Strengthen Grips & Soften Shoulders With Passive Hang

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Passively hanging from a pull-up bar is a catch-all exercise for recovery and performance that I use daily and with ALL my students. It strengthens your grips, decompresses your spine, and softens your shoulders while increasing range of motion. This is necessary for life in general, but especially for life in the grappling arts! As someone who plays a lot from the front headlock position, it also helps make the shoulders feel less “clunky” after hard training.

Background

I first got into using hanging from a pull-up bar for not only shoulder mobility, but for a spinal decompression and allowing the body to naturally align itself.

Using natural energy (gravity) and relaxing your entire body allows you to lengthen from crown to toe.

Especially after playing a sport like basketball growing up where I was continually compressing my spine from the sport itself (practices, games, individual work, etc), and strength and conditioning work (weights, plyos, running), my spine was matted down. I spent literally no time on lengthening it, other than when I was hanging on the rim! So my body got compacted and tightened from this.

It’s been instrumental in lengthening my fascia and allowing tissue within the body to naturally align. Of course, it focuses more on the shoulders but by cueing this full body relaxation, you will get the decompression benefits. It’s been one of the best tools for easing my low back pain and creating length between my discs.

Soften Shoulders Between “Hard” Work

The last few years of my training off the mats incorporated a lot of “softening” work to work through some kinks in my body after my college basketball career. Now that I’m back into resistance training where I’m incorporating the nuts and bolts of strength training (carries hinge, squat, push-pull, and lunges), I’m compressing the spine again. This isn’t a bad thing! Only when done in excess is it so. 

I’m approaching this with a lot less ego than during my high school and college years. I mean a LOT less ego. I use hangs and other “softening” exercises in between my “hardening” sets such as the deadllift and squat. These exercises lengthen myself and help me work on my range of motion while performing “hardening” training.

It’s also a tremendous tool after some hard rounds on the mats. I love doing it before other mobility and down regulation work because it helps to lengthen all of the matted down tissue before targeting specific areas.

Strengthen Grips

Although this position is “softening” in nature for the shoulders, it requires grip strength to hold the position for any length of time. This normally actually becomes the limiting factor in holding the position, which is why I advocate performing it in between sets.

With this in mind, you can then consciously bring your awareness to your grips and allocate all of your tension here. This will allow you to cue your relaxed breath and soften the rest of your body. It also makes it easier to soften the shoulders because the tension you’d hold there in order to keep yourself suspended is being dispersed into the bar through your hands.

Procedure

This exercise is simple enough but here are a few simple cues.

  • Focus on gripping the bar tightly. This will help to relax the rest of the body so you can deepen the stretch and decompression.
  • Keep your ribs locked down. Do not let them flair out. Cue this by tightening your midsection as if you were going to take a punch. This is an athletic midline position that is essential for overall spine biomechanics.
  • By keeping ribs locked down, this allows for the lengthening to occur where we want it in the shoulders and rest of the body.
  • Allow hips and pelvis to sit naturally.
  • Relax hip flexors so front half of body can extend and elongate.
  • Aim for an accumulation of 5 minutes a day chunked into manageable bursts.,

Final Consideration on the Passive Hang

As with a lot of the exercises and movements I share, this is one that you can plug into your training with ease. Whereas implementing a deadlift and squat routine will require intense adaptations from your neuromuscular system along with finding the balance of it in your overall training cycle, recovery work such as this will only ENHANCE your training with minimal strain on your part.

So aim to accumulate 5 minutes of hanging a day. Even if you don’t reach that full amount, you’re on your way to increased vitality and performance benefits. The decompression and range of motion increases will have you feeling better on and off the mats, which should always be our goal!

I cover more performance training tidbits at mobillitytraining.com that will help you prepare, recover, and perform better on the mats!

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