The Hanging Truth
There’s been a growing trend taking place amongst the Obstacle Course Race community for years. Our Instagram and Facebook feeds are being taken over by people hanging from a pull up bar for 4, 5, 6+ minutes, bored out of their mind and claiming that its giving them some benefit for their OCR career. People, please STOP! Dead hangs are not improving much more than your ability to overcome your Attention Deficit Disorder.
Let’s get real for a second. Dead hangs do have some benefits on a relatively sedentary individual. They improve your grip strength, they improve your rotator cuff strength and your shoulder stability, and they improve your posture through spinal traction. These sound like positive benefits. But at what point are you going from gaining a benefit to plateauing and just wasting pointless minutes in your day?
Dead Hangs over a minute in duration are useless in Obstacle Course Training. There, I said it. Can you name a single obstacle during any given OCR that requires you to hang completely still for any given period of time? My guess is the answer is no. So why do we feel the need to hang for minutes at a time and call it training?
Let’s start talking about the real type of hanging that will help your obstacle efficiency, a Bicep “L” Hang. This is when you pull yourself into a 90 degree angle in your arms and hang for a given length of time. You will undoubtedly be able to hold yourself in this position for an exponentially less amount of time as a dead hang and you will see much more benefit in everyday life as well as in your obstacle completion abilities.
In the Fitness world, this technique is classified as an isometric pull up. You are maintaining a contraction, but you are not moving through a motion. This hold recruits your pull up muscles, mainly your lats, your traps, and your biceps. You will also experience a strong contraction through your grip, your forearms and your shoulder stabilizers. This muscle recruitment leads to a greater amount of muscular strength-endurance, your body’s ability to hold strength over a given period of time, which will lead to a greater time to fatigue during training and racing. The bicep hold will then also show the same benefits as a dead hang such as improving posture, specifically through the recruitment of your rhomboids and your lower traps, improving shoulder mobility, stability, and strength, and improving overall grip strength.
These are all reason alone to train your Bicep Hold, but the greatest benefit that comes from the Isometric Pull Up comes when you overcome the feeling of discomfort and train your body to resist gravity as it pulls you to the dead hang position. This contraction is called an eccentric contraction. The eccentric contraction is the most effective type of contraction in gaining strength. For a pull up, this is commonly called a “Negative Pull Up”. When doing this Negative Pull Up, you are strengthening your back and your biceps through the full range of motion in a pull up, a major benefit that you will never experience in a dead hang. This will help to build up your pull up strength and it will also teach you how to be comfortable with discomfort.
Between the the countless pictures and videos of dead hang challenges, and the continually growing OCR community on Facebook, people have been asking and commenting about the correlation between Dead Hangs and one’s Obstacle completion. Before I answer this question, I decided to pose the question to Instagram. Based on my Instagram poll, 69% of OCR athletes would rather perform a bicep hang over a dead hang.
An “L hang is how I approach all upper body obstacles” says eyesight2012. Now going back to the correlation between a Dead Hang and the completion of hanging obstacles, the answer is quite simple, its zero. As eyesight2012 responded, a Bicep Hang is far more beneficial because this is one of the two techniques that are most efficient for obstacle completion. Either you are learning to swing through your Dead Hang to move from attachment to attachment, or you are able to hold yourself up through the bicep hold and can then traverse across the obstacle utilizing your muscular strength. You never once just hang.
I know that my stance may come as a shock to most people in the OCR community. Should you continue to Dead Hang? Hell yeah! But in a specific manner.
Alternating Single Arm Dead Hangs
Pull Up with a 5 second Dead Hang between Repetitions
Dead Hang into a Momentum Swing
Obstacle Course Racing is a new sport. Our athletes range from top tier endurance and strength athletes all the way to the fresh off the couch resolutioners. A Bicep Hold is not in everybody’s capabilities, but there are ways to continue to train it.
Isometric Cable/Dumbbell Bicep Curl - Hold a weight in a curl, let gravity pull your arms straight as you resist this pull
Assisted Pull Up Machine Bicep Hold - Kneel on an assisted machine, adjusting weight to where you need, and hold the 90 degree angle in your elbows
TRX Assisted Bicep Hold - Put as much or as little weight as you’d like in your feet, focusing primarily on holding through your back and your arms as you hold a 90 degree angle
Band-Assistend Bicep Hold - Put your Foot/ a knee in a resistance band and hold in that pull up hold until gravity pulls you into a dead hang
The more often you perform this move, the more benefit you’ll see.
I want to issue to you a 2-week challenge. Stay committed and give me the best of your ability.
Day 1: Time your Bicep Hold, through the Negative, until you come to a Dead Hang, with no active back contraction.
Day 2-13: Add 5 Seconds on a day. Perform as many repetitions as you need each day until you reach your time goal.
Day 14: Re-test your Bicep Hold.
Tag @theocrtrainer #theocrtrainer and show me what variation you are performing. Let me know the difference in the hold from Day 1 to Day 14. Today is Day 1 of building stronger upper body obstacle technique. Good Luck.