How often do you get your arms overhead? If you’re like most of us, you don’t spend much time reaching, hanging, swinging or otherwise getting your overhead groove on!

I have always been enthusiastic about moving the arms and shoulders and believe that hanging, swinging and other overhead activities are important. Now I’m even more committed to how crucial these movements are for general health and well being throughout our lives! As you may know, I spent a week in Arizona at a dissection course run by Anatomy Trains (you can read more about that here!). This course focuses on fascia, and as such the cadavers we worked with were fresh, unpreserved tissue (the process of preserving destroys most of the fascia, rendering it useless for study purposes). One of the things that really sticks with me is that we could SEE the results of how people moved and didn’t move throughout their lives.
So let’s get moving!
If you are walking around during the day, even a little bit, you are using your legs, load bearing and moving within the hip sockets. We don’t, however, need to get our arms up overhead in the course of our everyday lives. Maybe drying your hair, maybe reaching for something on a high shelf every now and then. But as a regular thing, you use your legs more than your arms. Getting your arms up and load bearing, taking the weight of your body (all or even part of it!) doesn’t just address upper body strength.
Life Long Benefits of Hanging!
  • challenges your core
  • opens your chest and even your hips (depending on your positions as you move)
  • can be an amazing cardio event
  • activate the muscles of respiration, improving breathing
  • increase movement and circulation that affect breast health
  • increase grip strength
  • improve the alignment of your shoulder joint by using all the available angles and positions
  • give you great pipes
  • make you the royalty of the playground
  • all the other kids will be jealous of your mad skills
That’s a lot of benefit for one activity! So how do you get ready to add all this amazing, health enhancing arm and shoulder movement into your life? Start moving, and scale your movement choices to what your body is ready for. Here’s how to make hanging and swinging a regular part of your life!
Getting Started
Before you get your arms up overhead you need to be able to move your arms without pulling your spine and ribs along with them. Here are my fave on-the-floor getting started moves! (Prefer your instructions on video? You got it! Skip down to the video below!)
Floor Angels
Floor Angels

Don’t forget your external rotation!

Lie on your back with some soft, comfy stuff under your head and shoulders so that your ribs can easily drape down to the floor. Reach your arms up towards the ceiling and turn your palms and elbow pits to face the wall behind you. Slowly slide your arms towards the floor beside you, reaching your thumbs down but (and this is important) keeping your elbows off the floor. So much harder than it sounds…. Keep stability in your shoulders and shoulder joints, so it feels like you are working and stretching at the same time! Got that all sorted? Great. Now slide your arms up and down along the floor (or above the floor if that’s where you’re at- no straining your shoulder joints please!) as though you were making snow angels, but with no snow. You may find that you can only move a little bit, and that’s cool. Your range will increase the more you do it. Every day is an awesome choice!
Log Reach
Log Reach

Keep ribs soft and down!

Stay on your comfy soft stuff, keep your ribs drifting down to the floor. Avoid super forcing, we aren’t looking for strain! Hold  onto a half dome, block, actual log or other useful object with the pinky finger side of your hand, palms facing the wall behind you. Slowly reach your arms back over head towards the floor behind you, stopping when your ribs start to lighten on the floor. Remember the goal here is to increase your ability to get your arms overhead WITHOUT bringing your spine and ribs along for the ride. So it’s less important how far back your arms go and more important that you start to really figure out where that chunking starts to happen. Chunking is when your body parts move together even when they don’t need to. Pull your arms back up and repeat for about a minute or until you get really tired. And here’s the video version!
Next Steps
Start to introduce hanging shapes into your every day life! As long as you have doorways, you can start to hang. Woot woot!
Doorway Hanging Preps

Use lots of angles!

When you are ready to take more of your body weight you will need something that is absolutely strong enough to hold your body weight. Safety is important and you really don’t want to find out that piece of wood isn’t strong enough to hold you by falling on your butt. Big trees (no baby saplings that could be damaged by your hands or the load of your weight. Respect the trees!), monkey bars at the park, rings and hanging bars are all excellent choices to  increase your ranges and loads and then to start taking your feet off the ground.
Please move at your own pace and respect your tissues.
There is no race to get to the end of this process! Every exercise, every step along the way is useful, helpful, healthy and important in its own right, so don’t think the only important part is the actual hanging. Even if you NEVER take your feet off the ground, you will benefit from getting your arms up, reaching overhead, adding load to your shoulders and increasing the strength and mobility of your upper body. For more details about the health benefits of hanging and climbing check out Go Climb a Tree. Also you get to see me in a tree. : ))
Ok, my dears, off you go! Have fun, play, explore, move smart, progress at your own pace (or encourage your clients to do so) and let me know how it goes!
xo Alison

Alison Crouch

I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.

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