Strength and body control are the two biggest bang-for-your-buck elements to focus on in your training. Build those, and you’ll see a nice carryover into other areas of your training and your life.
One of our favorite ways to simultaneously work on strength and control is using parallettes (miniature parallel bars).
In this post, I’ll describe why I recommend training with parallettes, how parallettes can build pressing strength, straight arm strength, and overall body control, as well as how they can help you progress to more advanced moves.
I’ll also address some of the frequent questions we receive about parallettes.
The Biggest Benefits of Training with Parallettes
I started my training as a kid with parallel bars back in my gymnastics days, and when I was reintroduced to parallettes several years ago, I absolutely fell in love with them because I could see how they could be used to adapt and modify so many useful exercises for strength and body control.
Because parallettes (or “p-bars”) are raised off the ground, they provide a different leverage than you have on the floor. This allows for a greater range of motion in your movements.
Also, in many cases, this raised leverage makes it easier to learn certain skills.
For instance, with something like the L-Sit, the lower to the ground you are, the harder it will be to achieve that skill. Often, the barrier to entry for an L-Sit on the floor is just too high. Practicing the L-Sit on the parallettes first allows you to practice and develop the full skill much more quickly than starting on the floor.
The p-bars also give you the opportunity to strengthen your upper body and core, which improves your overall body control.
With that said, parallettes are just a tool. They are by no means necessary for building strength and control, though they make it more accessible to do so.
Now let’s take a look at how to parallettes can help with building pressing strength, straight arm strength, and help you work up to more advanced skills.
Part I – Parallettes for Pressing Strength
When it comes to pressing exercises like the push-up, parallettes work wonders for increasing the range of motion, and improving your technique.
The most important things to keep in mind when using parallettes to build pushing strength are:
1. Keep Your Elbows In
One of the most common things we see people do with the push-up in particular is a tendency to flare the elbows as they lower themselves.
Flaring the elbows isn’t wrong, per se, but I prefer to have you keep the elbows in to your sides, rotating the elbow pits forward, throughout the movement. What this does is it helps you keep the body tight as you lower yourself and press yourself back up.
Pay close attention to what your body does when you start keeping your elbows in with parallettes exercises, and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice that keeping your elbows tight is integral to keeping the rest of your body tight. Let them loose, and the rest of your body will follow.
In this video, I’ll demonstrate what I’m talking about.
Even if you are a “pro” at push-ups, making this slight change to your form can make a huge difference.
2. Slow Down Your Movements
Move slowly through all movements on the parallettes.
Don’t rush through your movements to make things easier on yourself. You will sacrifice your form, and in the end, you won’t actually get good at the skills you’re working on.
Focus on control to build strength.
Jerking around like a wounded bird is not going to make you strong. Pay attention to every little detail of your form, and you will automatically slow down.
Part II – Parallettes for Straight Arm Strength
Straight arm strength is often overlooked in bodyweight training, as push-ups tend to take center stage. But if you have any aspirations to be able to master skills like the planche, straight arm strength is quite important.
There’s also a certain kind of shoulder strength that comes from straight arm work that you just can’t get from pressing exercises.
We discussed the L-Sit above, and that’s one important, basic straight arm exercise people often start out with on the p-bars, but there are many others.
In this video, I’ll show you a great exercise I use to build up straight arm strength, the plank lean.
The key points demonstrated in the video are as follows:
- Begin in a pushup position with your elbow pits facing forward.
- Lean your body as far forward as you can, making sure to maintain the elbow position.
- Work on holding this for as long as you can.
- As you get comfortable with the plank lean, you can start taking one foot off the ground as you lean, holding for 3 seconds per foot.
Work on the plank lean for a while and you’ll build up some nice straight arm strength.
Part III – Parallettes for Building Advanced Skills
As we discussed earlier, the best thing about parallettes is how they allow you to learn certain skills that might be out of reach if you just jumped straight to doing them on the floor. This is true of more advanced skills as well.
