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Dead Hang: How to, Benefits, & Muscles Worked

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a male athlete is performing dead hang
David J. Sautter post Reviewer David J. Sautter post Reviewer
Verified by David J. Sautter
NASM Personal Trainer, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Sports Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist

Table of Contents

Dead hangs tend to be overlooked despite their wide range of applications in the fitness industry. 

This exercise can greatly aid a series of performance and health aspects, from strengthening your upper body to stretching your back.

Read this article to learn what dead hangs are, why they are a valuable addition to your exercise routine, and the benefits you should expect to gain from them. 

What is a Dead Hang?

The dead hang is an exercise that requires you to hold onto a pull-up bar with your hands and let your body hang fully relaxed so as to allow your own body weight and gravity to pull you down and stretch the muscles involved.

Dead Hang: Muscles Worked

Dead hangs are a static exercise where the person is required to simply hang off a pull-up bar. 

So, the question is, “What do dead hangs work?” 

a male model with muscles worked during dead hang highlighted in sections - shoulders, arms, upper back, core

Here are the main muscles targeted by this exercise:

  • Deltoids
  • Upper back
  • Flexors of the hands and wrists
  • Core
  • Forearms

Dead Hang Benefits

Dead hangs may not lead to massive gains, but they still offer a wide range of benefits. Below, we discuss the main ones.  

Increase Grip Strength

Having a strong grip is essential in everyday life. You need it even for the simplest actions, such as opening a jar of peanut butter or holding objects. 

Having a strong grip was also correlated to an improved quality of life in older populations, meaning that including dead hangs in your exercise routine can help you age more healthily. [1]

Stretch and Decompress Your Spine

Hanging dead weight allows gravity to pull you down and can help you stretch and decompress your spine, which is especially useful if you suffer from stiffness or pain around the lower back area. [2] 

Stretch Your Upper Back

As well as stretching your spine, dead hangs can also help you relieve tension in the upper back by pulling the muscles in this area, like the trapezius and rhomboids.

Stronger Core

Hanging dead weight can target your core, especially if you manage to have full control over your posture and prevent swinging. [3] 

Stronger Shoulders

Holding a dead hang strengthens your deltoids and the rotator cuffs, which ultimately helps prevent shoulder injuries. [3] [4]

Do Dead Hangs Build Muscle?

Among the benefits they do have, unfortunately for dead hangs, building muscle mass is not one of them. 

However, it is a great exercise to condition and strengthen all the muscles involved.

How to Do Dead Hang

Dead hangs are rather simple, yet correct execution is essential to prevent injuries as well as ensure you target your muscles effectively. 

Here is how to do a dead hang:

  1. Find a well-secured pull-up bar, then use a stable stepper or a stool to reach it using your arms.
  2. Firmly grip the bar evenly at shoulder-width, with the palms facing forward.
  3. Take your feet off the stepper to hang off the bar.
  4. Keep your arms straight and relax the muscles to feel a stretch in your upper body and down the spine.
  5. Keep the hang for as long as you can, or start by hanging for a few seconds and slowly increment as you get stronger.
  6. Once you’re done, carefully reach the stepper with your feet, then release the grip.
  7. Repeat for as many sets as needed.

How to Incorporate Dead Hangs in Your Routine

Dead hang can be used as a spine decompressing exercise at the end of a training session when doing upper body exercises or lower body compound exercises, as they can put a strain on your back and your spinal cord. 

In case you want to perform dead hangs to improve your core and shoulder strength, then you can perform a few intra-workout sets as part of your strengthening exercise protocol. 

Alternatively, they can also be performed prior to an upper-body session as part of your warmup. 

Are Dead Hangs Good if You Have an Injury?

Despite dead hangs being great at conditioning the upper body, anyone with a pre-existing injury or pain present in that area should get professional advice on whether to perform this exercise. 

Likewise, people who have shoulder hypermobility might need to refrain from this exercise as a way to prevent injuries. [5] 

4 Reasons You Can’t Hold Dead Hangs

Struggling with holding a dead hang or any other hanging exercise could be a sign that you need to work on some aspects of your strength.

