Hanging out for Health

Spring has arrived at last (almost)! The signs of spring are everywhere: the grass is greener and the daffodils are appearing, albeit today surrounded with a light covering of snow. I’m taking a few days out of the studio to work in the the garden and have spent the last two days cutting back foliage and raking up leaves. It’s heartwarming to see the shrubs with new baby buds waiting to burst into leaf.

There’s a pergola and an archway in the garden and every now and then I take the opportunity to do some ‘hanging’ and ‘swinging’. Even when I’m out walking, I’m always eyeing up branches to see if they are strong enough to take my body weight (to the utter embarrassment of whoever I’m with!).

As most of you are aware we have a hanging bar in the studio, which some of you have been using. Hanging from a bar uses an entirely different set of muscles and motor recruitment. When you’re standing, both legs share the weight of your body. Hanging on the bar means using two arms to support your body weight. It’s great for shoulder, wrist and forearm strength, but has many other benefits too.

In the studio we’ve been working on skin preparation and grip strength. For most of us, typing and texting make up our hand use. We don’t dig daily or use tools like our ancestors did and when we do reach for a tool they are mostly battery operated.

Try this exercise out:
Pretend you’re placing your hands onto a keyboard. Do you see how they are cup-shaped with the wrists bent backwards? Now pretend you are icing a cake and squeezing the icing bag and notice the grip strength needed to perform this task.


It’s easy to see how we lose grip strength and function. It becomes more of a challenge to open jars, carry suitcases, lift groceries etc. But the good news is it’s never too late to improve grip strength. Strong grip strength has even been correlated to lower mortality rates.

Being desk-bound or sedentary significantly restricts your shoulder and back mobility. It’s also harmful for your spine as the vertebrae are separated by softer, ‘squishier’ discs. Sitting a lot increases pressure on the discs, which can lead to pain and injury. Hanging decompresses the spine and is used by some clinicians to treat back issues.

The main benefits of including hanging into your programme are:

  • Improved wrist and forearm strength
  • Decompression of your spine
  • Shoulder stabilisation
  • Better back mobility

To pursue upper body strength, start with small loads and ‘pretend hang’. This means keeping your feet on the ground but bending your knees enough to feel the weight of your body press your skin into the surface of whatever you’re hanging on.

I’ll be covering this, along with a series of other exercises and considerations, in my Strong & Supple Shoulders workshop on June 2nd. In response to requests, I’m running workshops throughout May and June, focussing on bone strength, upper body strength, and whole body health for desk-bound workers.