Recently I was asked to write a paragraph for Awaken Gymnastics newsletter about my favorite stall bar exercise (www.awakendenver.com, @awaken_gym). With so many exercises possible on the stall bars I wasn’t sure how to pick. After a little consideration I picked the simple Hang. I think it is my favorite for the simple reason that I was originally introduced to stall bars by my handstand coach in order to open my shoulders. I was 47 years old at the time and had suffered a lifetime of motor and sports accidents that had left my shoulders in less than desirable condition (grade 3 tear of the right shoulder ligament being the most severe). I was instructed to hang 7 minutes (cumulative) per day. No specifics were given, just hang anyway I wanted.
When given the homework assignment I initially thought it would be a piece-of-cake. All I had to do was a simple hang for 7 minutes in an entire day. Heck, I could do that in just a couple attempts and be done. Ha! How quickly I learned that hanging for 7 minutes is not easy; it’s hard! It hurt my hands, forearms, and shoulders. My core and side bodies felt like I was being torn in half by a medieval torture device. I also discovered that there is nothing simple about a simple hang!
It’s not that the hang itself is difficult, it is truly a simple drill with very little room for doing it wrong. It is also for all levels of athletes. The difficulty is about building endurance and then moving through the variations and progressions that are available. As you move through the variations and progressions you will improve your shoulder/arm/grip strength and mobility, tighten your core and side bodies, and improve your spinal alignment. It has become a regular part of my warmup series and throughout the day I will often hang just to feel the spine elongate and help wake up the nervous system.
Stallbar Basic Variations and Progressions
- Passive Hang: Forward grip (shoulder width), shoulders fully relaxed in a neutral position. In this position your head is in line with your arms, bi-ceps will be lightly brushing your ears as you allow your head to sink into the shoulder blades. Core engaged with a slight hollow body. Workup to 1 minute.
- Active Hang: Forward grip (shoulder width), shoulders fully engaged in a neutral position. In this position your head is in line with your arms, bi-ceps and shoulders will be pulling down and away from your ears. Core engaged with a slight hollow body. Workup to 1 minute.
- Shrugs: Forward grip (shoulder width), move smoothly from a passive to active hang. Focus on your movements going straight up and down (keep your head in line with your arms) without much movement forward or backwards. Work up to 3 x 10 sets.
- Circles: Forward grip (shoulder width), start in a passive hang and move into an active hang while allowing your head to move forward of your arms and retracting your shoulders. Continue the motion through the top and move into a protracted shoulder position as you release into a passive hang. Work up to 10 reps in one direction followed by 10 reps in the reverse direction.
- Handgrip: By changing your grip and repeating the above variations you will increase your mobility.
- Forward or Overhand: Grip used for pull-ups and the first progression.
- Reverse or Underhand: Grip used for chin-ups and can also be used as the first progression based on personal preference.
- Twisted or Eagle: A difficult position that will test your shoulder mobility. Grip the bar by placing the back of your hand against the bar and then rotate thumb away from you until your palm is facing the bar. You can start with one hand in this grip and the other in a forward or reverse until comfortable and then progress to both hands in twisted grip.
- L-Sits: Add an L-Sit variation to any variation or hand grip for additional core development.
- Tuck: Focus on good compression and pulling your knees in tight to your body/chest.
- Pike: Focus on keeping the toes pointed and knees locked. This will help engage the core and elevate your legs to level. If too easy and you want extra compression work, pull your toes to the bar and hold.
- Straddle: Same as the pike but in your pancake to help build hip mobility.
- One Arm: Perform all the above variations and progressions but with one arm! But remember, keep it balanced and do both sides!
- Playtime! By now you may be thinking all these hangs seem pretty boring; and you’re right! So be sure to make plenty of time for play. I like to mix things up, swing side-to-side, twist the body, curl the back, and any other movement that feels good. It’s your workout so add or remove anything that makes you feel better.
As the saying goes, “Anything is better than nothing” so start hanging! Elongate your spine, open your shoulders, build strength and mobility and wake up the nervous system!
Stall Bars (Swedish Ladder, Wall Bars), once a staple in school and YMCA gymnasiums across the country, they are becoming popular again throughout the bodyweight communities (calisthenics, pole, circus, parkour, adult gymnastics and yoga). A simple piece of exercise equipment that is easily mounted to most walls, it offers dozens of exercises that can improve flexibility, strength, and mobility. For more information please visit www.beyond-balance.net.