Chicago, are you ready to train, eat and chill just like a bunch of crazy gorillas? If the Monkey Bar Gymnasium, the world’s first gym that integrates the promotion of a plant-based diet as part of its program, has anything to do with it, you’ll soon be climbing and swinging, eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and letting your body restore as it needs to, just like gorillas, those powerful, herbivorous cousins of ours, do. With locations across the world and plans for expansion, Monkey Bar Gym (MBG) just opened its first Chicago facility at 2255 S. Michigan.
Founded by longtime professional athlete trainer Jon Hinds in 2000, MBG now has ten locations across the country, as well as in Canada and Australia, with plans for expansion. The training philosophy is to focus on movement we instinctively know how to do because that’s how we played as children: climbing, jumping, crawling and running to move our bodies into peak physical condition. Sound too easy? Watch some of John Hinds’ daily free exercise videos if you want to see someone challenging what you thought the human body was capable of with the simplest of equipment. MBG also incorporates a plant-based diet as part of its wellness message (for people and the planet) as well as Eischens Yoga for restoration.
With renowned vegan athletes like Brendan Brazier, Ruth Heidrich, Robert Cheeke and Tonya Kay challenging the outdated ideas of how to build strong bodies (think "Plant Strong," as the best-selling Engine 2 Diet author Rip Esselstyn encourages), in addition to the research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, it seems that the vegan message is making some really important inroads into the fitness world. Many thanks to pioneers like John Hinds and his trainers at Monkey Bar Gym for bringing people this great information.
Want to see the new Chicago Monkey Bar Gym up close at their Grand Opening on April 23? The first ten people to mail [email protected] and let them know you saw this Examiner interview will win free entry to the celebration, as well as a chance to win door prizes, enjoy entertainment and delicious vegan appetizers. Hope to see you there!
Marla Rose: Monkey Bar Gym is a rare gym that also promotes a specific dietary approach. How essential is diet to reaching one’s fitness goals?
John Hinds: The manner people eat is very important in how they improve their health and fitness. I would easily estimate diet as 70-80% of your results.
Marla Rose. MBG trainers promote a plant-based diet. Could you expand a little on how this particular diet became embraced by MBG?
John Hinds: Since becoming a trainer in 1980, I've always looked for the path that is most healthy for people and planet. I ate what I thought was best for myself and it was pretty typical fitness world: the oatmeal and banana and whey protein for breakfast, orange for a snack, then chicken, veggies and rice for lunch and a whey protein bar as a snack and then salmon and broccoli for dinner….typical. It wasn’t until 1991 when I began training Woody Harrelson that he woke me up to eating consciously and made me begin to think about what I am really putting into my body…"Get off milk and all milk products," is what he asked me to do for one week…I did it and felt amazing, cleaner, better. But it wasn’t until 2004 that I fully realized the power of plants. It was at this time that my hand pain [arthritis] from Brazilian jiu-jitsu became so intense that I had to quit a sport I really loved. At this time, a good friend of mine, John Allen Mollenhauer, sent me a pre-release version of The China Study. He underlined certain parts of focus for me. I read it and was blown away. I went 100% plant based and within two months NO MORE HAND PAIN at all!! I read The China Study completely then had the honor to meet and sit down and eat with Dr. T. Colin Campbell himself! He was the nicest man and answered every question I had and this made me realize my past way of eating was truly NOT the healthiest means for optimal health for people AND the planet! THAT is what I had sought and that is exactly what I found!!
Marla Rose. How important is the diet counseling component to your work with MBG clients?
John Hinds: Huge: 99% of the public eats a diet that hurts people & planet and kills tons of animals. They are addicted to this diet like crack addicts to cocaine…the scary part about this addiction is that it's legal and there's these type of crack houses on every corner! And just like crack addicts they need someone to help them off of their addiction, someone who walks a healthy path in life and that is what we do: we help people to see there is another way. They do not have to follow that unhealthy road to sickness and disease, they can make changes and it's not hard. This is how it is. What we do is to help people see what a healthy diet looks like (by example), how a healthy diet looks (with our guide book and many examples and suggestions) and then how to go about buying, preparing and staying on the plant-based path and thus become a shining example of what they too can then BE:)
Marla Rose: Talking about changing one’s diet can make people feel scared and defensive. Have you found effective ways of communicating this message without making people react in a defensive way?
John Hinds: Yes, we don’t say you have to go 100% plant based out of the chute. We simply say we suggest they eat a plant-based diet because of these base reasons: healthiest for person, people and planet. Then we teach them how to eat plant-based…it's 100% plant-based but we do not say that, which makes it easier at first. Once they get started they feel amazing. Then when they have questions we answer them with simple alternatives: rice milk instead of cow’s milk, beans instead of meat for example. THAT helps people big time and with great tasty meals offered it makes the transition a lot easier:)
Marla Rose. MBG is really challenging the status quo of the mainstream fitness industry, which has always emphasized the need to consume a lot of protein as fuel for strength and muscle building. Have you found it challenging to change attitudes within the industry? When people think “vegan” they often think weak, anemic and pale, unfortunately. [Thank you for not reinforcing stereotypes, by the way!]
