Primary school was a simpler, holier time.
We had Ovalteenies, Heads Down, Thumbs Up and our fun lived and died by the mantra ‘No hat, no play, no fun today’:
The majority of us (bar Matt Okine) have left these wholesome activities in the past, despite their benefits.
We spoke with Osteopath Dr. Matthew Jennings from Double Bay Osteopathic Clinic about how and why you should reconsider working the monkey bars back into your fitness routine.
Let’s start with some factoids. Back in 19diggity20, a US man by the name of Sebastian Hinton invented the humble Jungle Gym. In the original patent, he noted that “climbing is the natural method of locomotion which the evolutionary predecessors of the human race were designed to practice, and is therefore almost ideally suited for children.”
He wasn’t wrong – we share a whopping 96% of the same genes as chimpanzees, and their whole schtick is gripping and swinging.
What’s more, grasping comes naturally to us, says Dr. Jennings. “Imagine you’re a baby in your mother’s arms, and your uncle comes up close and puts his hand near baby. Baby is going to grab that finger and pull.” It’s an innate, evolutionary movement.
We continue to develop strength in our grasp as we mature, and playing on monkey bars is a sure-fire way to spur this on. Here’s a little bebe demonstrating:
“One of the great advantages of hanging early in the piece is that there’s not grinding of joints – it’s just a purely static position, and so, the nervous system is engaged, and muscle tissue, vein tissue, arterial tissue, lymphatic tissue, the tissue that connects all the ligaments and tendons is being activated and turned on,” says Dr. Jennings.
“It seems to encourage a bit of life into that tissue. And if you’ve got a better bloody flow, you’ll heal better.”
How to start back on the bars?
Dr. Jennings gets his clients to begin by finding some monkey bars that you can reach while still having your feet planted on the ground. You should be light on your feet, and bend your knees until you feel some tension through your body. Try and stay in that static position for one minute, then rest.
He then gets clients to do this one minute on, one minute off routine three times, and though it might sounds easy, he assures us “it’s incredibly difficult”.
What’s the benefit?
+ Over time, it’ll increase your grip strength. “There are a lot of benefits of grip strength, including reduced risk of tendon attachment issues and rotator cuff tendonitis,” he says. Strengthening your grip through monkey bars while you’re young can reduce the risk of arthritis too, since you’re keeping those muscles active.
+ It’ll work your forearms, intrinsic and extrinsic muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists, biceps, and lat muscles.
+ The gravity from hanging will work your core, too.
There’s plenty more you can do on the bars beyond just hanging, as shown in this schmick YouTube clip:
Photo: Getty / Ryan Pierse.