/ Dead Hang Training

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bowlie - on 08 Jan 2017
Hi everyone, this is my first post, so I guess it doubles as an introduction.

I've been climbing on and off for just over 2 years and love the sport - mostly I sport climb indoors, but I also boulder and have been outside a few times too. I feel like my technique is improving quickly and I'm doing more complex moves, but my strength is still lacking so I'm stuck at 6A / 6Bs.

My biggest weakness is my ability to deadhang - I can't. Ever since a young age I had weak ligaments and dislocated my shoulders often as a kid. When I was 18 I had reconstructive surgery on both shoulders, and haven't had a dislocation since (several years), but I still can't dead hang. I can do pullups and hang from a bar as long as I keep my shoulders 'active' and pulled down into the sockets, but I can't just hang.

I feel like this is going to be a problem for me climbing long term, so it's something I want to work on. How would you go about fixing this? I have an assisted pullup machine at the gym which I can use to hang with lower resistance which might help? Should I train my deadhang on the same session as chinups, or a seperate day, and should I do it before or after my main workout?

Cheers guys!
jsmcfarland - on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

it's worth pointing out that when you do deadhangs you aren't actually deadhanging. Shoulders should be engaged, elbows slightly bent
rgold - on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

You are asking for medical insights about a condition very specific to you, which means those of us who attempt answers don't know what we're talking about.

Having fully disqualified myself, here goes anyway.

First of all, dead hangs are a training technique. Climbers don't do them while climbing. So the most obvious answer is, don't do any dead hang training. Of course, all descriptions of dead-hang training include admonition to keep the shoulders engaged and not just hang off the ligaments, but if you are doing such training to exhaustion, the chance that you will tire and at some point lose that shoulder engagement is significant, and probably a lot worse for you than most of the rest of us.

Climbers do rest by hanging on a single straight arm. You will either have to forego this useful technique or learn to keep your shoulders engaged. I don't think this is a strength thing so much as a necessary automatic physical response. It would make more sense to hang comfortably one-handed from big holds in the gym with your feet on as well and work on immediately engaging your shoulders as an intuitive reaction to the position.

What is going to be dangerous for you is dynamic moves, when your body is in motion and you catch. If you aren't quite strong enough or if your feet pop off, you'll be suddenly left hanging on one arm, which is probably going to end badly for you. I'd strongly consider staying away from such motions.

There is another way climbers dislocate their shoulders that isn't by virtue of a planned or unplanned dead hang. Shoulder dislocations can occur when the climber's arm is extended laterally to the side at should level and the climber is pushing down very hard with the hand. This is probably going to be a concern for you as well.

As for training, I think any kind of dead-hanging (e.g. with less than body weight) is going to be detrimental, as all it can do is stretch those ligaments. What I think you want to do is strengthen the muscles that keep the shoulders engaged, which would involve...engaging motions, not dead-hanging. Pullups are probably a good idea, and working the actual engaging motion with pulleys or resistance bands might help too.

galpinos on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

Without the full story/knowledge of your condition it's impossible to advise but........

What exactly happens when you deadhang and lose the shoulder activation, what surgery did you undergo and what shoulder stability work do you do now?

I've had multiple subluxations in both shoulders through my youth and a couple of traumatic dislocations that resulted in having surgery in my left shoulder (laterjet procedure). Now, with regular theraband work my left shoulder is bomber (due to the surgery, reduced movement but the relocation of the bicep insertion has resulted in a 'permanent fix') and my right is fine. It sometimes gives me cause for worry but only really when trying hard indoors on 'comp style' problems and then I just drop off and think I need to get the therabands out more.

So, there is hope.....
ukb & bmc shark - on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

As the second reply says if you can hang with shoulders engaged then you can deadhang so should be no issue starting on that. However, if you can't hang with shoulders unengaged I would seek professional advice on how to build up the strength to do so from physiotherapist or similar as clearly there is a major weakness that requires addressing

slab_happy on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

You might find you could benefit from what some people are calling "no hang" training, where instead of hanging from a fingerboard, you use a portable training hold to pick up a weight attached to it, e.g.:


> mostly I sport climb indoors, but I also boulder

Increasing the percentage of time you spend bouldering for a bit would probably be a good way to boost your strength, even if routes are your major focus.

Especially at just two years in, you don't necessarily need specific finger strength training aside from climbing in order to get stronger.
bowlie - on 08 Jan 2017
Thankyou for all the help guys, I guess I have been trying to do deadhangs wrong - good job I never actually did them. My understanding was that the ligaments and things should be strong enough to hold your shoulder in place even while doing a passive hang, and that the dead hang helped build this structural integrity. I will start doing dead hangs with engaged shoulders instead, which I can do.

