Dead Hang – How To, Benefits, And Variations For Upper Body Strength

This easy-to-do exercise can help you build grip and upper body strength and condition your upper body muscles for more streneous exercises

woman doing dead hand exercises image 06

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Dead Hang – An effective exercise for building grip and upper body strength

The dead hang is a fundamental strength training exercise. It involves hanging from a horizontal bar with your palms fully extended and your body relaxed.

The dead hang is an effective exercise for building grip strength, upper body strength, and body control. 

The exercise targets the upper body muscles, including the back, shoulders, arms, and forearms.

The dead hang can be a precursor to other exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, and muscle-ups. It can also be a good exercise for improving body awareness and control.

woman doing the dead hang exercise

Dead hang muscles worked

The dead hang is an isometric exercise that recruits various muscles to work dynamically to maintain your position and prevent unnecessary movement or swinging.

The exercise targets several muscles in the upper body and core. The movement engages these muscles to stabilize your body and maintain the hanging position.

The main muscles worked during a dead hang include:

  • Forearms
    The muscles in the forearms, especially the forearm flexors, are heavily engaged. They work to maintain a secure grip on the bar.
  • Latissimus dorsi
    The lats, which are the large muscles of the back, help with shoulder extension and stability during the dead hang.
  • Rhomboids and Trapezius
    The rhomboids and traps help stabilize the shoulder blades and maintain proper posture during the dead hang exercise.
  • Biceps and Brachialis
    The biceps and brachialis in the front of the upper arm help to maintain grip strength.
  • Shoulder muscles
    The deltoids and the rotator cuff muscles help with shoulder stability during the dead hang exercise.
  • Core muscles
    The core muscles engage to stabilize the body and prevent excessive swinging.
  • Forearm and shoulder stabilizers
    Various smaller muscles in the forearms and shoulders, and the grip strength muscles, work together to keep your body steady.

Dead hang proper form

man doing the dead hang exercise

Like all exercises, maintaining proper form during a dead hang is crucial to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Steps to follow

Required equipment: Pull-up bar or similar, for example, a Power tower.

Below is a step-by-step guide to performing the dead hang with proper form.

  • Locate a sturdy and stable horizontal bar.
  • Ensure it is installed correctly and can hold your weight without any risk of falling or breaking. The bar height should leave enough clearance for your feet when you hang with your arms fully stretched.
  • Stand facing the bar and pull your shoulder blades down and back to engage them. That will help activate the upper back muscles and provide stability during the hang.
  • With the help of a platform, reach up to grasp the bar with your hands. Use an overhand grip with palms facing away from you or an underhand grip with palms facing towards you, whichever is more comfortable for you.
  • Position your palms at about shoulder-width or slightly wider but not too wide as it may strain your shoulders.
  • Ensure you are hanging freely from the bar with your arms fully extended. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
  • Keep your body relaxed and straight throughout the hang. Avoid excessive swinging or kipping.
  • Look straight ahead or slightly upward to maintain a neutral neck position.
  • Breathe naturally and avoid holding your breath. Inhale and exhale throughout the hang.
  • Hold the dead hang exercise for as long as possible. Beginners may start with 10-30 seconds and gradually increase the duration as they get stronger.
  • Come off the bar in a controlled manner. Do not simply drop from the bar, as that can cause a shock to your joints. Instead, gently lower yourself down with control.


  • Don’t grasp the bar too tightly; use a firm but relaxed grip.
  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears to avoid unnecessary tension.
  • Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body during the hang.
  • Release immediately and rest if you experience discomfort or pain while hanging.

Dead hang common mistakes

Performing a dead hang may seem straightforward, but various known common mistakes can hinder its effectiveness and lead to discomfort or injuries.

Below are some common mistakes to be aware of and avoid during a dead hang.

