Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Aug

The Grok Hang

grokhang2As you may already be aware, I’m not a huge fan of long, protracted warmups or pre-workout stretching. Workouts should be effortless, enjoyable, almost fleeting interludes between the activities you really want to spend your time doing, and spending twenty minutes beforehand to “lube up your joints” and “grease the gears” doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities. Additionally, if I’m going to burn time doing traditional, static, gym-class stretches they’d better confer some real benefits. You know, things like reduced injury, reduced soreness, improved performance. Yet studies are either mixed, show no difference or point to the exact opposite.

Now if you’re lifting very heavy weights and subjecting your joints to high levels of force, a more thorough, diversified warmup may be in the cards, but it’s not necessary for most folks involved with Primal Blueprint Fitness. For us, a couple simple strategies are plenty to prepare the body for what lies ahead. On sprint days, for example, doing a few pseudo-sprints at 75-85% effort make for a fantastic warmup. For a workout involving squats, lunges, and hip extension, a minute or two of static Grok squatting lets my hips know that mobility is in the air today. I’ve spoken at length about both concepts, but today I’m going to introduce another simple yet effective warmup/stretch strategy: the Grok hang.

The Grok hang is simply an overhead hang. You’ll need something to grab onto overhead, like a branch or a pullup bar. Pullup bars work best, especially one situated at a height that allows you to graze the ground with your toes when hanging with arms fully extended. And that’s the most important part of the Grok hang: the full extension of the arms. You’ll want to relax and really stretch. When I say stretch, I mean stretch until you’re able to place your heels on the ground (from the original toes-barely-grazing-the-floor position). To achieve this, grab hold of the bar with an overhand grip and with your toes on the ground (barely, remember) and take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds and let it out slowly, gradually, over three seconds or so, and relax into the hang. Repeat the breathing exercise until your heels touch the ground. This will really stretch just about everything that interacts with the shoulder girdle – lats, pecs, biceps, and delts – and prepare your for a workout that requires excellent shoulder mobility. Move your hands out a bid wider than shoulder width once you’re comfortable enough to increase the stretch. If you’re forced to use an overhead bar too tall for toe-grazing, just be careful with the stretch; you won’t have the heels-on-the-ground cue, so you’ll have to be even more in tune with the intricacies of your body. If you’re forced to use an overhead bar too low, just bend at the knees to allow the stretch to occur; be careful not to turn this into an ab exercise, of course, because that will defeat the purpose of stretching your entire body.

In retrospect, it might actually be more accurate to call this the Orangutan hang (and hey, that almost rhymes), but I’m pretty wedded to this Grok stuff, so Grok hang will have to stay. Ever notice how arboreal apes will just hang and hang from branches for minutes on end, sometimes holding on with just a single hand? Well, I’m not suggesting you do that; it’s unnecessary, and, as mentioned in the recent NPR piece on unique functionality of the human shoulder, ape shoulder girdles are built to hang at full extension for long periods of time, while human shoulder girdles are not. We may be meant to throw, manipulate tools, gesticulate, and everything else we do with our arms, but we can still hang – just not for hours on end. It’s even beneficial for humans to take in the occasional ape-like hang from an overhead branch or pullup bar, which is why it’s an important part of the PB warmup arsenal. Give it a try before your next workout and see how it works for you. Thank for reading, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Thank you, Mark, I was sure this was what the Groc hang would be, but nice to have it confirmed.
    Since my bar isn’t tall enough to allow a toe graze, probably about a 15-20s hang sound about right?

    art wrote on August 25th, 2010
    • Yes, that’s about right, art. Grok on!

      Mark Sisson wrote on August 25th, 2010
      • Mark,

        Can you be too heavy for this? ie 300 pounds?

        Bedouin wrote on August 26th, 2010
        • Sorry, I’m not Mark, but I think it might be a bit too much at first, at least if you aren’t used to doing pull-ups. If you can do pull-ups at 300lbs. a)you’re a beast! and b)maybe your shoulders can take it.

          Maybe try it with your feet on the ground and your knees bent, and just let the bar take some of your weight, and see how it feels?

