A Review of the Monkii Bars 2: An Outdoor Gym and Hotel Room Workout Kit Small Enough for Carry on Travel
The Monkii Bars 2 is a compact suspension trainer that lets you get a great, full body resistance workout anywhere – in a park, in a hotel room, or a beach – making a full hotel room workout a possibility and making any vista your potential outdoor gym. Whether you are a traveler that packs light or a minimalist, the Monkii Bars 2 is the perfect piece of workout equipment to stay fit, avoid gyms, and get in a workout on your terms. Though the rig takes a sessions of learning to setup quickly and learn the exercises, the rewards are worth far more than the effort. We highly recommend this kit.
PROS|CONS OF THE MONKII BARS 2
- Versatile setup of the Monkii Bars 2 makes any locale a potential gym: the simplicity and versatility of setup makes getting a great, upper body resistance workout possible, indoors or outdoors. Whether that means getting a full, muscle building hotel room workout on after work or before sightseeing or making a beachside tree your favorite outdoor gym before a swim (like I did in Greece), this piece of kit creates real workout possibilities.
- Eliminates the need for a gym and allows a great workout while traveling: The Monkii Bars 2 allows you to get a great, balanced upper body resistance workout anywhere. The core exercises for upper body development – Pull Ups, Dips, Overhead Presses, Inverted Rows, Horizontal Rows, and Chest Presses – are all possible with this gymnastics rings like system.
- Building and maintaining muscle is possible with the Monkii Bars 2: Once you understand the angles and adjustment, especially if you add our make my Minimalist Suspension Trainer Anchor, exercises are possible at resistance levels high enough to build and maintain muscle and performance when you may not have access to a gym. Suspension training has been my go-to fitness method for years now and I have no problem adding mass at will.
- Compact enough for light travel: This compact suspension trainer packs small enough for carryon only and “onebag” travel, without compromising much space at all (especially compared to the alternatives of TRX.
- Saves you money by eliminating the gym: When home, and especially on the road, gym fees add up and frequent registration is a pain. With this cool tool, gym hassles and fees will never be an issue again.
- Learning to setup the Monkii Bars 2 takes patience: Understanding how to setup the Monkii Bards 2 on first glance can be a bit of a brain teaser, and you’ll likely be slow (~10 minutes) in the first few times setting up.
- Learning the exercises and how to adjust difficulty/resistance takes a little time and patience: Recreating your normal gym workout with the Monkii Bars 2 is possible, but takes time and patience. It takes some “monkeying around” to learn how to increase the resistance in your exercises through a combination of lengthening the straps, changing foot position, and adjusting anchor height – but we have a quick guide How to do the primary upper do the exercises on a suspension trainer to help you quickly “learn the straps”. If you’re not the curios type and willing to learn, this may not be the system for you.
- You will have to motivate yourself, or bring your motivation – for some people, the gym isn’t about the equipment, its about the motivation of the atmosphere (and possibly a personal trainer) and the amenities. With the Monkii Bars 2. Working out outside is great, but you will have to be your own motivation. Working out on a beach puts me in a great mood – but be honest with yourself about whether you’re capable of self-motivating before wasting your money.
- Price – Let’s be honest, the price tag on this thing isn’t the cheapest (Monkii Bars 2 Ultralight Kit -$149, Adventure – $195, Tactical – $215, Pocket -$99), but is it worth it? That depends on you. The Ultralight Kit costs as much as about 3 months at a gym back in Texas and 2 months back in California. If you are committed enough to completely ditch your gym, the Monkii Bars 2 will pay for themselves in short order. If you are a starving artist or broke college student, I’ve still got love for you – check out my article on How to build the Minimus suspension trainer yourself in this article on How to Make Your Own “Minimus Suspension Trainer and if you’re feeling handy, build your own so you can join in on the fun.
THE (QUICK) BOTTOM LINE ON THE MONKII BARS 2
The Monkii Bars 2 takes a few workouts to learn the ins and outs of setup and use but opens a world of possibility for how and where you can work out and stay fit. After years of using suspension trainers and months of testing the Monkii Bars 2, I absolutely recommend the doohickey for travelers, minimalists, and outdoorsy types interested in staying fit – as long as they’re willing to be creative, curious, and self motivated enough to get them through the learning period. I highly recommend this gear!
