5 Ways to Beat the Tough Mudder Funky Monkey

Has the Tough Mudder Funky Monkey defeated each and every one of your experienced monkey bar strategies? Or maybe you’re a newbie mud runner who’s heard that those greased-up monkey bars are just about impossible to conquer. I know the feeling…I too hit the mud several times before finally dominating this childish, yet intimidating event. Here’s how I finally made it across:

Some of the Tough Mudder obstacles require brain over brawn.

5. Pull-ups, pull-ups and more pull-ups. The Tough Mudder Funky Monkey obstacle is built on an A-frame, which means the bars go up, then come back down. While you can always head out to your local playground and monkey around, a more effective method is to pull yourself up, repeatedly. Practice your pull-ups at the beginning and end of every workout, preferably the front-facing type where you pull your chest to the bar. Throughout the course of your day, if you see something pull-up worthy like a strong tree branch, a beam, or a low-hanging basketball rim, hit it like you own it and grind out a set or two. Nail down about 12 to 15 of these (unassisted) and your chances of making it across will multiply.

4. Towel exercises.ย The key to obstacles that require you to grip something for a long period of time is to, duh, increase your grip strength. A creative and effective spin on regular pull-ups is to grab your gym towel and toss it over the pull-up bar. Do your reps by grabbing the ends of your towel and not only will you get the results of the pull-up exercise, but you’ll also be working that hand and grip strength to the max. Grip strength will pay dividends on the Tough Mudder Funky Monkey especially as you get closer to the end of the bars. Other exercises where you can use towels to work on your grip include: dead lifts, walking with kettle bells and lat pull-downs. Be creative!

3. Use your reach! Some of the Tough Mudder obstacles require brain over brawn. The Funky Monkey sort of falls into gray area. While you’ll definitely need some strength and training to get past this one, a little smarts will go a long way. Once its your turn to go, don’t reach for the first bar. Instead, reach for the furthest bar you can grab (which is usually the second, but may be the third for taller-folk!) Reaching for the furthest bar will do two things: 1) it will get you that much closer to the finish 2) it will give you the necessary momentum to swing to the next bar. Skipping the first bar will help you establish a rhythmic pace that may be the difference maker in getting you to the other side.

2. Give yourself room. Some Tough Mudder obstacles are best conquered by a spontaneous leap or frenetic sprint. The Funky Monkey is not one of them. Instead of rushing to the bars immediately behind the mudder in front of you, set yourself up with ample monkey bar distance (about half-way up the A-frame). Don’t be the unfortunate mudder who does everything right to make it to the down-slope of Funky Monkey only to be bested by a lingering contestant who can’t decide whether to reach for the next bar or plunge to the chilly mud below.

1. Keep moving. This tip applies more to the delay you will endure as you line up for the Funky Monkey, one of the most log-jammed obstacles at Tough Mudder. While you will inevitably be forced to wait several minutes before you finally get a crack at the adult-sized monkey bars, be sure to keep your blood pumping with a few sets of jumping jacks, jogging in place, shadow boxing, or whatever else you can think of to keep your teeth from chattering and your mind on the prize. Whether your Tough Mudder event is held on a frigid winter morning or a hot summer afternoon, it is important not to lose that perseverance and momentum that you’ve been relying on to get you through the day. While you’re at it, don’t waste time figuring out whether you should keep your gloves on or not. Trust me, it doesn’t make a difference. All materials, including bare skin, are no match for the greased up mud bars. Either way, the key is to keep moving…so give your hands or gloves a good wipe on your buddy’s t-shirt and hit the bars!

Good luck mudders!

Mud Run Maniac wants to know what you think!
If you’re an experienced mudder, how have you defeated or been defeated by the Funky Monkey? First-timers, what strategies/training do you plan to use? Do you find this list of tips helpful? Leave your thoughts below.


Meet the Author

Mud Run Maniac
Mud Run Maniac

I'm the proud owner of MudRunManiac.com, specializing in mud run training and tips! The mud run community is growing fast and Iโ€™ve made it my responsibility to keep you up-to-date on the latest and greatest mud running topics.

11 comments… add one
  • Carl Feb 2, 2012, 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the great advice. I am new to the mud run obstacle course. I have a TM and a spartan sprint this year. So please keep the recommendations coming

    • Mud Run Maniac Mud Run Maniac Feb 2, 2012, 10:38 pm

      Hey Carl, no problem and thanks for checking in…if you have any more questions, you can always join the Forum or hit me up on the MRM Facebook page. Best of luck in your TM and Spartan!

