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Pullups are no joke. Even for seriously fit people, pullups can be a challenge. It’s no easy feat lifting your entire body up with only a bar for support.

One way to help achieve a pullup is by doing dead hangs. Their name sounds just what they’re like: You simply hang from a pullup bar.

Some people also use dead hangs to stretch the upper body.

Let’s take a look at the other reasons to do dead hangs, how to do them properly, and variations to try.

The dead hang works and strengthens the following muscle groups:

  • upper back
  • shoulders
  • core
  • forearms
  • hand and wrist flexors

Working these muscle groups will help you achieve a pullup. But that’s not all dead hangs can do.

Decompress spine

A dead hang may decompress and stretch out the spine. It may be beneficial if you sit often or need to stretch out a sore back.

Try hanging with straight arms for 30 seconds to one minute before or after your workout for best results.

Improve grip strength

Dead hangs can improve grip strength. A strong grip isn’t just for holding your phone. Some studies show weak grip strength may be a risk factor for decreased mobility later in life.

You need to have a strong grip whether you want to open a tight jar or plan to rock climb. Performing dead hangs several times a week may help improve grip strength.

Stretch the upper body

Dead hangs are a nice stretch for the shoulders, arms, and back. If your body is feeling tight from sitting or exercise, you may want to try dead hangs a few times a week as a cooldown or relaxing stretch.

Relieve shoulder pain

If you have a rotator cuff injury, dead hangs may strengthen your injured shoulder muscles and help your shoulder remodel itself.

To perform a dead hang, follow these steps:

  1. Use a secure overhead bar. Use a step or bench so you can easily reach the bar with your arms. You don’t want to jump straight into a dead hang.
  2. Grip the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you). Aim to keep your arms shoulder-width apart.
  3. Move your feet off the step or bench so you’re hanging on to the bar.
  4. Keep your arms straight. Don’t bend your arms and stay relaxed.
  5. Hang for 10 seconds if you’re new to the exercise. Work your way up to 45 seconds to 1 minute at a time.
  6. Slowly step back onto the step or bench before releasing your arms. Repeat up to 3 times, if you wish.

Modified dead hang for beginners

If you’re new to dead hangs, focus on proper overhead grip form before trying the exercise. You can practice the grip while standing on a bench or step while hanging on to the bar.

Once you have your grip down, you can perform modified dead hangs on an assisted pullup machine. The added resistance will help you master the move before performing dead hangs on your own.

When should you do dead hangs?

It all depends on your goals.

Are you using dead hangs to decompress your spine? Do them before or after exercise as a nice stretch.

Are you developing upper body strength? Try adding in dead hangs on days when you do other upper body or shoulder exercises. You can work up to 3 sets of 30-second hangs.

Once you have the traditional dead hang down, you can try some variations.

Dead hang on overhead rings

Overhead rings aren’t as stable as a bar, so they add an additional challenge. Here’s how to do them:

  1. Use a step or bench to easily reach the overhead rings.
  2. Grip one ring with each hand as you step off the bench to hang, or lift your legs so your knees are bent, depending on how high the rings are.
  3. Keep your arms straight as you hang.
  4. Hang on to the rings for 10 to 30 seconds. Work up to 3 sets.

Neutral grip dead hang

Perform the steps above to do a dead hang, but have your palms facing toward you throughout the exercise.

One-handed dead hang

As you work up strength, try performing the dead hang with one arm instead of two. This is a more advanced move.

Dead hangs are a good first step to mastering the pullup. If your goal is to progress from a dead hang to a pullup, focus on strength training your upper body and core.

The following machines are likely in your local gym. They can help you gain the needed strength to progress to a pullup:

  • The assisted pullup machine will help you master the form to properly perform unassisted pullups. Gradually perform pullups with less weight resistance as you get stronger.
  • TRX can help you develop strength in your biceps and shoulders.
  • A cable machine allows you to perform lat pulldowns and straight arm pulldowns.
  • Chinups, either assisted or unassisted, develop the muscles needed to do full pullups.

The dead hang is a good exercise to practice if you’re training to do pullups from an overhead bar or just want to improve your upper body strength. Dead hangs also help stretch out and decompress the spine.

Make sure you’re doing dead hangs from a secure bar. Work your way up in duration to prevent injury.

Dead hangs may not be safe if you’re pregnant. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to a personal trainer for support.