FULL REVIEW OF THE MONKII BARS 2
- My Experience with the Monkii Bars 2
- The Pros and Cons of the Monkii Bars 2
- Background on Suspension Training for me + Why I love it as a traveler, minimalist, and fitness enthusiast
- Tips & Suggestions for using the Monkii Bars 2
- How to use the Monkii Bars 2 (Or a suspension trainer in general)
- Suspension trainer FAQ
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE MONKII BARS 2
The Monkii Bars 2 takes everything I enjoy about suspension trainers and puts it into a compact package that travels and packs easily and (once you’re familiar with it) sets up and packs away just as easily.
Compact design easily fits in carry on luggage or a small daypack
The Monkii Bars 2 come in a compact and lightweight package, just about the size of 2 coffee mugs stacked, making it perfect to squeeze into a carryon, for the carryon only and “onebag” travelers or minimalists. The small, travel friendly size is the primary advantage of the Monkii Bars 2 over the TRX and other suspension trainers
Well thought out package and organization makes stowing the gear efficient and organized during travel
The Monkii Bars 2 packaging keeps the trainer packed neat and tightly. On the other hand, my TRX just comes with a bag that I stuff all of the crap in. Granted, my inner caveman loves just throwing crap into a bag after a workout – but the well thought out design and organized package of the Monkii system are much better for travelers attempting to keep their bags small, light, and organized when on the move.
Setting up and packing up the Monkii Bars take time, but you’ll get quicker
Fair warning, the first 3 times you setup the Monkii Bars 2, its going to take long as hell to get it setup and you’ll have no idea why. Hang with it. After a few uses, average setup time is ~10 minute and proper takedown and packing is another ~10 minutes. Or it’ll take you 1 minute to pack away if you go with the TRX, caveman, stuff the crap in a bag method. If there’s no blood in my brain after a workout, I may still opt for the “caveman-stuff it in the bag” option from time to time.
The Monkii Bars 2 functions similar to gymnastics rings, so look to gymnastics focused and bodyweight “street workouts” for inspiration
The function, methodology, and unlimited possibilities for using the Monkii Bars 2 are similar to the way gymnastics rings are used, so, look for gymnastics style exercises, movements, and workouts for inspiration on how to make the most of your suspension trainer
With patience and creativity, nearly any exercise or movement performed with free weights in the gym can be recreated on the Monkii Bars 2 with enough resistance for strength and muscle gains
This benefit applies to all suspension trainers, not just the Monkii Bars 2. Any one of the essential upper body movements (e.g., pull ups, push ups/chest presses, horizontal rows, vertical rows, dips, and overhead/military press) can be performed at resistance levels nearly equal to the user’s body weight. If the user progresses to this level, doing exercises one-handed allows for movement resistance far beyond what most users are capable of. The result is that, with an understanding of the movements, exercises, and how to adjust difficulty, users can recreate most gym workouts in a hotel room, on a beach, or in a park as they choose.
So how the Monkii Bars 2 stacks up?
Light, compact, and versatile in setup and use but these benefits come with a learning curve
In the end, this tiny suspension trainer is absolutely worth it if you travel often, are willing to “learn the straps”, and are dedicated to replacing your gym with the Monkii Bars 2
A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND: MY EXPERIENCE WITH SUSPENSION TRAINERS AND WHY I RECOMMEND THEM
For the past three years, I’ve used suspension trainers nearly exclusively to stay fit, maintain muscle, and (at times) lose weight while traveling and living on the road
For the past 3 years, nearly exclusively, I’ve been doing my upper body workouts using a suspension trainer, bodyweight training, or bodyweight training with a weighted backpack at times to increase resistance, with great results. Whether packing on 15lbs of muscle in prep for an adventure, or getting lean for a long trek, suspension training is my default because I can carry all of my gear in carryon luggage without compromising too much space. Whether it I was in rural Laos or on a free day in Galapagos, I was always able to get in my workout, free. That’s why I’ve been happy with suspension training. Over that period I’ve owned various TRX’s, knockoffs, the Monkii Bars 2, and even made my own trainer (the Optimus!!!)
But why do I like suspension trainers so much?
I get in the workout I want, on my terms, with the movements and resistance level I need for my fitness goals (getting bigger, faster, or leaner)
The major movements of the upper body apply in exercise whether you are trying to gain muscle and strength, get fast and lean, or cut weight. Where Lat Pull Downs apply in the gym, pull-ups and weighted pull-ups apply outside, in calisthenics, and with suspension trainers. The same applies with the bench presses à pushups/1 armed pushups, military pressesà overhead suspension presses/handstand pushups, etc.