  • Over-gripping
    Holding the bar too tightly can cause unnecessary tension in your forearms and biceps, leading to premature fatigue.
    Use a firm but relaxed grip to conserve energy and maintain the hang for longer.
  • Shoulder shrugging
    Allowing your shoulders to shrug up towards your ears during the hang can lead to excessive tension and discomfort in the neck and upper traps.
    Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears by engaging your upper back muscles.
  • Hanging with bent arms
    You may find it tempting to relax the arms by letting them bend slightly.
    That can reduce the effectiveness of the exercise and place additional strain on the joints.
    Always hang with your arms fully extended to engage the targeted muscles properly.
  • Swinging or kipping
    Swinging or using momentum to perform the hang takes away from the isometric nature of the exercise.
    It can also put undue stress on the shoulders and increase the risk of injury.
    Aim for a controlled and stable position throughout the hang.
  • Arching or rounding the back
    Keep your body, from head to heels, in a straight line.
    Avoid arching or rounding your back, as it can lead to discomfort in the lower back and reduce the engagement of the targeted muscles.
  • Forgetting to engage your core muscles
    Neglecting to engage your core muscles reduce stability and control during the dead hang.
    Activate your core to maintain proper alignment and prevent unnecessary swinging.
  • Neglecting proper breathing
    Breathing helps to maintain focus and avoid unnecessary tension.
    Breathe naturally and avoid holding your breath.
  • Ignoring pain or discomfort
    Pain may mean something is wrong, and you should not ignore it.
    Release from the bar immediately and rest if you experience pain or discomfort in the shoulders, wrists, or any other joint.
  • Using a weak or unstable bar
    Ensure the bar is sturdy, stable, and stiff enough to support your body weight.
    A weak or unstable bar can be dangerous and increase the risk of accidents.
  • Skipping warm-up
    Always warm up your shoulders, wrists, and forearms before attempting a dead hang or any hanging exercise.
    Warming up helps prevent injuries and prepares your muscles for the activity.
dead hang pull up bar exercise - best forearm exercises

Tips and best practices for dead hang

Dead hang, when performed with proper form and technique, can be a safe and effective exercise for improving grip and upper body strength.

The following tips and best practices can help you get the most out of your dead hang.

  • Warm-up
    Warm up your shoulders, wrists, and forearms with light dynamic stretches or movements before attempting dead hang.
    That can help prepare your muscles and joints for the exercise.
  • Choose the Right Bar
    Ensure the bar is sturdy, secure and can support your body weight without any risk of falling or breaking.
    A pull-up bar, power tower, or gymnastic rings are good options.
  • Grip
    Use an overhand or underhand grip based on your preference.
    Place your palms at shoulder-width or slightly wider.
  • Shoulder Activation
    Engage your shoulder blades by pulling them down and back before starting the deat hang exercise.
    That can help create a stable shoulder position and reduce stress on the shoulder joints.
  • Hang with Straight Arms
    Hang with your arms fully extended and your body relaxed.
    Avoid bending your arms, as it reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
  • Body Position
    Keep your body straight and avoid excessive swinging or kipping.
    Engage your core muscles to maintain stability and prevent unnecessary movement.
  • Breathing
    Breathe naturally throughout the hang. Avoid holding your breath, as it can create unnecessary tension in your body.
  • Duration
    Start with a comfortable duration, such as 10-30 seconds, and gradually increase as you get stronger.
    Aim for quality over quantity, and focus on maintaining proper form throughout.
  • Rest
    Allow sufficient rest between sets to prevent overuse injuries.
    2-3 sets of dead hang with a minute or two of rest between sets are sufficient for beginners.
  • Avoid Over-gripping
    Hold the bar with a firm but relaxed grip.
    Avoid clenching your fists too tightly. That can lead to premature fatigue.
  • Cooldown
    Gently stretch your shoulders, wrists, and forearms to cool down the muscles and promote flexibility after the exercise.
  • Progression
    Consider trying variations like active hangs, L-sit hangs, or weighted dead hangs to challenge yourself further as you get comfortable with dead hangs,
  • Listen to Your Body
    Avoid pushing yourself too hard and progress at a pace that feels comfortable for you.
    Release immediately and rest if you experience pain or discomfort.
  • Incorporate into Your Routine
    Include dead hangs as part of your regular strength training or calisthenics routine.
    You can do the exercise at the beginning of your workout as a warm-up or at the end as a finisher.
woman doing the dead hang exercose

Dead hang benefits

The dead hang is a simple yet highly effective exercise that offers numerous benefits for your body and overall fitness.

The many benefits of dead hang include,

Improved Grip Strength

Dead hangs heavily engage the muscles of your forearms and hands.
That can lead to significant improvements in grip strength.
Strengthening your grip can benefit various exercises, everyday activities, and sports.

Upper Body Strength

Dead hangs target your upper body muscles, including the back, shoulders, and arms.
Regular practice can increase strength in those areas, allowing you to perform other upper-body exercises more effectively.

