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Look, no thumbs…

I went to the playground a couple of weeks ago and tried to go on the monkey bars…since one of the Tough Mudder challenges is Monkey Bars with butter on them…I was able to do 2 before I fell off, with my hands burning and my spirit totally defeated. I used to be able to do this as a kid…so embarrassing!

Since then I’ve been asking everyone for tips on how to improve my technique as I refuse to drop off the bars at the beginning and have to trudge through mud the whole way. Typing in ‘tricks for Monkey Bars’ or ‘How to travel monkey bars’ on Google gets you a whole bunch of nothing so I decided to ask the experts:

  1. Danny told me that I need to hold the bars with my fingers only and not my palms (which explains the burning feeling I got initially). He also said I should start not with both of my hands on the same bar, but with each hand on a different bar to give myself the momentum to move from bar to bar…again, brilliant advice.
  2. CultFit said that monkey bars are all about grip strength and hip activation. The hip activation strategy he has yet to show me, but to work on my grip strength he said I should put my thumbs on the same side as my fingers when I’m doing free weights or any push/pull exercises. Makes sense…taking out the thumb will make the rest of my fingers work harder to stabilize and hold the weight.

So that’s what I decided to try today in my weights workout. I did all of them with my thumb in line with my fingers. For some exercises, it didn’t affect anything. For others, I had to drop the weight as my posture was off and I was going to drop the dumbbell:

Group 1:

  1. Chest – Standard Push up –11+6/3+8 I did 11 proper push ups !! And was able to do 6 more good ones on my knees. The second round I was still able to start doing a few on my feet before I had to drop to my knees as my back was starting to arch.
  2. Back – Wide Front Pull up – 15/11 I used the pull-up assist machine but I took off the knee support and used my leg to push me up again for both sets. Having my thumb on the top took a little getting used to and I could definitely feel it in my forearms.
  3. Shoulders – Alternating Shoulder Press – 15/12 I was amazed that I was still able to do 15 and even increased my second set to 12 even though my thumb wasn’t helping. But since I was pressing up, my hand was holding most of the weight so I think that’s why…still, my forearms were definitely burning through this.

Group 2:

  1. Chest – Military Push up – 12/10 I’m still doing these on my knees, but I’m able to do so many more reps it’s incredible. I’ve gone from 8/8 reps to 12/10 reps in 3 weeks and I’m definitely not struggling as much through them.
  2. Back – Reverse Grip 45 degree pull up – 12/12 I didn’t do as many as I did last week here but this was definitely attributed to the thumb positioning. My forearms were on fire and my fingers were barely able to hold on.
  3. Shoulders – Dumbbell Upright Ts – 12/12 There was no way I could use 12 pounds for this one as my fingers couldn’t hold the weights up without my thumbs. I went to 10 pound weights and was struggling to hold on to the weights…

Group 3:

  1. Chest – Wide Push up – 10/10 Back to just 10 on each side but they felt good and I was able to do them faster and with more control.
  2. Back – Dumbbell bent-over row – 15/12 I didn’t change the weight as I thought I’d have trouble with my thumbs here but it went pretty well. Since my fingers were under the weights they were able to stabilize pretty well.
  3. Shoulders – Lateral Raises – 6+8/15 This was an interesting one…my fingers really had to grip the weight here. I started off with 15 pound weights but I was only able to do 6 before my right hand almost dropped the weight. I had to switch to 10s and kept going but this was a killer on my wrists, fingers and forearms!

Group 4:

  1. Biceps – In & Out Bicep Curls – 12/12 No thumbs meant lower reps than last time but that’s ok. I stuck with the 15 pound weights though. It was quite amusing as it was the first time that I noticed that my right arm is weaker than my left. My right elbow kept trying to creep out and it was looking pretty spazzy by 12 so I stopped….crazy how your body tries to compensate.
  2. Triceps – Side Tricep Raises– 14L, 14R/12L, 12R I kept the side tricep raises earlier in the workout and I’m liking what I’m seeing. They’re a great exercise and I find I use my whole tricep…when my legs don’t rise to try to help out.

Group 5:

  1. Biceps – Crouching Cohen Curls – 10/8 No thumbs, 15 pound weights and no wall to hold me this time…and I did 3 more than last week…I’m just killing this routine!
  2. Triceps – Chair Dips w/ ball – 15/12 Honestly now…this is amazing, I couldn’t believe I was doing so many tricep dips especially after the Military push ups and the Side Tricep raises…this has to be because of all the Nike Training exercises and the Insanity craziness that I’ve been doing.

Group 6:

  1. Biceps – Hammer Curls – 9/8 Still using 15s but once again my right elbow started going crazy so I had to stop early. My fingers and foreams were on fire…I’m surprised that I’m able to type right now!
  2. Triceps – Side-Tricep Pushdowns– 14/10 I wasn’t able to find any weights to add to the rack…I might need to find a new machine this one’s a bit ghetto. Anyways, the reps were pretty good and I was pretty beat by the end of the workout anyways.

I’m glad I tried to workout with no thumbs…it definitely gave me a new challenge and I’m feeling my forearms burn as I’m typing this post. Now that I’m getting stronger, I’m going to do the weights workout less often though. I did the weights so that I could gauge the weaknesses in my body to see where I was starting. Now that I’ve strengthened my core and upper body, I know that I’ll be able to do more functional, full body exercises without risking getting hurt because my core or arms are weak. And especially since it’s getting warmer, I definitely think that working out outside doing things that will strengthen my body for daily activities is much more useful than doing a chest press…I mean, how many times in your day to day activities do you have to chest press? Seriously…

Maybe I’ll try Tough Mudder’s recommended workout next to see how that goes.

27 down, 153 workouts to go…

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7 comments on “Look, no thumbs…

  1. Great work today! You didn’t drop anything on your little toes so that is a major bonus!

  2. My grip strength needs improving, but I never would have thought about thumb placement. I’m going to try no-thumbs this week! And now I really want to find a set of monkey bars to see how miserably I do!

    • Definitely try the monkey bars…just don’t feel bad if 5 year olds are better than you. Let me know how you do, at least we’ll have a place to start from and improve from!

  3. So when is this Tough Mudder? Coach Crystal is talking about us doing one in October at the beach. Doing the Warrior Dash this weekend before I commit!!

  4. […] hope you all have, you’ll know that the biggest challenge for me at Tough Mudder will be the monkey bars!  The rest of the obstacles I think I have covered, but the monkey bars have become my arch […]

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