When we were kids, monkey bars were like Starbucks: They were everywhere and we flocked to them, swinging our tiny bodies across with delight. Thanks to the rise of obstacle-course racing, grown-up sized monkey bars are becoming a thing again, and you might see them at boot-camp-style gyms. And you can still use the regular versions you find in playgrounds.
If you’re looking for a fun way to spice up your walks and runs—or if you do happen to be gearing up for an obstacle race, here are some ways to turn a playground staple into a total-body workout tool.
Grip and Abs
The first step to mastering monkey bars is to develop grip strength. Unless you’re opening stubborn pickle jars all day, holding onto the bars can be surprisingly hard. Don’t worry though: Grip strength is easy to develop if you do it step by step.
Start by hanging from the bars for as long as you can, until you need to bring your feet back to the ground. Repeat for 3 sets.
Next, pull your knees straight up toward your chest to work your abs. Straighten your legs, and then pull your knees to the right to work your obliques. Repeat to the left. The three moves form one rep. Perform one set of 10 reps to start.
As you get stronger, replace your grip-strength holds with three knee raise sets.
Biceps and Triceps
Face the bars from the side, and hold one bar with both hands. Pull yourself up and slowly lower your body, for one rep. Pull up to either side of the bar, if there’s enough space in between bars. Otherwise, jump down and turn around to face the other way. Start with 2 to sets of 5 reps on each side, switching your hands (one behind the other) for each set. Build to about 20 reps per side.
As you become stronger, try fully extending your arms in between reps so that you’re starting with straight arms each time. If this exercise is too challenging, you can always make it easier by turning it into a static hold.
Jump, Swing, and Go
Swinging from bar to bar (walking the bars with your hands—just like when you were a kid!) is the classic way to enjoy the monkey bars. You’ll have fun—and majorly challenge your back, arms, even your core. If you can’t make your way across the bars your first time around, do the other moves in this workout at least three times a week, and after a month, try moving through the bars again.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.