The Monkey Man Workout
Last February, I spent a month living with monkeys. During my time in the jungle, I developed a particular condition. Besides serving as a virtual mosquito buffet, I came down with a raging case of what I now call monkey envy.
Monkey envy, in its simplest terms is this: I wanted to be able to climb like a monkey so freaking bad! These little creatures would scale impossible trees in seconds, launch themselves from the canopy and land effortlessly thirty feet below, and hang leisurely by their tails, taunting me with their awesomeness.
I watched these monkeys in awe for hours, never growing tired of their interactions and treetop acrobatics, amazed by the strength and coordination contained in their tiny fifteen pound bodies.
It made sense to me why monkeys would be so incredibly strong–they live outdoors and climb trees all day long. And so I wondered whether or not I too could develop that kind of lean power simply be replicating the movements and exercises of my monkey role models. After all, our DNA is 99.9 % identical.
So, in a moment of primate to primate inspiration, I took to the trees and began learning and experimenting with different techniques and climbing methods; balancing, swinging, hanging, generally embracing my primal roots and developing an entirely new kind of functional strength and coordination.
In my struggle against monkey envy, I’ve come to a realization. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So while I may never grow the prehensile tail I see in my dreams, I have put together a training method that just may prove to be the most effective and downright fun workout for building lean functional strength… I call it The Monkey Man Workout.
The Monkey Man Workout
Many people struggle with getting in shape, gaining muscle, or losing extra pounds that hang around like the obnoxious mosquitos that buzzed in and out of my eardrums in the jungle. People eat well, go to the gym every day, yet still struggle to achieve the body they’ve always wanted. People search constantly for the newest “weight loss solution” or “diet cure” that really only fuel the problem by overcomplicating things and confusing people. In reality, achieving optimum fitness and real strength is simple and comes down to one essential insight: In order to get fit, ripped, or lose weight, we must perform the most effective exercises for achieving our desired goal.
Contrary to what gyms and fitness companies want you to believe, all truly effective exercises have one thing in common: body weight manipulation. You do not need anything more than your own physical body to get in the best shape of your life. Machines build muscles in isolation, working muscle groups in unnatural and nonfunctional ways while bodyweight exercises work your entire body, developing muscles in functional congruency with one another. If there is one thing you should take away from this article it’s this: stop wasting your time with leg extension machines and lat pulldown bars and start achieving true strength and the body of your dreams through real world exercises like running, jumping….and climbing.
We Are Big Monkeys: Tree Climbing 101
First off I want to stress that climbing trees can be a very dangerous activity, especially if you are new at it, so please be careful.
The process of climbing trees is really quite simple but there are a few things to know before you start jumping from limb to limb like a spider monkey.
1. Climb With Your Legs
Your legs are ten times stronger than your arms. You will tire much faster if you rely too heavily on your arms, and you will climb slower and much less efficiently. Use your arms to pull you up when foot holds are not available, but as a general rule: focus on climbing with your legs.
This said, if your main goal is increasing your upper body strength, add in some climbing where you rely almost exclusively on your arms. Focus on pull-ups, dips, and leg raises as you maneuver yourself through the canopy.
2. Have at Least Two Holds
When climbing, always have two hand or foot holds at a time. That way if something does happen and you lose your balance, you can transfer your weight and stop yourself from eating bark ;)
3. Gain Functional Strength
Tree climbing is a very physically demanding exercise. In order to rediscover your inner ape you may want to add in other functional strength training exercises to speed up the process and ease the transition.
Here are a few functional exercises that will help you climb trees faster and more effectively: Pull-ups, Push-ups, Squats, Lunges, Burpees, Inchworms, bear crawls… Really any body weight exercises.
These exercises are great if you don’t have access to a tree or if weather doesn’t permit monkey business, but if climbing an actual tree is an option, I recommend you go for it and learn from experimentation.
While there are specific climbing techniques that I will cover in future posts and videos, the key to learning to effectively climb trees is experimentation. Practice swinging hand over hand, hanging and lifting your legs up to the branch, balancing, performing pull-ups and dips, jumping from the ground and pulling yourself up… There are infinite possibilities.
5. Be Present
To climb trees safely and effectively you will need to give the activity 100% of your attention. While you are swinging like Tarzan 25 feet off the ground, you don’t want to be thinking about what’s for dinner or how you have to get your car washed. Direct your entire attention to the present moment. Focus on the feel of the bark, the air on your skin, your breath. Concentrate fully on each movement.
Before I started working out like King Kong, I would struggle to complete a mere five pull-ups. Today, I can bust out 30 with ease. I’ve also gained ten pounds of lean muscle to my typically geek-skinny frame. This is without a doubt the most effective workout for building lean muscle and shedding pounds that I have ever done.
However, that isn’t why I recommend it.
Too often, people think of exercise as a punishment, as a chore to be completed but rarely enjoyed. One of my main goals with Wild Movement is to help people break free from this “exercise sucks” mindset and develop a passion and a love for movement.
Why do I climb trees, run barefoot, and swim in the ocean?
Because I love to. Because it makes me feel happy, alive and confident. Because it clears my head, gives me more energy, and makes me more alert. I may never slip through a tangle of jungle as freely, easily and masterfully as my monkey mentors, but that’s OK. I do it because it’s fun. And now that I think of it, that’s probably why the monkeys do it too.
So, here is my question to you: Why do you move?
Leave your answers in the comment section below.
Go have fun, be safe, and realize the health, freedom and vitality that is innately yours as a human being…monkey style.
To your health and happiness,