What To Do When You Can’t Hold A Flexed-Arm Hang

By | October 13, 2017

deadhang or flexed arm hang


I just came across your website last night, and I’m having a little trouble understanding something.

I’m a big guy (big enough I’d rather not say!) and I came across your site because I’m sick of waiting to lose weight to try to get my first pull-up. I’d rather not keep my strength goals tied to weight loss goals; I’m much better at maintaining training discipline than I am eating discipline (or I wouldn’t be this size to begin with, would I?).

Here’s my trouble, and maybe you can help with some advice. I was reading your 5 pull-ups in 5 weeks program. I don’t expect that’s going to be the case with me, but I’m interested enough because I can already do rows until the cows come home, and I never found it helping my pull-up feel any closer.

In it, on the Test Day, you suggest that trainees ought to try dead-hangs for time. I’ve never done it with my shoulders packed. I was a little nervous! But I got 31 seconds, which was hard, but I did it.

I literally can’t hold a flexed-arm hang for even an instant. It’s just an uncontrolled negative rep.

Should I just keep trying for a flexed-arm hang, and basically keep doing negatives until I can hold it for a second, then two, then five, and so on, until I can hold it 30 seconds or so?

Or should I be focusing on doing dead-hangs until I can get a few seconds in the flexed position?



Hi Nathan,

Thanks for getting in touch with your question.

The reason why you can do rows until the cows come home, but it doesn’t seem to be helping with your pull-ups is because they’re different movement patterns. Inverted rows are a horizontal pulling exercise. And pull-ups are a vertical pulling exercise. So, it’s true that they target the same general musculature, albeit, in different ways and to varying degrees. But they’re also very different exercises. I get into this in more depth here: Pull-ups VS Rows.

I see rows as supplementary training for pull-ups, and not necessarily a direct stepping stone (i.e. progression) for working up to them. That said, they are certainly helpful for beginners. See more here: How to Use Inverted Rows to Get Your First Pull-ups & Chin-ups.

What you really need to focus on is training as much as you can on the pull-up bar, using the most difficult exercises you can perform with proper form.

So, here’s what I’d do…

Since you can do the deadhang with your shoulders packed, keep practicing that. But you should also incorporate some assisted flexed arm hangs so that you can strengthen the middle and top positions, too.

Here’s an example of a workout you could try:

  • Do 1-3 sets of ASSISTED flexed arm hangs (i.e. supporting some of your bodyweight using a resistance band or just placing some of your weight on a bench or step, or having a partner support some of your weight by holding onto your ankles).
  • Do 2-3 sets of negative reps – assisted, if necessary – as slowly as you can (ideally, taking at least 3 seconds from top to bottom). But if you can’t control the descent, you’re not ready for this yet.
  • Do 2-3 max effort deadhangs to finish your workout.

That’s roughly 5-10 sets of practice per training day, and you could do that 3-6 days per week, if you wanted depending on how much you push yourself (and how well you recover).

The key is that you’re practicing as often as you can, and pushing your limits without exhausting yourself.

I’d also watch the video on my Pull-up Training 101 page to make sure you’re doing the exercises properly and recruiting your whole body instead of just isolating certain muscle groups. That in-and-of-itself could boost your performance right away.

And here are some more resources for beginners who would like to get better at pull-ups…

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5-Day Pull-up Training Crash Course

-nail your first proper deadhang pull-up
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About The Author

John SiffermanJohn Sifferman is a health-first fitness coach who has been teaching, coaching, and training people in various capacities since 2006. John is the author of The Pull-up Solution, the complete pull-up and chin-up training system that helps people rapidly increase their pull-up numbers in three months or less.

You can get a free copy of John’s 3-month pull-up training program and download more of his premium pull-up training resource as part of his free 5-day Pull-up Training Crash Course.


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