Shoulder Stability

Hanging from a bar requires your shoulders to stabilize and support your body weight.
That can help strengthen the shoulder girdle, improving shoulder stability and reducing the risk of injuries.

Core Activation

Your core muscles activate to stabilize your body and prevent excessive swinging during a dead hang.
The constant isometric contraction can help build core strength and stability.

Improved Body Awareness and Posture

The dead hang encourages a neutral spine and proper body alignment.
Regular practice can increase your body awareness, leading to improved posture and reduced risk of back pain.

Enhanced Upper Body Mobility

Dead hang can improve the mobility of your shoulders and upper back.
The exercise allows your shoulder joints to experience a full range of motion, helping to boost shoulder health.

man doing dead hangs

Injury Prevention

Strengthening the muscles around your shoulders, back, and core can help prevent injuries during other physical activities or sports that involve upper body movements.

Low-Impact Exercise

Dead hangs are low-impact exercises, making them suitable for people of various fitness levels and ages.
They are a route to work on strength and mobility without putting excessive stress on your joints.

Accessible Workout

You can perform dead hangs with minimal equipment – a sturdy horizontal bar is enough.
You can do it at home, in a park, or at a gym, making them easily accessible for most individuals.

Mental Benefits

Dead hangs require focus and mental endurance to maintain the position. Practicing them can help improve your mental toughness and resilience.

Preparation for More Advanced Exercises

Dead hang can be a foundation for more challenging exercises like pull-ups, muscle-ups, and other hanging variations.
They can build grip strength, helping you to progress to more advanced movements.

Dead hang limitations

The dead hang exercise has numerous benefits, but it also has limitations.

Overemphasis on Grip Strength

Dead hang exercises are excellent for improving grip strength, targeting the forearms, hands, and upper body muscles.

You may need to combine dead hang with other exercises that target different muscles for a more balanced full-body workout.

Limited Muscle Hypertrophy

Dead hang is a strength and endurance exercise rather than a muscle-building exercise.

They can help strengthen and tone the targeted muscles, but concentrating solely on them may not lead to significant muscle hypertrophy compared to other resistance training exercises.

Joint Strain

Dead hangs can put more strain on these joints, leading to discomfort or exacerbating any existing issues.

Ensure you perform dead hang with proper form and avoid overtaxing compromised joints.

Inaccessible for Some Exercisers

Dead hang might be challenging for exercisers with certain physical limitations or injuries, such as shoulder injuries, wrist issues, or mobility restrictions.

Always consult a healthcare professional before attempting any new exercise, especially if you have existing conditions.

Risk of Overuse Injury

Repetitive and excessive dead hang without adequate rest can increase the risk of overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or muscle strains.

Allow sufficient time for rest and recovery between workouts to prevent overloading the same muscles repeatedly.

Lack of Cardiovascular Benefits

Dead hang exercises are isometric exercises that provide no significant cardiovascular benefits.

Thus you should incorporate cardiovascular exercises into your routine for better heart health.

Progression Limitation

Dead hang can become less challenging over time, especially for athletes with more grip strength.

You may need to explore variations or add weight to maintain an appropriate level of challenge.

Risk of Falling

Dead hangs performed at significant heights or on unstable equipment can pose a falling risk, leading to severe injuries.

Always ensure the pull-up bar or power tower is stable and at a safe height, especially if you are attempting more advanced hanging exercises.

Dead hang variations

Dead hangs offer a solid foundation for various hanging exercises, and there are several variations you can explore to challenge different muscles and help improve your strength and mobility.

Below are a few dead hang variations to try.

You can combine the dead hang variations into a comprehensive hanging regimen to target various muscles and keep your workouts engaging and challenging.

Active Hang

In an active hang, instead of simply hanging passively, actively engage your shoulder and back muscles by depressing and retracting your shoulder blades.

The variation emphasizes shoulder stability and strengthens your upper back muscles.

L-Sit Hang

hanging leg raise - lower ab exercises and hollow hold alternative

In an L-sit hang, lift your legs and stretch them in front of you, creating an “L” shape with your body.

Hold the position while continuing to engage your core and upper body.

The variation targets your core, hip flexors, and upper body muscles.

Weighted Dead Hang

Add more resistance by wearing a weight belt or holding a dumbbell between your feet or legs while performing the dead hang.

The variation increases the challenge on your grip and upper body strength.

One-Arm Dead Hang

You can progress to a one-arm dead hang.
Hold onto the bar with just one arm and the other extended by your side.

