Parallel bars that are low to the ground are known as parallettes. Though they might not appear to offer anything special at first glance, these little, low bars are an amazing tool.
Wrist pain is one of the most common issues associated with floor exercises like planks, L-sits and handstands. Since parallettes allow your wrists to maintain a neutral position during these and other exercises, they offer a great way to work around (and possibly help eradicate) any issues that may plague your wrists. Additionally, squeezing parallettes while practicing these exercises creates more tension in your upper-body, which can facilitate a greater mind-muscle connection. This will help incur greater strength gains, especially with regard to your grip, core and shoulders.
Elevating your hands with parallettes makes many exercises more accessible than when they’re performed on the ground. Oftentimes, beginners lack flexibility and/or core strength. Having extra clearance beneath your body can make just enough of a difference to help you nail your first L-sit. You can also adjust the width of your parallettes to suit your individual proportions, which you cannot do with affixed bars.
Here are 3 exercises you can try with parallettes:
1. Plank Knee Raise
Grasp your parallettes with your body fully extended and toes on the ground like the top of a push-up. Keep tension in your abs, legs and glutes while maintaining a straight line from your heels to the back of your head. Carefully lift one leg in the air and raise your knee as far toward your chest as possible. Pause briefly with your foot still off the ground, and then return to the start position. Repeat with the opposite leg, being mindful to stay in complete control of your movement.
You might be surprised by how much you feel your abs the first time you try this exercise. Anytime you remove a contact point during a plank, your abs will have to pick up the slack.
Grab your parallettes with your torso upright and your shoulders and hips directly above your hands. Your feet will be flat on the floor with your knees bent. Press down into the handles, point your elbow pits forward and allow your upper back to round slightly so that you can spread your shoulder blades apart, being mindful not to let your shoulders shrug up toward your ears. Lift your feet off the floor and extend your legs away from your body until they are parallel to the ground. Your body will resemble a capital letter “L”. You may point or flex your toes. Either way make sure your feet remain engaged. You may find yourself swinging or shaking a bit on your first attempts. This is normal and should minimize with practice.
If you aren’t able to perform the exercise with both legs fully extended, you can try keeping one leg tucked and one leg straight. Alternate which leg is tucked on each set.
3. Parallettes Handstand
Place your parallettes near a wall. Grip them so your hands are positioned approximately 6-8 inches from the wall. With your elbows fully locked, kick your legs into the air until your heels come to rest against the wall. If you’re having trouble kicking up, it can help to think about getting your hips over your hands rather than focusing on your legs. Either way, don’t let your elbows bend. Hold this position, then come down as gently as possible. With continued practice you will learn to rely less on the wall until you are able to perform a freestanding handstand.
Many people will find it helpful to look in between their hands while performing this hold, though others will prefer to keep their head in a neutral position.
For more information, check out my new book, Next Level Strength.
–Al Kavadlo, @alkavadlo