Climbing around on monkey bars is wonderful for our bodies. It builds upper body strength, helps our shoulders and core muscles, and supports our heart and lung function. Plus it’s super fun!
Benefits Of Hanging
Hanging is another fundamental human movement. We evolved as tree climbers, and hanging provides specific upper body benefits that other activities don’t offer. Here’s a short list of what hanging does for us:
- Uses our ‘pulling’ muscles, not our ‘pushing’ muscles, so hanging offers a unique strength and movement input.
- Takes pressure off our heart and lungs and gives them more space to work
- Improves core strength
- Creates grip strength
- Offsets hours of static arm position in front of computers
- Is the only helpful way to get our shoulders to stop rounding forward (pulling them back just fakes it without helping our wellness)
- Increases wrist bone density – a key site for bone loss
- Improves the health, function and mobility of our shoulders
How To Hang Safely
Hanging is a skill that’s best developed slowly – let alone climbing and swinging. After years of not being used much, our shoulders lose both strength and range of motion. And hanging is a big load! Overdoing this can hurt, so give yourself plenty of time and patience.
That said, everyone can benefit from gentle hanging, so don’t fear it either! Hanging is so great for our shoulders and upper body! Start by doing lots of hanging prep exercises, shoulder mobility work and hanging with your feet on the ground to start off. As always, make sure to listen to your body – if anything hurts, back off!
The keys to hanging are shoulder mobility and slowly increasing your strength.
Shoulder mobility is really important, because if your shoulder joints don’t move well, your body will compensate.
Typically this is by moving at the spine. This can create a lot of pressure on the spine and in the core and abdomen which isn’t helpful in the long term.
Learn to differentiate shoulder movement from scapula movement and spinal movement (see the Resources sidebar for several exercises to help with this).
Learning how to manage your rib cage alignment is a related step that will decrease inappropriate abdominal pressure and help you access your shoulder joints more. At this stage, side hanging is a great option. Working on the shoulder and spinal CARs in my Joints For Life program will also be very helpful.
Once your shoulders are mobile and you feel confident managing your ribs, it’s a good time to add more hanging loads. Start with your feet on the ground. Experiment with different hand and body positions as you gradually allow your hands to carry more weight.
As you build the strength and mobility for hanging, you’ll be able to work on different hanging and swinging techniques.
Side hanging, crawling (yes, crawling – it uses a lot of the same muscles as hanging), hanging with different grips, shuffling along the bars, swinging front to back and side to side, and one-armed hanging are all good building blocks on the way to brachiation.
The good news is that all the prep work has huge benefits – even if you never hang with your full weight off the ground, you’ll be doing a world of good for your shoulders, spine and upper body.
What Do You Need For Hanging?
Most of us are going to need to invest in a bit of hanging equipment (though if you’re lucky enough to have a big tree in your yard or a nearby playground, you might not have to).
If you or your partner are handy, you can really get creative here – just make sure anything you build is super strong and sturdy and won’t give you splinters!
Here are some options to consider:
- A sturdy door frame. Great for side hanging and most of us have one, so it’s a good place to start
- A pull up bar. These are inexpensive and convenient but might be a bit boring.
- Gym rings. If you’ve got somewhere to hang rings, they’ll give you lots of hanging options and they’re a lot of fun.
- A set of monkey bars. You can build ’em or you can head to the park.
- A climbing rope.
- Ladders. Whether installed vertically or horizontally to create a DIY set of monkey bars.
- Trees. Either in your yard or in your neighbourhood, locating good climbing trees is awfully fun.
Remember, go slow, have fun and always listen to your body!
Courses For Better Hanging
Take10 Online Movement Coaching
Get stronger, more mobile and learn how to move better so your body can work better and feel better, in bite sized chunks.
Joints For Life Mobility Course
Bulletproof your joints with this simple but powerful daily practice.
More Hanging Resources
9+ Reasons Everyone Should Be Hanging (Blog Post)
Chest & Shoulder Opening Mini-Workout (YouTube)
Understanding Spinal Alignment And Ribcage Position (Blog Post)
How To Move At Your Shoulder Joint (And Not Your Spine) (YouTube)
How To Move At Your Shoulder Joint (And Not Your Scapulae) (YouTube)
Release Your Psoas – Happier Core, Pelvic Floor and Spine (YouTube)
Ido Portal 30 Day Hanging Challenge (with some good technique variations to try)
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