Celebrity trainer Simone De La Rue just added another workout tool to her arsenal. The founder of the Body by Simone fitness method and trainer to Jennifer Garner, Emmy Rossum, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, among others, revealed her “new toy” Monday—parallel bars—in an Instagram video.
You can check out the video, via @bodybysimone, here:
De La Rue isn’t the first—and definitely not the only—fitness guru to board the parallel bar train. The gymnastics-inspired equipment, which comes in several variations under several different monikers, including dip bars, Equalizers, or parallettes, has been popping up on Instagram in recent months. Search #dipbar on Instagram, and you’ll get more than 3,200 results, #equalizers brings up more than 3,800 hitsm and #parallettes, more than 20,000.
The variety of content you’ll see is a testament to the tool’s versatility in gyms and at home for a variety of strength-training and bodyweight exercises.
Here are some of the fun and unique ways that people are using the parallel bars:
As you can see, the bars have tons of different uses. That also means they can offer many different benefits.
“They are very, very versatile,” Faith Davis, a Utah-based trainer who uses the Equalizer parallel bars in her own workouts, tells SELF of the equipment. “You can use them to strengthen every muscle group, do cardio, and even stretch.”
Davis has been working out with parallel bars for more than two years. She initially got them because she wanted to work her upper back without using dumbbells. “It’s hard to work your shoulder blade muscles without doing rows with heavy weights,” she explains. “But with the bars, you can target this area by doing inverted rows, which can be very basic or more challenging just by the way you hold your feet.”
With parallel bars, you can creatively use your bodyweight to get in many different push and pull movements that otherwise require heavy machinery. You can also lay the bars down on their sides so that the feet stick up vertically, and then hold onto them for exercises like mountain climbers or jump lunges, for example.
They’re also great for core work, like L sits or basic knee raises (featured in De La Rue’s video above and explained below), and you can also use them as a stability/balance aid when doing classic bodyweight moves like lunges, for example.
One of the bars’ biggest benefits, says Davis, is that they target many of your large muscles as well as your smaller stabilizer muscles. That’s because when you perform classic movements on the bars, your base is less stable than the floor, which means your smaller stabilizing muscles have to work extra hard to keep the rest of your body elevated and balanced as you move.
Parallel bars are great for both beginners and experienced exercisers.
“I have beginners on them all the time,” says Davis of the bars. Because the tools allow you to modify or progress movements as needed, “beginners could use them as much as an advanced person.”
If you don’t yet have the strength to do a full push-up, for example, you can do a modified version of the movement by placing your hands on the bar and angling your body out from there, says Davis. This will reduce the load on your upper body and core while alleviating pressure on your wrists, she explains.
You can also use the bars to do an amped up version of a push-up, Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF.
Doing dips [a basic parallel bar movement where you lift your feet off the ground and lower and lift your body using just your arms] works the same muscles as a push-up—your shoulders, arms, upper back, and core—but is “more difficult because you have to support your entire body weight on a smaller surface area,” explains Mansour. On the bars, the part of your hand gripping the bars is solely responsible for holding your entire bodyweight. By comparison, in a push-up on the floor, your toes, plus your entire hands—including your palms and all five fingers—are helping to support your body.
“Dips are one of the most basic movements you can do on the bars, and they’re also one of the best upper-body movements because you’re simultaneously using so many muscle groups,” adds Davis.
Because dips do require serious upper-body strength, she recommends beginners start with their feet on the ground, which will help them build up the needed strength in a safe way. The further apart your feet, the easier the movement will be; to increase the difficulty, move your feet closer together.
The positioning of your body during a dip can also change the muscles targeted, adds Mansour. If you want to work your triceps, for example, do dips while keeping your torso totally vertical, says Mansour. This is a more difficult version of tricep dips since your feet are off the ground. If you want to work more of your pecs and chest, tilt your torso slightly forward, says Mansour, who likens this to a bench press.
De La Rue’s circuit is great for parallel bar beginners, says Mansour, and it simultaneously targets your upper body and core. Here’s how to do it.
Lower Ab Knee Tucks
- Stand squarely between your parallel bars and firmly grip the middle of each bar with your hands.
- Squeeze your lower abs right below the belly button and use these muscles and your lower back to lift your legs off the ground, bending at your knees. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your arms and elbows straight, bring your knees up and in toward your chest.
- Pause for a moment at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your knees back down to the starting position.
- This is 1 rep. Do 8 reps.
This move works your transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine) and rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think "abs"), as well as many major muscles in your upper half, including your pectoralis major (a thin, fan-shaped muscle in the chest), pectoralis minor (a thin, triangular muscle in the upper chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and biceps, says Mansour.
For this move, and the others in the circuit, lowering your knees back down is “as important as bringing them back up,” says Mansour. “Make sure you are slow and controlled [as you lower back down] and that everything stays engaged rather than thinking of this as a full release. It will feel harder on way up, but the key is to make sure you are not swinging when you are coming down.” You should also think about keeping a straight (not arched) spine.
- Get in the starting position described above with your hands gripping the parallel bars, your knees bent, and feet lifted off the ground.
- Keeping your arms and elbows straight, squeeze your lower abs and lower back to lift your knees up and over toward your right arm. Pause for a moment at the top of the movement, and then slowly lower your knees back down to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 4 reps to the right side. Then do 4 reps to the left side.
This move targets all of the muscles worked in the prior move—as well as the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your stomach), says Mansour.
Straight Leg Lifts
- Stand squarely in between the bars and firmly grip the middle of each bar with your hands.
- Keeping your legs and elbows straight, squeeze your lower abs and lower back to lift your feet off the ground. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your legs straight, lift them up until you form a 90 degree angle with your torso and legs. Pause for a moment here and then slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 8 reps.
This move is essentially just a harder version of the knee tucks, says Mansour. You’re working all of the same muscles, but it will feel more difficult because your legs are straight out in front of you instead of tucked into your chest. Remember to engage your core and lower back throughout, and keep the downward portion of the movement nice and controlled.
If these moves are challenging for you, don’t sweat it, says Mansour.
“Parallel bars can be difficult even for Olympic gymnasts,” she explains, because you really have to have a ton of core control and strength to stabilize your entire body. If your back hurts as you use the bars, you are probably losing control as you bring your legs back down, or you’re not using your core enough on the way up, explains Mansour. If you try correcting these issues and your back still hurts, your core might not yet be at the strength level needed to do these moves safely and effectively, and you should do other core-building exercises (like planks) to build it up before giving the bars a whirl again.
Also: If you have a wrist, shoulder or rotator cuff injury, these moves aren’t for you, says Mansour. “There is more room to go off balance here just because your body is swinging and there’s less stability,” she explains.
Ready to try the bars for yourself? Here where you can find them.
Certain gyms and public parks may have the bars, but because they’re not ubiquitous (yet!), you may consider buying your own set online. Lebert EQualizer is a popular, reputable brand, and you can find many others on Amazon.
“If you really want to work all of your muscle groups and both your space and your bank account are limited, bars are one of the best pieces of equipment,” says Davis.