Carrying this suspension trainer, and knowing how to use a suspension trainer to get the most out of it, means I can get in my workout, without registration, without gym fees, without the monthly dues, anywhere. Which leads to the second awesome point…
I get in the workout I want, anywhere – from hotel rooms to parks, my gym goes where I do
If I am feeling “lazy”, I setup my suspension trainer in the doorway and get in a hotel room workout. Otherwise, I find a pole, post, or tree, and get my normal workout on the beach, in the park, in the mountains, in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh city, or wherever I think my personal outdoor gym should be that day. Having a suspension trainer on hand, with my hand dandy homemade minimalist suspension trainer anchor lets me setup and get after it wherever and whenever I feel.
Using a suspension trainer encourages balanced growth and development and makes it more difficult to overload joints and small muscle groups with more weight than they’re ready for
Similar to normal bodyweight workouts, gymnastics, and “street” workouts, suspension training forces you to build your body in balanced fashion, preventing overload of joints and smaller muscle groups until your strength, form, and coordination are ready for positions providing more resistance. You may be able to bench press 300lbs, but you won’t be able to do a one armed chest press unless your core, back, and shoulders are rock solid and ready to support the weight, and your shoulders are mobile enough to maintain proper position under tension. This “forced balance” keeps suspension training practical as long as you design or use workouts with balanced movements. If you need inspiration checkout my favorite Suspension Training Workout for Strength and Muscle.
MONKII BARS 2 COMPARED TO OTHER SUSPENSION TRAINERS
- TRX Advantage – more durably built (heavy materials, components, and stitching) and “the original”
- TRX Disadvantage – due to being “overbuilt” the TRX handles can’t be moved more than a couple feet away from the handles, making it impossible to do “suspension trainer deadlifts”.
- Monkii Bars Advantage: Lighter, compact, and more versatile – ability to shorten straps so handles are closer to anchor allows for more possible exercises (like the “suspension trainer deadlift”
- This TRX doohickey is new on the market and (as I’m in the middle of a RTW trip) I haven’t tested, but I want readers to be aware that it is a potential option. I will follow p on this soon.
- The Minimus is my own creation that I brought to life around the same time the Monkii’s started. I love this contraption and have used it for years. If you’re short on cash and handy with a sewing needle, it is a great alternative to the Monkii’s system
- Advantage of the Minimus: use of tubular nylon webbing makes for smoother sliding handles and less friction on skin
- Disadvantage of the Minimus: Requires knowledge of sewing, and rock climbing gear
- For a great tutorial on making your own suspension trainer checkout our tutorial – How to make to make your own compact suspension trainer
TIPS & SUGGESTIONS FOR USING YOUR MONKII BARS 2
1. Think about the natural movements of your body (and your normal exercises) to recreate the gym exercises in your workout on the suspension trainer
First, checkout the my “Guide to the Essential Suspension Training Exercises” to understand how to do your normal gym workout on a suspension trainer using the essential upper body exercises (e.g., pull ups, horizontal rows, high pulls, dips, overhead presses, etc.). For inspiration on putting those movements together to make a workout, checkout this article on My Favorite Travel Workout which details my favorite suspension trainer upper body workout and some options for a great lower body workout
2. Understand how to adjust the difficulty and resistance of each exercise and overall workout…
- By raising or lowering the anchor
- By moving your feet closer to or further away from the anchor, wall, or post
- By adjusting the length of the straps – shorter is generally easier, longer is generally harder
- By switching from using two hands (bilateral) to using one hand (unilateral) per exercise to double the difficulty
3. Carry the “minimalist suspension trainer anchor” – a quick, cheap and easy DIY upgrade for faster setup and versatility with suspension trainers
This consists of a ½” rock climbing runner (tubular nylon webbing sewn into a loop), a carabiner, I recommend the Metolius FS Mini II Carbiners as they are compact, cheap and climbing grade, and the knowledge of how to tie a “figure 8” knot and how to tie a “pipe hitch” around poles, posts, and trees, both of which are cheaply and easily purchased on Amazon
4. Add Heavy Resistance Exercise Bands for a lower body workout:
The ROGUE Fitness Bands and carabiners are my go to for sufficient lower body resistance exercises (e.g., deadlifts, squats) while traveling
5. Add the Xero Trails for the complete minimalist workout and exercise setup
These “running sandals” are designed for minimalist runners but make great workout shoes and take nearly no space in your bag if you’re traveling light. Checkout the Xero Z-Trail Review for why I use the sandals to run, workout, and travel…and why I absolutely love them.