One skill we usually tell our clients to start out training on the p-bars before attempting it on the floor is the Bent Arm Stand.
The raised leverage of the parallettes makes it easier to build the strength and positioning necessary to work up to a full bent arm stand on the floor. The key points to focus on are as follows:
- Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees or less.
- Keep your elbows tucked in to your sides, rather than flared out.
- Squeeze your glutes and legs throughout the movement.
In this video, I’ll demonstrate some progressions you can use to work up to a bent arm stand on the parallettes.
As I demonstrate in the video, there are five basic progressions for working up to a bent arm stand:
- Start with your feet on the ground and your hands in the center of the parallettes. Bend your arms to a 90-degree angle, and work on holding that for a while. Shift more weight forward on your hands as you get stronger.
- Next, get up on your toes on an elevated surface (such as a block or a chair). With your hands holding the parallettes, push your butt into the air to make an upside down “V”. Work on holding this position with the majority of your weight through your arms as you gradually bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
- Once you are comfortable with your arms in the full 90-degree position, you can start taking one leg up off the block at a time. Work on holding each leg for a while, until you feel ready to move on.
- The next step is to work on the bent arm tuck hold. Starting with your arms bent at 90-degrees, bring your legs up into a tuck, and hold for as long as you can with good form.
- Now you’ve made it to the full bent arm stand!
The bent arm stand focuses on shoulder, arm, and trunk strength. It’s a great total body strength move. Being solid and balanced in this position connects your upper and lower body in a unique way that is hard to replicate in typical gym exercises.
Once you’ve mastered the bent arm stand on the parallettes, you can take it to the floor, following the same basic progressions described above.
Part IV – Parallettes FAQs
Can I use kettlebells instead of parallettes?
This is a pretty common question. People want to know if they can use kettlebells or push-up handles or whatever else they have around.
The most important thing (and I’ll address this further with the next question), is that you’re working with something solid and sturdy. For that reason, we don’t really recommend working with kettlebells since they can tip over fairly easily.
In theory, something like push-up handles should be sturdy enough to not tip over; however, in most cases they’ll be too low to the ground to gain the full benefit of working with parallettes. Also, push-up handles are often slanted, and that will change the angle of the exercises you’ll be performing.
Which parallettes should I get?
There are tons of options for parallettes on the market, and just as many DIY options exist as well.
The parallettes you choose (or make) are completely up to your preference, and most of them will work just fine, as long as they are nice and sturdy.
My absolute favorite p-bars, though, are designed, handcrafted, and sold by one of our Alpha Posse members, Dusty. We’re definitely a bit biased, but having tested out many different companies’ parallettes, I personally won’t train with anything else now.
Here’s my full review:
If you’re interested in Dusty’s P-barz, click here to pick up a pair.
How wide/high should I set my p-bars?
The width for parallettes training is a standard shoulder-width. The best way to set this width is to place your elbow in the middle of one p-bar and set the middle of the second p-bar at your finger tips. This is generally going to land the p-bars at about shoulder width.
Of course, if you find they’re too wide or too narrow, be sure to adjust accordingly. It’s a good idea to take some video from different angles to make sure you’re set up correctly.
As for height, the rule of thumb is this: The lower to the ground your parallettes are, the harder things will be. So, if you’re just starting out with working on the parallettes, start with a higher p-bar, then work your way to a lower p-bar as your skills improve.
Start Building Incredible Strength and Control
If you want to be able to perform advanced bodyweight skills, like the planche or V-Sit, you have to start by building a stable foundation of strength and control.
Parallettes are a great tool for helping you do just that. Commit to building a strong foundation and your skills will follow.
Our introductory p-bars course, Parallettes One, is the perfect place to start if you want to build a foundation of strength and control, to prepare you for more advanced skills down the line.
Build Essential Pressing Strength
P1 includes 3-4 months of pressing and inverted exercise scalable to any fitness or experience level. It builds the foundation of strength and control for more advanced skills.