  • JJ Feb 6, 2012, 3:43 pm

    Hello Paul…I love your website ๐Ÿ™‚ It has been a ton of help….I am getting ready to run my first TM in Georgia this weekend!! I’m so excited and feel as though I have done my best training for it, considering I had my 3rd baby just 3 months ago. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway…any tips for women getting across the funky monkey? I have seen some pictures where girls are using their legs and arms…like pulling their legs up into the bars. Have you seen that or tried it? I can do a few pull ups right now…but probably not as many needed to have the strength to get across this!! Any thoughts or advice would be much appreciated!! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Mud Run Maniac Mud Run Maniac Feb 6, 2012, 4:41 pm

      Hi JJ,

      That’s incredible that you just had your third child three months ago and you’re gearing up for your first TM in a week! Many props! Sounds you’ve got the mental game down already. I’ve seen women try to get across by swinging their legs up and sitting on the bars…honestly, if you have the flexibility for that, go for it. Just concentrate on making it to the middle. Remember, it’s an A-frame, so the first half will be harder than the second half. If you can do around 10 pull-ups, you have a very good chance of making it. It’s a bit of a different movement than a pull-up. If you don’t have a ton of upper-body strength, you really need to use momentum to your advantage… one thing that isn’t mentioned in the article is to remember where your arms have the most strength, and that’s not when they are fully extended. Keep your arms flexed and tight to your body as best you can. Just think if someone was hanging on your arm, would you be able to hold them for longer while flexing or with a fully extended arm? Same principle applies. My advice, just go for it, don’t think about it too much. It’s one day out of the year where you get to play outside like a child, so act like one!
      Have fun and best of luck in GA!

    • pam May 8, 2013, 8:43 am

      Hi, obviously an old thread, hope you did well in Georgia. As a girl, I took on the monkey bars in Kettering this weekend with very little training. The odd pull up set when I remembered. I could do 8 (just). Actually found the monkey bars quite easy. Definitely agree to reach for the 2nd bar to get a gentle momentum. I started out alternate bars then switched to each bar on the descend as I would have got stuck behind someone otherwise. I gently cycled my legs ( like the pro’s do) and it seemed to work. Was so proud of myself to get across. Only one from my group of 12 ( mixed sex). Also I used mad grip gloves, they are rubbish when wet but dry quickly so I dried mine a little on the wooden beams while waiting my turn.

  • Beth Aug 27, 2012, 2:45 pm

    I’m currently training for the SoCal TM in February — and appreciate all of the good advice.

    This is a post-back surgery challenge for me. Doc said I might not be able to walk after the surgery, so honestly ANY part of this I complete is automatically a victory. It’s been several years now since the accident and surgery and I still feel like I have this wonderful second chance to make my body strong and fit — and my doctor cleared me to do it (although he did call me crazy).
    However, I also was curious about using both arms and legs for the Funky Monkey.

    And . . . the description of the challenge says they grease the bars. Is this true?

    • Mud Run Maniac Mud Run Maniac Aug 29, 2012, 10:26 pm

      Hi Beth,

      First of all, congratulations on getting through that back surgery and having the guile to sign up for a Mudder! You’ve already done something epic, so Mudder should be a walk in the park for you!

      I’ve seen a few girls use their arms and legs to conquer Funky Monkey, and frankly, it’s not my style so I can’t really comment on it. I think the most efficient way to get across the bars is the old-fashioned way with use of your hips and a forward swinging motion. Then, it’s really a lot more about momentum and determination than flexibility and climbing skills. Using your legs may seem like a good idea at first, but it will definitely take longer and seems to me that you would expend more energy with all that climbing. I’d practice pull-ups and hit a local playground to gauge where you’re at. You might find that the old-fashioned way works for you after a while. Regarding the grease – again, not sure if they actually do this, but really it doesn’t matter since they are slippery as hell from the mud. If you are a later wave, expect the worst! Fun ๐Ÿ™‚

      One more thing, if you have any sports injury related questions, particularly those regarding your back surgery and getting through Mudder in one piece, reach out to Mike Ryan @mikeryanfitness or at http://www.mikeryanfitness.com. He’s an incredible knowledgeable and professional sports trainer who’s also a fellow Mudder. He’s provided some great tips on this site already and I’m sure he’d be happy to help you with any questions you might have.

      All the best Beth and good luck crushing Big Mudder.

      • Mike Hummel Mar 2, 2013, 11:42 am

        Wow, what an event at Pocono in 2012. The Monkey bars were mad crazy. I made it.
        Can’t believe the 2013 event will be at Jaindl Farms, moments from my home. Looking forward
        to and training daily for this upcoming, self inflicted, body damage.
        Your blog is dead on- upper body strength is as critical to success as being able to run.
        One observation. Less is more. I witnessed a bunch of muscle heads falling like flies.
        Lean, smart and strong will get you the “Orange”.

    • Jess Apr 21, 2013, 2:06 am

      Hi Beth
      I was wondering if I may ask….what type of back surgery did you have, and how did the TM go for you?
      I ask because I want to do one so bad but I have also had back surgery. Mine was due to scoliosis and now I have two titanium rods in place…. Hoping it went well for you

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