It's Time for Humans to Take Back the Monkey Bars
If I could summarize smart training I would say this: Train your whole body daily with enough work and appropriate load. Let me give you two words to aid in your understanding of training the movements with appropriate work and load: Integrity and Environment. Integrity is a word I use often in my work. I use it to talk about “being the same person in every situation,” being true to one’s values and system, and, the key for this section, “being one piece.” “The body is one piece” has been a teaching truth of mine for decades, but it can be simplified to “Integrity.” As you train and pursue...
If I could summarize smart training I would say this: Train your whole body daily with enough work and appropriate load.
Let me give you two words to aid in your understanding of training the movements with appropriate work and load: Integrity and Environment.
Integrity is a word I use often in my work. I use it to talk about “being the same person in every situation,” being true to one’s values and system, and, the key for this section, “being one piece.”
“The body is one piece” has been a teaching truth of mine for decades, but it can be simplified to “Integrity.” As you train and pursue your goals, you must think of your body (mind and soul) as one piece. Your feet, even if you don’t realize it, are searching for clues from the ground to protect you from making a life changing or life altering error. You inner ear is helping out your feet by providing feedback on what is upright, and the rest of your body is sharing information to help your decision making process.
As for environment, it’s “everything out there.” It can be water, ground, trees, rocks, falling rocks, and everybody else. It can be as controlled as a cement floor and an air-conditioned room, or as chaotic as the breakers hitting a tidal pool. We are constantly waging a full scan on everything around us and reacting to all this input.
We can use integrity and environment to help understand the fundamental human movements and how they can be seen over the lifetime of training.
Let’s just discuss the upper body and how your local playground might be the best toolkit for training you know.
The “Push” is an attempt to separate from the environment. Babies strive to push the floor away to begin moving on their own, the bench press is an attempt to separate the bar from the chest, and we spend much of our life pushing away mom and dad so we can grow up. Not surprisingly, pushing muscles tend to be the muscles of youth. As you review Janda’s Phasics—a group of muscles classified by Dr. Vladamir Janda as extensors, or essentially “pushers,”—you will note that these are the ones that weaken with age or illness.
The “Pull” is how we unite or embrace our environment. When we try to bring things closer to ourselves, like during a pullup, row, or embrace, we are attempting to close the gap between our integrity (our body) and the environment. Sports naturally flow between push and pull as we try to leverage an opponent or nature. As we age, we wish everyone we know were just a bit closer either due to hearing loss or just distance. Janda’s Tonics—classified as your flexors or “pullers”—are the muscles that tighten with age or illness.
If you wish to do both the Push and Pull in the healthiest, safest manner, go look for some Monkey Bars. If you ever want a full upper body workout in about a minute, swing from hand to hand across the Monkey Bars.
Hold on. Why do we call them Monkey Bars? In Wikipedia’s definition of “Brachiation,” there is a very interesting description of the traits of brachiators: “Some traits that allow primates to brachiate include short fingernails (instead of claws), inward-closing hook-like fingers, opposable thumbs, long forelimbs, and freely rotating wrists.”
Sound familiar? Yeah, well, look in the mirror! Go find a park and rename them “Human Bars” and take back our equipment! Like Charleton Heston warned us: “Take your paws of me, you damn dirty ape!” My friends, let me warn you: First the playgrounds, then the world. Seriously, there are movies about this!
There is a beach in California with rings set up so that one can “fly” back and forth and back and forth. Now, by the time you read this, some group interested in safety will have banned them, but if you want to look fantastic in the upper body, start brachiating. The beachcombers who do these big swings look amazing. Now, the chicken or the egg question: Does swinging build this physique or does a certain physique allow “flying rings.”
Either way, it doesn’t matter. Your upper body is made to do it. Its job is to both separate and embrace the environment.
Traditionally, I have gathered a bunch of our typical training drills into something I call “The Sixth Movement.” I am never sure what to call this, but basically it is everything besides push, pull, hinge, squat and loaded carries (the five foundational movements). It is groundwork. It is rolling. It is literally “everything else.”
Generally, though, the Sixth Movements seems to encourage this: Integrity with the Environment.
Rolling on the ground makes falling seem safer. Turkish getups simplify popping up off the ground to get some more beer during the Super Bowl. Rolling on the floor with a grandchild makes everyone happier. (That last one isn’t scientific, but it is true.)
The Sixth Movement(s) bring you back to the early days of sitting around a fire and listening to a story. We are reminded of sliding in and out to spark the embers, sliding back into the earth to hear the story, and rolling over on the ground to fall asleep.
Our relationship with the earth shouldn’t be “me and it,” it should be “I and Thou.” Yes, it might be a bit heavy for a lifting audience, but just roll around for a while and trust this point.
Crawling can be seen as simply “engaging the horizontal environment.” Brachiating can be summed with “engaging the vertical environment.” You don’t need to swing from limb to limb to engage the vertical environment as you can do that simply through Monkey Bars or Rope Climbing. The recent popularity of rock climbing reflects this basic truth of the human person: We like to explore what is around us and hidden behind that next curve, tree, or mountain.
I was lucky to be educated in the last wave of the classic Physical Education programs. We began the year with marching. Can you even imagine the number of phone calls to the principal if today you had kids marching around the schoolyard following the commands “To your left, to your left, to your left, right, left?” We learned sports and games, but we also spent quality time on climbing ropes, high bars, dipping bars and Monkey bars.
In most P.E. classes today, you simply see pick-up basketball games and dodgeball. In many states, it has all but vanished for the scholastic curriculum. If you don’t learn certain skills as a child, bicycling and swimming quickly come to mind, it is going to be difficult to pick them up in your adult years. Learning to ride a bike involves some falling and tumbling and this isn’t always the best for adults.
Let’s rediscover the great tradition of physical training.