Monkey bars

I used to play on the monkey bars all the time when I was a kid. My mom encouraged it. She knew it built upper-body strength, and that the ability to traverse monkey bars was an important capability for any human. (She could traverse monkey bars herself, when I was a boy.)

I quit doing the monkey bars, probably when I was college age, and quickly lost the capability. Then for three decades would have been afraid to even try, because I’d definitely have hurt myself. A few years ago I wanted to regain that capability, so I started looking for monkey bars to practice on, and found that they’ve gotten quite scarce. Many playgrounds don’t have them at all.

Winfield Village has a playground in every quad, but the only playground with any sort of monkey bars is the big one close to the office, and it has a rather strange curving monkey bar that over the course of 5 rungs makes a 90° turn—a particularly challenging version. (Like most these days, this one has weird triangular bars hanging from a single support, rather than a series of rungs supported on both sides.)

Bars for brachiating at Winfield Village playground

The reason for both the near disappearance and the switch to triangular bars seems to be that monkey bars are “dangerous.” Many playground safety experts recommend that monkey bars be excluded from playgrounds altogether, and I think the weird shape is designed to make them harder to climb on top of, in the hopes that kids would then not do so.

I spent a chunk of yesterday afternoon at an “alignment play day” with folks from CU Movement (and  kids), getting some hanging and balancing and barefoot walking on various textures. One thing I did was traverse the monkey bars at Clark Park in Champaign—an old-style set of monkey bars, rather like the ones I remember as a kid.

One of the kids in our group—small enough that it was a challenge to reach the next bar, and at a height that the experts would no doubt claim was “too high” for a kid of that size—did the monkey bars, and then immediately wanted to climb on top of them. He asked for help getting on top, which his mom declined to provide—except that she pointed out that one of the supporting poles could probably provide the necessary foot purchase for him to get on top on his own. And he did manage to find two ways to get up there. Having gotten up there, he decided against traversing the top of the monkey bars, and simply swung back down under them.

A new school of thought is emerging (finally!) that “dangerous” playground equipment offers valuable opportunities for kids to do exactly what this boy did: evaluate a hazard and decide how much risk was appropriate. The only way to learn to make that sort of evaluation is to actually practice it. Making playgrounds so safe that children cannot hurt themselves reduces their opportunity to develop a good sense for what is safe and what is dangerous, and what is and is not within their capability.

It has also made it a lot harder for me to find a set of monkey bars to practice on.

I crossed the monkey bars three times in the afternoon, but I forgot to attempt my next big trick: Cross from one end to the other, turn around (without putting my feet down) and cross back again.

I’ll do that next time.

Achievement unlocked: One-arm hang

In the Runner’s Rehab class I’ve been taking, which is mostly lower-body alignment, mobility, and strength, Ashley usually includes a few minutes of upper-body work as a bit of a break. We’ve done hanging from the high bar, playing with parallel bars, playing on a climbing rope, etc.

One time when we were hanging, Ashley asked if I could hang from one arm, and I said, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried in a long time. I can sort-of brachiate on the monkey bars, so I guess I can hang for at least a moment….”

So I figured I’d try, and: Wow! I can hang from one hand!

How I twist when I hang by one hand.

I haven’t done it for time yet. When I hang from one hand my body turns out. I haven’t yet gotten that under control enough to hang for very long without feeling like I’m going to twist my shoulder.

Still, it give me a feeling of considerable satisfaction to be able to hang from one hand, even if just for a few seconds.

I don’t think this twisting is really a strength issue; more a motor-control/patterning issue. It shouldn’t take me long to get to the point where I can control the twist, at which point I’ll be able to hang for as long as my hands are up to it, and I think they’ll be up to a reasonable amount of one-arm hanging pretty quickly.

Hill repeats, wall traverse, brachiating

I ran 7.73 miles a few days ago. As best I can tell from my fragmented records, that’s my second-longest run ever, after an 8-mile run I did in 2004 while getting in shape to do the Lake Mingo Trail run that year.

In an email discussion, my friend Chuck lamented that he wasn’t currently in shape to match my feat, blaming part of his circumstance on trying to add mileage too quickly, leading to hurting himself. Looking at my running log, I was surprised to see how few runs I’ve taken this summer—I’m really just averaging about one run a week. I knew in theory that long walks would replace runs to a certain extent, in building and maintaining the fitness needed to go for long runs, but am surprised it replaces them to this extent.

One thing I don’t get enough of around here is hill climbing—it’s just too flat. However, there is one reasonably large hill close to me, in Colbert Park.

The hill at Colbert Park
The hill at Colbert Park

I’ve long wanted to do hill repeats here—run up the hill hard, recover while jogging back down, and repeat. But it’s just far enough from home that on my previous runs to the park, I didn’t manage to do repeats—just up the hill, back down, and then home again.

Today, though, I did five runs up the hill.

Both to and from, I pass Prairie Fields Park, which has a pretty good playground, including a climbing wall.

Playground climbing wall and Prairie Fields Park
Playground climbing wall and Prairie Fields Park

On the way to the park, I paused to do a short wall-traverse, just working my way around the corner there. After I did it, though, I realized that I’d cheated—I’d climbed up to where I could use the top of the wall as a handhold, which made it too easy. So, after my hill repeats, I returned here and did it again, this time avoiding using the top of the wall. I worked my way around the corner okay, but found myself stymied when I wanted to traverse the next segment, where there’s a gap in the bottom. I’ll have to try that again next time.

Back in Winfield Village, I visited one of our playgrounds, where there’s some bars set up for brachiating.

Bars for brachiating at Winfield Village playground
Bars for brachiating at Winfield Village playground

I’ve been working up to being able to swing from bar to bar, but had imagined that I’d need to be able to hang from one hand to be able to do it. Turns out, to swing from one hand to the next you only need to be able to hang from one hand for a moment, and I can already do that. I went from the ladder to the platform, turned around and went back about two bars, but didn’t make it all the way to the ladder. Next time, or maybe the time after.

From a different playground, the one right behind our townhouse, I practiced jumping down, first from a lowish level, about two steps up, and then from slightly higher, about three steps up.

All in all a very satisfactory morning of movement. Plus, in the afternoon, we got in a bit of a walk with Jackie’s mom in downtown Champaign.

Here’s the view from the top of the hill at Colbert Park. It looks like there’s yet another playground going in there as well!

Looking back down the hill
Looking back down the hill