By Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
Who said the only way to hang from a horizontal surface is with a “dead-hang”? This is shrinking your movement horizon, which in turn shrinks your practice, which shrinks your movement skills and conditioning, ultimately shrinking your movement capability.
If you are a MovNatter, you are already aware of the broad range of positions and movements you have to practice. If you are new to MovNat, welcome to a new world of fitness possibilities. Climbing is, of course, a Natural Movement skill. So, it involves hanging in adaptable ways to a great variety of surfaces, with diverse ways to approach moving on them. Logically, there is going to be a wide scope of hanging positions that you must become strong, stable, and comfortable with in order to facilitate effective and efficient climbing moves. By wide, I mean WIDE.
So, today is the time to say good-bye to the highly reductive idea that hanging from a horizontal surface is only done in a “dead-hang” fashion (i.e., hanging from your hands only, which in MovNat jargon is called the “double-hand hang.”).
You could hang using your elbows, forearms, legs, feet using many different positional combinations.
But for now, I just want to talk about “arm hangs” on horizontal surfaces which will imply hanging using your hands but also your wrists, forearms and elbow creases. You see, even if we limit ourselves to those types of hangs, we still end up with much, MUCH more than just a regular dead-hang. If, on top of that, you add hanging on/from surfaces much thicker than regular pullup bars (where you can clinch your fists and use your opposing thumb to secure a strong and reliable grip), you can easily imagine how this is going to induce significant changes in movement practice and physiological adaptations as well.
3 Reasons to Practice Many Different Hanging Movements
So, if you start hanging from your arms in a variety of different ways, what’s going to happen?
1) Increased Grip Strength
In real life, hanging on thick surfaces will usually have to be done in an “open hand” fashion, with all fingers aligned in the same direction (including the thumb), dramatically increasing the level of grip strength necessary to hold your position securely. This can be so demanding that you may not be able to pull your body up (assuming that you normally can). And sometimes, you won’t even be able to hold the stance more than a few seconds. This makes it a fantastic way to develop higher levels of grip strength so you can feel capable when approaching thick hanging surfaces.
2) Increased Toughness
Using different parts of your arms to hang will put a novel type of stress on tissues that are probably not used to support your bodyweight. This often bruises those tissues even if you gently position them onto the supporting surface. It may not look pretty at first, but soon your tissues will adapt and become stronger that way.
3) Increased Strength, Conditioning, and Muscle Development
Holding new hanging positions will generate unusual muscular tension because of the differences in positional angles. You will immediately feel it as you practice those new positions, as well as the next day(s). New kinetic chains necessary to hold those diverse positions will be formed, challenging your muscles and tendons to strengthen in new ways to ensure stability. It won’t just benefit your strength, but also muscle elasticity and joint mobility. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about yet, wait until you assume those positions and it will become immediately clear to you.
For those reasons, you may not enjoy practicing such hangs as they might instantly throw you out of your comfort zone. Heck, isn’t that alone an additional proof of their value?
Before You Begin
1) These positions are all PRACTICAL. They are used to prepare for particular MovNat climbing techniques and transitions, or to readjust, rest, or even to safely climb down.
2) Remember to relax and BREATHE abdominally. Safety in arm hangs is enhanced mostly by an increase in muscular strength including mostly grip strength and shoulder girdle strength, which naturally develops as you hang more frequently, for longer periods of time, on thicker support surfaces, or as you move more dynamically while hanging.
3) Finally, here are some notes about the MovNat jargon, which will be particularly relevant for MovNat Certification candidates.
- In a “side” hang, the orientation of the body is parallel to the surface. Whereas, in a “front” hang, the orientation of the body is perpendicular to the surface.
- Hangs are more or less “activated” with muscular tension, placing the center of gravity the lowest from or highest towards the base of support (whichever part of your body keeps you hanging), or somewhere in between. All hangs are “low” by default in the sense that you may hang using only the minimal level of tension required to maintain such hang and avoid falling off the support surface. However, additional tension may elevate the position – without modifying the base of support itself, only raising the center of gravity closer to the base of support. This is why I occasionally specify the height of the elevation of a given hang position as “low”, “mid” or “high” – “mid” meaning mid-raised and “high” meaning high-raised positions.
- Similarly, the base of support can be “narrow”, “neutral” or “wide” depending on the space between the points of support.
So, check out these 13 arm hang positions. Look at the photos and read the short descriptions that tell you what is the usual practical reason for each of them. Try some, or try them all, and see how you do. Figure out which ones you can hold, which ones give you trouble, and which ones you are comfortable in.
Hang #1 – Neutral base, double-hand front hang
Hands about shoulder with apart, mostly used for front swing traversing.
Hang #2 – Narrow base, double-hand front hang.
Normally used to secure a strong grip before elevating the legs to an arm-leg-hang. Fingers can be interlaced to add friction to the gripping.
Hang #3 – Wide base, double-hand side hang (“deadhang”).
Inefficient for upward movements, but efficient for side swing traversing.
Hang #4 – Narrow base, double-hand side hang.
Used if there is more friction this way on a given surface.
Hang #5 – Scapular pull double-hand hang.
This can be used with more or less tension or back lean to strengthen gripping, protect shoulder joints, change vision standpoint, or prepare for an upward motion.
Hang #6 – High double-hand side hang
This can be a mid side arm-hang when performed with half-flexion at the elbows.
Hang #7 – Double-arm-hook side hang.
Hang #8 – Double-arm-hook front hang.
It can be used to transition to an arm-leg-hang or to secure an arm-hang when hanging from the hands is not possible, or as a rest or recovery hang.
Hang #9 – Single-arm-hook front hang.
The head is on the opposite side of the supporting arm. Same as above.
Hang #10 – Single-arm-hook side hang.
The head is on the same side of the supporting arm. Same as above.
Hang #11 – High double-forearm side hang.
It can be used to elevate the hips to facilitate hooking a leg in an arm-leg-hang. The same position can be held “mid” or “low”.
Hang #12 – High single-forearm side hang.
Usually used to securely transition from the double-hand hang to the double-forearm hang or the other way around.
Hang #13 -Double-armpit hang.
This is a rest or recovery hang.
Those hangs should give you plenty to work with. In my upcoming book, I will give you ideas of practice drills you can do to learn to transition from one to another and become strong, stable and comfortable in the process. You’ll also learn how to combine these hangs with other movement skills.
Keep in mind that there isn’t a single “best” way to hang from your arms, only adaptable ones which all hold practical value.
- A wide grip side hang is not efficient for upward movement, but assuming you have enough friction and a strong grip, it is great for side swing traversing.
- A slight scapular depression or retraction is not necessary in an arm hang…unless you need to protect your shoulder joints, or need it for a particular hang movement.
- You cannot front swing traverse efficiently in a double arm hook front hang, but you can front swing to double- arm-hook foot-pinch hang.
- You cannot side swing efficiently in a forearm hang, but you can move upward (pop-up).
- A double armpit hang prevents upward movements, but is a great resting position.
The lesson is you should develop an understanding of the specific role of each arm hang position, and of course, an ability to hold all of them with sufficient strength and control as well. This only happens with specificity in practice, not thanks to general conditioning.
Now go train, get strong, and help us spread the MovNat gospel of real-life physical capability! And stay tuned for the release of my book, which will cover even more arm hangs than those covered in this article.
- How to Improve Your Hanging For Better Climbing and Conditioning
- Forearm Hanging Drill To Strengthen Your Back, Shoulders, and Abs
- Beyond Box Jumps: The Power Jump to Hang Landing
- From the Ground Up: Part 5 – Hanging Foot Pinch
Note: This article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.