Parallettes for Calisthenics are like tires for a car or butter to your steak – they’re one of the crucial tools every athlete should own and use at various points throughout their training. Likewise gymnastic rings, or resistance bands, parallettes can entirely transform your training approach and offer a lot of benefits if rightly used. You might ask what exactly are parallettes? Let’s come up with a definition!
Parallettes are transportable parallel bars. They come in many forms, of which the most commonly used is also the crappiest one – which are pushup grips, often the older generation uses well protected from getting rough skin by their workout gloves. Now seriously, better options are the versatile Standard Parallettes*, stationary High Parallettes*, or the mobile Mini Parallettes*. All of those resemble each other but offer unique benefits to your training, while you can use the high ones for dips or front levers, the mini parallettes are awesome companions in your backpack while on vacation.
Throughout this post we’re looking at all of them in detail, clarify why parallettes for calisthenics are a good choice and how you can progress with these handy tools. Let’s get in the weeds!
5 Reasons why you should use Parallettes for Calisthenics
Get Access to more Variety
Parallettes might seem boring at first – they’re just two rods of wood attached to a few blocks that elevate them a bit above the floor. Why should they be useful?
Parallettes force your wrist to stay in a neutral position. Even your shoulders work differently because of that shape and tend to be more externally rotated – some people feel more stable in this position, especially when attempting tougher exercises. This adds variety to the biomechanical ways your body works. You can even turn your parallettes horizontally and add even more variation like that – a many folks prepare themselves with those turned-out parallettes for planches on gymnastic rings.
You can mess exercises even more up – by elevating yourself a bit off the ground many exercises first get possible, like dynamic L-Sits into Planches, increased range of motion pushups, or deep Inverted Presses just to name a few. Solely using the floor, you’d miss out on the benefits of all of those 3, like dynamic motions or increased ROM.
Neutral Grip is easy on the Wrist
I already hinted at the different grip that makes a big biomechanical difference, but not only that it also is a lot easier on the wrist joint. Especially when starting with Calisthenics your wrists need to accommodate the load they have to bear all the time. That’s why many experience wrist pain from early on – I bet you know it, too. If not, when you incorporate handstands into your routine you will and likely will get injured too along the way. Everybody messes their wrists up at that journey at some point.
Parallettes can help to dodge this issue and avoid injury. By not entirely training on the floor or by using parallettes with exercises that put a lot of pressure onto your wrist you can cleverly train on. Just make sure to still strengthen your wrists using the floor – the last thing you want is to entirely work around the floor. You want to stress your wrists enough to make them stronger.
Even when injuries happened, parallettes can be used to still keep going, presuming you don’t feel pain or discomfort using them, even when your wrist hurts in the more stressful position on the floor. This saved me already from taking a break while I injured my wrists from excessive and bad handstand work a few years ago. Parallettes enabled me to set my focus onto strength training, mainly using p-bars and gymnastic rings, while specifically strengthening my wrist joint. Gymnastic Rings can be a great workaround for wrist injuries, too!
Change Shoulder Mechanics for Strength Work
Not only your wrists get into a different position compared to on the floor, your shoulders also tend to work differently. Basically, there are two main positions your shoulders are in depending on the setup of your parallettes. One setup is the basic one, parallel to each other, the other is the setup in a V-shape facing away from each other:
- With the bars sitting parallel to each other, your shoulders tend to be slightly more externally rotated then on the floor. Many feel more stable here, but also the external rotators need to work harder to keep the elbows from flaring out.
- With the bars going more in a V-Shape or even horizontal to each other, this focus on the external rotators gets stronger. Plus, your biceps is heavily involved in that position. Many use this position to train for planches on the rings. Our just to grow big biceps.
To feel the aforementioned changes just try a pushup on the floor and one on p-bars real quick. The difference gets even more noticeable when performing inverted Presses, as the shoulders work more towards end-range shoulder flexion. The strongest therefore will you notice a difference when trying a handstand – at that near-maximal shoulder flexion, you will feel a strong difference in how your wrist position influences your shoulder position. Even balancing a handstand on p-bars works entirely differently.3to create an even and stable underground when training on grass, level it out with a pocket level, and get your p-bars on there!
Use the Different Kinds of Parallettes right
Mini parallettes* are pretty short and low, often made from light wood and an anti-slip mat below the contact points. Plus, they’re lightweight – mine weight below 1kg in total. That makes them the perfect travel companions! Just get them in the backpack and you’re good to go.
