You may have seen articles in the media or online fitness influencers urging people to do “suspensions,” where one hangs freely from a bar — usually with their feet off the ground. The goal is usually to improve upper body strength and shoulder stability, or to stretch the muscles around the shoulder.
But what does science say? Are dead hangs good for shoulder health?
As with so many things in health and fitness, it’s not an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It really depends on your reason for doing it, your individual biology, and how you do it. For some, fatal blockages can lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
The shoulder: a relatively unstable joint
death hangs can improve grip strength and endurance of climbers. This suggests that if you are well suited for this type of exercise and have very good upper body strength, suspensions may provide benefits for your hands and forearms.
But while suspensions may be fine for people with good upper body strength and no shoulder issues, they can be risky for others. People with shoulder hypermobility (excessive shoulder movement) or shoulder instability (such as those who easily dislocate the shoulder) may need to be cautious.
The shoulder, by design, is a relatively unstable joint. It has a large, ball-like bone called the humerus, which sits in a relatively small cavity called the glenoid.
The passive (non-muscle) tissue around these bones (the capsule, labrum, and ligaments) creates generous space around the shoulder joint – all so you can move your arm through a wide range of motion .
Because there isn’t much passive support in the shoulder, it relies heavily on active muscle coordination and strength to keep it stable.
Coordinating the muscles around the shoulder blade help keep the socket in the right place, and the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles help control the “ball” in the center of the socket as you move.
All of this means that locks, if not done correctly, could pose a risk to people with shoulder hypermobility.
Hypermobility and shoulder
Some people have excessive movement of their joints due to the increased elasticity of the joint tissue. This is called hypermobility and can involve the shoulder or all of the joints.
The arm-over-head position of a full dead hang puts you in a position where, inside your shoulder, the ball is pulled out of the socket. Hanging the whole body weight can, in hypermobile people, stretch the tissues even more.
People with shoulder hypermobility are more likely develop a painful shoulder instabilitythat is, when the bullet often comes out of the socket.
Shoulder instability can be caused by acute trauma (such as a dislocation). Or it may develop over time from loss of muscle control, deriving from micro-trauma (eg swimming lengths in the pool with hand paddles).
Shoulder instability is associated with reduced strength and coordination in the shoulder muscles. Among those under 40, it is often misdiagnosed such as “rotator cuff pain” or “shoulder muscle tightness”.
What can I do instead of crashing?
Dead blocks require good core strength, can risk knocking the ball out of the socket for some people, and can stretch passive tissue. It is not the best exercise for those who suffer from hypermobility and shoulder instability.
So what is the alternative? A treatment known as Watson instability program had good results to resolve non-traumatic shoulder instability compared to a general shoulder strengthening program.
This program focuses on shoulder blade control (like the upward rotation you get when you reach a high shelf). This involves engaging the muscles of the scapula and shoulder joint to improve contact between the bullet and the socket.
Building shoulder blade control and strength can help build shoulder strength.
Still want to try dead hangs?
If you are determined to block, remember to:
start with small increments; hang in there for ten seconds or less at first, and build from there
don’t let yourself get too tired; your shoulder joint may become less stable when fatigued
try dropping from a box under the bar rather than jumping up to the bar
keep an “active” tone in your shoulders as you hang; hanging completely passively can be risky.
Our team is conducting a trial of the Watson instability program. We study brain changes in patients with multidirectional shoulder instability.
If you are a female between the ages of 18 and 35 with non-traumatic right shoulder instability and would like the chance to receive six months of free physiotherapy treatment through the Watson Instability Program as part of our study, please contact one of us. or learn more about the study here.