I’ve written a handful (get it?) of posts on elements of hanging and swinging to support the Mouse Hands to Monkey Arms section of my book Move Your DNA. Recommended reading order is Hanging and Swinging 101, Hanging and Hand Skin, Upper Body Terrain, and Upper Body Texture. These posts have been updated November 2018 for easier use.
When we think of upper body strength, especially when it comes to lifting heavy things (like yourself), we typically think of the arms and the shoulders but what about your skin strength being a limiting factor, specifically the skin on your hands and feet?
This is my third post in a row focused the environment and the amounts we can move within it and here I'll expand (in a picture-y post) on the idea that our artificially flat and level environment has kept a major player in the strength game from getting involved.
So here's something about me: I rarely walk past something I can hang on without hanging on it. This is me at an airport in Iceland.
For my efforts, I've been rewarded with very linear, "across my knuckle pad" calluses that look like this.
The areas of skin that adapt to upper body use are limited to where the skin is smashed between the bones in the hand and the surfaces you're holding on to. I mostly hang from smooth bars and so my calluses (i.e. strong skin) are limited to the small areas under pressure. As my upper body gets stronger, I tend to hang more and for longer, which gets these small spots even stronger, which, of course, makes the non-participating areas relatively weaker, creating a stress riser. Eventually the strong part rips away from the weak part because physics, resulting in the strong part of the body separating from the weak. WHO ELSE CRINGES WHEN THIS HAPPENS?
This is why cross training is so important. Strengthening a single area simultaneously creates relatively weak areas. A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link and so when it comes to the hands (and everything else, really) you've got to strengthen all of your parts.
I like hanging on bars because they are convenient. But, I'm also aware that if I only hang from even and smooth surfaces I'm neglecting to improve the strength of all my hand skin parts, i.e. the bulk of my hanging foundation is weak.
Natural surfaces for your hands, like the natural surfaces for your feet, are wildly varied. The chance of you encountering the exact same surface over and over again is rare. This is a picture of a tree I climbed, the surface being the texture of the bark.
Check out the deformation of (i.e. load experience by) my hand skin after interacting with this surface.
Imagine the robustness of my hand-skin adaptation (i.e. part of the strength of my upper body) after interacting regularly with all of these textures.
My point being, your body is being shaped by what you encounter most frequently. Instead of doing more reps or a heavier or faster version of the same motion, involve more of your body, i.e. become whole-body stronger, by varying up your movement habitat.