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Developing Upper Body Strength Through Play

Play Benefits

10 Oct 2021

Developing Upper Body Strength Through Play

When we think of play, we often think of the cognitive benefits, such as its role in developing imagination, or its ability to test problem-solving skills.

However, when it comes to the physical aspect, we may be more inclined to think about the freedom playgrounds give children to run and jump using their lower body, and less about using their arms, shoulders, and back, and developing their upper body strength.

While it is very important to children’s cardiovascular fitness to do things like run up the winding staircase of a playground tower, we also need to give their arms, back, and shoulders a workout.

Today, children are particularly at risk of having poor upper body strength, thanks to prolonged hours in front of a screen and indoors.

Playground design can help counterbalance this problem by providing children with plenty of opportunities to lift their body weight, climb, swing, and grab.

By investing in a well-designed playground, you help ensure children have sustained engagement with play activities, and work their entire bodies and mind.

adventure+ design and install play equipment that sparks children’s imaginations and gets them moving from head to toe.

In this blog we will discuss the importance of upper body strength in children and the role of overhead equipment in play.

Addressing the Problem of Weak Upper Body Muscles in Children

Declining upper body strength in children has reached a critical moment. A team of academics led by Dr Gavin Sandercock, a leading children’s fitness expert at Essex University, studied the difference between 315 Essex 10-year-olds in 2008 compared with 309 children the same age in 1998. They found that:

■ Arm strength fell by 26% and grip strength by 7%
■ While one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008.
Worryingly, an American Consultant in General Paediatrics and a Consultant in Paediatric Rheumatology at The Portland Hospital, Dr Nathan Hassan, says that if a child has not learned these crucial muscle memories by the age of six, that their body will rapidly lose muscle strength whenever physical activities stop – a prognosis made more serious by the resurgence of lockdowns.

Playgrounds now play an even more critical role in protecting and promoting children’s physical development, particularly when it comes to upper body strength.

The Role of Overhead Equipment in Play

When kids use overhead play equipment, they engage several key muscle groups in their upper bodies. Whether grabbing, swinging, or climbing, this form of play, known as brachiation, involves supporting their own body weight. It’s a type of movement that aids in developing their upper body strength and comes with several key benefits:

  • Improved upper body skills and grip strength
  • More flexibility of the arms, shoulders and back
  • Better eye and hand coordination
  • Enhanced distance perception
  • Increased arm strength as muscle builds up
  • Higher levels of physical endurance
  • Lateral weight shift

Playground Equipment for Upper Body Strength

1.Monkey bars and similar overhead activities

Although some deem monkey bars as a source of injury in the playground, we see them as one of the best activities to strengthen the upper body. We have found them particularly popular in girls’ schools where they provide a unique exercise for the shoulders that they may not get from other play activities. When using monkey bars, arm muscles must extend and contract to stabilise movement and promote balance, making monkey bars both a strong workout for the upper body as well as the mind.  

Monkey bars come in several forms. They can be included within a playground design or can be free standing. We typically recommend that you have multiple monkey bars of graduating heights to suit a wide range of ages. We also choose their location carefully, so users do not accidentally come into contact with other children on the playground.

2.Ninja Courses

Ninja courses follow a track that involve obstacles that kids must climb over, crawl under, swing and jump from. These are all great movements for engaging upper body muscles and developing upper body muscle memories. Ninja courses are also heaps of fun and appeal to kids of all ages. A ninja course is a fantastic option for a larger playground development, or in projects where you want to make the most of narrow space. Ninja Courses can also be easily fitted out with inclusive play elements, so the entire community can give it a go.

3.Rock & Scaling walls

So, we’ve covered playground equipment that work the arms and shoulders, but what about the back? Well, it may not look like it, but rock climbing is a fantastic activity for developing all-over back muscle strength.

While rock climbing absolutely works out the legs and arms, rock climbing is especially good at targeting the core.

When kids pull themselves up a rock-climbing wall, they must engage their lats (short for latissimus dorsi), those wing-shaped muscles located on the side of their back. They need these to execute a pull-up motion and reach the next handhold.

During rock climbing, kids also engage their rhomboids (the muscles that retract their shoulder blades) to hold their body in close to the wall face for stability. In an age of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, its critical to get these muscles activated.

We Take Play Seriously

adventure+ design playgrounds to support childhood development.
We work directly with schools, councils, and proprietors to design and install safe, durable, and engaging playgrounds that kids love Australia-wide.
Call us today on 1300 237 587 to talk about your next play project.

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