          NaturGym wrote on August 27th, 2010
  2. Awesome-I will do this at CF today before I get started on my too long warm up ;)

    Thanks for the article! I always enjoy reading your blogs they are so well written and sometimes even comical! :)

    happy wednesday!

    manda

    Manda (Mandabear2010) wrote on August 25th, 2010
  3. I hang near the stairs at my gf<s house when no one is around! haha hopefully her parents wont see me! hahah

    frank wrote on August 25th, 2010
  4. Mark, what’s your take on stretching post workout?

    Kishore wrote on August 25th, 2010
  5. Hey Mark-

    Long time, no comment!

    I’ve been a big fan of the grok hang for years. I think it helps those who sit a lot, and generally provide some “resistance” to gravity in a way by stretching the spine out.

    One thing I do have to disagree with you on though: “Workouts should be effortless”. Unless you’re some chic in the gym who is afraid of sweating or the guy who takes 5-10 minutes between sets, workouts should NOT be effortless. There is nothing effortless about all-out sprints or cross fit!

    Continue the grokkage,

    Ryan Denner

    Ryan Denner wrote on August 25th, 2010
    • I think he meant to say they shouldn’t be a mental “chore” they should be fun, not easy because a plank is definitely not easy, nor are the sprints but they can be fun. My wife and I do sprints on trails in a park, she flees as fast as she can, I give her 5 seconds head start then sprint after her and slap her on the butt when I catch her. We’re both laughing and giggling and getting a very thorough workout by the end. Ideal, effortless.

      JohnC wrote on August 25th, 2010
      • Thanks John, great response. I get it now… especially the butt smacking! It is a splendid idea that I need to implement into my relationship.

        Mark, this further proves that readers of your blog are truly smart!

        Ryan Denner wrote on August 26th, 2010
  6. Mark, how should a person’s shoulder blades be positioned during this stretch – retracted (I picture this with chest pushed out) or “relaxed”, or does it matter?

    fishin-frog wrote on August 25th, 2010
  7. This is perfect for us who are not so tall :D. I like to swing now & then on the pull up bar above the door frame & this is great timming lol. I have to jump up to get hold of the bar to begin with. I’m going to enjoy this move. Thanks.

    madeline wrote on August 25th, 2010
  8. Well this was timely! I’m a CrossFit dabbler, and yesterdays WOD put the hurt on the ol’ pecs…

    Julia wrote on August 25th, 2010
  9. Very cool. I was looking for a couple functional stretching exercises to add to my routine. This fits the bill perfectly.

    Elizabeth wrote on August 25th, 2010
  10. The Oranguhang

    John wrote on August 25th, 2010
    • Nice!

      JohnC wrote on August 25th, 2010
  11. I just want to say that in general, I REALLY appreciate Mark linking to study citations so often. It never hurts to have backup and it has helped me sell my family on PB. :D

    Jenny wrote on August 25th, 2010
  12. As you suggest in the Primal Blueprint I engage in 2 stretches and nothing else… The grok squat and grok hang.

    Primal Toad wrote on August 25th, 2010
  13. I recently attended the CrossFit Movement Mobilty cert given by Kelly Starrett. Check this out. http://mobilitywod.blogspot.com/

    Terry wrote on August 25th, 2010
  14. Great article. I’m glad I’m not the only one just hanging around for part of my warmup. :-)

    Demond Thompson wrote on August 25th, 2010
  15. I have pruchased a Teeter’s Hangup inversion table due to bad back…herniated disk, etc…will let all of you know how it works once I get the thing unpacked and have used it. Nothing else has worked for me. Fingers crossed that this will!

    Cj wrote on August 25th, 2010
    • I too have just purchased a Teeter’s Hangup!!! I am trying to figure out how to assemble it. Please let me know what you think!!

      Susan Galati wrote on August 25th, 2010
  16. I do the hang but with my feet on the ground … full extension makes my elbow tendonitis flare up and then I can’t use my arms for three weeks. I do the hang before pullup/chinup workouts (no full extension there either, more like 3/4 extension) and also during the workouts, feels good to stretch a bit after a few sets.

    rob wrote on August 25th, 2010
  17. mark, a few questions/comments have been posted about inversion hanging – what’s your take: good or bad?