I can hang with a straight arm if its perpendicular to my body to rest on a hold by one arm , so that isn't a problem - just overhead. my main worry is, like you say, that my foot will slip off a hold at some point, and I will be momentarily hanging by one arm in a position where the muscles aren't engaged fully and something goes pop. Or indeed a dynamic move, which I have avoided so far - straight up dynamic moves are okay, but anything that involves a quick change in direction is probably shoulder suicide for me

Pushing laterally is something I wasn't aware that could cause dislocations - its actually one of my favourite moves which is worrying. Is there any sort of training I can do to strengthen this move? Would something like working up to an iron cross on gymnastic rings help?

As for the surgery, I'm afraid I can't give specific details. They went in keyhole and tidied things up - they didn't know exactly what they had to do before they went in, and I never got round to asking post-surgery as I was concerned with more important things (like trying to wipe my arse left-handed). I believe that they anchored the ligaments (doubled them back on themselves and stapled them in place?). Now when I deadhang I feel a lot of pressure in the joint and always let go almost instantly. It could be a psychological thing, in that I'm physically strong enough to hang but my body tells me not to, but I can't find out without risking it. Either way, it feels too uncomfortable for me to dead hang.

Other than that, my shoulders actually feel quite healthy at the moment. I do a lot of overhead pressing, bench pressing and various rows and pullup variations so I think that is keeping the joint relatively strong and balanced.
paul__in_sheffield - on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

If you want to climb better and get stronger, then at the grades you're looking at I would suggest bouldering more. If you do 4x4s then depending how you structure them you'll build up endurance and some power endurance.
Given your physiological history, then a fingerboard is probably not a good idea unless you're bored with climbing and looking for 6 months off.
lol the best,
Shani - on 08 Jan 2017
In reply to jsmcfarland:

Yep, OP needs to work on scapular retraction at the top of a pull up.
stp - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

Given your history the simple and most effective way to avoid problems is simply to not do any deadhangs. Ever.

Deadhangs have had a lot of publicity via the internet and if we see something repeated again and again one assumes it must be the thing to do. But deadhangs are a very specialised isolation exercise. Isolation exercises are generally not seen as the best way to train, but rather can be used as a small part of a wider training program. Compound (multi joint) exercises are the preferred way to train, eg. pull ups.

To be honest, regardless of of your shoulder health, you'd be much better off of doing pull ups anyway. Pull ups train far more muscles than do deadhangs. They're also a much better approximation to what we do in climbing. If you ever get into the position like a deadhang on a route then you can almost guarantee the next move is going to involve doing a pull up. Specificity is a key concept in sports science and pull ups are more specific.

Pull ups will also strengthen your biceps which is meant to be a good thing to do for those susceptible to shoulder dislocation because the biceps tendon goes through the shoulders. But for best results you'll probably want to do more specific exercises for biceps and shoulders generally - either with weights or bodyweight training (eg. Push ups or overhead press). Shoulders are one of the most frequent places climbers get injured so you want to take care of them by making them strong, not just by climbing.

So personally I'd forget about doing deadhangs altogether. They are absolutely not necessary for you to reach your full potential as a climber and many top climbers never do them. I never do them because they're boring and pull ups are much better anyway.

Build up your shoulder strength sensibly over time and I suspect you won't have any issues.

It's also worth mentioning the book Gimme Kraft, a climbing training bible by renowned German trainers, is basically a catalogue of exercises for climbing and doesn't include any deadhanging at all. In fact I believe they're not into deadhangs as a particularly good way to train. If you want to get into supplementary training for climbing getting that book might be a good way place to start for a variety of different exercises.

There's also a good article about hanging (whilst climbing) you should read from a physio's perspective:
rgold - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to stp:

The BD article is great.

I would add that dead-hangs were never at any time meant as training for themselves. They are part of standard protocols for finger training on hangboards.

This may be related to my personal strengths, but I've found that hanging just slightly levered rather than absolutely straight down is a lot easier on the shoulders.
bowlie - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to stp:
That is a great article, thanks

I decided I needed to start doing deadhangs after reading this article:

Ido isn't a climber but professes to know a lot about healthy movement. Clearly not!

I will forget deadhangs all together then, and just work on my active hangs and my pullups
Post edited at 21:04
stp - on 09 Jan 2017
In reply to bowlie:

The hanging in that article is very different to the type of deadhanging that climbers usually do. For climbers it's an isolation finger strength exercise, usually short duration and high intensity, often with additional weight. The dead hanging in that article all seems to be from a bar, no weight and as a prerequisite for pull ups. But as you can already do pull ups then you don't need this as a 'building block' .

In general though it's never a good idea to push any exercise that seems like it has potential to cause injury. For what ever reason if an exercise doesn't suit you just forget about it and choose a different one. I've recently quit doing side planks for exactly that reason. As an exercise I think they're really good but for some reason on one side I get some discomfort in my shoulder. I definitely don't want to risk injury by forcing the exercise so I'll just do something else.

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