Swinging into shape
The sound of crashing waves only amplifies the dubstep blaring from a boombox, as people of all ages and ethnicities swing through the traveling rings of the grown-up playground, just south of the Santa Monica Beach Pier. The collection of rings is full of people wearing high-bar grips, leather gloves or chalk dust – to relieve pain and minimize sweat.
The athletic congregation features acrobats, gymnasts and other people, who simply tried once and got hooked.
“My personal feel on fitness is, if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing something wrong,” said Atlaz Branthoover, 34, of Santa Monica. He and his friend, Allen Sagall, 43, of Los Angeles, practice clockwork – a style of swinging in which multiple people coordinate their swings and spins to go through rings simultaneously.
“This is really fun. It’s like high-speed chess,” Branthoover said, adding that pull-ups and dips bore him. “The toys or activities that I play on have the tendency of being a lot of fun, and also being a really great exercise, so I get two things done at the same time. It’s very efficient.”
According to the website MuscleBeach.net, funded by the Work Projects Administration, Muscle Beach was originally built in Santa Monica Beach in 1934. In 1959, however, it was closed down due to an alleged instance of weightlifters partying with underage girls.
Later that year and just a few miles south, Department of Recreation and Parks built what is now known as Muscle Beach Venice.
Gary Bergner, 49, of Santa Monica, said he first tried the rings three years ago, and it took time for him to understand the technique of turning rather than pulling the ring.
“The rings are just, like, fun, man,” Bergner said. “It’s cardio. It’s core, you know? It’s concentration and focus. The gliding and the swinging and the floating aspect of this – I found that I can work things out, like, if I’m upset about something, or if I’m trying to understand something.”
Only able to swing on weekends, Bergner said he does it for as long as he can bear. “It depends on how much sunshine my bald head can take, you know what I mean?” Bergner is not alone in using the rings as his only workout.
“It’s a workout, plus it’s a fun workout, so you never know that you’re working out, and it’s also the freedom of flight,” said Frank Chapman, 22, a Texas Marine who is stationed in Seal Beach, but lives in Santa Monica.
Chapman practices the rings daily, and was filmed swinging on them for Fall Out Boy lead singer Patrick Stump’s solo video “Spotlight.”
“My style is more of a falling style, because I still can’t quite fly yet,” Chapman said.
He said his style is influenced by his early years of ballet training, so he bends his knees and points his toes while he uses the rings. “It’s, like, almost more cardio than it is anything, 'cause I haven’t ran in a long time, and I just finished a physical training test, and ran an 18-minute three-mile,” Chapman said.
Chapman’s advice to anyone trying out the rings is, to not let go, and to imagine each ring as the last.
“It’s like a marathon,” Chapman said. “You can’t run a marathon without tricking yourself. It’s the same thing. You’ve got to get to the end.”