“Hanging” with Bert Betterman

By | September 29, 2014

I know, how lucky are you, right?! You’re actually luckier than you even thought because we’re talking about actually hanging (though you don’t get to spend any time with Mr. Betterman). That’s right, we’re going back to some of our evolutionary roots, from the primates that preceded us all the way to TV heroes like Tarzan; it’s time to start hanging again. Why? Allow me to explain.

I was perusing Mark’s Daily Apple, as I often do, and came across this gem: hanging month with a guy named Ido. The idea is that hanging is basic movement pattern in our physiology that we have come to ignore – like many other things – in modern life and fitness, that is unless you’re an olympic gymnastics trainee working on the uneven bars or rings (still holding!). It can improve your grip strength, improve your “pull” in weightlifting or just lifting stuff around the house, and promote strong and healthy arms (wrists, forearms, and shoulders).

I thought it made sense on its basic premise, but I also thought it sounded appealing as a form of shoulder rehab. I had been struggling with two shoulder issues, one being my slumpy, forward shoulder position from sitting at a desk and the other being a left shoulder that always felt a little weak and lose, almost as if it were marginally dislocated. I often got dull pains in the shoulder, tingling and coldness in my fingers, and had a hard time finishing workouts on my left shoulder compared to the right.

I tried taking on his thirty-day challenge, but it probably took me thirty-five days or so to finish it given it wasn’t always easy to find something to hang on during vacations or busy work days. That said, there are way more things than you may have thought available to hang on, even if you don’t have access to a pull-up bar in a gym every day. I hung on everything from my apartment staircase, my work gym’s pull-up bars (even though they’re too low and force me into bad position by not being able to fully straighten my legs), my own gym to which I belong, swing sets in parks, and other gym equipment if it fit the bill. I took Ido’s advice and mainly started with the active hangs to strengthen the muscles around my left shoulder joint to support the hang. The active hang is where you basically flex and pull down your muscles underneath your scapula (shoulder blade) to pull yourself up ever so slightly like a mini pull-up, but you keep your arms straight. You can then hold this position for a while or do “reps” by releasing and contracting. There were some days where my left shoulder would pop and go loose again and I’d lose the gains, but if I kept at it and was careful about it, it would improve to the point where it was much more stable.

After that I got into some of the swinging hangs and passive hangs which further helped to strengthen the integrity of the shoulder joints and tendons, but I always throw in a variation of different hangs during each session. The two main goals are that you should do about seven minutes worth of total hanging time each day and spread it out into multiple sessions rather than getting it all done at once. The idea is that the more frequently you send your nervous system signals that it needs to get good at hanging, the quicker you’ll adapt and get stronger.

I haven’t gotten to all of his advanced hanging yet, but now that my left shoulder is feeling much stronger, I’m hoping to try them. I’ve also noticed that the extra range of motion and the gravity pulling down on my body and spine have reduced some of my pains, especially in my neck and upper trap muscles. I really haven’t found any single exercise or movement routine that does a better job at offsetting that desk/computer position than doing a little hanging throughout the day. It’s also a perfect excuse to get out of the chair or up off the couch for a little break to move! If you also have some specific shoulder issues, pains, or injuries, Ido’s blog does a good job of telling you which specific hangs are best and which you should start with or avoid. I think this concept ought to be in every sports rehab or physical therapy office for anyone having issues with their arms, especially the shoulder.

Give it a shot for yourself by checking out his blog and videos, and nice hangin’ with ya!

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