The dead hang exercise can be a great training tool en route to tackling full pull-ups.
One of the benefits of dead hanging is that you can help build your grip strength for pull-ups and practice your body positioning without needing to actually lift your entire body up.
In this article, we will discuss how to do dead hangs, the benefits of dead hanging, and how to progress from dead hangs toward mastering pull-ups.
We will cover:
- What Are Dead Hangs?
- How to Do a Dead Hang
- Benefits of Dead Hanging
- Modifying Dead Hangs for Beginners, and Progressing Dead Hangs for Advanced Athletes
Let’s jump in!
What Are Dead Hangs?
Dead hangs, or dead hanging, is an exercise that involves holding on to the overhead pull-up bar with extended arms and supporting your hanging body with your grip with your feet off the ground.
Unlike with pull-ups or chin-ups, you don’t have to lift your body up and over the bar. Rather, the dead hang is a static hold, so it can be compared to an isometric exercise like a plank, wherein no actual movement is occurring, but your muscles are still working.
How to Do a Dead Hang
Performing a dead hang is fairly straightforward. Here are the steps:
- Place a step, bench, or box underneath a secure overhead pull-up bar if you can’t reach it without simply raising your arms up. You do not want to have to jump up into a dead hang in the way that you might for pull-ups or chin-ups.
- Use a pull-up grip (overhand, such that your palms are facing away from you) to grab onto the bar, positioning your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Remove your feet from the step, box, or bench, so you’re hanging on to the bar with your arms fully extended. If the bar is too low so that your feet would be touching the ground, bend your knees so that your shins and feet are behind your body.
- Try to keep your upper body relatively relaxed, but engage your core and glutes for stability.
Hang for 10-60 seconds or more, depending on your fitness level, gradually increasing your dead hang time as your strength improves.
Carefully hop down or step back onto your step or box if it’s within reach when you are done.
Complete three sets, if possible.
Benefits of Dead Hanging
There are several potential benefits of dead hanging. Dead hang benefits include the following:
#1: Dead Hangs Strengthen Numerous Upper-Body Muscles
Dead hangs work most of the muscles in the back, arms, and upper body in general, including the:
- Deltoids and rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders
- Abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and external and internal obliques)
- Upper-back muscles like the trapezius and rhomboid
- Latissimus dorsi and erector spinae of the back
- Brachioradialis in the forearms
- Biceps and triceps of the upper arms, to some degree
Increasing the strength in these muscles can improve your lifting capacity for numerous exercises and can translate to improved athletic performance in activities such as rowing, swimming, boxing, jump roping, and even running.
#2: Dead Hangs Improve Grip Strength
One of the main benefits of dead hanging is that it can improve grip strength.
Grip strength is an often overlooked aspect of fitness. Poor grip strength can indeed be a limiting factor in how much you can handle for certain lifts and strength training exercises and can also be one of the aspects that makes pull-ups challenging.
We often spend countless hours strengthening upper-body muscles involved in key lifts like the bench press, deadlifts, curls, and rows, but we don’t pay much attention to deliberately training wrist and hand muscles for grip strength.
Moreover, the importance of having good grip strength extends beyond helping you lift more weight in the gym.
Some studies have found that poor grip strength may even be a risk factor for decreased mobility later in life.
Plus, having adequate grip strength is important for everyday activities such as opening jars, carrying suitcases, and for older people, or those with mobility impairments, holding onto a cane.
One of the benefits of dead hanging for longer durations is that it builds muscular strength and endurance in the key wrist, hand, and finger flexor muscles.
#3: Dead Hangs Can Stretch the Spine
One of the helpful dead hang benefits is that the exercise can help stretch out and decompress the spine. The dead-hanging posture puts some amount of traction on the spine and reduces compressive forces.
#4: Dead Hangs Can Stretch Out the Upper Body and Shoulders
The dead hang exercise is a great way to stretch out the upper back and shoulders. It can feel really good for those who sit at a desk most of the day.
#5: Dead Hangs Can Prepare You for Pull-Ups
As mentioned, one of the main benefits of dead hanging is that the exercise can serve as a stepping stone to progress you towards being able to perform pull-ups.
Between the overlap in the muscles worked by dead hanging and pull-ups, the fact that dead hangs improve grip strength, and the similar body positioning between the two exercises, dead hangs can begin to train your body to conquer full pull-ups.
Regularly incorporating dead hangs into your workout routine, along with other exercises that strengthen the muscles used during pull-ups—including lat pull-downs, rows, reverse flys, and face pulls—can be an effective way to work towards being able to do pull-ups.
Modifying Dead Hangs for Beginners, and Progressing Dead Hangs for Advanced Athletes
Note that if you aren’t yet strong enough to support your body weight, you can do modified dead hangs using the assisted pull-up machine.
This weight machine allows you to offset some of your body weight so that you are partially supported.
As you get stronger, you can decrease the amount of assistance you are using until you are able to do a dead hang on your own.
As you become more adept at deadheading and the exercise becomes too easy, you can start to progress the move towards regular pull-ups or make the exercise more challenging by adding resistance or changing what you are holding onto.
For example, instead of dead hanging on a pull-up bar, you can use rings, like those used in gymnastics, which will make the exercise much more difficult.
Because rings swing and move independently, dead hanging from rings instead of a pull-up bar requires significantly more activation from your shoulder muscles, back muscles, and core muscles in order to stabilize the body. Additionally, each arm has to work independently, turning the movement into a unilateral strengthening exercise.
In other words, when you are dead hanging from a pull-up bar, whichever side of your body is stronger or more dominant can effectively “take over” and keep you stabilized and hanging from the bar.
However, when you are dead hanging holding onto rings, each arm has to independently support approximately 50% of your body weight, preventing one side from completely commandeering the bulk of the workload.
Another advanced dead hang progression is to perform the exercise one-handed. This will require significant grip strength and shoulder and core stability.
Another way to modify dead hangs is to use a chin-up grip, such that your palms face your body. Although this won’t necessarily make the exercise more difficult, it will alter the muscles that are targeted, placing a little more emphasis on the chest and biceps.
If you are using dead hangs as a stepping stone to progress towards full pull-ups, you can begin to make strides towards a pull-up by partial pull-ups from your dead hangs.
Perform your dead hangs as you normally would, but perform partial pull-ups, lifting your body up several inches by bending your elbows and contracting your lats and then slowly lowering yourself back down. You don’t have to get your chin all the way over the bar, but try to lift your body at least part way up.
The dead hang exercise is simple and may be quite easy for fit individuals, but it can still be challenging for beginners and is a great introductory exercise to help you work your way toward being able to perform regular pull-ups.
There are many benefits of dead hanging, most notably the fact that they require very little technique and instruction, making them a beginner-friendly movement while still strengthening many key back muscles and upper-body muscles and improving grip strength.