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Training

Hopeless to monkey bars badass

At the time of my first OCR in April 2015, I couldn’t even hang from a bar for longer than 10 seconds. Swinging from bar to bar looked like an art I’d never master. And yet here I am a week ago:

There’s a lot of room for improvement–not sure if I’m ready for the Spartan multi-rig yet–but I can handle the conventional set of monkey bars just fine. If you’re just starting out with your monkey bar training, I wrote this for you. It’s an overview of everything I’ve done this year and earlier to conquer that damn set of monkey bars in my gym. Just remember that when I started I couldn’t even do a proper negative. So wherever you’re starting from today, you can own those monkey bars in a matter of months.

The two factors crucial for success

Before we dig into workout routines, I want to emphasise two things that were key for my success:

    1. Consistency. My progress was slow until I got a gym membership and started training my arms & back twice a week. That said, you don’t need a gym to do these workouts. It’s just what helped me establish a training routine and stick with it.

 

  • Bare hands. I used gloves at first because the bars would give me callouses. I wish I’d sucked it up and threw away the gloves sooner. They just hampered my grip on the bars and overall progress. Plus, in a race you’ll be muddy anyway and unable to use them.

 

 

Other than this, the formula for conquering monkey bars is simple: Increased pulling strength + Increased grip strength = Monkey-bars badass   In this video you can see a variety of exercises that will get you to monkey-bars badassery:

 

So – where are you starting from? I wrote up 3 workout routines for the different stages of my training – use the ‘status’ field below to find yourself and then you can use my workouts to improve.

The enthusiastic beginner

Status: Can’t do a pull-up. Can’t swing from bar to bar.

This workout was the start of my journey. Negatives and deadhangs you can do in any park, but you will need a gym or home weights for the last exercise.

Assisted pull-up

5×5 Assisted pull-ups (gym) or negatives with a resistance band (outdoors)

How to do assisted pull-ups and negatives. Make sure that your every rep is the same and complete (no half-assing it!). If you do fail before completing 5 sets, that’s either because:

a) you didn’t wait long enough between the sets for your nervous system to recover (MOST LIKELY); or

b) you need more support (UNLIKELY) so you may want to increase the weight if you’re using an assisted pull-up machine. If you’re using a resistance band, then just get a stronger band (e.g. 30-40kg support).

To keep progressing, make sure to lower yourself down slowly. You should be controlling the movement with your upper back muscles. It’s this controlled lowering that will help you get stronger.

3x Deadhang until failure

To perform the correct deadhang, relax your shoulders (so you’re not holding yourself up), engage the core and tighten the tush! It helps if you bend your legs at the knee and lock the feet behind you.

Time your deadhangs so you see how you’re improving each week. Again, take some time to recover between reps so you don’t half-ass it.

4×8 Inverted rows 

I used to do these under a bike rack before I had my gym membership. They’re pretty much the same as the TRX rows from our Instagram, except you’re even closer to the ground.

Bonus: Go bouldering

A fun way to work your pull strength, forearm AND finger grip all at once.

The determined intermediate

Status: Seen progress and feeling stronger, but still can’t swing.

The beginner workout I did for a long time and inconsistently. Once I got a gym membership early this year I upgraded to my beginner routine to this intermediate protocol. I started improving almost weekly!

5×5 Assisted pull-ups or negatives

Same as above. On the gym’s assisted pull-up machine, I started with 32kg supporting weight. Within a month, I went down to 28kg, then 23 and now I’m at 18kg, a few weeks away from going down to just 9kg.

To keep progressing, make sure that all of your reps are equal and complete. If you are using the assisted machine, make sure to lower yourself down slowly controlling the movement with your upper back muscles. I see too many people just swinging up and down quickly – you won’t get stronger this way. Controlling the downward motion is just as important as pulling yourself all the way up to your chin.

mb-lateralbars

Lateral moving on the bar

Adding this exercise was a game-changer. I still couldn’t swing from bar to bar, but I could work at moving laterally one way and back without failing. At first I could only go one way before I fell off the bar and had to pause. With improvement, I could go back and forth laterally 4-5 times before failure. Then suddenly, one day I found I could swing from bar to bar. What a day!

3x Deadhangs until failure

Keep timing these – the improvements will be fantastic! And they’ll keep you motivated. Again, do take time to recover between reps so you don’t clock out too early. Don’t let go – hang until your fingers slip and you almost fall.

5 20m Farmer carries with dumbbells

Grab some heavy dumbbells (I started with 14kg) and walk straight. Look up and hold your shoulders straight. This one really works your grip!

4×8 TRX rows

Rows and deadlifts can really help to improve your pulling strength. Up to you if you’d rather do barbell or dumbbell rows. I like TRX because they feel harder to do.

5×5 Deadlifts

Bonus: Go bouldering

A fun way to work your pull strength, forearm AND finger grip all at once.

The calloused pro

Status: Callouses, schmallouses. Can swing from bar to bar. No pull-up yet, though.

This is me today – hello! :) Rather than doing one pull workout (arms & back as above) once or twice a week, I now split this into two workouts: weighted pull (1x/week) and grip (1x/week).

My grip session consists of:

5x of complete monkey bars (my new party trick is to turn around on the bar)

5x 20m farmer carries (2x 16kg) superset with deadhangs until failure

4×20 reps AFAP on the rope machine with high resistance

Bonus: 4×8 Knee-ups (can’t do toe-to-bar yet)

monkey bars deadhang

Dat dead-bored deadhang face. Jk, there is no boredom, only suffering ugh

My weighted pull session consists of:

5×5 Assisted pull-ups

5×5 Deadlifts

4×8 TRX or dumbbell (2x 12kg) rows

 

Bonus: bouldering + finger grip training

Can’t wait ’till I can move up the bars, as shown by V on Instagram.

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Got any questions? Want to recommend other exercises for pull & grip strength? Let me know in the comments!

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