6. Learn how to do the following core exercises (outdoors and with a doorway anchor) to max out use of the Monkii Bars 2
The following movements make up the core movements of the upper body and are the basis for most worthwhile exercises in the gym. By understanding how to do these movements with a suspension trainer and how to increase resistance and difficulty, your suspension training workot scan be as effective or more effective than your time in the gym with free-weights. These are the core exercises you should understand to make the most of your suspension trainer.
- Pull Ups
- Overhead Press
- Chest press
- Inverted/Upright Rows
- Horizontal Rows
Pull Ups with a suspension trainer
Dips with a suspension trainer
Overhead Press with a suspension trainer
Chest press with a suspension trainer
Inverted Rows with a suspension trainer
Horizontal Rows with a suspension trainer
Learn how to adjust difficulty of the core exercises (listed above) via:
- Adjusting the height of the anchor
- Adjusting the length of the straps/distance from anchor
- Doing each exercise unilaterally (with one arm)
- Doing each exercise with feet on the ground, assisted for lower difficulty, and with feet off the ground, unassisted for more difficulty
For more information on cranking up the difficulty and resistance of your suspension trainer exercises, check out the article How to do the Essential Exercises with a Suspension Trainer
For even more resistance or weight, consider adding a rugged backpack and loading it with 1-gallon water bottles or weight plates
- My bags of choice are the GORUCK GR2 and GR3 as they double as great hiking and travel packs
- At home, I keep 2 20lb GORUCK plates to pack in the GR3 and they provide all of the additional resistance I need
Go DIY (like I started) and make your own suspension trainer
If you’re feeling froggy, have some sewing skills, and can get a hold of some rock climbing gear, consider making your own suspension trainer! (**Article on How to Make Your Own “Minimus Suspension Trainer” coming soon!!!**)
SUSPENSION TRAINER FAQ
How much resistance (simulated weight) can you achieve with a suspension trainer?
This depends on your body makeup (top heavy, bottom heavy, or “middle heavy”) but the rough numbers I found when using a scale to measure resistance were as follows
- Pull Up (Lat Pull Down) – ~90% of body weight
- Horizontal Row (T-Bar Row, Bent Over Row) – ~90% body weight
- Upright Row (High Pull or Vertical Row) – ~100% body weight
- Dip (Decline Press) – ~100% bodyweight –
- Chest Press (Bench Press) – One Armed Push up progressions are a much better choice for high resistance chest exercises than using a suspension trainer ~70% bodyweight – ~140% pushups with one armed pushups
- Keep in mind, all of these numbers can be doubled by doing the same exercise with only one hand/arm, or achieve above these numbers if done one-armed but “assisted” by using the offhand to maintain control
What about core and abs?
The best core exercise for core with a suspension trainer is the pike – but, getting into it is miserable and cumbersome. Instead, I recommend focusing on maintaining tight core form throughout high intensity exercises on a suspension trainer – during which you are effectively doing planks the entire time.
If you feel your core workout is lacking, adjust the handles to extremely short lengths (just below the anchor) and knockout full toe to bar leg raises or full hanging knee circles
The Entire Monkey Line
Monkii Bars 2 Adventure – The base model of the Monkii Bars 2, which includes the awesome and well thought out packaging
Monkii Bars 2 Tactical – More ruggedly built with more durable materials
Monkii Bars 2 Ultralight – Just straps and handles – all you need to get in your workout. This is the version I recommend for travelers
Pocket Monkii – A new and interesting variant from the Monkiis, small enough to fit in your pocket and only $99 on kickstarter right now
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Though learning how to setup the Monkii Bars 2 and how to the exercises takes some effort, the reward and freedom is priceless
- Highly recommended for travelers and bodyweight fitness enthusiasts as it is the missing link
- Combine with the Rogue Fitness bands (or other heavy resistance exercise bands) for lower body resistance and the Xero Trail running sandals for the ultimate minimalist fitness rig
Just being honest (aka the affiliate marketing blurb): It is my goal here on A Brother Abroad to provide honest, high quality information that helps you travel better. To pay for the effort (and the adventures) I include affiliate marketing links to products I love, have purchased with my own money, or would highly recommend…just so you know ;). So, if you like what you’ve read and you happen to buy something from a link here, you just made it possible for me to keep writing great, honest, useful content. Thanks!
OTHER GREAT TRAVEL FITNESS LINKS
- How to do the essential exercises with a suspension trainer, outdoors or in a hotel room (pull ups, dips, rows, overhead presses, curls, and extensions)
- The DIY, minimalist anchor: A Pocket sized suspension trainer that sets up anywhere
- How to make your own suspension trainer
- 10 reasons to get (or make) a suspension trainer: (**Article coming soon!!!**)