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By Frank Bures
It was in Los Angeles while training pro athletes and celebs in 1993 that Jon Hinds decided there was something wrong with the American gym and its emphasis on machines and mirrors. So the certified strength-and-conditioning specialist developed his own version of functional-strength training, bringing his clients to a section of Santa Monica beach with old-school equipment like ropes, rings, and poles. They climbed, they walked on their hands. They loved it—and soon Hinds was getting dramatic results with the likes of Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis.
"I just couldn't stand the thought of going into another gym after that," Hinds says. Until, that is, he thought of a way to make if fun again. In 2001, in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, Hinds opened what, for lack of a better term, could be called an anti-gym. He named it the Monkey Bar Gymnasium, a nod to the full-body motor mechanics—that is, fun—of our youth. "My simple philosophy is that I follow nature in almost everything we do," says Hinds. "And nature is about movement. In nature we run, we jump, we crawl, we climb. So we take variations of those movements, kick up the intensity, and integrate them into training regimens that stress full-body movement." Last year the gym had to double its size due to demand, and its online membership (monkeybargym.com) is growing 5 percent a week, says Hinds.
Breaking the Rules
To rethink the gym, Hinds first had to tear it down. Here are a few of his simple rules.
No preening in the Monkey Bar Gym. The focus is on how you feel and move. "When you feel good and your body's fit," says Hinds, "you look damn good."
Muscles weren't made to be worked one at a time. They're parts of systems that work together. "Machines are purely about isolated movements for aesthetics," says Hinds. "People get on the machine with the whole purpose being ‘I have to lose fat,' not ‘I want to hike a mountain.' "
Nobody does endless reps with dumbbells in the Monkey Bar Gym. Instead, the workout uses only body-weight resistance, medicine balls, kettlebells, and controlled movements, gradually progressing through three levels, from stability to strength to power.
You've got toes; use them. Hinds's program strengthens your whole system from the ground up, and that starts with your feet, which he believes are weakened by shoes. Let your feet do what they were meant to do—balance, stabilize, and support.
Toe touches are out. Hinds doesn't allow any static stretching in his gym. Members instead do yoga-based "active stretching" to improve flexibility and warm up at the same time.
Music players aren't banned, but members don't use them, mostly because trainers and trainees are in constant communication. "The isolation of both the muscles and the mind when people are on machines is completely unhealthy," says Hinds.
For best results, Hinds advises you to work out five times a week, alternating strength and conditioning programs and doing alignment exercises daily. Start with the two programs at right, one 10-minute conditioning day and one 45-minute strength day. But don't overdo it: Start small and build slowly through a natural progression of movements with three distinct stages: stability, strength, and power. Mastering one level (e.g., stability) before moving on to the next (e.g., strength) is how his gym members get from barely being able to do a knee push-up to being able to walk 30 yards on their hands. For more sample exercises, including Hinds's 60-Day Fitness Challenge, a precisely monitored two-month program, go to monkeybargym.com.
Practice holding these positions for 60 seconds each day.
Prone Mountain (b) Lie facedown, keeping your nose an inch off the ground. Reach toward your knees with your hands and extend your body from heels through the top of the head. Supine Bridge (c) Lying on your back, plant your feet six inches from your butt and six inches apart. Place your arms out to your sides, elbows at 90 degrees and palms facing inward. Now raise your butt off the ground and hold.
STABILITY Jump Rope (a) Complete 75 forward and 75 backward jumps as fast as possible. Then do 20 pike-ups. Begin in an inclined-plane position, then roll feet in toward hands by "piking" hips up and then back down, to a straight posture. Repeat 3 times.
STRENGTH Jump (More) Rope Work up to 150 forward, 150 backward, in less than 2 minutes. Then do 20 pike-ups. Repeat 3 times.
POWER Double Jump Rope Complete 50 double jumps forward, 50 backward, in less than 3 minutes. Then do 20 pike-ups.
Strength [Lower Body]
STABILITY Full Squat (d) To get your body alignment dialed, begin with weight-free squats, working up to 3 sets of 16 (under 20 seconds per set). Keep your chest and butt out, knees and toes aligned, and weight evenly distributed on each foot. Squat down, bringing your thighs parallel to the ground, then stand back up.
STRENGTH Controlled Jump Jump up slightly at the apex of each squat and descend into a controlled, deep squat. 3 sets of 10. Advanced: Jump higher; repeat. Controlled Box Jump Repeat onto a box or step (elevated 12 inches). Concentrate on good form. Do 3 sets of 10.
POWER Box Jump Sets Same as Controlled Box Jumps, focusing on height and speed. When you can do at least one jump per second, raise the height of the box. 4 sets of 10. Power Box Jumps Using small hand weights or tubing resistance (Hinds designed the Lifeline Power Jumper for this purpose), do Box Jump Sets with weight/resistance. 4 sets of 10.
Strength [Upper Body]
STABILITY Assisted Chin-Ups Grasp a ceiling-hung cable or rope, or a bar, at a 60-degree angle. Lean backwards with your back straight and weight on your heels and pull yourself up to standing position. When you can do 20 reps, move the rope to 90 degrees, perpendicular to the floor. Work up to 20 reps again, then move to next level. Repeat 3 times. Lateral Floor Walk Start out in a push-up position and crab-walk laterally one direction, then return to the start. If you can walk 30 yards easily, move up to the Lateral Wall Walk. Repeat 3 times.
STRENGTH Chin-Ups Alternating forward and backward grip with each set, work up to 10 or more unassisted chin-ups (pulling up from hanging position). Repeat 3 times. Lateral Wall Walk With a wall behind you, kick up to a handstand and place your feet on it. Facing the wall, walk on your hands laterally. Work up to at least 30 yards. Repeat 3 times.
POWER Kip-Ups Grasping a secure chin-up bar, swing your legs back and forth for momentum and pull yourself up to touch your chest to the bar. When you've mastered those (20 reps), move on to gorilla kip-ups: At the apex of each rep, slap your hands to your chest or behind your back. Repeat 3 times. Lateral Wall Walk, Reversed With a wall in front of you, kick up to a handstand and place your feet on it. Back to the wall, walk on your hands laterally. Work up to at least 20 yards. Repeat 3 times.