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Backyard fun

I’ve harped endlessly on how important it is to walk, and how we need to stop sitting so much. There’s another key piece of the alignment puzzle, however: Upper Body. Restorative Exercise™ has lots of corrective exercises and stretches for ALL parts of the body, but just like we need the movement of walking to really keep us healthy, there is also a natural movement component for your arms and shoulders that must be addressed. It’s a little harder to work into a daily routine, however. To walk, you only need your legs and some space. To get your upper body in it’s healthiest state, you need to hang, which means you need something to hang from.


Our bodies are designed to climb and move around in planes other than just the ground. The muscles in your hands and arms are supposed to be strong enough to hold you, and there are huge swaths of muscle that runs down your front (pectoralis major) and back (latissimus dorsi), connecting those arms to your torso to enable you to hold your body up. Lifting weights at the gym, while it does use your arms, is not the same as manipulating your whole bodyweight with climbing, hanging, or swinging. Lifting weights is sort of the reverse of lifting your body– when you pick up a dumbell, you are pulling your hand (with weight) in towards your body. When you do a pullup, you are pulling your body (and its entire weight!) towards your hand. It’s not the same thing at all. We need that element of traction, of actually pulling on our shoulder, to help keep the shoulder joint and bones working optimally.

((To be clear, we also need healthy shoulders before we begin loading them with our bodyweight. Most of us have internally-rotated shoulders that could use some work, specifically the Restorative Exercises designed for that purpose. Let me know if you’d like some help with that!))

One of the challenges of the upper body is simply that most of us do not use it for any sort of strength work. Your legs, at the very least, get you from your bed to the garage. More importantly, they have been carrying you, even if for only short distances, every day of your life from about 6 months on. Your leg strength grew as your bodyweight grew. Your arms, these days, often do nothing more than type, grip a steering wheel, and lift a bag of groceries. Even if you’re a lumberjack, though, you might not be able to make it across the monkey bars, because the strength you have isn’t the strength needed to hang by one hand. Swinging an axe isn’t swinging from a bar. It’s simply for lack of practice- you have to use *those* muscles in *that* way to be able to do it. And it’s harder to start practicing because you’ve gained body mass since you were the queen of the playground.  A little bit of hanging every day as your body grew would have been the ideal way to grow your strength-to-weight ratio.

Tarzan ropes

But you didn’t hang every day, and now you can’t Tarzan across the jungle? You’re not off the hook- there are ways to work on your hanging strength without actually hanging. The simplest one is just finding a bar that you can reach with your feet still on the ground, and then hang, with your feet on the ground. You can adjust how much weight you take in your feet vs. your hands. But therein lies the obstacle; you do have to find (or acquire) a bar from which to hang, and preferably one that you can access multiple times a day. One way to do this is to design a walking route that takes you past a park with bars. Then, every day on your walk, you can do a few minutes of arm work. Or you can just get a pull-up bar to put in a doorway in your house. Read here for excellent ideas on how to progress.

It certainly doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it can be more fun if there’s a little variety. I happen to live with a person who is working hard on his strength, and who is also interested in being able to manipulate his body weight in many different directions. Incidentally, he likes to make stuff. Those motivations, coupled with *my* desire to hang and swing, multiplied by two young boys who have boundless energy AND ALSO need to work on their strength-to-weight ratios, and added to plenty of space in the yard, equals a bunch of weekends spent creating an torture chamber obstacle course for the whole family.

It is certainly motivating, because I can’t come anywhere near completing the course- more like maybe one tenth of it at a time. Some parts I can’t do at all. But I walk past it at least a couple times a day, so I’m always reminded I need to work on it. And I do work on it. Mostly when certain strong people aren’t watching.

So here’s our backyard playspace, in all its homemade glory:

YouTube Preview Image

This is not meant to be a challenge for you to create anything this elaborate. I’m well aware it is WAY overkill.  And the yard has evolved over many years, only just becoming more upper-body-centric in the last few weeks. But I did want to share, mostly just because I’m so psyched about it. You’re all invited to come play at my house!




  1. Do you have a Banty rooster? That would be motivation for me to climb the rope ladder for sure :) Loved the video. Wish I could come play.


    • We are currently the proud and lucky owners of FOUR banty roosters. Motivation, indeed. Um, except they fly pretty well, so getting up high doesn’t necessarily save you. :)


  2. Wow. That’s amazing! I’m wondering how many YEARS it will take me to do 10% of a course like that. Can your boys complete that obstacle course? I sure hope we can help our baby keep up with his mass increases. I just discovered we missed the boat on his newborn grip reflex (poor thing has a weak grip at 6 months). Darn it! Oh well. We’re doing the best we can. Progress, not perfection.


    • No, my boys can’t complete it. They can climb ropes quite well, but swinging is a challenge. Like you said, we’re shooting for progress! If anyone in the house could actually *do* the course I might have videoed that for the blog. :)


  3. Wow! This is so cool amazing! Love it!


  4. Marcee Ludlow

    Thanks so much for sharing!! That is pretty amazing! We are not in a house right now, but when we are, that’s a huge dream of mine to have an obstacle course and make it a family thing that we all do together. Your’s is fantastic! Tell your husband he rocks! And we want chickens, too. And I used to live in Texas.


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