24 May 2014

Everyday activities can place a lot of stress and compression on your back. Sitting in office chairs, standing up all day, even laying down on a flat bed puts a little bit of compression on your spine. Your spine needs decompression to keep it from becoming too tight. Excess compression can lead to injury. The most well-known way to decompress your spine is to hang upside down on an Inversion Table.

Not everybody has an inversion table. However, there is an alternative that feels just as good and is just about as effective as a inversion table. Simply hanging from a pull-up bar may become your favorite new stretch. Pull-Up bars are readily available at your gym or your local park. You can also install one in your house (we have actually have one we highly recommend here: . This is the same feeling of relief and benefits I paid $1000 for at the Chiropractor for decompression therapy when I was injured , because I did not know about the benefits of hanging on a pull-up bar. Check out how to properly hang from a pull-up bar in this picture:


The second best thing about this stretch besides its benefits, is that it costs $1000 less than my decompression treatment did. Do the math, and you’ll get the cost!

Here is how you do the spinal decompression stretch on the pull-up bar:

Grab the pull-up bar and let your body hang. Try to touch the ground while you are on the pull-up bar (If you are on one that is taller than you.) You can either reach up toward the bar, jump up to the bar, or if you are unable to reach it, use the other playground equipment or a block to step on to prop yourself up to the bar. Your spine stretches out as a result. Keep your head forward and tighten up your core while performing this decompression stretch. Hang for as long as you can. Typically, you are not going to be hanging very long until you have done this stretch for a while or you already have a lot of strength. Often, you will feel a nice little pop in your thoracic spine. The tightness in your back is being released.

We also suggest you hang from a pull-up bar several times a day if you can get to one, and you should definitely hang from one during your warm-up, cool-down, and after every heavy weight exercise that compresses your back (Ex. Squats or Deadlifts). Hanging on the pull-up bar is one of the simplest, yet most effective stretches you can do. Your back will thank you immensely! Your shoulders would not mind the stretch either. As always, if you have a serious injury, consult with a physician before doing any kind of exercise or stretch. Let us know how your back feels after a nice pull-up bar decompression stretch.

Enjoy your newly decompressed back!

-Matt Bible

45 thoughts on “Decompressing Your Spine by Hanging on a Pull-Up Bar

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  2. I have sciatica with a lot of discomfort all down my right leg, no actual pain in the back. I’ve been hanging from a door frame for a count of 5 for the last few days and felt some relief. I googled hanging on a bar to be sure I wasn’t injuring myself. Interesting to see you recommend keeping the toes on the floor, I’ll try that. thank you

    1. Sue, I am glad you are feeling relief. I recommend the toes on the floor, because a lot of people may not be able to jump up and grab the pull-up bar. I wanted to show accessibility. I hope for your continued recovery. How has your back been feeling since?

      1. Hi, I’m Rey and I have the same problem as Sue. No back pain but I have morning sciatica that goes away in the afternoon. The pain comes back every morning.

        I will give this a try. And keep you guys updated.

  3. Great article!!!

    My back has bothered me for 1.5 years. After watching American Ninja Warrior I thought hanging from a bar could be a good exercise.
    About 3 weeks ago I started trying to hang from my my chin up bar. When I first tried it I could hang for 15 seconds. Now I can go for up up to 45 seconds and do a total of about 2 minutes per day.
    My back is so much better it is amazing. It used to hurt from sneezing and every time I got up from lying down.

    I love this excerise because it is simple.

    1. You still can get the same benefits. Typically, most gyms can accommodate people of most heights with their pull-up bars. Playground pull-up bars can get a little tricky. It depends on what you have access to. The Teeter Hang-Ups are also a possible alternative.

  4. some doctors say pull-ups are completely forbidden for people with herniated discs, it just makes it worse. why is that?

    1. Serdar,

      It really depends on where the herniated disk is which grip of pull-ups are used. If the herniated disks are in the cervical area, it can typically cause pain since that area is activated during a pull-up. It also depends on comfort level. Never do an exercise that causes pain. Some people can do them with herniated disks, but always check with a doctor first. There are many types of back injuries.

  5. I have spinal stenosis in my lower lumber – will hanging from a pull-up bar help or possibly help.
    Also if your tall, can you just bend knees?

    1. Larry, it depends on how severe the pain is. It should help. If you are tall, then yes, you can bend your knees. It is important to keep up on your exercise as well.

