Queensland's First Monkey Gym Now Open!
Monkey Gym training teaches the core skills and principles of exercises that are mostly, but not always, body weight oriented and can be used safely and effectively almost anywhere. The Monkey Gym principles cross over with the stretching components from the Stretch Therapy used in our Flex classes, with an emphasis on body awareness during strength movements; using proper form; sufficient intensity; and as full a range of motion as possible.
Training in the Monkey Gym system begins with instruction from a teacher to give you the basic skills. You then continue your training on your own, or with a group, until your strength and conditioning, mobility and flexibility, reaches a point where you can complete the basics with perfect form for the required repetitions and sets. At this point you would go through a teaching session with your instructor to learn the next level of difficulty, or completely new exercises. Some of the basic exercises are listed below.
Three-point Spinal Alignment Drill - All cues applied standing up; then with a stick on the back, then on the ground, during a push-up exercise (difficulty of push-up dependant on individual, but spine shape must be maintained throughout). The spinal alignment is also checked in the natural row (horizontal pull), as the stresses imposed on the body are different. Together, these two drills challenge core stability in the antero-posterior plane, mainly. For more advanced students, the third, rotational, plane can be added easily (renegade row, one-arm horizontal row). Once spinal alignment can be maintained, it is also desirable to develop the capacity to alter the alignment at the three main locations, individually or severally, whilst the core is under stress. The aim is to progress this drill to the low Roman rings, by adding increasing instability to the basic positions.
Glute Activation - Activation of the glutes is achieved through numerous drills, the primary one being the Swiss ball glute activation and hamstring sequencing. Key here is the capacity to alter spinal alignment under load, so that the erector spinae group is relatively relaxed, and both glutes and hamstrings share the twin loads of stabilisation and knee flexion. Intensity is increased by decreasing base of support or increasing leverage, or add weight to increase difficulty.
Knee tracking - For maximum efficiency in production of power, the hips joints, knee joints and ankles need to move in one plane (no lateral knee movement). The knee must track in line with the foot in squatting and other movements and the shape of the arch of the foot preserved. Drills include lunges, step-ups, lateral lunges, bodyweight and loaded full squats, progressing to the single-leg squat (SLS); these are progressed through supported through to loaded.
Scapular retraction - This skill is taught via joint mobility exercises (many variations). Then, the skill is transferred to the vertical and horizontal planes, pressing and pulling, and other movements involving scapular stability. Progression includes knee pushups (off, then on, Swiss ball) through to full pushups on floor; then Roman rings with feet on Swiss ball.
Joint mobility - Joint mobility is used as a warm-up; to help increase body awareness; and expose any major differences in L–R sidedness ROM (screening for injury and also injury potential; and possibly helping overcome some injuries). A large selection of exercises is used, based on the individual instructor’s preferences. Currently a selection from Christopher Sommer, Steve Maxwell and Eric Cressey are used. Students are encouraged to find the exercises they find difficult (out of the presented material), and work them into their own programs. A continuum of mobility and stability of joints is used as a template to help students understand the topic.
Foot alignment and significance - All classes are barefoot. The foot is presented as a tripod structure, and the importance of full foot proprioception is stressed repeatedly. The relation between feet, ankle, knee and hip mobility and stability is taught. Exercises for the feet are sometimes covered in joint mobility (see below; individual teachers favour various approaches).
Introduction to grip and hand strength - Students are introduced to the concepts behind grip and hand training for functional strength and power-to-weight ratio improvement. All types of grip are trained. Flexor strength training is innate in the general exercises (e.g. pull-ups and rows), and the complementary finger/forearm extensor requirement is trained with small bands, asymmetric dumbbells for pronators, and opponens pollicis (the thumb) is specifically trained on thick ropes, handles, and the pinch grip.
Exercise programming and general principles. Students’ attention is directed to:
• Form – attention to form is paramount.
• Reps and sets.
• Rest intervals.
• ‘Failure’ in good form.
• Use of the coaching model – working with a partner.
• Using DOMS to increase body awareness; i.e., the sore bits did the work!
• Rep ranges, and the associated physiological adaptations – ideal resistance (weight used) to enable 6–15 reps only
• 1–6 favours neural adaptation; ‘learning’ the movement or strength gain (see note re intensity below)
• 7–15 emphasises hypertrophy; increasing muscle mass (aids body recomposition) and strength
• Intensity needs to be sufficient to promote adaptation
• Neural adaptation: when intensity is low, favours learning; when intensity is high, maximum strength gain facilitated
• Hypertrophy: intensity = medium-high. Try for ‘failure’ in good form.
• Stretch at the end of a strength session; focus on muscles worked.
• Feed yourself properly, and ensure sufficient rest.
• Change workouts often: different exercises, different exercise sequence, different number of reps/sets, different weight.
• Other general programming/strength training.
From Beginner’s to Intermediate, and beyond ... Advanced!
The Beginner’s course is more accurately described as an ‘Introduction to The Monkey Gym Principles’, as it is scalable to each individual’s physical skill set. After completion of the Beginner’s course, the Intermediate course focuses more on development of individualised exercise programs; more independent training; increasing intensity within good form; trying different exercise strategies (higher resistance, lower reps, volume training, metabolic training, etc.) and progressing exercises in difficulty along the movement pattern continuum.
In the Advanced class, there is no syllabus per se. Students challenge themselves with training methods from gymnastics, Olympic lifting and kettlebell sport (Girevoy Sport) – with new exercises from any exercise modality trialled at any Advanced session; it’s a bit like ‘entering the Colosseum’: any new exercise gets a collective thumbs-up, or down.
Progressing Beginner’s exercises to Intermediate and Advanced level :
• Deadlift variants
• Kettlebell swings and cleans
• Jump training (once glutes active, also a progression on knee tracking)
• Bodyline sequences, held for time
• Holds and rotational exercises off the Roman chair
• Heavy ‘mirror’ rotations
• Stall bar leg raises (reverse crunch progression)
• Parallette L- and V-sits
• Middle-split holds Spinal alignment
• Renegade rows
• Modified front lever holds and pulls
• Planche training (with spinal and scapular cuing)
• Use of low Roman ring variants
• Ring dips with wrists turned out
• Bulgarian dips
• Levering with hammers
• Two-handed rotation with hammer (use spinal cues as well)
Scapular positioning – applies in most exercises, but in particular:
• Chest-to-wall handstands, for time
Many of the exercises in Intermediate, and especially Advanced classes, blend a lot of the cues from Beginner’s in the same exercise. For example, jumping combines knee tracking, foot proprioception, glute activation and the spinal cues to execute correctly. Planche training (the way we do it) involves the spinal cues, plus scapular retraction and positioning. There are many other examples of this but, in general, the exercises for Intermediate and Advanced are progressed from Beginner’s by:
• decreasing the base of support
• increasing leverage disadvantage and/or adding resistance; or by
• increasing the difficulty by adding all of those elements whilst blending multiple principles into the one, whole-body exercise.
Many thanks to Olivia Allnut and Dave Wardman for the above material.