Interesting things happen when you put your hands on the ground.
In a previous post I had described the peculiar benefits of locomotive exercise with the Bear as example. In particular, I discussed the unique stimulation from closed kinetic chain movement on muscle function and the development of different performance attributes.
This is why we chose the Bear as one of the three fundamental locomotor movements in our Elements program.
The other two – Monkey and Frogger – emphasize more of a hand balancing aspect, but in a way that is more immediately accessible than simply throwing your body up over your hands.
Clients are often surprised at how much better their handstands get without working on them directly. Here’s what one of them told us after practicing Frogger and Monkey in our Elements program:
I can now briefly hold an unsupported handstand solely due to the high frogger and monkey.
-Will Schatz, GMB Client
In this article, we’ll go over how the Monkey and Frogger can enhance your body’s strength, flexibility, and motor control, and the specific ways they can help you with handstands and other hand balancing exercises.
The Benefits of Locomotion (It’s Not Just About Hopping Around on Your Hands)
As mentioned in my previous article on locomotion, the body experiences unique effects when you incorporate closed kinetic chain movements by fixing your hands on the ground and moving your body around them.
This type of movement provides a beneficial stimulus to our muscles and joints that are hard to replicate with weights and machines.
It’s very common for people to be humbled when first working on these seemingly simple “on all fours” movements, even if they are fit and strong for weight training and other activities. And there’s good reason for this because the nature of these movements engages your muscles and joints in a different way than other activities.
Your body now has to adapt to this unique situation and work in a different way than it’s accustomed to keep good positioning and to accomplish the movements.
With the Monkey and Frogger in particular, there is even more of an emphasis on specific muscle coordination to initiate and control where and how the body moves in space.
Graceful and smooth transitions from one direction to another require quickly shifting back and forth from all combinations of concentric to isometric to eccentric muscle contractions.
And the benefits of this happen without conscious thought – the body is a wonderful thing!
An Example in Action
We’ll use the unilateral, straight arm monkey as an example.
- First, you start in a deep squat position, which requires good hip and leg flexibility.
- Then as you initiate the movement, you need good trunk flexibility to rotate and place your hands on the ground as the base to lift your body up.
- As you shift weight to your hand, your hand/wrist muscles have to contract strongly and hold an isometric contraction to be a solid support for the movement. The same goes for your shoulder girdle muscles, as they prepare to help lift your body up (concentric action), and then hold your scapulae and humerus steady as you complete the lift and are up in the air (isometric action).
- In that stretched, rotated position, your trunk is now working concentrically (and eccentrically on the other side) to help lift you up. Your low back muscles also shift to an isometric contraction when your upper body positioning remains constant.
And this all shifts and reverses in seconds or less as you go through the entire movement. There’s a lot happening!
Expect This to Be Tougher Than it Looks
In your first performances of the movements, there’s quite a bit of motor learning going on, as the coordination of muscle and nerve improves in the required synchronization.
This is the beginning stage of getting better with your movements!
At the same time there is an adaptation of the muscle structure itself. Just as in other training, muscle fibers increase in strength (and size), and the supportive structures in the joints, tendons, and cardiovascular system adapt as well.
This is why it’s very important to progress slowly and not to overdo it, especially in the beginning.
You need the consistency and time to practice and allow your body to adapt to the movement and training. It can seem like a paradox but this adaptation occurs much faster when you don’t force it.
Stringing together a couple of weeks of good consistent work at a lower intensity is much better than attempting to do a week’s worth of effort in one session, and then not doing it for another few days. That’s simply the wrong way to go about it.
Variations on the Monkey and Frogger to Help You Beef Up Your Hand Balancing
The Monkey we refer to in this post is a lateral movement, while the Frogger is a forward/backward movement, both starting from the squat position. I’m sure you can imagine how many varying possibilities there are for both movements.
In this video, you can see some of our favorite variations of both the Monkey and the Frogger.
