We’ve been talking about hanging recently, and I try to hang from something, somewhere, for about 10 minutes a day. Every day. I don’t always succeed, but I try!
Why is this a thing?
Why, as a fully functioning adult, do I keep nagging you to find a park or a playground, a stair post or a door knob?
There are five reasons:
Strength to weight ratio
Variety of movement patterns
Whole body natural movement
Strength to weight ratio is determined by your ability to manage your own body weight. Because we stand and walk frequently, the strength in our legs and hips is usually enough to hold us up. But how much do you do with your upper body in a typical day? Even if you are a fitbit addict (guilty) and get your 10,000 steps a day, unless you are a circus performer you probably aren’t doing it on your hands! Hanging is a good way to start building up strength in your arms, shoulders, hands, and skin (yes, the skin on your hands is a contributing factor) so you can hold up your body weight.
But hang on you say, I lift weights! I lift the damn things every day! Bicep curls! Tricep presses! I have awesome muscle definition! Get off my back! I can hear the defensiveness from here.
The issue here is not that you aren’t doing anything with your upper body- those are all good things to do! The issue is that you are doing the same thing all the time. Variety is crucial for healthy muscle development and hanging puts a totally different load on your muscle structure compared to weight lifting. The process of weight lifting (even low weight) shortens the muscle fibres as they contract. Hanging means the muscles are long and loaded.
Stretching is also important to the body and should be done all the damn time, but usually doesn’t involve much weight. Even when you are working in excellent pilates form and reaching into your movement to create eccentric load, it is usually only the weight of the individual arm or leg that is being applied. Hanging lengthens the muscles of the arms, shoulders and lats while applying the weight of your whole body!
Bone density is an issue many people struggle with and hanging is an excellent way to build bone in the wrists, a common site for bone loss. Osteogenesis occurs as a response to the deformation of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for the creation of new bone tissue. That deformation can come in the form of compression (putting your weight down on your hands and wrists) or by pulling on the cells with the weight applied by hanging. It is less effective than compressing, but if you have pain in your wrists and they aren’t strong enough to hold up your upper body, then hanging is an excellent place to start!
Hanging is a safe, simple, effective way to contribute to breast health.
There are many lymph nodes located in the areas under the arms and around the breasts, collarbones, and chest which help to fight off disease and infection. The flow of lymph relies on the circulation of blood through the muscles, which happens most effectively through pliable, responsive muscles.
We are often tight through the anterior shoulder joint and chest. This can be the
result of lack of activity OR over activity! For instance, cycling is great but puts your arms and shoulders in a tight forward position, typing and texting are active, but are constant small movements pulling your arms and shoulders forward, even sleeping with your arms curled up affects you. Those tight muscles just don’t circulate blood and lymph the way you need them to!
The long, open, load bearing positions created by hanging are fantastic for creating just that situation for this critical area.
We exercise for any number of reasons, one of which is to use muscles and get strong. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to set aside a particular part of your day to go to a gym, do a set routine and then go back to your regularly scheduled state of inactivity? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a job that allowed for movement all day instead of sitting at a desk? Wait, this is another post altogether…
Ok, whole body, reflex driven natural movement is what we should all do all the time!
In this contemporary life we live, it is not the case for most of us, most of the time. Hanging is a great way to start building the muscle resilience you need to have fun! To do cool stuff, like climb a tree!
The act of climbing a tree also goes way further than upper body load. You need your feet, your legs, your proprioception (sense of where your body is relative to itself and its’ environment) and of course your core! It isn’t a repetitive act, it is never the same from time to time, you can’t predict how it will go. Your brain and your body both thrive on this kind of movement!
How should you go about getting to awesome tree climbing??
Safety is important! It makes no sense to go from not using your upper body in these ways and shapes to climbing a tree that is uneven, has bark, branches of different sizes and no mat underneath it if you fall. It makes lots of sense to start by hanging from whatever you can find, at every angle you can think of. Each stage may take you several months to achieve. You should be stable and comfortable with each step before you progress to greater loads!
Climbing trees is only one of the great things you can do with a strong, supple upper body. You can go rock climbing, you can carry children, you can have an excellent circulatory system, you can have killer pipes… It’s all good and hanging is where it all begins!