How to Use Dip Bars (aka Parallette Bars)

Dip bars are way more versatile strength-training tools than you might think.

Dip Bars
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Maybe you've seen (or even used) parallette bars in the gym, since they're a pretty classic piece of equipment. But you're not alone if you avoid them because you have no idea what you're even supposed to be doing with them. Don't stress — here's a comprehensive guide to the piece of equipment and how you can incorporate parallette bars into your routine.

How to Use Dip Bars

ICYDK, dip bars (also known as parallette bars) are upsidedown U-shaped pieces of equipment. They're often seen in pairs, with the user standing in between both bars and placing one hand on each bar to perform dip exercises (think: tricep dips). Often, parallette bars are adjustable in both height and width, so you can find the most comfortable configuration for your body and grip.

While you might catch fitness trainers and fitfluencers performing some pretty impressive, sometimes even acrobatic, exercises on the dip bars, you actually don't have to do anything incredibly difficult to benefit from using parallette bars. In fact, one of the great things about parallette bars is that you can use them at any fitness level. "Advanced moves are just that: advanced," says Robert DeVito, owner and performance coach at Innovation Fitness Solutions. "It is important to work through all beginner and intermediate exercises before progressing to the more advanced or 'cool' moves," he emphasizes. "Additionally, keep in mind that these fitness stars are the exception, not the norm. You may or may not need to utilize the highly advanced and higher-risk moves to attain your goals," adds DeVito.

The Key Benefits of Dip Bars

So why should you be on the lookout for these bars at the gym? Well, there are three main benefits to using dip bars.

Versatility

One main benefit is that these bad boys take out the guesswork that often accompanies resistance training workouts. "Parallette bars allow you to work on push and pull movements (such as push-ups and pull-ups) without having to worry about what weights or which machine you should be using," explains Eliza Nelson, an ACE-certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist.

"With standard weights, you adjust the load by adjusting the weight," she explains. "With a sturdy set of parallette bars, you can adjust the resistance by positioning your body in different ways." This quality also makes parallette bars especially great for people who aren't working out in a gym. "If you're new to strength training or want the convenience of working out at home, you can build strength and confidence with bodyweight exercises on the parallettes," she notes.

Develop Body Control

"Parallette bars are a great piece of equipment to work on overall body awareness and control, as well as strength," says Meghan Takacs, a trainer with Aaptiv, an app with trainer-led audio workouts. "Body control is the key term there. As a trainer, I find controlled muscle movement imperative to improve things like lean muscle mass and overall posture in order to become a well-rounded athlete, no matter what level," she explains.

In other words, whether you're a beginner or know your way around the weight room, you can benefit from using parallette bars to develop this specific type of controlled strength and lean muscle mass. Since the dip bars are a less stable surface than the floor and many moves require your body to be suspended in space, you have to work extra hard to keep yourself in the correct position throughout each movement.

Build Muscle

"Vigorous calisthenics actually burn more body fat over time than steady-state cardio," says Takacs. (FYI, calisthenics is a fancy word for exercises that use your body weight to build strength. Think: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, handstands, etc.) "People tend to choose cardio because they sweat and feel as though they have done something, but movements like these are way more effective in burning fat and gaining lean muscle," she explains.

Common Dip Bar Mistakes

The main concerns with dip bars are ensuring they're set up properly and avoiding overexertion. Here's what you need to know: "These bars should be used on a mat or a surface that they won't slide on," says Takacs.

Also, be aware of how your wrists are positioned on the dip bars, says Nelson. "Keeping your wrists straight is important, especially for movements where your wrists are being loaded from the top down," she explains. "For example, in a push-up, you want to ensure that your wrist is not being bent back and is straight with the front of the forearm to reduce strain to the wrist."

