A Suspension Workout in the Wilderness

A new anytime exercise idea is getting a lot of attention, at least among those inclined to venture into nature and hang from things.
David Hunt

"I got into great shape in this mud hut in Ethiopia. The best shape I've ever been in."

You know that feeling when you really want to blast your core and delts, but you don't have a gym nearby, in any traditional sense? Or you do, but you don't want to be inside a sweaty gym on a nice day? David Hunt and his best friend Dan Vinson do. When the idea for a solution to this problem came to them, Hunt was living in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer, and Vinson was living in Sequoia National Forest as a back-country ranger.

"I was paying $2 per month for a membership to an Ethiopian gym with car parts for weights," Hunt told me. "Dan built a gym using logs and rocks. But we were getting really good lifts in. We've been trying to come up with a solution for bringing your workouts anywhere ever since."

What they came up with is an interesting idea that immediately sparked a lot of interest on Kickstarter and several national news outlets over the past week. It's a portable suspension training system—like those yellow and black TRX bands that in the last few years have become a part of every gym everywhere—but it fits into two small bars and weighs less than a pound. The concept design is called Monkii bars, and the idea is that it lets you work out anywhere, doing hundreds of different exercises using your own body as resistance. All you need is a tree or a door or, in the extreme case, a hot air balloon from which to be suspended.

TRX has actually trademarked the term "Suspension Training" as the descriptor for its "workout system that leverages gravity and your bodyweight to perform hundreds of exercises," so Monkii bars are not technically that. They are ... a way of training while suspended.

"What we wanted to do is develop a system that changes the way people think about using gyms," Hunt told me.

Hunt and Vinson aren't the first to advocate working out outside. The outdoor company REI did an ad campaign with the shoe company Merrell last year called Nature's Gym, in which people were encouraged to work out on mountain trails, doing air squats and windmill stretches and whatnot. Hunt and Vinson were looking for something more substantial.

Barbie and rendering of Lammily doll after
training core on Monkii bars (Lamm/Vinson)

I thought this sounded like a good idea because I'm also into exercising everywhere all the time, but what put me over the edge in deciding to share it was when Hunt sent me a Photoshop of Vinson's actual, stunning, extremely intimidating abs superimposed on the Lammily ("Normal Barbie") doll after I wrote about her last week. I include that, at right, with apologies.

If the enormous popularity of TRX and the timeless American love of wilderness exploration are indicative of a fruitful intersection here, Monkii bars could fill a worthwhile fitness niche. In just a few days the concept has already well exceeding its Kickstarter goal, which means it will go into production this summer.

"TRX comes in a duffel bag, but to us, TRX means a brick and mortar gym," Hunt said. "Monkii bars are an ultra-portable way around that."

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic.


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