How To Climb Across Monkey Bars

Monkey bars were hard enough when I was a kid. But this week I tried them again, older, wiser and with more muscle than I had back in the day. And you know what? They’re still really, really hard.

Since we’re doing a playground fitness challenge this month, I spent some time reading up on monkey bar advice and trying it out. I have the following to report:

Grip matters

Monkey bars are harder on your hands than any other part of your body, especially if the bars are skinny because they’re made for little kid hands. Suspending your weight from those things hurts.

People who train on monkey bars (for example, for Spartan races) do grip-specific workouts to get their forearm muscles strong. If you’re just hopping onto some monkey bars for an impromptu workout, there isn’t much you can do about grip except hold on tight.

Oh, and bring a towel. If it’s been raining or if there is morning dew on the bars, those things are slippery!

Try to swing

If you have really great upper body strength, you can try to literally pull yourself from bar to bar. But for most of us, the best strategy is the same as for rock climbing: Save your energy and don’t use any more muscle than you need to.

It’s OK to do a few swings back and forth on the first bar, just to get the motion going. Then try to find your rhythm.

I am not an expert monkey-bar-er, but I found it effective to swing back, swing forward and grab the next bar, swing back again, then swing forward with my other hand to the following bar. If you have long arms and can get a really good swing going, you may even be able to skip bars.

Use the bars for other exercises

Can’t manage to actually swing across? That’s OK. There are other exercises you can do on the bars. Try these:

  • Hang onto the bar. That’s it. How long can you hang there?
  • Hang onto the bar and pull your knees up toward your chest. This is a great ab exercise! Do it to either side, too.
  • Use nearby equipment to step up so that your shoulders are level with the bars. Grab on and slowly lower yourself to the ground. This is a negative pullup, and it’s a great stepping stone to real pullups.


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