Here’s a look at the unique benefits of each of these variations.
|Standard Monkey (Straight Arm Bilateral Sideways) and Standard Frogger (Straight Arm Bilateral Forward and Backward)||• Shoulder Girdle Strength and Dynamic Stability - latissimus dorsi (concentric and isometric), rotator cuff (isometric), pec major and minor (concentric, isometric, eccentric), serratus anterior (concentric, isometric, eccentric)
• Trunk/Abdominal Strength and Dynamic Stability - rectus abdominus (concentric, isometric), obliques (concentric, eccentric, isometric), quad lumborum (concentric, eccentric, isometric), erector spinae (concentric, isometric, eccentric), multifidus/rotatores (isometric, concentric)
• Wrist/Hand Strength and Flexibility - wrist common flexor and extensors (concentric, isometric, eccentric), hand instrinsics (isometric)
• Trunk Flexibility - obliques, erector spinae
• Hip Flexibility - glute max/med/min, piriformis, quad femoris, tensor fascia latae
• Calf Flexibility - soleus
|Bent Arm Monkey (Bilateral Sideways) and Bent Arm Frogger (Bilateral Forward and Backward)||• All of the above, plus
• Arm Strength - triceps (isometric)
|Bent Arm Monkey (Unilateral Sideways) and Bent Arm Frogger (Unilateral Forward and Backward)||• All of the above, plus
• Even more emphasis on dynamic stability of shoulder girdle and trunk
|High Monkey and High Frogger||• All of the above, plus
• Balance - pausing at the top of the movement
|Rotating Monkey and Rotating Frogger (90, 180, and 360 degrees)||• All of the above, plus
• Motor Control
As you can see, these seemingly simple locomotive exercises yield tremendous benefit to many areas of the body, and many movement patterns.
Another big benefit from this type of work is the higher level of awareness and concentration it engenders.
Yes you can apply mindfulness to any movement – and you should – but there is something in particular about getting your hands on the ground and working on movement and balance through your upper body, that forces you to pay attention.
Perhaps it’s the very real fear of falling on your face that makes you concentrate just a little bit more in every repetition! It’s a lot more difficult to just “go through the motions” when you are upside down.
How Practicing Monkey and Frogger Will Improve Your Handstand
Now that you can see the many benefits of working on the Monkey and Frogger movements, let’s talk a bit about how they lead up to stronger hand balancing abilities.
It’s likely that when you think of handstand training, you picture a gymnast or acrobat effortlessly kicking or pressing up into a handstand as easily as you would stand up out of a chair. They just get their hands on the ground and get upside down.
Of course, they can only make it look so easy because they’ve put in a LOT of hard practice.
You realize it’s not so easy when you try it for the first time. There’ll likely be a lot of falling and frustration and thoughts of “when the heck am I going to get better at this?!”
Looking at gymnastic-focused tutorials and instruction, the answer would seem to be “you just do more of the same thing over and over again until you get it.” And yes, of course that’s true to a certain extent. You cannot argue that skill takes time and repetition.
But the fundamentals of hand balancing are contained in the locomotive movements described above, and practicing them can make your journey to the handstand much less frustrating.
Even though these movements aren’t directly working on hand balancing, by practicing them regularly, you’ll be working on the attributes you need to for stronger handstands. Without even specifically training the handstand, you’ll likely improve your skills for handstands and other hand balancing exercises.
Many clients who’ve gone through our Elements program, which includes the Monkey and Frogger, have expressed improvement with their handstands over the course of the program.
Elements is an 8-week course that uses fundamental locomotor movements such as the Monkey and Frogger to help build a strong foundation. Whether your goal is better hand balancing, or something else, Elements will give you the foundation you need to pursue whatever goals you have.
Build Your Basics
With Elements, you’ll build strength, flexibility, and body control through locomotive exercises and targeted mobility work, in just 8 weeks.