Obstacle Tutorial: Monkey Bars

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How To Glide Across Monkey Bars

Among the races that have quality obstacle builds, monkey bars and monkey bar variations are common. But they’re also difficult, as many of us may not have swung on them since childhood. Max from Obstacle Racers NZ breaks down how to move across monkey bars.

Monkey Bar Tutorial

Watch the video to learn how to traverse monkey bars, as well as read the rest of this post for written notes.

Active vs passive hanging

Firstly, I’d like to highlight active and passive hanging.

Passive = scapulae are elevated, letting gravity pull them up towards your ears. This form of hanging relies more on forearm and finger grip strength, it also places greater strain on the shoulder joint.

Active = scapulae are depressed, actively engaged to pull away from your ears. This form of hanging uses the back and shoulder muscles more, placing less strain on the shoulder joint and relying less on grip strength. Actively engaging the shoulders like this allows you to more easily transition between bar movements such as traversing, swinging, or climbing.

In obstacle racing, aim to traverse monkey bars while maintaining an active position.

Traverse methods

Check out the video for demonstrations.

Swing traverse – by swinging the body like a pendulum this traverse primarily uses momentum to move forward. It uses less energy than the power traverse, but is slower and relies more on grip strength.

Power traverse – primarily uses muscular strength to power the movement by pulling yourself forward. It’s a lot faster than the swing traverse, but takes more effort. You can bicycle the legs to generate momentum and rotational force to help move.

Sideways traverses – both the swing and the power traverses can be performed sideways. While the sideways swing traverse has limited use, many people prefer the power traverse sideways finding it more comfortable, perhaps due to the wrist position being in more neutral gripping the bars.

Other methods – there’re other methods, such as using the feet along with the arms to effectively crawl upside down, or even boosting up and moving op top of the monkey bars, but many races don’t allow these. Rules differ between races. Before trying a method other the more traditional hand swinging, check in with the race briefing or marshalls for what’s allowed on their monkey bars.

I recommend using whichever method feels the most comfortable for you.

Straight vs bent arms

Straight = more relaxed and easier to hold than bent arms.

Bent = engages the back and arm muscles, requiring more effort than straight arms but has numerous benefits. Benefits include: you can more easily achieve an overgrip of getting your fingers and hand wrapped further around the bar for a more secure grip, and additionally you have the ability to more easily re-grab the bar by controlling the descent or quickly pulling up in the case of a lost grip.

I recommended using bent arms as it allows you to get superior grip and recovery time to re-grab a lost bar grip.


The strength and mobility required to successfully traverse monkey bars can be a major challenge. Here’re some progressions to build up to full hanging or monkey bar traversing:

  • Hanging from a low bar with feet supported – work on slowly taking weight off your feet, transferring weight from foot to foot or hand to hand, or practice rotation around the shoulder joint.
  • Bands – use bands for assisted pullups or hanging, many gyms will have these available.
  • Vertical rows – use rings or a low bar for upside down vertical rows, these will build grip and pull strength while keeping some of your weight on your feet.
  • Active and passive transitions – as shown in the video, practice engaging the back and shoulders to transition back and forth between passive and active hanging

For assistance and for even more progressions, consult with a trainer familiar with hanging movements.


Finally, for a workout to improve your grip and monkey bar ability, try this!

Repeat as long as possible without letting go of the bar:

  • Hang 10 seconds
  • Pullup
  • Continue till failure

Perform multiple sets as required.

This will blast your grip, building endurance, pulling strength, and mental grit – all things to help you kick ass at your next obstacle race.

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