John Hinds: Ha ha. 🙂 That is true, that WAS the image. Not anymore. We're proving that wrong and very dated. I tell people eat strong foods and be strong! This is the simple statement I have: “Train like a Gorilla, Eat like a Gorilla, Chill like a Gorilla…Be strong like a Gorilla!!" Many people ask this question and we tell them protein is in all plants, they will get plenty of protein just from the good strong plants they eat. This is what we suggest in the booklets they get when they begin training with us. We also guide them on how to supplement if they want with plant proteins instead and that is an alternative that is easy for them as well. Plant proteins like pea, hemp, brown rice, Brazil nut all are great!
Marla Rose: You also have a different approach to fitness, one that deemphasizes the bells-and-whistles of machines and gets back to the basics. Could you briefly describe your workout philosophy? How does your approach help people reach their fitness goals?
John Hinds: As kids we moved because we wanted too, we enjoyed playing. It is no different today and that is how we train at the MBG. We train all the basic instinctive movements we did as kids: running, jumping, crawling and climbing. We mix these skills into an incredible workout regimen by practicing these skills for the first twenty-to-thirty minutes of class (hand stand, pole climbing, learning how to jump and run and react) and then we do a shorter more intense version of these skills in a workout that lasts anywhere from ten-to-thirty minutes. Basically we re-teach people how to move the way we instinctively move, then show them how to progress those skills to higher and higher levels (stability to strength to power levels). To help them perform these skills, optimally we integrate Eischens Yoga into every movement and every class. This is key as greater mobility and stability lessens the chance of injuries and greatly improves performance. These two combined with a plant-based diet has resulted in amazing changes in everyone’s health and fitness (averaging 17.5 lbs of fat loss and 5.4 lbs of muscle gain in the first sixty days of training at the MBG).
Marla Rose. Could you list some strategies you use as motivation when you or your clients have hit a fitness plateau?
John Hinds: Sometimes people need a kick in the butt or a pat on the back. The kick in the butt is simply a case of breaking through the mental barriers that have been holding them back. THIS is key to going to a higher level of training. This is one thing we stress at the MBG and we expect it of all people who come to train with us, we favor no one. We challenge everyone to higher and higher levels, to break through to higher levels of training, eating and restoration. Breaking through one and all of these breaks plateaus for most all. For people who have already broken through the door as we say, these folks might need a different approach. One big advantage is that our gym is so fun to train at that people often train daily and do not want to take some time off of training. This is important because people hit a plateau and feel mental and physical fatigue, which is not good, so we HIGHLY recommend every 8 to 12 weeks as a way to re-fresh your mind and body. This is one way, another way is to take a different focus for a month or two, practice beat reps instead. This is super fun and yet challenging as heck as you literally are working out to the beat of the music and making up all types of very cool variations to push ups, chin ups and much more:) Then the final way i like to break plateaus is to chill on the conditioning Boot Camp classes and instead do more Eischens Yoga. This will re-align your body (and mind) and give you more recovery which in most cases is the reason why people hit plateaus in the first place:)
Marla Rose: Are there any plant-based athletes you think are good examples to share with MBG clients?
John Hinds: Yes, many! My good friend, Brendan Brazier, is an excellent example and his THRIVE book is a must read for sure if you want to be healthy and an athlete. All Monkey Bar Gym trainers are great examples:) My good friend, Mike Mahler, is one of the strongest guys on the planet and he's 100% plant-based as well!! John Joseph, (lead singer of the Cro Mags and hard core bicyclist) is another great example and his Meat is for Pussies book is awesome!
Marla Rose. Is there anything in particular that vegan exercise enthusiasts should emphasize more (or less of) in our diets to help us reach maximum wellness?
John Hinds: Keep it simple and eat strong foods from the earth – as Jack LaLanne said: "If man made it, don't eat it" – eat simple strong (non-processed) plants, like collard greens, sweet potatoes, legumes, seaweed, coconut water. These are simple strong foods that produce powerful results. Our simple way to eat these foods we call "The Hand Plan": Five meals a day. To maintain your weight, eat three meals that fit in your hand size bowl and two fruit snacks or some other grabbed plant:). To lose, eat two that fit in your hand size bowl and three snacks. It works, it's simple and strong!! (Also, to gain eat five hand-size or more meals a day.)
Marla Rose. Of course it’s always about the food. Now that you’re in Chicago, we’d love to hear some of your favorite places to eat in the city.
John Hinds: We eat at home first, then Whole Foods second, then, wow, Chicago has a lot of options on places to go out and eat: Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s on Green, RAW and Cousin’s Incredible Vitality are all really great places to go. These so far are our favorites and this summer we'll for sure try out more. Which we love. 🙂 Thank you, Marla!