Fitness Test: Can You Still Perform This Childhood Staple?

Successfully hopping a fence requires a mixture of power and mobility

A fence in a field. Fence jumping can bring fitness benefits, even as an adult.
The adult thing to do is walk right through that opening. But why not try hopping the fence again?
Bradyn Shock/Unsplash

Last time you hopped a fence?

I only know my answer because I hopped one about 50 times a month ago, while in Australia for Christmas with my girlfriend. Her little cousins were teaching me to play cricket in the backyard (basically: I’d bowl, they’d thwack, for hours on end) and they had a habit of launching the ball past the farm gates for a six.

As the gate had a somewhat tricky latch, I found it quicker and easier to simply hop over the fence. I handled myself okay, all told, but the constant back-and-back had me absolutely wiped by the end of the day.

Naturally, this got me thinking…is hopping a fence some sort of fitness thing? A test of an aging person’s power, or mobility, maybe? We dig into it below.

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The Benefits of Hopping Fences

Fence-hopping is synonymous with childhood mischief (e.g. a famous edition of Tom Sawyer features the boy hurtling over a fence on its cover). Most of us can remember summers filled with fences that you needed to hop to get somewhere or wanted to hop to cause trouble. I also recall hopping fences for no reason at all. I could do it, so I did it. Why not?

As years and respectability mount, though, we’re all a little less likely to get our hands (and knees) dirty again. Like so many childhood rites, hopping fences gets left behind. Time to get serious. It’s a shame, considering the action is almost certainly a positive influence on your brain — and depending on your age, it’s an excellent barometer for checking in on your body. If you can successfully hop a fence, you’re doing well. Consider all that the action engages in the body:

Strength and Power

There’s a slight difference between the two, remember — strength is the capability to exert force, while power is the capability to exert it quickly. Fence-hopping requires both. Unless you’re planning on having a seat, the whole point is to push off from one leg (using the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves) and clear the obstacle. If the fence is high, you might have to enlist your upper body, too, and pull yourself up. (There’s a reason tall fences were a staple at Tough Mudder courses in the 2010s…and were as difficult as crawling under barbed wire.)

Flexibility and Mobility

It’s not all strength, though. Hoisting yourself over a barrier of any height involves a high degree of hip and leg flexibility, too. You need a healthy range of motion to lift your legs high and maneuver your body over the fence without causing strain or injury. Sometimes, the dismount also requires a bend and/or a twist. (Or a dart to the side, if you’re about to land on a rock or something.)

Balance and Coordination

Fence-hopping is a balancing act from start to finish. The launch asks you to “pogo” yourself up with one leg, then you have to balance in mid-air (hopefully recruiting those stabilizer muscles in the core) and land like a cat on the other side, which is no walk in the park, either. It’s a delicate dance, all put together. The sort of thing you’d never give a second thought in the second grade. But considering how common (and devastating) falls are for senior citizens, honing your balance one decade after the next is a great idea.

Mental Agility

Finally, the action, silly as it may seem, has a serious impact on one’s playfulness, one’s perception of self and sense of age. Recent research has exhibited that optimistic age perception has a positive impact on healthspan. In simpler terms: feeling younger helps you live longer. Fence-hopping is the perfect, once-in-a-blue-moon way to test that theory and test yourself. It requires quick decision-making (from gauging the height and stability of the fence to choosing the best technique for clearance) an open, oddball mind and a happy heart.

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