This post was edited February 2020 to better organize and update its resources.
Last week I posted a couple of videos on how to hang better when your elbows or shoulders are more lax than they should be. After posting these videos, I received a lot of questions regarding hanging and hypermobility so I thought I'd write all my answers into a single piece.
Hanging is a heavily loaded movement. If you are having issues with joint stability, exercise can help. Hanging can help, too, but only after you’ve done some groundwork. The key to developing stability is finding the best exercises. Or actually, there aren’t “best” exercises, there’s just learning about anatomy and movement, and then your anatomy and how you are moving, and putting all that information together so that you know how to modify and manage your movements to make them beneficial (so you hold loads with your muscles) and not detrimental (so you hold loads with your ligaments).
Over the years I've created many materials that can help you learn how to assess and adjust your movement as you move towards hanging. Here are those pieces below!
1. Read this post on hypermobility (and find out if you're cleared for exercise or if your movements should be performed under the supervision of a physical therapist).
2. Try these five upper-body exercises. These are clips from a streaming exercise class I taught in which you learn, among other things, how to check your joints for various movements that indicate places of tension that can be affecting how you're carrying loads.
3. Get onto your hands and knees and see if you can carry your weight this way without hyperextending your elbows. Once in quadruped, put a slight bend in your elbows to practice carrying your weight in the muscles of your arms (the video below will help). It might sound super easy, but guess what? It’s not. If you're used to carrying your weight on hyperextended elbows, they're going to want to keep straightening. Spend a few minutes each day not letting them straighten and feel your arm muscles working. Once your quadruped is strong, progress to....
4. Knee Plank and work on your elbows again. A Knee Plank requires your arms work more, so keeping them slightly bent will be more work than before. Do this a few minutes each day, letting your arm muscles adapt to carrying your weight. Progress when you can hold a Knee Plank comfortably without hyperextending your elbows.
5. Stabilize your shoulder blades. Once you've learned how to stabilize your elbows, it's time to pay attention to movements between the shoulder blades. Do you collapse there when loaded? If yes, get back on your hands and knees and not only keep the elbows slightly bent, also move your spine up toward the ceiling to spread your scapulae...all at the same time.
Once you can do this, walk your knees back and manage both your elbows and shoulder blades at the same time. Then, eventually, you can try a full plank (on your toes). Note: If stabilizing the area between your shoulder blades causes you to hyperextend the elbows, go BACK to the level (e.g., quadruped) where you can do both. Only progress when you can have both stable elbows and shoulder blades. No point in throwing some of your parts under the bus.
Once you're used to stabilizing your parts as you carry your body weight, then you can practice stabilizing while you carry stuff that's not you.
6. Read 'Holding and Lax Joints' and watch this video on carrying. Carrying can make your arms stronger, but not if you do it like I’m modeling here—using the ligaments of my shoulder to hold the burden and not my muscles.
The upper body isn't the only place you might have overused ligaments. What you're doing with your ribcage and lower body matter too!
8. Read this article, 'Pain-Free Baby Holding' and watch the video below. Both explain how thrusting or sliding your ribcage and pelvis can take the load off your arms and put it on other joint-parts. Yes, I'm holding a baby, but the lesson also goes for groceries or a backpack or whatever. Strong arms, strong legs, and a strong core are essential for carrying stuff (read Diastasis Recti for more on that!).
When you’re starting, things might feel too heavy and that’s okay. If you can't carry "strong" (maintaining good form), reduce the weight or the frequency with which you’re carrying. When your body is collapsing just so you can carry something, you’re not loading your muscles anyway, so feel good about taking a break!
9. Read 'Hanging and Swinging 101.' Once you can stabilize your elbows and shoulder blades and have a sense of what your ribcage and pelvis are doing, you can expand the loads that pull on your joints, just focusing on the vertical pole "hanging" as you start.
10. Watch the video below for some drills you can do from a horizontal bar: keeping your weight supported with your feet, practice transferring your weight from arm to arm, without letting your elbows hyperextend.
11. Watch this other video, and with your weight supported with your feet, practice transferring your weight from arm to arm without letting your elbows hyperextend or your scapulae hike up to your ears.
12. Read this sentence 20 times: Joint hypermobility is affected by how your entire body moves through the entire day, throughout your entire life. By learning how to move your entire body better, and then by moving your body better, you will see improvements that spill over into areas you didn’t imagine could be related to how you move.
If you want more moves, check out my Whole Body Biomechanics courses. Each breaks down 25 moves (25 for the upper body, 25 for the lower, and 25 for core and pelvis) into their smaller parts so you can learn to identify where your body is moving too much and where your body isn't moving enough.