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Everything Parents Need to Know About Monkey Bars

Elementary age boy goes across SwingSesh monkey bars

Monkey bars are becoming one of the most popular features of playsets! We can credit this to a resurging interest in calisthenics, a newfound need for home workouts due to the pandemic, a continued love for functional fitness and CrossFit® workouts, and a growing popularity of shows like NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. When we bring these concepts to the backyard, monkey bars become one of the ‘must-haves’. They are amazingly fun and kids are always drawn to them – but this also means we need a good understanding of the benefits and any risks associated so we can mitigate any dangers to our little monkeys and focus on enjoying all the fun!

 

What are the benefits of monkey bars for kids?

Dad helping toddler across SwingSesh monkey bars

Monkey bars are a perfect place for kids to develop their upper body strength and muscle, improve gross motor skills, improve hand-eye coordination, all while exploring and improving their senses of spatial and body awareness. These skills are essential for developing minds and studies have shown a correlation between fine motor skills in children and higher math and science scores later in life. Mastering the monkey bars provides these basic skills while providing a challenge for kids that increases their confidence and builds a can-do attitude!

  1. Upper-Body Strength and Muscle Development

When kids swing from one bar to the next, they build upper-body strength. The physical motions that are involved in crossing the monkey bars engage several different muscle groups, including:
  • Back Muscles (latissimus dorsi) – the large triangular portion of the mid and upper back and initiate in many pulling functions.
  • Shoulder muscles (deltoid, rotator cuff) – well-developed shoulder muscles allow you to carry out controlled and precise arm and hand movements over a length of time and allow you to perform gross motor skills like throwing or catching.
  • Arm Muscles (biceps, triceps) – biceps allow your elbows to flex and your forearms to supinate, or rotate so your palm faces up, and triceps allow you to extend your arm such as when you reach to grab the next monkey bar.
  • Grip strength (over 30 muscles in the forearm and hand) – kids are born with a reflexively strong grip, but they need to continue to practice hanging and gripping to continue development of the hand and arm muscles. The muscles used in grip are the same used when holding a pencil, and this skill can translate to and aid in fine motor skills development associated with writing.
  1. Develops the Senses of the Body

In addition to the five traditional senses, there are two other senses that are important to kid’s development: the sense of balance and spatial orientation (the vestibular sense) and the sense that controls body awareness (proprioception).

  • The vestibular system: Located in the inner ear, responds to movement and gravity, and contributes to the development of balance, equilibrium, muscle tone, maintaining a stable visual field while you are moving, and bilateral coordination. Difficulties with attention, behavior, communication, and modulation of arousal level can be associated with this system. One of the best ways to develop the vestibular sense is to play on the playground! In particular, swinging and rotary movements give inputs to the vestibular system. 
  • Proprioception: The sense that controls where our bodies are in space. It’s guided by receptors in the skin, muscles, and joints connected to our brains through the nervous system. Tasks that involve heavy resistance and input to the muscles and joints are essential to regulating and developing proprioception. Climbing on monkey bars is one of the activities often cited as helpful for kids struggling with proprioceptive dysfunction. Swinging from monkey bars and hanging by your hands also serves to decompress the spine and it opens up the back extensors to help with good posture. 
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    1. Develop gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination

    As mentioned, monkey bars help build upper body strength, which is part of developing gross motor skills, and monkey bars also help develop the core muscles. As you swing across, your abdominal muscles engage to stabilize your body so you don’t move too much side to side. Kids also get the chance to develop hand-eye coordination as they reach across to the next bar.

    1. Builds confidence

    Mastering a skill like crossing the monkey bars also has an enormous impact on a kid’s confidence! They see the other kids swinging across and have a natural affinity to try. With some practice and determination, they become the kid that can do it too! And you know what? That’s never a bad lesson to teach.

     

    Are monkey bars a good workout?

    Mom goes across SwingSesh monkey bars while little girl watches from the swing

    Yes! Don’t let your kids have all the fun – get in there and swing around with them! All the benefits mentioned for kids apply to adults too. There are lots of bodyweight exercises you can do on the monkey bars and they’re very adaptable for athletes at any fitness level. You’ll build upper-body strength, core strength, and grip strength.

    Swinging around on the monkey bars also helps keep your sense of balance strong by giving inputs to your vestibular system. Acting like a kid can protect your brain for long term brain health and can encourage neuroplasticity. So go ahead, hang upside down and swing on those monkey bars!

     

    Are monkey bars safe for kids? Are they dangerous?

    In recent years, it seems like monkey bars have gotten a bad rap. Monkey bars are one of the more adventurous pieces of play equipment out there, but the benefits they present to kids are numerous. Critics often cite risk of injury as the reason to ditch the monkey bars, but before we make a decision, let’s put the numbers in perspective:

    • One study estimated an annual average of 214,788 children (age 0-14) treated in United States Emergency Departments for playground-related injuries between 2006-2016.
    • Compared to overall population data, that equates to a 0.35% chance that your kid ends up in the ER after playing on the playground.
    • When you look injuries on monkey bars alone, it’s a 0.13% chance.

    So are we going to ignore all the benefits of playing on the monkey bars for a fraction of a chance that someone gets hurt? Think about it another way: quite literally, 99.87% of the time no one gets seriously hurt on the monkey bars. It is certainly important to be cognizant of the dangers present on the playground, but it’s equally important to be well-informed of what the risks actually are.

     

    How can I make sure my kid stays safe on monkey bars?

    There are a few simple things you can do to make sure you kids stay safe on the monkey bars.

    • First, they need your supervision. Be engaged!  Find a playset that has features you enjoy and allow you to partake in the fun . All too often parents sit on the sidelines and bury their heads in a phone. Take these opportunities to be active and play or workout some. Supervision is especially important for their first times trying the monkey bars and until they build up the upper body strength to make it across.
    • Second, make sure the monkey bars you pick are age-appropriate. For 2-5 year-olds, the monkey bar rungs should be at a height above the surface of 5-ft or less. For 5-12 year-olds, the recommended height above the surface is 7-ft.
    • Third, install safe surfacing to cushion a fall. An impact-attenuating surface such as those recommended by the USCPSC Safety Standards for Home Playground Equipment can greatly reduce the chance of injury. You never want to place playground equipment over concrete or asphalt, and even some grassy areas can become pretty compacted and do little to cushion a fall. Adding some rubber tiles or a thick layer of mulch (9-inch depth is recommended) can help absorb the impact.

    Bottom Line: 

    Monkey bars are an awesome addition to any fitness playset providing excellent opportunities for parents and kids alike to increase their strength and motor skills.  Safety can easily be maintained through proper height control, surfacing, and supervision, so we don’t miss out on all the awesome benefits monkey bars offer.  Happy swinging!!

    Naomi Leeman

    Naomi is co-founder and COO here at SwingSesh. With years of experience in landscape architecture and urban design, Naomi enjoys helping people make their spaces functional and beautiful! When her husband Brad had the idea to combine a home gym with a backyard playground, she was on board immediately and hasn't looked back since!

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