Parallel Bar Exercises

I received an email yesterday from a woman interested in taking her Calisthenics training outdoors during the summer months. Unfortunately, she said the nearest playground only had dip bars and she had never used them before in her training.  My advice to her was if you’ve got dip bars and the floor beneath you, you’ve got the perfect outdoor gym!


The great thing about bodyweight training is you can train anywhere, even with limited playground equipment which is what gave me the inspiration for this post. If you only have parallel bars available to you, and you’re unsure where to start, here’s a few different exercises that you can try. Some of these exercises, like good ol’ fashioned dips, you may have already heard of and others will be new! Practice at your level, but don’t be shy to try some new movements!

Parallel DipsDSCN9886

Of course, the foundational exercise on p-bars is the dip! If you are unable to do full dips, try them on your tip toes. By making contact with the floor beneath you, you make the dip less challenging. You can control how much assistance from your feet to use with each rep. With consistent practice you’ll get your first dip!


This move is usually performed on a horizontal bar. However, if you are new to this exercise, it can help to practice them on parallel bars. P-bars tend to be lower then your standard pull-up bars which can take the fear of falling off a higher bar out of the equation.

It is also helpful to practice skin-the-cats here if you are having trouble bringing your legs through on a horizontal bar. On the p-bars you have full clearance to spin your legs through your arms without having to clear the bar.

Jumping Muscle-upsmuscleups

If you are working your way up towards the mighty muscle-up, having access to a low parallel bar can be a great lead up step. By practicing jumping muscle-ups you can begin to hone this movement pattern by jumping up from the floor over the bar. This variation teaches you how to move your body around the bar just like in the muscle-up by using your legs as an assist!

Straight Bar DipsDSCN7005

Often when people think of dips, they think of parallel bar dips or tricep dips and the straight-bar dip gets left out. This is a great exercise to pair with your jumping muscle-up training or an alternative dip variation to do if the bars at your local park are too wide.

Start off with a jumping muscle-up to get you over the bar. Lock your arms at the top position with your legs slightly in front of you. Squeeze your arms tight to your body as you bend your elbows back behind you, not to the sides. Extend your legs forward as you descend to keep your abs tight in the “hollow-body” position pictured above. Press yourself back to the top position and repeat for reps.

Knee raisesPicMonkey Collage

Knee raises are traditionally done hanging beneath a straight bar or even on the floor. This variation is done over the bar and requires significant wrist and triceps strength to perform.

Start by jumping up between the bars and locking out your elbows. Squeeze your abs and bring your knees up to your waist. Hold for a beat and then extend them back down. Repeat for reps. As you get stronger, you will eventually be able to work towards full L-raises with your legs extended throughout the entire movement.

You can also practice isometric holds, where you hold your legs up for time like the L-Sit/V-Sit for advanced, or the N-Sit for newbies.


I’m a big fan of including inversions in your workout routine. Inversions  can be beneficial for improving your circulation, and in yoga it is said they can even be used to treat depression.

Start by getting into your skin-the-cat position but instead of rolling the legs over your body, you can extend them straight up towards the sky and hold. Nothing like a change of perspective to make your workouts way more exciting! 😉



As much as I love practicing bridges on the ground, it can be exciting to take them to the bars! You should have a pretty decent full bridge before performing them here.

This variation is awesome if you are having trouble performing bridges on the ground due to lack of wrist flexibility.

By holding onto the bars, you don’t have to bend your wrists back as intensely and can focus on locking your arms out and getting a deeper stretch in your thoracic spine and chest.

Australian Pull-ups DSCN0085

You can practice Australian pull-ups on p-bars that are at least waist height. These are also known as bodyweight rows and can be a great lead up step towards getting your first pull-up. Even if you are a beast at pull-ups, practicing Aussie’s can be a nice warm-up you can do before you rep out on a high bar.

Elbow LeversDSCN9333

Of course, I can’t leave out one of my all-time favorite moves: the elbow lever! Taking this move to the bars can actually make it easier to practice. When you train the lever from an elevated surface it can allow your legs to hang lower then they would normally allow on the ground. Thus, you can get a feel for balancing in this pose without worrying about your feet touching the floor.

Just like in the bridge, it can take the intense flexibility needed in your wrists out of the equation by allowing your hands to grasp the bar instead. With consistent practice of this move, you will eventually be able to take that lever to the floor!

These are just a few exercises that you can try out the next time you want to spice up your parallel-bar training. Of course, with calisthenics the possibilities are limitless and there are still endless variations of p-bar exercises I may have left out. What kinds of exercises do you like to practice on the p-bars? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Til next time, ninjas! Peace, <3, and Ninja Kicks!

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