With the rise in popularity of playground workout videos on the internet, more and more lifters are looking to incorporate such training into their routine. While it often looks like you have to have a lot of experience to do this sort of thing, almost anyone can easily start with just a few parallel bar exercises. Below are 12 parallel bar exercises you can begin experimenting with today.
This is going to always be the most common of parallel bar exercises. An excellent chest, shoulders, and triceps builder, all you have to do is grab the bars with your arms locked at your sides. Lower yourself, then return back to the starting position. If you have very flexible shoulders, you can go as low as you like. However, if shoulder mobility is a concern, only lower yourself to such point that your elbows are at or just below 90 degrees.
One technique cue to keep in mind is your torso. When leaning forward as you lower yourself, you’re going to place most of the emphasis on the chest. However, keeping your torso as upright as possible throughout the movement will hit the triceps harder.
An advanced variation of the above, “traveling” dips are when you not only dip your body up and down, but add an element of forward movement. You’ll lower yourself down as per normal, but when you come back up, do so as explosively as possible, “jumping” your body forward a little bit. Catch yourself, reset, then repeat. The goal is to start off at one end of the parallel bars, and do continuous reps until you get to the other end.
Chins / Pull Ups
Though chins (palms facing you) and pull ups (palms facing away) are traditionally done on a pull up bar, they are excellent parallel bar exercises, too. In fact, many would argue this variation is better than using a normal straight bar, as it’s easier on your shoulders and elbows. You just might have to tuck your knees up to your torso as parallel bars are often not that high off the ground.
If you really want to hit the upper back, lean your head back as you pull yourself up. This will cause your torso to lean slightly backward, arching your chest. This will allow you to retract your shoulder blades hard, hitting the lower traps, rear delts, and entire upper back as well as the lats.
“Traveling” Pull Ups
Another movement unique to parallel bar exercises, this is just the pull ups version of the “traveling” dips discussed above. Hang under a parallel bar though facing the length of the bar, holding with alternating hand grips. You’re pulling your self up to one side similar to a normal pull up. However, as you go down you swing your back hand in front of the other hand (again so one hand is forward facing and the other is backward facing, and pull up from the other side. You do this as you travel along the length of the bar and then back again.
This variation of pull ups is one often seen in the videos mentioned above. Pull yourself up to such point your chin is over the bar. From there, move your body laterally so that your chin is over at your left hand, then the opposite direction so that your chin is over at your right hand. Then return back to center and lower yourself to the hanging position to complete the rep. The side-to-side horizontal movement should mimic the look of a typewriter going left to right.
While chins and pull ups are an excellent back exercise, not every lifter is strong enough to do them. In that case, you can just do inverted rows, instead. Placing yourself under the bars, grab them such that you hang down below. Place your feet on the ground as far forward as you can, so your body is as near horizontal as possible, then pull your chest to the bars.
If this is too easy, bring your legs inside the bars such that the heels of your feet are resting on top of them. This allows you to hang below the bars at a decline, significantly decreasing your leverage and increasing the resistance on the back.
“Hand Over Hand” Climbing
Many parallel bar exercises are just variations of old schoolyard jungle gym activities, and this is no exception. Hanging from one bar with your left hand behind your right, simply make your way from one end of the bar to the other, going in a sort of “hand over hand” type motion. You can make this more difficult by hanging from both bars – a hand on each.
Straight Bar Dips
While normal parallel bar dips are fairly straightforward, their straight bar counterpart are slightly different. Instead of having a hand on each bar and dipping your torso between them, you’re going to have both hands on a single bar just outside of your waist. From there, you’re going to dip your torso as low as you can under control, then back to the fully extended position. To make this more difficult you can elevate your feet if possible (i.e. on a bar in front of you).
Though muscle ups are most easily performed on gymnastics rings, they can also be done on a straight bar. Starting from a dead hang, pull yourself up as explosively as possible, then transition from the top end of a pull up to the bottom of a straight bar dip. Push your arms to fully extended, then lower yourself back to the starting position.
The transition from the pull up to the dip is easily the most difficult portion this movement, so it’s usually not one you want to start off with right away. Spend plenty of time with other parallel bar exercises first, improving your body control. Once you can do at least 10-15 pull ups and straight bar dips with little effort, you can begin to experiment with muscle ups.
This is as about simple as it gets. All you have to do is grab the bars from underneath and hang there as long as possible. This can be a good test of grip strength endurance, but is also good for spinal decompression, too. Leaning your head forward and back can also help improve shoulder mobility and stretch your thoracic spine.
Hanging / Dipped Leg Raises
An old school bodybuilding ab exercise favorite, just hang underneath the parallel bars. Keeping your legs relatively straight and toes pointed, contract your abdominal muscles, pulling your legs to the horizontal position. If this is too difficult at first, bend the knees, bringing them up into the tucked position by your chest, instead.
When you’re ready to give this a “playground” twist, switch to the dipped position. Hold yourself in the top position of a dip and do your leg raises from there. This requires much more core stability and is much tougher on the abs.
This is one of the more advanced core movements you can do, and should only be tried when hanging leg raises have become almost no challenge. Hang from one of the parallel bars and bring your legs as high as you can, as if you were trying to touch your toes to the bar.
From this position, keep your hips as stationary as possible, rotating your legs as far to the left as you can go. Your goal is to take them all the way to horizontal, but only go as far as you feel strong enough to. Return back to the start position, then repeat in the other direction. The rotational movement of your legs should end up looking like a windshield wiper going back and forth.
Whether you consider yourself a bodybuilder, bodyweight exercise aficionado, or just the everyday exercise enthusiast, parallel bar exercises can add a new element to your training. You can do traditional gym moves, mimic schoolyard play, or even experiment with advanced techniques. Doing so will not only help you get stronger, but improve muscle control and just be fun to play with.