    Jerome wrote on August 25th, 2010
  18. Is there reason to be concerned that doing these two stretches pre-workout might inhibit muscular performance, especially in the lats, glutes, and quads?

    Mike wrote on August 25th, 2010
  19. Thanks for the idea! I’m not fond of warm-ups either. I realise they are necessary to preventing injury but I feel like I’m wasting my time a little when all I really want to do is get into the workout I’ve designed for the day :).

    Ditto to what Jenny said. Having links to cited articles helps out a lot. As you encourage us to do, I check out (some of) the links to be able to form my own opinions on the information presented :).

    Keep up the great work!

    Kate wrote on August 25th, 2010
  20. I HAVE AN INVERSION TABLE AND I REALLY LOVE IT. IT TOOK ME MONTHS TO ASSEMBLE IT BECAUSE I LOOKED AT THE PARTS AND LET IT SIT FOR AWHILE IN THE GARAGE BUT ONCE I DECIDED TO PUT IT TOGETHER IT WSA NOT SO HARD. IT’S A GREAT MACHINE.

    michael lord wrote on August 25th, 2010
  21. I learned that trick from a Dan Millman book years ago. It’s one of the few things from Millman that stuck with me, and probably one of the most valuable he had to teach.

    Allbeef Patty wrote on August 25th, 2010
  22. I’ve been experimenting with hanging upside-down from a pull-up bar/ tree: a lot cheaper than an inversion table and more fun! When I wasn’t injured (trapped nerve in the hip area, caused by spinal injury), I could link hanging into a fun, gymnastic-style workout, now it’s just for stretching I’m afraid!

    ChaiKe wrote on August 25th, 2010
  23. You say hang we’ll hang, you say hunt we’ll hunt Mark! :)

    sangita wrote on August 26th, 2010
  24. Let’s not confuse ‘athletics’ and ‘exercise’ either. Those involved in sport and the ‘sport of fitness’, i.e., CrossFit, warm-ups are instrumental in getting one’s engine warmed up for competition, if not injury prevention. Try doing “Fran” or “Annie” without a 5 or 10 minute warm-up, and I bet your performance will suffer. But I guess the point of this post is for the benefit of Primal Blueprint folks. Grok on!

    Matt wrote on August 26th, 2010
  25. I do this almost every day I work out. Just really loosens everything up–shoulders, arms, spine, hips. Makes me feel better, which makes my workout better.

    Kent Hawley wrote on August 26th, 2010
  26. “Our warm up is your workout” :D

    ben wrote on August 26th, 2010
    • Yikes. That’s backwards. It’s “Your workout is our warm up”

      Ben wrote on August 26th, 2010
  27. “Your workout is our warm up.” Such a vast overstatement on so many levels. *sigh*

    Regardless, I’m not so sure that this is a good idea as a WARMUP exercise, but rather a post-workout exercise. The hanging can really tire some people out and affect their ability at pull-ups.

    John wrote on August 27th, 2010
    • I often do not perform the hang as a warm up because of the stretch on the lats (as I say below) – it feels a little tough on cold muscles sometimes…

      Luke M-Davies wrote on August 28th, 2010
  28. I always feel the Grok hang stretch out my back and lats – its great to improve grip strength too!

    As far as functional muscles go, I think too many people focus on their beach muscles (i.e. chest and biceps), ignoring the importance of forearm strength. You never know when you may be hanging on for your life…ok well a bit far fetched but I think grip strength is useful in every day life (e.g. carrying many shopping bags always burns the forearms!)
    Rock climbers are a great example of a sport that requires functional strength and has the nice result of a toned upper body.

    Luke M-Davies wrote on August 28th, 2010
  29. I have been doing this for a couple of years, keeps my lower back pain in check, additionally I move my hips to the left and to the right while hanging, really loosens the hip bone.

    A.P wrote on August 29th, 2010
  30. I do the Grok hang sometimes as well as an altered version with my toes on the floor because my pull-up bar is only a little bit higher than my head. If you have a bar or can find a branch about head height, keep your toes on the floor back as far as possible and “hang” while leaning forward to get a similar stretch in the arms and shoulders and also slightly in the chest and abdomen.

    Tim wrote on February 6th, 2011

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