2 positions you can get your body in that will improve your health. Part 2
Last week I shared part 1 of the two part series in which I break down a couple of important learnings from a podcast and a chat with movement teacher Ido Portal. If you missed last weeks, or would like to read it again, you can now find all of my previous writings on my blog. This week, I want to share with you what I have learnt about the overhead hang.
Part 2: Hanging
My friend Dooma lent me a book a few weeks ago, written by Orthopedic Surgeon John M. Kirsch, MD called “Shoulder Pain, The Solution & Prevention” and I just finally got around to reading it. Ido quotes this book as a study into why hanging can be used as another great tool to keep you feeling good. Like the squat challenge, in which Ido asks you to squat for 30 minutes a day for 30 days straight, he also poses a hanging challenge of 7 minutes a day for 30 days. These 7 minutes should also be broken down into smaller time increments especially if you haven’t hung out in a while.
The technical name for hanging is brachiation and it has many benefits and to preface why we should do it we need to take an evolutionary perspective. If you look at our primate ancestors, you will see that most of them get around by hanging and swinging from trees. If you compare the human anatomy of the shoulder joint to that of the primate, you will see that even with the many thousands of years of evolution, the structure is still very much the same and so it makes sense that if we were to stop hanging, shoulder issues would follow.
The process of brachiating is so powerful that it can actually reshape your bones. Wolffs law tells us that bone in a healthy person will adapt or (reshape) to the loads under which it is placed. An easy to imagine example of this is how a ballerina will develop bone spurs or extra growth in her feet around areas which are under higher amounts of stress or force. This is important to understand, especially when I have 40 year old clients telling me that they are suffering from “40’s shoulder” where all people in their 40s begin to lose the mobility or ability to lift their arm above their head. Don’t be mistaken, 40’s shoulder is completely avoidable.
If you run your hand up the side of your arm, you eventually will feel a boney structure called the acromion. The area underneath this joint can be a common sight of pain and discomfort for many individuals, especially those hitting older age. One reason being that the force of gravity, over many years without brachiation has flattened this bone, which normally forms and arch, putting pressure and stress in the tendons which lie below. Many of you may have experienced or know someone who is currently experiencing pain or issues involving the rotator cuff and it’s associated tendons. If this is you, you might benefit from hanging. If you are in a lot of pain already, hanging will be painful at first and so placing a stool or something underneath you to absorb some of the load is a good idea. The act of brachiating will apply enough force to this now flattened acromion, that over time you will begin to reshape the bone, restoring it’s normal arc, thus taking pressure off of the tendons which sit below. Not only that, but hanging will improve grip strength, increase thoracic mobility, can help traction the spine reducing back pain and by building stronger shoulders hanging can help take some of the weight bearing burden off of the cervical spine, decreasing neck pain in some people. You will stretch your pecs, your lats, your intercostals (muscles between your ribs), all of which will help you stand taller and breathe better.
So why not give it a try? You don’t need any special equipment, a tree limb will do and if it’s too high, throw a towel over it and hang from that. A technique that I found to be a really good mobilization of the area of your spine between your shoulder blades, is to hang from a bar or rings and explore your neck range of motion by looking down at your toes or back behind you or over your shoulder, or anywhere else that you can take your gaze. Give it a go for a few days in a row and let me know what you think.