If you are suffering from any kind of back pain, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before performing bar hangs.
The spine is built for compressive loading, force acting from the head to the toes. The intervertebral discs that are between vertebrae transfer load along the entirety of the spine.
The design of the spine gives us an indication as to the loading at each segment. for example, the vertebrae in the neck only have the head to support and thus are the smallest in terms of size. This pattern is seen throughout the spine as the lower you go, the larger the vertebrae as the greater the loading. This brings us to the lumbar spine or the lower back. It is the area with the greatest force and therefore it is often problematic for many people.
Throughout the day the compressive loading that is placed on the spine, squeezes the discs closer together. Water is actually lost from these discs as they act as force absorbers. So much so that if we compare our height from when we wake up to before we go to bed, there is a marked decrease, as much as 3cm in some cases.
As we sleep each night the intervertebral discs rehydrate and are ready for absorption again. When we sleep horizontally, this takes the compressive load from the spine allowing for refilling of the discs.
Almost all of the activities that we do are compressive in nature. Any gym exercises, sitting for long periods, walking or running, all cause compressive loading. This means that we are predominantly compressing the spine throughout the day, other than sleeping.
One very effective way of decompressing the spine is bar hangs. One might ask, how can bar hangs help with decompression? A quick anatomy lesson will help to answer this question. The large lat muscles (Latissimus Dorsi) begin at the shoulder and run along the armpit and into the spine in the mid-back (thoracic spine), and the lower back (lumbar spine). The lats attach the hips and lower back to the shoulders. By stretching this muscle it slightly spreads and decompresses the spine, alleviating pressure on your lower back as well as lubricating and nourishing the intervertebral discs.
It is important to remember whilst performing bar hangs to maintain proper form.
Keep your core tight - clench your abs.
Engage your glute - squeeze your bum.
Keep your ribs down - don't allow your ribs to flare or lift off.
Draw your shoulders back - towards your opposite hip.
All of the above help to avoid the hips from tilting forward and placing too much pressure on the lower back.
* If you gently swing from side to side this can help to mobilise or increase movement in the mid back (thoracic spine).