The Dead Hang Challenge: Part 1

Our existence is not still.

Hardly anything on the face of this is stays stationary. Even mountains, which appear immovable and fixed, are susceptible to alterations in the long-run.

The human body is a dynamic, ever-changing entity. It is in a state of constant interaction with the environment and subsequent adaptation.

Like water – deformable, fluid, and free-flowing.

This attribute is a gift and a curse. It is the reason why we survive, why we overcome adversity, why we flourish… It is also the reason why we experience injury, why we succumb to grave illnesses, why we perish. This dynamic existence eventually comes to a screeching halt, and becomes nothingness.

While we all have an expiration date, what occurs during the living state of our fluidity is at least partially subject to our choices. Our bodies are our domain – external circumstances may affect us in a number of ways, there is always an internal locus of control that we have, whether we believe or not.

No one really ever is in total control of their existence, but the idea that our destinies have already been chosen is a load of crap.

My Shoulder Conundrum

Since 2009, I’ve been dealing with chronic  impingement in my left shoulder. While impingement isn’t a specific diagnosis, it essentially means that soft tissue becomes pinched or caught by bony structures of a joint. This pinching or catching is particularly stressful and is a source of damage to the affected soft tissues.

Bench pressing has been not-existent in my training program for the past 7 years. It’s the particular nature of the bench press – the descent of an abducted arm into extension while the shoulder blade is retracted and immobilized – that causes impingement without fail. Every sort of variation and modification, short of close-grip floor pressing, results in troublesome popping and clunking without fail.

In 2011, I saw a sports medicine doctor who prescribed physical therapy for my shoulder. I regularly went to the PT for months. My rowing and external rotation strength increased, and my movement patterns improved (meaning, I learned how to position my shoulder blades properly during movement), but nothing changed. I still impinged. The look of disappointment on my PT’s face when my shoulder clunked during a dumbbell bench press attempt was so disheartening.

I never opted to have an orthopedic surgeon check me out, as I had decided I wouldn’t want surgery and would just “deal with it”. And by deal with it, I mean not bench pressing. Over the years, I improved my strength all-around, except in the chesticles-region. The bench press is still king for strength and size for the front side of your upper body, unfortunately.

Finding a Solution

Fast-forward to 2013, I found a surgeon named Dr. John Kirsch who claimed that a majority of shoulder ailments, including impingement, can be improved by hanging from a bar.

Dead hangs for fixing your effed up shoulder. That’s it.

Pretty damn amazing, ain’t it?

dead hang
We can hang around like this little guy, but we surely won’t be as cute.

If you want the full details about how this may or may not work, check out my article on this from 2 years ago and don’t forget to check out Dr. Kirsch’s book.

But for the “too long, didn’t read” version, basically hanging places the arm in a position that it presses against and bends the other bones in the shoulder. Over time, this theoretically remodels the joint so that the soft tissues have more room to move around and not get pinched (AKA, impingement).

There’s surgery for this crap (it’s called shoulder decompression surgery), and any prospect of this working versus going under the knife is worth considering. What seemed like a crappy situation is now looking pretty up.

Back in 2013, I attempted the dead hang protocol a prescribed by Dr. John Kirsch around the time I wrote the original “Dead Hang” article. Really, it was a half-hearted attempt at the time. Nothing changed and I chalked my shoulder up as un-fixable.

In hindsight, I should’ve followed it more diligently and kept a log of the entire thing. I gave in to the idea that we are unchangeable, unfixable. As of this week, I’ve begun the hanging protocol again. Better late than never, I guess.

MY Dead Hang Protocol for Improving Shoulder Health

Ido Portal posted an article a year and a half ago on hanging and made mention of Dr. John Kirsch’s work. He spoke favorably of the surgeon’s writings and recommendations, although commented that a more specific routine could have been made.

Ido himself made the recommendation of hanging at least 7 minutes per day for the first week or two, then ramping up the daily times. This was for his “hanging month” challenge, a 30-day excursion into re-integrating the act of hanging into one’s daily life.

This time around, I’m following Ido’s routine to the letter. One week in, I’ve my 7-minute daily-minimum without fail. My forearms feel like I just got hired as a brick mason working over-time, but my shoulders are already feeling more mobile. Impingement is still there, but we’ll see what happens.

As an added benefit, my back feels amazing. Like, really REALLY GOOD. This is after re-introducing deadlifts back into my program, too. Since we spend all day allowing gravity to squish or spinal disks like peanut-butter-and-jelly, some dead hanging to decompress the disks must be doing the trick.

What’s In Store for the Future

I’m going to continue with Ido’s dead hang routine for the foreseeable future. I plan on ramping up my daily total hang times, one week at a time. I’ll probably allow myself one day per week, at most, to rest. Eventually, I’d like to work on one-arm dead hangs as well.

As I embark on this daily dead hang routine, my sole goal is to improve my shoulder health.

I’m hopeful to see a reduction of or elimination of my shoulder impingement, so I can simply do more.  It’s not a matter of being able to bench press, but simply worrying less about potentially hurting myself.

I’d just like to be able to reach for something behind my back or above my head without having to stop and think about how I’m going to maneuver – as if I were setting up for a deadlift. I’ll gladly take any improvement.

If after 6-12 months nothing has changed, I’ll most likely seek out corrective surgery.

Over that time frame I’ll be posting updates under the moniker “the Dead Hang Challenge: Part _”.

Here’s to healthy shoulders!!! And once again, please check out Dr. Kirsch’s book and support his work. Without him, there wouldn’t be this awesome concept of self-help and conservative shoulder treatment.


Photo Credits:

Black Howler Monkey Hanging #4. Author: Ryan Poplin. flickr.com

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