It's also a good idea to start with the easiest version of an exercise and then work your way up from there. "Understand that there is a progression for every movement on these bars and the fundamentals have to be mastered before you can advance to more complex movements, like the ones in the videos," advises Takacs. For example, if your goal is to work on your inverted rows, begin with your knees bent and progress to straightening your legs, suggests Nelson. "That is the beauty of the parallette bars — they are versatile for many levels of strength and experience!" she says.

The Best Dip Bars Exercises

Convinced you need to try dip bars out or get a pair of your own? Here, Nelson demonstrates the best parallette bar exercises, using your new favorite piece of equipment:

L-Sit

Why it works: L-sits (holding your bodyweight above the bars with arms locked by your sides and legs elevated out in front of you) are great but are a bit more advanced and will take some patience, says Nelson. To modify, do an L-sit with your knees slightly bent or alternate lifting one leg off the floor at a time. You'll slowly build strength to hold both legs straight out in front of you.

A. Stand in between both bars, with one hand gripping the top of each bar. Fully extend both arms to begin to lift feet off the ground.

B. Pressing hands into the bars. lift knees up until they're even with hips, feet directly under knees.

C. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, or progress by extending legs long in front of body and then holding.

D. Bend knees and lower feet to ground.

Burpee Climber

While burpees are a classic conditioning move, they can be difficult or uncomfortable if you're not able to lower yourself all the way down to the floor with control. Enter: the burpee climber, a combination of a burpee and a mountain climber, which brings the ground closer to you by using dip bars flipped on their sides.

A. Place one dip bar on the ground with the U-shape closest to you and the bottom bars tilted upward at an angle. Start in a high plank position, with hands gripping either side of the dip bar, shoulders stacked over wrists, and legs extended long. This is the starting position.

B. Quickly drive right knee up toward chest, then extend right leg long. Immediately drive left knee up toward chest, then extend left leg long. Repeat once more on each leg.

C. Bend knees and jump both feet in under chest, placing them directly behind hands.

D. Lift hands off the bars, then press into heels to rise up out of the squat and explosively jump into the air. Land softly.

E. Hinge at hips to place hands back on dip bars as you extend legs long to return to the starting position.

Modified Push-Up

Why it works: Parallettes can be used to make push-ups harder, but they can be used to scale them down too. "The high bars almost serve as a tabletop, which allows a beginner to master the fundamental movement that a push-up is," says Takacs. To ease into push-ups with dip bars, turn one bar perpendicular to your body and perform incline push-ups with your hands on the bar and feet on the floor.

A. Start in a high plank position with hands on a dip bar perpendicular to body and directly underneath shoulders, with legs extended and feet hip-width apart.

B. Engage core by tucking tailbone and drawing navel in toward spine. Slowly bend elbows at a 45-degree angle to lower body, stopping when chest becomes even with the tops of the bar.

D. Push away from the bar to straighten arms.

Inverted Rows

Why it works: "One of the primary exercises I use the parallette bars for is an inverted row, to strengthen the back and core muscles," says DeVito. This move can also help you build to a traditional pull-up, if that's one of your goals.

A. Sit on the floor between the bars, holding onto each with palms facing inward.

B. Either extend legs or keep legs bent with feet flat on the floor (the more horizontal body is, the tougher this movement will be), then lift hips off the floor and fully extend arms to start.

C. Pull chest up to the bars, keeping elbows in tight to sides.

D. Slowly and in a controlled manner, lower back to the starting position.

Pull-Up Modifications

Why it works: If you're not quite crushing pull-ups yet, the parallette bars can help you get there. Since your feet are on the ground (rather than hanging in mid-air), you don't have to pull your full body weight, giving you a chance to practice engaging your lats and nailing your form before progressing the movement.

A. Lie under a dip bar, set up so that the bar runs perpendicular to body and is directly over chest. Grab the bar with palms facing toward feet. Similar to inverted rows, either keep legs extended or bend knees for more assistance.

B. Engage lats and core and pull chest up toward the bar, with both elbows pointing toward feet. Keep body in a straight line from neck to tailbone.

C. Slowly and in a controlled manner, lower back to the starting position with arms fully extended.

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