Article by James Ruckert in Straight Talk Fitness
Most reviews of 30 day challenges will tell you how hard it was and how sore they were, and how they wanted to quit. I really think Ido Portal’s 30 day hanging challenge shouldn’t be called a ‘challenge’ but more a ‘must do’.
There were 2 fundamental reasons why this challenge was a good fit for me:
- For all my ‘strength’ in calisthenics/bodyweight exercise, I have always been poor when it comes to grip strength/endurance; dead hanging much beyond 2 minutes was a real challenge and single arm hangs were a straight up no-go. And the only foolproof way to markedly improve anything is to practice it – and practice it regularly.
- I have had shoulder pain/impingement for a good 18 month span that would come and go. I would believe I was ‘out of the woods’ and then I would foolishly try any offending exercises and soon find out I was far from fixed. It felt like I was spinning my wheels in thick mud. While trying to educate myself further on the subject, I came across many YouTube videos discussing the idea of passive hanging aiding and eliminating shoulder pain, so figured I’d give it a trial!
Passive Vs Active Hanging
The challenge can be done many ways: passively (shoulders relaxed), actively (shoulders & scapula engaged) or a combination of both. What you opt for depends on your level and what you’re hoping to gain from this challenge. If your pull up strength isn’t the best, active hanging will be a good choice as you’ll get a nice mix of grip training and scapula activation – which is crucial for perfect pull ups.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone (like me) who is more proficient with pull ups but maybe has less than average overhead mobility, the passive hang might be the better fit. There’s also no hard and fast rule that you can’t do a combo of both.
The only hard and fast rule of the challenge is to accumulate (as broken up as necessary) 7 minutes of daily hanging for 30 days.
I can confirm wholeheartedly, in my experience, that passive hanging does wonders for shoulder pain. 30 days on I now have zero shoulder pain – even on dangerous offenders such as ring dips/muscle ups – which I’m now back training, for the first time in at least 6 months but probably more. And even if there is a flare up of sorts I know hanging will be the medicine; it literally fades it away and is 100% better. If anything, I found more benefits from hanging than I did from specific rehab work (which I’ve written about HERE).
It may be my imagination but my pull ups feel stronger too. Whether that’s because my grip is firmer and this generates more tension through the chain, I don’t know.
In all honesty finding drawbacks has been difficult. I will say during the first week my hands were taking a real beating and were pretty sore but I was using a thin metal bar. So I switched to using rings (the ones you see in the image above) that have tape around them; this felt much better but I found after the first week or so, the bars didn’t really rape my hands as much.
Other than using hand care strategies (read more about that HERE), the only remedy is to suffer it somewhat, and know that IT WILL GET BETTER.
Also, if your general gym training involves a lot of pulling like pull ups, rows and just about anything involving the hands, I’d advise you to lose the ego and not go to failure with any of your hangs. The longest I ever hung was 90 seconds in one set and I done this about twice throughout the entire month. My average hang time was probably 45 seconds.
If we’re to be pedantic, one could say the 7 minutes of total time would be hard to find for someone with an office job – or any job with nowhere to hang! Fortunately I work in a gym each day so I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to bars to hang from. Then again though, I don’t see why you couldn’t do less than 7 minutes on some days if the time doesn’t permit a full 7. Some days I did as little as 3-4 minutes.
So what does 7 minutes of daily passive hanging to do a fella with tight shoulders? This is a question I wondered and one I wasn’t really sure what to expect as the answer……..
Drastically improving overhead mobility is a notoriously arduous process and not something you can fix in 30 days. Having said that, my overhead mobility definitely feels better and I feel I have more freedom overhead now. To the naked eye it doesn’t look all that different but when it comes to handstands or just hanging, it feels much less strenuous.
So what next? I will definitely still hang on a daily basis but I will not stick to a strict 7 minutes and instead go by ‘feel’ now. Having done the challenge I find I know what my body needs in terms of hanging.
I’ve also got my eye on single arm hangs but of course these would be done at a much smaller volume due to how difficult they are. An interesting theory I would like to test is one from Kit Laughlin, who claims single arm hangs are the single greatest way to both, improve shoulder mobility and health/function. There was also an article on T-Nation I read once that said single arm hangs above 45 seconds are a very high level of grip strength and shoulder stability. When somebody promises results like those, I can’t help but take notice.
All in all this was a fun challenge and has opened the doors to so many amazing moves which I was sidelined from. I’m back doing ring muscle ups, ring dips, pike push ups and handstands without pain. Not bad for a guy fearing he was served a life sentence of shoulder pain.
If you have shoulder issues, I urge you to do this challenge. It may be the single best thing you can do to see light at the end of the tunnel.