I am sure we all remember that kid at school.
The one who told you he had been going so fast on the swings he went right over the top of the swing set and back round again.
You usually kind of placated him with a smile and a ‘yeah of course you did’ response.
But if you were like me, there was always that question in the back of your mind, can you really swing right over the top of a swing set?
That is what we are going to find out today.
Can You Swing Over The Top Of A Swing Set?
You cannot swing over the top of a standard swing set with a chain swing, as the chain would begin to become slack once you get to a horizontal position and you would lose momentum. If you were to replace the chain with solid arms/poles and you could build up enough moment to swing all the way over the top of it.
I have to admit, this isn’t strictly a gardening-based post, which is unusual for my website, but I have been writing a few posts about swing sets and this is a question I have always wanted to know the answer to, so I just had to look into it.
As I said it was inspired by that kid at school who told you he had done a 360 on a swing, going all the way over the top and back round again.
The only thing is, no one ever seemed to actually witness the said 360.
It became one of those apocryphal tales.
So I needed to find out whether it was possible or not.
Now for the disappointing news.
At least not on a standard swing set.
Why You Can’t Do a 360 On A Normal Swing Set
On a standard chain swing, ie that found in most places in North America and Europe, it is physically impossible to get it to swing over the top of a swing set.
That is because once you get past the point where you get up to a 90-degree angle either way on your swing, the chain will start to go slack.
This means some of the energy you have worked up building up to that point is lost and you have reached the maximum point you can get to.
You will never be able to build up enough momentum on your own to do a full 360 or anywhere close to it on a normal swing set.
Geoffrey Widdison, a chemical engineer at the University of Utah, explains the physics of being on a swing further:
“When you hit the lowest point of the swing, you have some forward momentum, which the chain then pulls into upward motion.
“When your momentum is exhausted, you fall back down, and the whole thing repeats.
“If you get to the point where the chain is horizontal, you are at a theoretical maximum. If you go a little bit higher, then you are going to fall straight down, and the chain is going to go slack.
“When you get to the point where the chain tightens again, your force will jerk against it, and a lot of the kinetic energy will be lost.”
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Why You Can Do A 360 On An Adapted Swing Set
The Mythbusters TV show even examined the subject (see video above) and said: “this myth is busted, you can’t, under your own power, do a 360”.
But during its investigations, it found that it isn’t impossible to do a 360 on a swing under the right circumstances.
“A rigid arm swing can indeed go 360”, the team proclaims in the video (at 1:58 if you are interested).
And this was also backed up by Geoffrey Widdison: “If you are using rigid bars, then you can continue to reuse that energy on each swing, and eventually, if you are good enough, get all the way around” he said.
So if you replace the chain with solid poles/metal arms, and providing it has a bearing that allows it to do so, you could do a 360.
In fact, there is even a whole sport dedicated to it called Kiiking, which evolved in Estonia in 1993 (kiik in Estonian means swing).
Individuals compete against each other, with whoever makes one revolution on the highest swing winning.
The current world record is held by Estonian Sven Saarpere, at 7.38 metres.
When you see it from the perspective of the Kiiker it will definitely make you feel a bit queasy!
Different Swings For Different… Things
One reason it seems as though the sport of Kiiking evolved in Estonia, is because swings in Eastern Europe do look to be slightly differently constructed from most other areas.
From what I found out when researching this post, many swings in Estonia and in and around Russia, do have solid arms, making it possible to swing over the top of the swing set.
Look at this video below as an example:
Rather worryingly we don’t see how the person in the video above stopped!
When it panned away to the fresh snow at the end i thought we were going to see the swinger fly through the air into it.
But they didn’t, so maybe they are still going round…
Can you swing over the top of a standard swing set? No.
Can you swing over the top of an adapted swing set? Yes.
Due to the laws of physics, a standard chain swing will start to go slack once you reach a 90-degree angle, so you will lose momentum and not be able to swing all the way over it.
However, if the swing were to be adapted so it has solid arms supporting it rather than a chain it is totally possible you could swing all the way around.
In fact, this has become a sport in its own right in Estonia called Kiiking.
Even with an adapted swing set, I’d advise you not to try it though, it makes me nervous just watching videos of other people doing it.