ANDEvery afternoon, when I make myself a cup of tea, I go to the kitchen. We have a pull up bar attached to our door frame. I fill my cup with water, pop it in the microwave (which yes, I know, is inferior to the kettle), and after running the timer for 90 seconds, I whiz over to the pull up bar.
From there, I hang.
My feet are off the floor. Sometimes I swing my legs back and forth. I usually stay upright. I always focus on maintaining a natural breath. And I try to hold the position until it’s time to dip a tea bag in hot water.
When I first started hanging myself about six months ago, 90 seconds would have felt like a marathon. But I worked my way through this regular mid-afternoon practice and catching up with my oldest son on the playground and in trees.
Hanging from the dead can help build shoulder strength and mobility. It can improve grip strength and posture. And it is one of the fundamental and primordial movements that are often missing in contemporary life.
I was first introduced to primordial movement by my mom after she overheard me complaining of back pain that wouldn’t go away. This was about three years ago, shortly after giving birth for the second time.
Did you crawl a lot with Charlie? he asked her, referring to my son who wasn’t walking yet.
When I replied that, no, I wasn’t crawling on the floor with my 10-month-old, she encouraged me to think about it. He has listed other primary movements that I should incorporate into my routine, such as the hanging.
My mother had also suffered from pain. Seeking relief, she discovered the world of primal movement and incorporated these exercises into her daily routine. She thinks Paleonon in the kitchen, but in the way you move every day. Children still move like our ancestors and can be a great source of inspiration.
Primordial movements shaped human anatomy. Only recently have many of them fallen. Like Katy Bowman, biomechanics and author of Rethink your position, he explained to me recently, Although many people no longer live in forests, our grandparents were also more agile and used more primitive movements, he says. If we look at the kids a couple of generations ago, they all climbed trees and swung and played. That’s what the game was. This was movement that occurred naturally.
But today many of us live in less natural environments. Like me, for example. Even though I follow a regular exercise routine, most of my day takes place in front of a computer. This departure from the natural world has affected the range of motion I practice every day.
So I’ve been trying to become more mindful of incorporating primary movements, like crawling and hanging, into my daily routine. My mom was thrilled with how much these movements had improved her quality of life, so I started researching them myself by listening to podcasts and following various social media accounts.
Crawling doesn’t have to look like the way a baby moves on the floor. According to Bowman, we can reap the same benefits whenever we support our weight on both our hands and knees. This could include gardening, inspecting a home, cleaning baseboards. I try to crawl at night whenever I tidy up my kids’ toys in the playroom—instead of walking to each basket to put away the toy trains, I instead stay on all fours. It’s only about 10 minutes of movement on my hands and knees, but I can really feel the difference.
And my afternoon hanging practice also helped with my back pain. Yes, right now, I am completely pain free. And it makes sense: hanging contributes to the care of the spine. Not only is it a wonderful form of traction (decompression to relieve pressure on the spine), but it also helps strengthen the back. One part of the body that people often don’t think about is the latissimus dorsi. These are large upper back muscles, says Bowman. They attach between the bones of the upper arm and run all the way down to the lower back. And the hanging strengthens them from top to bottom.
One caveat: If you’ve never had your hands support full body weight before, you’ll want to go through a progression to get to a full lockout so you don’t strain your tissues. Start with a vertical bar, like a subway pole. Hold it and let your body fall away. This introduces traction along the arms but without much physical load. Then, you can move onto a horizontal bar, keeping your feet on the ground, but bending your knees to introduce a little more weight. Once these activities feel good, you can move into a full dead hang. (If you have major bone density issues in your spine or are dealing with hypermobility, you’ll probably want to get professional guidance along the way.)
One of the first difficulties I encountered with hanging was how much the skin on my hands hurt. Bowman confirms my experience: The weakest part of your body is your skin. But just like our muscles, skin tissue will adapt to our activities, in this case through the formation of calluses. The smallest things can keep other parts of your body from moving, but it will get stronger over time, says Bowman. Hang more frequently, but for shorter periods of time to allow the leather to adjust.
Living without back pain is clearly beautiful. Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of practicing these primal movements, however, is seeing how capable I am. They make me feel strong and young. I wasn’t a kid adept at monkey bars, but today as an adult I have contests with my oldest son to see who can get through them the fastest on the playground.
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