posture and increase circulation to the muscles in your back.
What is a dead hang?
As its name suggests, dead hanging is simply hanging from a bar with your feet raised off the ground for between 10 and 60 seconds at a time. Your gym’s bars can be used for exercises other than pull-ups; they’re excellent for dead hanging as well. Or get creative and use whatever horizontal bar is available – monkey bars aren’t just for kids.
Dead hangs are an isometric stretch/exercise, which means there isn’t any pushing or pulling involved. There’s actually no movement at all, hence the name dead hang.
How do you do a dead hang?
Start by positioning yourself directly underneath a horizontal pull-up bar. You can step onto a bench or other elevated surface set slightly back to reach the bar with your hands if you need to.
Grab the bar securely with both hands, slightly broader than shoulder width. You can use either a pronated/overhand grip (palms facing away from you) or supinated/underhand grip (palms facing towards you), but most people will be most comfortable with an overhand grip. You can use either a pronated (overhand) or supinated (underhand) grip. Your body should be perfectly vertical, your feet should be off the ground, and your shoulders and elbows should be locked out while you hang from the bar. Then allow your body to relax and decompress, and your shoulders to abduct; this is a passive exercise/stretch.
Hold the hang for between 10 and 60 seconds and repeat for 3 or 4 sets.
Note: We’re focusing on passive dead hangs, but you can make this an active exercise by keeping your lats and rhomboids engaged and your shoulder blades adducted. Active dead hangs can help cultivate a stronger foundation for upper-body pull exercises.
Why should you add dead hangs to your workouts?
Sure, dead hangs might look like you’re just relaxing, but there’s a lot more going on below the surface that your body is benefitting from.
Spinal Decompression: Between every one of the vertebrae in your spine are fluid-filled structures called intervertebral discs. Gravity – along with sitting at a desk or lifting heavy weights all day – is constantly compressing these discs from the moment you get up in the morning, squeezing out the fluid throughout the day. Over time, this compression can lead to early spinal degeneration and arthritic changes. When you go to bed, that vertical compression on your spine is gone and the discs are able to rehydrate and expand again.
But because these discs don’t contain their own blood supply, it’s not instant, and their ability to rehydrate fully diminishes as we age. This is why it’s beneficial to rehydrate these discs with manual decompression like dead hangs or inversion tables, allowing oxygen and nutrient-rich fluid to rehydrate the discs.
Increasing the space between the vertebrae by dead hanging can even help decompress irritated nerves and relieve spinal stenosis.
Grip Strength: Dead hangs are great for grip strength as well, specifically for hitting your brachioradialis, flexor digitorum and flexor pollicus muscle groups.
Interestingly, grip strength has also been shown to have a positive correlation with cognitive health. A 2021 study from the journal Symmetry demonstrated that grip strength, particularly as people age, is associated with improved cognitive measures – including motor and perceptual speed, memory, and spatial functioning – and is one of the best future predictors of mobility, bone mineral density, fracture risk, depression, and overall strength.
Posture Correction: If you spend the majority of your day at a desk, dead hanging is a fantastic way to relieve back tension and improve your posture. The stretch that you get in your shoulders, lats, and back during a dead hang can help reverse the ‘computer guy’ hyperkyphosis that develops from sitting slouched over a computer all day.
Shoulder Health & Mobility: Hanging from a bar is an easy way to allow your shoulders to move through their full range of motion. Plus, the passive stretch it provides can really help loosen and open up the subacromial space, relieving impingement on the nerves and tendons that pass through the area.
When should you do it?
Don’t do this move directly before your workout. In fact, you really shouldn’t be doing any passive stretching before gym sessions – instead, stick to active warm-ups. This stretch is great, however, at the end of your workout or during your post-workout cool down. It can also be added into your daily stretching routine for pain relief or mobility purposes.
You should also check with your doctor before attempting this move if you have shoulder labrum injuries or stability issues.
The bottom line on dead hangs
Who would have thought that simply hanging around could be so rewarding? Whether you’re a novice to the workout world or a seasoned gym-goer, the dead hang can be a fantastic addition to your strength and mobility program.
And remember, while you can expect to experience some degree of delayed onset muscle soreness when you start any kind of new exercise, pain is never normal. Pain is the body’s way of saying something is wrong.
Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or just looking to get out of pain, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential. Need a Brookfield chiropractor? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.