  6. After 4 years of excruciating pain and many visits to physio finally I have found something that really works. Only after 2 weeks of doing this Strach I don’t feel pain while standing, sneezing or coughing. Back into the gym still feel it every now and then during the day but it has dragged me out of long depression. Now I know I will be 100% sooner or later

    1. Parney,

      I am glad to hear that it has helped you out a lot! Keep us updated with your progress. Be careful not to go too intense too soon in the gym.

  7. I have similar symptoms to many of the above comments. I just did my first hanging decompression and it feels so much better.While I was hanging I was also trying to do knee pull-ups to try and engage my core. Any reason not to?

    1. Esther,

      If the pull-ups are not causing your back any pain, then I would go for them. Make sure you keep your core tight while doing the pull-ups. If they do cause any pain other than normal soreness, then stop doing them for the day. I was able to do pull-ups before I could do Lat Pulldowns.

  8. Hello,I’ve been reading your articles with interest.Id like to try the chin-up bar for relief of sciatica,caused by a slipped disc on my l-5 region.Im looking for your thoughts on this.Thanks!

    1. Alberto,

      Thank you and I am glad you have kept up with our articles! Try it out slowly. If you can, step onto something and gradually lower yourself. If needed, you can step back onto the surface (a bench, the top of a dumbbell.)

  9. I’m going through a 12 week workout routine to help with diastasis recti repair. My abdomen was separated during pregnancy. One of the things I’m supposed to do is hang from a bar. But I don’t have access to a gym, and I don’t have a bar at home. Is there something else I can do that will work just as well?

    1. CJ,

      As great as that would sound, unfortunately, this will not increase your height. However, it could possibly prevent potential shrinking in older age.

  10. Hi Matt,
    I was recently being diagnosed with L5 S1 herniated disc. i just did the pull up stretch. however, may i know if i can still do pull ups to increase the size of bicep/tricep. as my doctor inform me to avoid from doing any lifting. assuming its due to compressing the spine. so, i was thinking if doing pull ups will not decompress it, and i could actually build some arm muscle at the same time.

  11. sorry, i meant doing pull ups will decompress the spine, thus building biceps/triceps arm muscle at the same time.

  12. I tried hanging, not at the recommendation of this article, yesterday and I suffered an injury from the dismount. First some of my background: I am a mostly-healthy 26yr old male with a history in fitness and exercise. I have emphasized flexibility and functional strength since injuring my back playing frisbee when I was 22. I have not had an acute back injury in over a year.

    So while hanging I experienced a very relaxing and decompressing “pop” in a region of lumbar spine about half way through a 2 minute hang. I felt my deep core muscles relax and experienced positive and relaxing sensations. I had actually just been on a road trip and felt like I wanted this area to release for several days. Then came the dismount…I had jumped onto the bar and was hanging about 8-12in off the ground. When I let go I tried to land softly but the region that had decompressed became traumatized. I heard several pops, and while I was standing and not in any pain I could tell I had compromised something in my back. I waited about a minute before moving and sure enough when I started to walk I could tell my muscles were spasming and bending or squatting caused pain in that region. I was able to walk, finish working, grow to the grocery store and help take care of my sick baby but man I was limited in my ROM and any movement that involved lumbar flexion caused significant pain. If I keep neutral or extended lumbar region then there is no acute pain whatsoever. I think I experienced a tear in some soft tissue but have not had that diagnosed.

    I say all this to encourage others with a history of back pain to be careful when decompressing, and to take it easy your first time hanging. I consider myself in excellent physical condition – I learned how to do a standing backflip just last year – and did not think twice about this causing any injury. It was just a passive hang after all. Just be careful and take it slow and do not jump up to the bar unless you have done this several times before and know your spine is healthy enough for the impact after decompression!

    1. Andrew,
      Sorry to hear about your injury from the dismount. Thank you for your input. I hope you feel better soon.

  13. Hi,
    I have lumbar spondylosis in left side and I did x-ray of LS-spine of the waist and the x-Ray report is OA has been changes in all vertebrae for that reason i cannot sit long time . earlier i used to carry heavy lift wherever tour is fixed so i think this problem has created now. if I do hectic busy schedule of my work it’s paining me a lot . if I take rest i feel relax . could you please tell me which excersice is benefit for me so that I can able to sit as well do my daily work.please suggest me.

