“You need to get a good swing going,” says Bella Palmer, 13, a competitor in all three seasons of “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” a program on Peacock based on a Japanese show called “Sasuke.” Last year, Palmer won the competition in the 11- and 12-year-old bracket, making her the show’s first female champion. Palmer’s favorite challenge in the contest is called Spring Forward, a sort of extreme monkey bars where the rungs are roughly six feet apart.
Start on the first bar and get a feel for the oscillating movement. As you kick your legs back, push your palms into the bar to maintain your grip. As you swing forward, release your dominant hand and reach for the next bar. Trust yourself and use the momentum of the swing to propel you. If you skip bars, or fly through the air between them like Palmer does, don’t catch the bar with your arms fully extended, because you can dislocate your shoulder or elbow. Instead, keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle using your arm and back muscles to hold your weight.
“When you start, you’ll get blisters that will pop or tear,” Palmer says. Give them a day or two to heal before you try swinging again. Soon you’ll begin to see a thicker, protective layer of calluses developing on your palms and fingers. The more you traverse the monkey bars, the less it will hurt.
Palmer estimates that if you practice every day, you’ll most likely be proficient in a week. It helps if you’re naturally inclined to dangling. “I always liked hanging on stuff,” says Palmer, who was 8 when she went to a birthday party at a so-called ninja gym near her home in Woodbury, Minn. “I was just swinging on everything, and I loved it,” she says. These days she practices 30 minutes to an hour daily in her basement, which is outfitted with mats, high metal bars and other obstacles.
Don’t worry if you lose your grip and drop to the ground; falling is part of the process. To cushion the landing, swing over something soft. When you do go down, attempt to land on your feet to safeguard your other extremities. “Just try not to land on your head,” Palmer says.