On the road they’re a great addition to train planches, and for me to get stress off the wrists from a lot of handstands. The only thing they’re lacking is height – you need to find two pieces of a 4×4 stud or so to do so. Because of their low height, certain exercises such as L-Sit to Planche variations, or exercises that focus on an increased ROM are not possible unless you find something to elevate them.
Standard Parallettes* are the allrounders and basic go-to parallettes every athlete should own. Why so?
With their height, they are still transportable, don’t weigh too much, but lack the mini parallettes downsides of being too close to the floor. You can therefore use them at home or carry them to nearby parks while still being able to train dynamics and increase range of motion exercises. They also provide more stability because of the broader contact surface with the ground and are a safer bet when trying to learn a handstand on parallettes. The last thing you want while kicking up are parallettes that slip away and make you attempt a one-arm handstand.
High Parallettes* are often used in a home gym setup and definitely nothing to carry around with you, neither around the globe nor to a nearby park.
At home, they’re a great addition to standard parallettes and enable you to train dips of all kinds. Mounting a dip station at home can get quite expensive or work intensely unless you own a metalwork and welding company. So why buy those bars if you can train dips on gymnastic rings? Glad that you asked! Some just like parallel bars more for dips, and they’re a lot easier to weigh up heavily*. Going heavy on ring dips can end badly very fast – therefore if weighted dips are a go-to of yours, rather choose high parallettes that make a stable impression.
Another exercise few think of are front levers! High Parallettes are an awesome way to train and progress with all kinds of front levers and even front lever pullups. The great thing is that you can easily attach a band to a bar you placed horizontally and step in there. This makes for the same setup every time and tightly ensures progressive overload.
What to look for when you buy Parallettes!
First of all, buy parallettes that are made from wood – especially the mini and standard parallettes just feel more qualitative and are lighter if they’re built from good ol’ wood. Maybe it’s just me that prefers wood. Anyways, for the higher parallettes metal is often better as it promotes more stability and you seldom carry those around for longer distances.
The next thing to look for after the material is weight, you want your mini bars as light as possible, the basic ones neither too heavy nor too light and the high ones pretty heavy. The heavier the parallettes the less the tendency to slip away while setting them up or when practicing more dynamic and forceful exercises.
Last but not least stability is an important factor to look for when you buy parallettes. Your bars should have an anti-slip mat and feel stable at all times when in contact with the ground. You don’t want to slip off sideways – while this might end well when doing some pushups it can end in an injury when attempting handstands and the like. Also, make sure to set up your parallettes properly and wiggle them a bit around to make sure you do not accidentally slip off.
When should I use Parallettes in my Training?
In the beginning, starting right off the bat on parallettes alongside floor exercises is a good thing to get used to these tools. Afterwards the use of parallettes strongly depends on your preferences, your goals and the exercises you choose to accomplish these.
Parallettes vs Floor
Good reasons why you should use parallettes rather than the floor are:
- You are injured – maybe you’ve tweaked your wrist a bit – and parallettes enable you to still train without pain
- You want to add variety to your training and swap for example basic floor pushups for pushups on p-bars.
- You want to challenge yourself with increasing the range of motion of exercises like pushups and inverted presses
- You want to incorporate dynamic exercises within your training like L-Sit to Planche variations, Elbow Levers, Straddle Sits, and the like.
Parallettes vs Rings
Now that we got the parallettes vs floor battle fought, let’s go on. You might ask what’s with parallettes vs rings? Why should you use parallettes rather than rings and vice versa? Let’s have a look at those two!
Rings increase the difficulty of nearly every exercise you attempt drastically.4 That’s why rings are often an upgrade to further challenge yourself. Parallettes on the other hand are different but not necessarily tougher to perform at.
Therefore, choose rings when you specifically want to challenge your shoulder stability and work on that or if you want to challenge certain movement patterns by using them instead of the stable parallettes. Before transitioning to rings you need to make sure you got the movement down you want to perform and are able to perform the basics on rings such as a support hold, a hang, and the basic strength exercises.5
The First Steps with Parallettes for Beginners
Parallettes are easy to get into! Even rings aren’t all too hard to start with. But in comparison when transitioning an exercise from the floor to p-bars nothing big changes. The exercises feel different, a few muscles get taxed differently, but all in all, it’s not a big deal – compared to transitioning from a normal support hold to a turned-out one on rings. It takes some time and dedicated work to get used to it. Next, let’s have a look at the first step you should take when starting to work on Parallettes when completely new to these fellas!
Incorporate them alongside Floor Exercises
Dogmatism and extremism often miss the mark – going, therefore with only parallettes is often not the most optimal approach. Rather use exercises on the floor to build strength in your wrists and get them used to bear load in this position.
