Remember when you were a kid and monkey bars were so easy to do? Or maybe you watch your kids at the park and are amazed at how fast they get across the bars. Have you ever tried them yourself? And felt like your arms are going to rip off?
Can you picture yourself getting across the monkey bars right now?
“I was so surprised I made it across the monkey bars!! All that practice at the park really paid off!” – Tera F. Spartan Group training participant
“I surprised myself by making it across the monkey bars! I’m not exactly sure how I did it but I think it was a combination of the training and the encouragement from my team mates that got me across!” – Steph T.
The monkey bars are one of the most dreaded obstacles at an Obstacle Course Race (OCR). At a Spartan race they are often considered a Burpee maker (if you fail an obstacle you need to complete 30 Burpees). The monkey bars require a strong grip, core and upper body to complete.
Well I’m here to tell you that you can do those monkey bars again just like when you were a kid! You just have to know what exercises to do to build up the strength so that you can. In this post I’ll tell you the exact exercises you need to do so that you can get across those monkey bars at your next race.
The monkey bars can be intimidating especially at a race, they are usually high and there is a fear of falling. When you’re 5 feet tall the drop seems higher than it actually is. Once you get up onto the bars momentum is your best friend, the longer it takes you to get across the bars the harder it will be. Practice and doing the following exercises will help you build up the grip and upper body strength plus core strength so that you can conquer the monkey bars at your next race.
It took me 2 years of racing to finally get across the monkey bars successfully, although a big part of it was that I was afraid to try on my own for fears that I would fail the obstacle. Spartan used to let us help each other either by going on one another’s shoulders or holding onto a foot. This was the first year we weren’t allowed to help each other so we were forced to try it on our own and we surprised ourselves when we actually did it.
There are three key things that you need to work on: Upper body strength, grip strength and core strength.
Two exercises that I always focus on myself and with clients in Bootcamps and one on one are: Triceps Push-ups and Dead Hangs.
1) Dead hangs: These work your grip and get you used to hanging from bars, be sure to pull your shoulder blades down and back to engage your lats. These are also a great exercise for your mental strength, you need to push through the pain to keep holding on.
2) Triceps push-ups: One of the best exercises that you can do to improve upper body strength. Start on your knees and work up to your toes keeping hands under shoulders and elbows brushing sides as you lower your chest as close to the ground as you can. You’ll need to push up with your hips and keep your core braced to support your back.
A simple workout to try is a Tabata (20 seconds of work with 10 sec rest for 8 rounds or 4 min total):
20 sec – Dead hang from bar
10 sec rest
20 sec – Triceps push-ups
10 sec rest
Repeat for 3 more rounds
Last summer I ran the Calgary Spartan Sprint with a group of women that I helped train and every single one of them made it across the monkey bars for the FIRST time!
They were all shocked that they did but I wasn’t because we’d been training for it. We did the above exercises a lot during our training sessions and it paid off! Another thing we did was practice, we found a park with high enough monkey bars for us to hang from and we practiced.
I give even more tips on how you can train and prepare for an obstacle course in our community – Ladies who obstacle course race.