Dip Bars Are About to Be Your Favorite Piece of Workout Equipment
Dip bars (aka EQualizers or parallettes) are a way more versatile strength-training tool than you might think.
Maybe you've seen (or even used) parallette bars in the gym, since they're a pretty classic piece of equipment. Over on Instagram, though, they're getting a boost in popularity thanks to fitness influencers figuring out new, crazy-hard ways to use them.
Many of these videos feature a newer kind of parallette bar called EQualizers (sometimes referred to as EQs), which are a bit taller than the traditional parallettes and the perfect base for cool bendy strength tricks.
Regardless of which kind you have access to in your gym, the cool thing about parallettes (low or high) is that you can use them at any fitness level. While the tough moves influencers are doing are super inspiring, you actually don't have to do anything crazy difficult to benefit from using them.
"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." (BTW, here's what happened when one writer tried living like a fitness influencer for a week.)
The Benefits of Dip Bars
So why should you be on the lookout for these bars at the gym? Well, there are three main reasons, experts say.
They're super versatile. "Parallettes allow you to work on push and pull movements (like push-ups and pull-ups) without having to worry about what weights or which machine you should be using," explains Eliza Nelson, a personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist.
"With standard weights, you adjust the load by adjusting the weight. With a sturdy set of parallettes, you can adjust the resistance by positioning your body in different ways," she says. This quality also makes them 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."
They help to 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." In other words, whether you're a beginner to the whole working out ~thing~ or know your way around the weight room, you can benefit from using parallette bars to developing this specific type of controlled strength and lean muscle mass. Since the 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.
You'll torch fat and calories. "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 bodyweight 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." (FYI, here's all the science you need to know about how to build muscle and burn fat.)
How to Use Dip Bars
Convinced you need to try these out or get a pair of your own? Here's what you need to know.
"These bars should be used on a mat or a surface that they won't slide on," Takacs points out. 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," she says. (Some motivation: Get good enough, and you could join this epic new calisthenics sport called Urban Fitness League.)
L-sits: 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 to improve, 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. Aim to hold an L-sit for 15 to 30 seconds for three rounds as you work your way to getting stronger, she recommends. (BTW, the L-sit is also on Jen Widerstrom's list of bodyweight exercises every woman should master.)
Push-up progressions: 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 table-top, which allows a beginner to master the fundamental movement that a push-up is," says Takacs. Turn one bar perpendicular to your body and perform incline push-ups with your hands on the bar and feet on the floor. Regardless of the height of the bars you have, you can progress this movement by working on deficit push-ups, where you allow your body to go past the top of the bars (and your hands) on the way down, demanding you to push your body through a larger range of motion. (Read: What Happened When One Woman Did 100 Push-Ups a Day for a Year)
Inverted rows: "One of the primary exercises I use the high parallettes for is an inverted row, to strengthen the back and core muscles," says DeVito. Sit on the floor between the bars, holding onto each with palms facing in. Either extend your legs or keep them bent with feet flat on the floor (the more horizontal your body is the tougher this movement will be), then lift your hips off the floor and fully extend your arms to start. Pull your chest up to the bars, keeping your elbows in tight to your sides.
Pull-up progressions: "I love the EQualizer for all levels of fitness," says Astrid Swan, a personal trainer and Barry's Bootcamp instructor. "It's a great piece of equipment to help build upper-body strength." If you're working on your pull-ups, they could be a helpful tool: Lie under one of the bars, set up so that it runs perpendicular to your body and is directly over your chest. Grab the bar with palms facing toward you. Like inverted rows, either keep legs extended or bend your knees for more assistance and pull your chest to tap the bar, then lower with control. "As you start getting strong, you can extend your legs further out," says Swan.
HIIT drills: Swan also likes using parallettes (high or low) for cardio drills. "You can do cardio bursts by turning them on their side and doing fast feet drills like high knees over each one," she says. Other options include lateral jumps over one bar or even burpees with a jump over one bar. (Here are 30 more HIIT moves to fire up your routine.)