The dead hang involves suspending from an overhead bar with your arms fully extended. It’s a fundamental part of many common hanging exercises, such as pull-ups, and requires a high standard of grip strength.
Having a good grip strength is essential to be able to progress not only in hanging but in any other calisthenics exercises where the use of a bar is required, such as Front Lever or Muscle Up.
Basically, the strength of grip is the ability of the flexor muscles of the fingers to hold when we are hanging (or taking a resistance) without reaching to open.
Grip strength is usually the main limiting factor when doing many repetitions. Many people’s grip fails first which is why introducing exercises to improve strength and resistance in the grip, can greatly benefit you, as a practitioner of calisthenics.
In this article, we’re going to explore the different methods of improving grip strength.
Table of Contents
How do I improve my grip strength to get a longer dead hang time?
Use a fatter bar or Fat Gripz
If you have the possibility of training your pull-ups sets on a bar thicker than usual, I advise you to do so.
A thick bar will give extra stimulus to the forearms, making them adapt to strengthen and hold longer. A good number of people report that after training several years on thicker bars than normal, their grip on a thinner bar is much higher than that of others who have limited themselves to training on a thin bar.
Another option, if you do not have access to a fat bar, is to use Fat Gripz.
These are hooked on the bar to make it thicker and can be used with many pull exercises such as pull-ups, levers, skin-the-cats etc.
If you’re looking for a cheaper homemade option instead of Fat Gripz, then you can also build your own by trimming a churro pool float or length of pipe insulation.
Carry out “Farmer’s Walks”
If you have access to some heavy dumbbells or you can manage them with loaded sacks, bottles full of dirt, etc, you can perform the farmer’s walks exercise.
This exercise consists of simply walking for a period of time with a high load on your hands, as a farmer would carry the sacks or tools across the field. The goal is to complete sets of this exercise to failure (until your grip does not resist and practically opens your hands).
The consequence of this exercise will be that you achieve hypertrophied forearms and trapezoids, in addition to a very strong grip.
Tip: Do 3 sets of 20-30 seconds each, with a challenging weight.
Forget wearing gloves and instead opt for a chalk ball
There are people who, in the absence of strength in the grip, use gloves to train. The gloves can be good to prevent the sweat of your hands from slipping off the bar, but they also serve to prevent calluses from coming out – or the old ones get up – which won’t help your hands strengthen.
In addition, generating strong calluses on the palms of your hands will be beneficial in the long term, since your hands will endure more intense workouts especially when introducing freestyle calisthenics and complex exercises such as muscle ups.
Of course, you can do it with “bare” hands, but I definitely recommend using chalk. You can buy a chalk ball for less than £5 which will last you for a long time and is much cheaper than purchasing training gloves.
Use a weighted vest or different grips to intensify grip training
A good exercise to improve your grip is to hang yourself with one hand from the bar for as long as you can. This exercise will make your forearms get used to supporting all the weight of your body so that when you hang on the bar with both hands, you will have much more grip strength.
You can also add weights to your own body weight when you hang yourself from the bar, thus increasing the intensity of this exercise. This can be a weighted vest, a dip belt with a kettlebell attached, or simply a backpack with heavy objects inside it.
The last option to work the grip with greater intensity is that you hang from the bar with fewer fingers.
For example, you can start hanging without using your thumb, then you can use only three fingers, two, one etc. Try to vary the fingers with which you hang to avoid decompensation and ensure that each finger is equally trained.
Do 3 – 5 sets of 30 seconds each.
Use Towels to Train Your Grip Strength
A classic way to train the grip is to use a towel and hang on it. You can use two towels to do your pull-ups in this way or even perform the exercises from the previous sections with a towel.
Challenge yourself to complete 5-10 pull-ups. In addition, you can also hang off the towels for about 30 seconds, doing 3 – 5 sets.
Related reading: How to Achieve Your First Pull-Up: A Beginners Guide.
How often should I train each exercise?
Do not overdo the training of your grip. Grip strength is something that takes a while to develop, it’s not something you can rush.
Ensure that you are consistent with your hanging practice. You can do a little bit every day, or you could do between 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions of great intensity up to three times per week. Go experiment and see what is best for you!
For an alternative to the standard set/rep range, try an exercise called 10×100. Here, you start with a single pull-up and then perform a dead hang for as long as you can. Every 10 seconds you then perform another pull-up. Continue and see if you can complete 100 seconds (if you can go past 100 seconds, even better!).
Now get out now and train those fingers!
What are the benefits of training the dead hang?
There are numerous benefits that can be gained from the dead hang, beyond what we imagine. A lot of people might not see this as an important exercise, but in the long run, it can prove to be a game changer in achieving your fitness goals.
Below are just 5 additional benefits to training the dead hang:
#1 Spinal decompression
Day in day out during our fitness training and daily activities we put the spine under a lot of pressure, compressing it during exercises like squats, as well as sitting down for long periods and carrying heavy backpacks. One of the biggest advantages of the dead hang exercise is that it is proficient in decompressing the spinal cord after a long day of pressure. This goes a long way in improving posture, while also boosting spinal strength.
#2 Grip strength
Dead hangs also help you work excellently on your grip strength. The fact that you have to suspend and hold on to the overhead bar for an extended period, forces your forearms to adapt to the pressure, and over time, you get acquainted with the bar.
By performing this exercise regularly, along with weights, you can develop a vice-like grip in no time.
#3 Builds huge forearms
One other great benefit of the dead hang which is often overlooked is that, along with improving grip strength, it also causes you forearms to blow up. Try performing 4 sets of dead hangs every week; you’ll notice the expansion in your forearms, which is far more effective than 10 sets of forearm curls with 15kg barbells.
Undoubtedly, it is a much more natural means of building mass and vascularity, while improving grip strength in the process.
#4 Rotator cuff strength
The rotator cuff is a very important muscle in the body, one that several people overlook since it’s not a show muscle. They are one of the most vulnerable muscles in this practice, and often come under pressure and get injured, as a result of an overload of pressing movements.
A few sets of dead hangs per week can greatly stimulate the rotator cuff and protect them against strain and injury in the future.
#5 Un-tightens lats
Finally, it will interest you to know that dead hangs are known to help stretch out and un-tighten the lats. When it involves pushing and pulling movements, the lats rank as one of the most crucial muscles. So, in order to skyrocket your pressing exercise (Bench press, overhead press etc) you need to keep them healthy and loose at all times.
Founder of www.calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.