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Hanging for shoulder and back health

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Shoulders are built for hanging and swinging, but these actions are rarely included in exercise programs. As a Pilates and Yoga teacher I see SO many shoulder injuries from my clients which makes me really sad as having a shoulder injury stops you from doing so many things and really impacts your daily life. (I have a tutorial on Yoga Chataranga in my On Demand Portal for members).

For shoulder and back health hanging is essential for human beings, and one which most don’t do very much. Pull-ups offer similar benefits to hanging, but they aren’t as natural, simple, and easy to perform and require perseverance for many to achieve this movement.

Have you ever watched the way a Gibbon will swing through the trees and is easily able to hang and propel with one arm? Imagine the mobility and strength in that shoulder girdle. How often does a Monke’y get a shoulder injury? Practically never.

Humans have shoulders that are capable of this motion also. The naturalness of hanging and swinging is easily seen by watching young children, who start doing these movements spontaneously with play. I frequently encourage my daughter to hang and pull and climb, for a child with hypermobility in her joints it is important she stays strong to avoid injury. For those of you who attend my classes will know that frequently I refer to animal and child behaviour/movement and play. When and why did we have to grow up and restrict our play time!

Unfortunately the shoulder can be very easily injured as it is an unstable and unsupported joint. A ball and socket joint – very mobile but often gets tight, restricted and weak, lack of use and poor posture play a big part of this road to injury. Doing the right exercises for shoulder health will not only improve your posture but you will be less likely to become injured when doing the sport you love such as golf.

Many physios will recommend hanging for back health. It is a wonderful way to decompress the spine and stretch the body. Gravity is creating space in the joints to avoid compression or impingement of sensitive tissues.

I do know from personal experience that hanging from a bar feels really good, certainly knowing that on the other side of 40 keeping strong is crucial for me. I hang at every opportunity. It makes me feel loose, strong, and ready to move. Hanging is on my list of “add it in whenever you can” if you want your shoulders to move better and feel better and get stronger – hang.

On my instagram account @movementbunny I will be posting up a selection of Reformer shoulder health videos. These exercises are good for mobility and strengthening of the Rotator Cuff muscles (4 muscles that support the shoulder). If you want to follow these videos then find and follow me. Although these exercises are shown on the Reformer you can do the same using a resistance band.

Here are a few ways you can experiment with hanging. Make sure to spend plenty of time exploring and getting comfortable with the easy moves before moving onto the more challenging ones. And if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it! Always warm up the shoulders first with some arm circles and stretches.

Lighten the load

  • Take the load down by keeping the feet on the floor, using a stool or a resistance band. Build up your grip strength.

Do Downdog

  • As important as it is to hang build up the Strength in ‘push’ with a downdog.

Move your hands and grip

  • Experiment with different hand positions to find the one where you feel most comfortable, then when this becomes easy change it.

Play with scapular movement

  • When you can hang you want to build up the ability to move the shoulder blades up and down your back. Shrug your shoulders to your ears then release them. Slowly move back and forth between these two positions, keeping the elbows straight, so you can feel the difference between active and passive shoulders while hanging. The relaxed shoulders will most likely let you hang for longer, because that is less work but you need the strength to do both.

Lengthen your spine

  • Try to release tension, so your body gets as “long” as possible. Let the spine lengthen so that the space between the wrists and tailbone expands. Find spaces that are holding tension, and see if they can let go. Yogic breath can help with this.


  • Playing with all the above movements is a surprisingly good challenge to strength. See how long you can just hang with your full bodyweight. Then when you know you can do 30 seconds, start to play.

Below are 2 FREE videos to help with some strength and mobility for your upper body. Show me your efforts and progress by tagging #pilatesandyogawithbunny

Yoga release for backs and shoulders – Pilates and Yoga with Bunny

Desk sitters quick fix Pilates – Pilates and Yoga with Bunny

As always I am always open for a text message, email or DM for questions. Thank you for reading. My Pilates and Yoga classes always include postural exercises and mobility to improve your quality of life. Get in touch to sign up to either live or online Yoga and Pilates.

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