The variation requires excellent grip strength and
can put more strain on the shoulder.

Towel Hang

Drape a towel over the bar and grip each end instead of using a regular bar.

The variation increases the instability of the hang and engages more stabilizing muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms.

Mixed Grip Hang

Use a mixed grip, with one hand in an overhand grip and the other in an underhand grip.

The variation can help develop grip strength and balance between the muscles on each side of your body.

Chin-Up Grip Hang

Perform the dead hang with your hands in a chin-up grip, that is, palms facing you.

The grip variation emphasizes the biceps and targets the muscles in your upper arms differently.

Flexed Arm Hang

Start with your arms flexed at 90 degrees instead of hanging with fully extended arms, and hold that position.

The variation challenges your upper body muscles differently and can be a stepping stone to more advanced pull-up exercises.

Dead hang alternatives

The following alternatives are worth considering if you find it challenging to do the dead hang exercise for whatever reason.

They can provide similar benefits and work the same or different muscles.

Active Hang Pull-ups

Start with an active hang and then perform pull-ups, pulling your body up until your chin clears the bar.
Lower yourself back down with control.

The exercise targets the same upper body muscles as the dead hang and incorporates dynamic movement.

Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s carry or walk involves holding heavy dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand and walking for a certain distance or time.

The exercise targets grip strength, forearms, upper back, and core while adding a functional element of carrying heavy loads.

Hanging Leg Raises

Hang from a bar and perform leg raises by lifting your legs straight in front of you.

The hanging leg raises target the core, hip flexors, and lower abs while engaging the grip.

Towel Pull-ups

Like the towel hang variation, you can use two towels draped over the bar to perform pull-ups.

The exercise challenges your grip strength and engages your back and biceps.

Hanging Rows

Use a set of gymnastic rings or suspension straps to perform hanging rows.
Hold the rings with a neutral grip and pull your chest towards them.

The exercise targets the back, biceps, and core muscles.

Flex Arm Hang

Like the flexed arm hang variation, you can start with your arms bent at 90 degrees and hold that position.

The flex arm hang is a more manageable alternative for those building up to full pull-ups.

Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Carry

Hold a kettlebell upside-down by the handle with the bottom up and walk with it for a certain distance or time.

The exercise challenges grip strength, forearm stability, and shoulder control.

Who should do the dead hang?

The dead hang is a versatile exercise that should suit several people.

  • Strength Training Enthusiasts
    Those interested in building upper body strength, particularly in the back, shoulders, arms, and grips, will find the dead hang a good component of their strength training regimen.
  • Calisthenics Practitioners
    Dead hang can form part of any calisthenics and bodyweight training.
    You can use it as a foundational exercise for more advanced movements like pull-ups, muscle-ups, and front levers.
  • Gymnasts
    Dead hangs are essential components of gymnastics training.
    It can help develop grip strength and shoulder stability. These are crucial for many gymnastic movements.
  • Rock Climbers
    Climbers can benefit from dead hangs to improve grip and finger strength.
    Developing their finger and grip strength is essential for scaling walls and tackling challenging routes.
  • Functional Fitness Athletes
    Individuals involved in functional fitness or CrossFit may incorporate dead hangs into their workouts to improve upper body strength and grip endurance.
  • Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention
    The dead hang can help in rehabilitation situations. It can help strengthen the shoulders and back and prevent injuries.
  • Desk Workers
    The dead hang exercise can help people who spend long hours sitting at a desk. It can counteract the effects of poor posture and sedentary behavior.
  • Fitness Beginners
    Dead hangs can be a beginner-friendly exercise. It allows exercisers to build grip and upper body strength without complex movements.

Final words from LiveLIfe

Consider incorporating the dead hang exercise into a well-rounded exercise routine to help maximize the benefits while minimizing the limitations.

Combine it with other strength training exercises, cardiovascular workouts, and flexibility training to help improve your general fitness and to address any potential imbalances or limitations.

As with any exercise, start gradually, and consult a fitness professional or healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program or if you have any existing medical conditions or concerns.

  1. Bohannon RW. Grip strength: An indispensable biomarker for older adults. Clin Interv Aging. doi:10.2147/CIA.S194543
  2. Snarr RL, Hallmark AV, Casey JC, Esco MR. Electromyographical comparison of a traditional, suspension device, and towel pull-up. Journal of Human Kinetics. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0068

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