Here, you can find the main reasons why a person might be unable to hold a dead hang and some tips to overcome these issues.

Poor Grip Strength

Having weak forearms can lead to poor grip strength. Therefore, strengthening the muscles in this area should help you hold a dead hang for longer. 

You can strengthen your forearms by performing exercises like wrist curls, suitcase holds, or farmer’s holds. 

Weak Core

A weak core can make it harder for you to hold your dead hang, and if this is your case, then strengthening the muscles in your trunk is necessary. 

You can strengthen your core by doing abs exercises, such as planks, weighted sit-ups, mountain climbers, leg drops, or dead bugs.   

Weak Back and Posterior Deltoids

If your back and posterior deltoid muscles are not strong enough, you may struggle with your dead hang. 

You can strengthen these muscles by doing rear delt flys, inverted rows, lat pull downs, or dumbbell shrugs. 

Weak Shoulders

Having weak shoulders can lead to difficulties in holding the grip as gravity pulls you down. 

You can strengthen your shoulder muscles by performing exercises like lateral raises, shoulder presses, and front raises. 

Weak Glutes

Having weak glutes can lead to swinging when doing a dead hang, which ultimately can compromise your grip and hold time. 

Perform glute exercises such as donkey kicks, hip thrusts, glute bridges, or kickbacks to strengthen your glutes and improve your grip. 

Dead Hang Variations: Beginner to Advanced

You don’t have to jump straight into dead hangs if you are a beginner and are still working on your upper body’s strength.

Likewise, you can perform some variations of this exercise to progress as you get stronger. 

Here, you can find some dead hang alternatives, from beginner to more advanced variations.

Beginner Dead Hangs

This beginner-friendly version is useful to improve grip strength and get used to the hold. 

All you need to do is stand on a stepper as you grip the pull-up bar and bend your knees slightly to feel a bit of a pull down your back and shoulders.

Assisted Dead Hangs

This variation requires the use of an elastic band to support you and help you get used to the exercise as you also condition your grip and upper body strength. 

This variation is a regression from the original dead hang; therefore, it is suitable for beginners who still don’t have the required strength to perform the standard version of this exercise. 

Dead Hangs on Rings

This variation is more difficult than the original dead hang, as the rings make it more unstable, requiring you to have stronger core and upper body muscles to prevent swinging and allow you to hold the grip.

Single-Hand Dead Hangs

For this variation, all you need to do is to grip the bar and hang using only one hand. 

This variation is more advanced and, therefore, is suitable for those who already developed great strength in their core, back, shoulders, and forearms. 

Final Words

Dead hangs can be a great exercise to include in your workouts. Here you can find the key points about this exercise and the benefits it offers:

  • Dead hangs require you to hang off a pull-up bar whilst relaxing your body, so to allow your body weight and gravity to pull you down and stretch the muscles involved.
  • Dead hangs mainly work the shoulders, upper back, flexors of the hands and wrists, core, and forearms.
  • Dead hangs don’t build muscles; however, they do condition your body to develop a stronger grip and also strengthen your upper body muscles.
  • Performing dead hangs offers a wide range of benefits, such as increased grip strength, spine stretching and decompression, upper back stretching, and increased core and shoulder strength.
  • When performing dead hangs, always make sure to perform them safely and using stable equipment, especially if you are a beginner.
  • Dead hangs can be done at the end of a session to stretch your back and decompress the spine, during your warm-up to prepare your muscles for your workout, or intra-workout if you use it as a conditioning exercise to strengthen your grip and upper body muscles.
  • If you suffer from pre-existing shoulder injuries or are hypermobile, you may want to refrain from performing dead hangs so as to prevent hurting yourself.
  • If you can’t hold a dead hang, you may need to improve your grip, core, back, shoulders or glute strength.
  • If you are a beginner, you can try doing assisted versions of the dead hang, whilst as you get stronger you can progress by performing this exercise on rings or using only one hand.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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