The more intense push exercises or exercises that hurt your wrists can then be done on parallettes. Another approach is to switch between training tools from one cycle to another. You could train L-Sits and deeper pushups on p-bars in one cycle, while at the next you ditch them for a dropset of pushups on the floor, and rolls into an L-Sit.
Start with the Basics
Likewise anything, start with small steps. Before jumping into dynamic movements, increased range stuff, and wild skills get the basics down. Yeah, the boring basics. But in fact, they aren’t boring at all! To really understand movements as pushups, dips and the like takes time – there is a lot to discover even when you think you once understood everything.
By solidifying these on the floor as well as on parallettes you build a solid foundation and grow stronger as a whole – see it as a preparation for the intermediate stuff. The worst mistake, maybe after not doing any work at all, is to work on a level way above your current ability and let your ego determine your training. This will lead nowhere and breed a lot of frustration. Rather refine the technique and hone your craft – then you’ll crush your goals sooner than later.
Buy a Standard Pair of Parallettes to start with
If you buy parallettes the standard ones*, a few centimeters off the floor, is likely the best bet for a variety of uses – unless a vacation comes closer, and you want a pair of portable, smaller ones. As we’ve talked about at length, the basic ones will allow you to practice every exercise except dips and front levers on p-bars and are quite stable.
They’re one staple for a homegym setup and every serious gym should carry those. Otherwise – buy your own or ask if they can provide them. I’m sure you’re not the only one who’d use parallettes!
Work your way towards the Fancy Stuff
With the more fancy stuff, I mean in particular static skills, increased ROM exercises, and dynamic movements. All of them are great exercises and tools depending on the goal you want to accomplish. But not for the very first steps with parallettes. As I often preach, get the basics down such as pushups, dips, inverted presses, and maybe an L-Sit. These already provide plenty of room to get strong. If comfortable after one cycle or two, and you see strength gains, the world is your oyster – head wherever your heart takes you!
Parallettes are a worthy Tool for Calisthenics and every Athlete
Concluding after going through all of there is to say about parallettes – they’re indeed a worth tool and well-invested money for every homegym setup. I’ve never thought that there was so much to write on the topic of parallel bars – but actually as we now know 3.000 words later – it is! Thanks for staying with me until here. Before we wrap up, I want to dive into my personal use of parallettes:
I personally own 3 pairs of parallettes – exactly the ones I described above – a high pair*, a basic pair*, and a set of travel parallettes*. I also use them exactly as described. If you want to buy parallettes consider the linked ones by Pullup & Dip. It is a German brand that ships its products worldwide and is of truly high quality. I use their gear for quite a while now and am very satisfied with what I came across so far. I first started with parallettes through the good ol’ GMB programs called Parallette 1 & Parallette 2. Unfortunately, they’re off the market now. They were two great programs focussing on parallette only skills for the course of a few months to acquire things as an elbow lever, a tuck planche, and the like. Any ways, before I get nostalgic I want to thank you for reading, your support, and time.
Keep on working towards it, bud,
- Balancing on the floor work by flexing your finger to fight overbalance and a lot of other ways to fight underbalance – you could planche, push harder from the traps, or do weird stuff with your legs. On Parallel Bars, you can overbalance and underbalance from your wrists by the motions of wrist deviation or radiation. This makes it easier to balance, especially in underbalance, as the focus here is more strength-based, rather than skill-based.1
Promote more Range of Motion
Especially higher parallettes that are 5-10cm off the ground enable you to bring your body through a wider range of motion. This can be utilized on exercises like Pushups, Inverted Presses, and their variations.
Increasing the range of motion is another way to challenge yourself and get stronger, without adding more weight, manipulating the lever, or the overall difficulty of an exercise.
Easy to Transport
Parallettes are easy to transport – all except the high ones. Those are more for use at your home gym. But mini parallettes and standard parallettes fit easily in a gym bag and weigh no more than 1-3kg in total.
One big advantage of mini parallettes is that these even fit into a backpack while on vacation – they’re small and weight below a kg in total. I carried my two already all around the globe and trained on them in Malaysia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Austria.
Standard parallettes are nothing to carry around the globe, but they are a great addition to any park session if no parallel bars are available. Just bring a handstand board2…aka a board of a salvaged IKEA shelf.
- Muscle Ups are one of the few exercises that are in fact easier on the rings than bars in comparison.
- Don’t get me wrong – rings are awesome and not at all too tough to get into. Yet when looking at more complex exercises like dips, planches, l-sits, or dynamic exercises it takes time and effort to get there. That’s why I recommend making a solid transition by leaving only little by chance. A lot also depends on your goals and the ability you bring to the table that time.