You don’t have to be a gymnast to take advantage of the strength training benefits that you can accomplish with parallel bars. In fact, you don’t even need access to a gymnastics gym—just purchase a pair of parallettes (little parallel bars) for your home gym. For about $50 you can buy a pair of wooden parallettes. Aluminum bars are a bit more expensive, but you can also construct some cheaper ones out of PVC pipe. The key benefit to using parallettes for body-weight strength training is that you are elevated off the ground, which allows for a deeper range of motion during many common movements. Listed from easiest to hardest, here are five parallette exercises to help you get the body of a gymnast:
Begin with your elbows locked out, and feet on the ground. Lower your hips toward the floor, then press back up. Make it harder by elevating your feet on a bench or a medicine ball.
Grasp the bars and assume a plank position with your legs extended behind you. Start by lowering your chest to be parallel with the top of the bars. As you get stronger, take the push-ups deeper so that your chest goes below the top of the parallettes.
To perform a V-sit, position with your arms locked out, then lift your legs so they are level with your sternum. This movement takes intense abdominal strength, and can be worked up to with tuck-holds or L-sits. Gauge your improvement by tracking how long you can hold the position—5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, etc.
The tuck planche is a static hold, in which you rock your weight forward onto your shoulders, then hold your legs tucked under your body. The goal is to have your pelvis be on the same plane as your shoulders, parallel with the ground. Work on holding for a longer and longer duration. Supporting your feet on an elevated surface is a good way to progress into the skill.
Unless you’re a balance master, you’ll want to do these handstand push-ups with your feet supported against a wall. Full depth push-ups (down to your shoulders) are incredibly difficult, so build-up by first lowering halfway and then three-quarters depth. Ben Musholt has been a physical therapist in Portland, Oregon for over 10 years and is the founder of Strength Mob and BPM Rx, Inc.