Do You Even Brachiate, Bro?


By Chris Collins, CPT, LiveWELL Coach

Do you even brachiate, bro??

Why, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase, well, I’d have a nickel. But the idea of brachiating should not be dismissed.

Brachiating consists of hanging, or suspending yourself from a bar (Think of the “dead hang” position at the bottom of a chin-up or pull-up.) While most definitions of brachiating refer to the swinging motion primates employ in moving from tree to tree, for our purposes think of the static hang position mentioned above.

Why should brachiating not be overlooked? If you’re training functionally, you’re a practicing anatomist. Not only are you training all muscle groups in a way that counters the gravitational effects of modern day living- double crossed syndrome from desk jobs, crane neck from cell phone texting/surfing, tight calves from dress shoes/heels- you are also learning how your body moves.

And hanging from an overhead support counteracts the forward motion of our shoulders when we sit in a rounded posture.

Recently, I borrowed a book from LiveWELLer, Mrs. Toni Schuck, entitled “Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention,” written by Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon John M. Kirsch. In it, he advocates the simple practice of hanging from a support for periods of time, or brachiating, along with shoulder raises using light weights.

Now, I’m not one to jump on trends. If something is too good to be true it usually is. Although the first quarter of the book is littered with glowing testimonials from people on the brink of shoulder surgery who went through the exercises and came out with better shoulder mobility, that’s not what piqued my interest.

When Toni first came into LiveWELL, she couldn’t raise her arm above her head. Instead of shoulder presses, she would press upwards from a supine position, a floor press. In and of itself, not bad. You can still get an upper body press exercise in by pressing from the floor.

But what if you want to reach overhead? For some of us, that has become a struggle.

It has to do with Wolf’s Law, which states bones and ligaments model along lines of stress. If you’re constantly in a hunched over position, or you don’t lift your arms overhead very much, the bones in your shoulder which form an arch for the tendons of your rotator cuff muscles to insert through model closer together, closing the arch and limiting range of motion. Because the rotator cuff muscles are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder downward while allowing the humerus to move about, the result is pain or loss of mobility.

Kirsch’s solution, which he hit upon while hiking with his kids, was to remodel the shoulder by just hanging from a bar. A classic case of if you don’t use it, you lose it (as well as the title of a good country song), hanging from a bar actually doesn’t involve the rotator cuff muscles. It also strengthens the forearms and grip strength, which in itself limits what you can pull from the floor, rows, deadlifts, and cleans.

Now, Toni lifts overhead with the best of them, and she credits exercise in getting her there. Great job, Toni!

So, next time you want to get a good one in, remember to hang like Gunga Din, and brachiate your shoulders!

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