One perk of working in South Korean schools is that every single one is equipped with monkey bars. Not only did progressive hanging and brachiation training aid in the rehab of  multiple shoulder injuries, it improved my overall body co-ordination, aerial awareness, grip, and strengthened my scapula and rotator complex greater than ever before. This is one of my first ‘freestyle’ hanging and brachiation routines. It’s not pretty, but I’m happy with the progress and the onward direction!

We evolved from arboreal animals… And we remain the only non-arboreal species who still have the ability to hang and brachiate as they do.

Movement Complexity

Of all the complex movements that the shoulder are built to articulate, hanging and brachiation (swinging from arm to arm) are by far the most neglected – this goes for the scope of everyday function as well and in a training environment. Few disciplines require overhead reaching, hanging and brachiation as part of their movement repertoire (even the obvious goto’s such as climbing and parkour far from exhaust the potential of this crucial locomotive element), and even fewer day-to-day actions require us to raise our arms above even a horizontal plane.

We evolved from arboreal animals, those who exploited this locomotive niche to be able to live in trees in safety from ground-trundling predators. And we remain the only non-arboreal species who still have the ability to hang and brachiate as they do. Why? Because we are movement generalists. So this is the simple reason we should dedicate time and effort to hanging and brachiation training: because we can.

There is, however, a problem. And it is a cultural-structural problem. Just as movement is socially dictated into accepted places forms (walking paths, cycling lanes, skate parks, leisure centres…), hanging and brachiation is no different. The first barrier to training this crucial locomotive element is finding the apparatus to do it. Interestingly enough, the best brachiation opportunities I see on a day-to-day basis are the overhead holding points on public transport, and whilst the instability element from the tram, bus or metro coach is always a welcoming challenge the environment is far from the nostalgic freedom of swinging vine to vine in Tarzanic fashion.

‘Can I still do it? I can see it in my mind… I know my body should be able to do it… but can I do it?’

The Monkey Bars

Every child loves the monkey bars. Why? It’s a rhetorical question; we all know why. But then do we know why we know why? Why are there monkey bars in nearly every children’s play park? Why does every single Elementary School in South Korea have monkey bars? The answer is instinct. Brachiation is entirely instinctual, an entirely natural part of our movement repertoire, however we have basically forgotten how to do it.

Although I am not a part of the calisthenics and ‘street workout’ dogma, I am thankful to it because of the boom in outdoor parks it has caused, an integral element of which is always the monkey bars. Although still largely neglected, I can’t but help notice the social play that often occurs with (largely male) passers-by who are drawn to the hanging opportunities which suddenly appear before them. Most tie up their dogs, chain their bikes, leave the pushchair and go straight for the pull up bar. It’s usually something they know, a simple, bi-phasic movement they’re familiar with from either practice or observation.

The more intrepid of the onlookers, however, always venture for the monkey bars. I have seen it in their eyes more than a hundred times – the memory. But the memory is all. ‘Can I still do it? I can see it in my mind… I know my body should be able to do it… but can I do it?’ They try once, maybe twice, an explosion of uncoordinated movement actuations like a fish flapping on land whilst children before and after glide gracefully from bar to bar. Ultimately, the adult gives up. They try no further. Now they remember that they can’t do it. It’s something for kids, maybe something for gymnasts or the like. They’ll remember not to try it again.

you will re-kindle the muscle memory to begin your own brachiation journey and be provided with progressive programming to take you further in all elements of hanging and brachiation

You’ve Still Got It.

I just want to take away one thing from this post – you can hang and you can brachiate, and you should. If you had a chance to spend just 30 minutes under the monkey bars, you would remember how to use your hips correctly for momentum, how to angle your wrists for best grip, when to reach your arms at the correct moment. If someone tries to explain to you how to do it, it’s not the same. You just have to move.

An entire MoveMore Workshop is dedicated to hanging and brachiation due both to its neglect and benefits. Starting from basic active hanging and passive hanging you will learn the integral role played by the scapula in all hanging movements, and how practice in this locomotive form can function as both rehab and prehab for shoulder injuries. Before the end of the workshop, you will re-kindle the muscle memory to begin your own brachiation journey and be provided with progressive programming to take you further in all elements of hanging and brachiation.

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