  14. I have recommended this for years. However I would like to modify. I would recommend hands overhead be in NEUTRAL position with palms facing and hands shoulder width apart. If you look at your photo, your shoulders are “scrunched”. Shoulder joints are fragile and prone to injury. I would keep palms facing. Also, if you have a buddy, have him stand behind & place hands on top of both illiac crests & gently, in 10 second increments, press downward to add to stretch & open spine. NO TWISTING. (Torque). If one does not have injury & just wants to take this up a notch, strap on light ankle weights but no jerking of legs getting in & out of this stretch. That little extra weight in combination with gravity will do well for spine.
    Years ago I saw someone with thick leather straps around his wrists and large hooks in straps. He would hang with the hooks around the bar and not put pressure on all those tiny bones in the fingers & hands. I’ve found wrist straps but not leather with hooks.

  15. I did this stretch today and when I was starting to let go of the bar and engage my back muscles, my entire thoracic spine felt like it was coming back together in such pain. During the stretch, my spine felt like the vertebrae were stretching out, which is to be expected, however they certainly didn’t feel like they were going back in their proper places. I couldn’t let go of the bar for a good minute or so and only with great pain. I was able to sit down on a bench but it took another couple minutes before I could sit up straight and stand. What am I doing wrong? Am I relaxing too much and putting too much strain on my spine?

  16. i suffered a slipped disc seven weeks ago when doing a deadlift and the first three weeks i suffered a lot of pain in my calf,lower back and buttock but now i feel some relief and the pain in my lower back and buttock have gone but i still experience some small amount of pain in my ankle and sometimes in my toes especially in the morning, can you tell me what is this suppose to mean?? I will appreciate if u answer me in my email

  17. i am not too tall, but have L5 S1 disc discharge detected recently. i pull up gym equip to grab the bar and i hang stretching my toes trying to touch the floor, though not tall enough to touch it, since the bar is around 7 feet high from ground and am only 5.4 )) . please advise if thats fine. i hang for around 20 seconds with break of 10 seconds and doing it every 2 hours for 5 to 6 times. thank you

  18. Hi
    My mum has a bulging disc and has been in pain because of it for quite a long time. She recently started doing this exercise but can’t hang on for more than 5 seconds. She also has a bit of arthritis in her neck. So I was just wanting to know when hanging does the neck area of the spine stretch as well or is it just the lower back it works on ? If someone knows the answer and can help it would be much appreciated… thank you

    1. Haleema,
      Sorry to hear that about your mom. It can stretch out the neck, but it can also potentially cause pain in the neck as well if someone has pain. An inversion table may be a better option for her. If she is seeing a physical therapist or doctor, they can possibly recommend out something along those lines as well.

  19. I recently 5 months back had l5 s1 microdiscetomy l5 laminectomy surgery , can I do this hanging exercise now ? Thanks in advance

    1. Sraj,

      Sorry to hear that. I would actually check with your doctor or physical therapist. I would love to recommend it, but your specialist would know since they have been working with you.

    1. Samik,

      It depends on your strength, weight, and if you are recovering from an injury. I would start off with 3 sets of 15-20 seconds per day, then increase slowly.

  20. Hi, please share your recommended time per set of hang, how many sets per day & how many times per week to do this for optimum results but no overdoing.

    1. Soum,

      It can vary depending on weight, strength, injury level, etc. If you are new, I would start off with 3 rounds of 15-20 seconds at most, then build up from there! Feel free to reach out with more questions!

  21. Regarding the pain problem induced by dismounting: (Caveat: I am definitely not a doctor and am only speaking about something that works for me.) By all means when dismounting, DO NOT JUMP down and do not in any way jolt the body when placing weight on the spine again. My lumbar and lower thoracic is normally chronically somewhat painful, but able to get some relief using the weight hangs. In the last year I’ve been doing “bar dip hangs” Basically I do my normal bar dip set, then before dipping down for the last time, instead, I just keep my arms fully extended for about 20-40 seconds while statically supporting my body’s full weight and relaxing the lumbar area muscles (in other words stay in the starting position and do not do the dipping part of exercise). Then when ready to dismount, I very gingerly and very slowly begin gradually placing weight back on my feet, and then after I’ve fully transferred the weight back to the feet, I slowly start walking again to gradually get the spine muscles to “wake back up” and let them get used to the weight again. A doctor explained to me that the back muscles are returning to their previously memorized positions, but if done too fast or too violently, they might not be able to perform their supporting work and the result might possibly be a traumatic effect on the spinal column? Anyway, this works for me.

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