With the summer around the corner (or what passes for summer here in the UK!) I’m revisiting something I have never QUITE managed to pull off – a GARDEN gym! Yep – moving from the garage to the garden.
That is harder than it sounds with a climate as varied as it is here in the UK – the constant threat of rain means a permanent base outside can be… Challenging!
Which brings me to Parallettes – a cheap, portable and viciously effective way to train if you are prepared to put the hard yards in to LEARN how to use them. They’re super easy to pick up to take inside or out and let you train REALLY hard.
I’ve recently invested in a couple of different sets to review and try out, so I’m going to start here by sharing my buying guide with you showing how I narrowed down the endless list of choices to find the best parallettes in the UK.
At a glance….
- Bulldog Gear large parallettes are the best parallettes available in the UK
- If you prefer shorter handles then check out their small version too
- Focus on size, stability and build materials when choosing a brand to buy from
- Parallettes are cheap, versatile and portable – ideal for a home gym
- I like to take mine in to the garden – you should try this out!
Which parallettes are best?
Cutting to the chase – I’ve bought, used and reviewed a couple of pairs of parallettes and I think these are the two best pairs of parallettes available in the UK at the moment:
Best overall: Bulldog Gear Paralettes – Large
For most users I would lean towards taller parallettes as they are simply easier to use for beginners and open up a wider range of exercises to try out. The trade off is they take up a little more room – but if you have the space I personally think these are a no brainer!
Bulldog have this model available that is around 80cm tall with nice, stable base around 60cm x 45cm providing the confidence that you don’t topple over when trying out all your calisthenics tricks! With a bar diameter of 38mm they fall right at the sweet spot for comfort.
Overall these are a great purchase and are the pair that I’m using most frequently in my own training. At the time of writing these were retailing for £65 which looks a bargain to me for a full size bit of gym equipment!
Best short parallettes: Bulldog Gear Paralettes – Small
I picked up a pair of short parallettes as well so I could compare short vs tall (does side matter?!) and see how a beginner like me would fare with shorter bars. In summary – they are great as well, albeit harder to use than the larger ones.
Going with the Bulldog product again the short bars come in at around 30cm tall with a base of around 45cm x 30cm. The smaller base compared to the taller bars is not an issue as you’re so much closer the ground the stability is – if anything – even higher with these.
Coming in at £55 (at time of writing) these are a great option for those looking for portability or something easy to store and are my go-to pair for handstands, press-ups and a few other moves.
Personally if you have the space I would be tempted to spring the extra £10 on the taller bars, but it really does depend on your own priorities and situation.
How to choose a pair of parallettes?
MOST parallettes, like squat racks and power racks, have a few core variables that we can use to differentiate. These are: height, build materials, stability, durability and… PRICE! How you weigh up each of these factors is personal – how you train, your level of advancement and your budget will all play a part in driving our choice.
Of course the devil is – as always – in the detail here, so lets run through the various options available:
Tall parallettes vs short
When deciding between tall or short parallettes the main differentiator will be what YOU want to do with them. Traditional dips for example can ONLY be done on the tall handles for example, but equally only short ones can fit in your rucksack.
PERSONALLY I like the tall designs for their versatility and they fit with my 100% home based workout plan. If you don’t have space or like to take your workouts to the park then short parallettes will be MORE suitable to you and have the awesome bonus of being more stable.
Taller parallettes are easier for beginners to get to grips with as well… Not that that influences my decision… (OK maybe it does, short ones are TOUGH!) The taller parallette design can be used for dips, entry level tucks, some holds etc. without relying on the really high core strength required to hold your body in these positions so close to the ground. The taller handles basically give us an element of wiggle room if we can’t QUITE hold ourselves horizontal.
Also consider your personal body shape and size – the bigger you are then the more core strength you need to jump in and use low parallettes.
Overall shape & design
A stable design will have a relatively wide base for each handle. Pretty simple. Some deviations can occur with diameter of the handle (around 4-5cm being the normal range) and the length of the bars and feet.
The finish of the grip will usually be smooth, a light knurl or padded. Personally I’d avoid padded as this tends to be on cheaper bars. I don’t have a strong preference between the other finishes as – given most of our force is via gravity pushing us down on to the bars – knurling on the bar is not QUITE as important as it is in a barbell where we’re holding on for dear life!
A wider base provides more stability at the cost of portability, with longer handles likewise. The thicker the handle the more efficiently weight is distributed across your hand, with the trade off being too fat a handle can be tough to grip.
The length of the rails is something that is shaped by training – for most people coming from a strength training background (or most who aren’t gymnasts really) the length of the parallettes doesn’t matter beyond fitting your hand on them and providing enough length that they don’t topple over as we don’t tend to be moving our hands around when training. Generally most will be around 25 – 60cm long and that is fine for the majority of us.
Width of the feet is a key point – the taller your parallette then the wider the base needed to prevent toppling. Some pairs come with a connecting rod so the two can be bolted a fixed distance apart – I think this is great if you aren’t planning on moving them out of the way. Personally I am fine with independent stands but I can see the appeal of the fixed bar if you’re unstable, or simply have the space to leave them set up 24/7.
We really, really want stable bars as that is all that is stopping us from face planting – particularly with some of the more adventurous holds and the ubiquitous handstand!
What does your training look like?
Parallettes can be incorporated into loads of training styles – gymnastics, calisthenics, traditional weight training, some bodybuilding and even strength training as an accessory or on GPP (general physical preparedness) days.
If you would get the VALUE out of a pair really depends on how you mix your training up. I like to use mine for dips and core work which I am doing 2-3x a week at the moment. Is that work £65? To me, absolutely as it makes these ENJOYABLE to do.
Ab work is something i have a love hate relationship with and ANYTHING that makes it enjoyable is worth the money to me!
How portable do you need them to be?
Do you workout at the park, or at home? Do you need to store your equipment on a shelf when it’s not in use, or are you happy to leave it out all the time?
These questions will influence what you look for in your parallel bars. If you need them to be portable you want the smallest package possible. Conversely if you don’t take them out with you then the bigger sets offer the versatility of longer range of motion movements as noted above and are easier to get to grips with for beginners.
One of the coolest things about short parallettes is that you can chuck them in a bag and take them with you – this is MEGA handy for anyone who travels (or is expecting to travel) with work or similar as you can take your gym with you in your hand luggage.
Material world: Wood vs steel
The two dominant materials used in most parallettes will be steel, wood or a combination of these. Steel is more durable, cheaper and more plentiful, while wood is naturally less slippy, feels a bit better in the hand but is less durable. If going for wood then look out for hardwood ash – this is the same type of wood as used in baseball bats so it feels really great in the hand and is strong.
Personally I like the look of wooden bars, but the simplicity of steel is absolutely ideal for me and I like the increased durability for when I do weighted movements with a weight vest or similar incremental load. I feel more comfortable doing this on the steel bars which feel less brittle.
Total weight capacity will largely be dominated by your bodyweight – which you probably know – but also consider if you want to weight any movements e.g. dips or press-ups that might push the total load on the bars upwards significantly.
If going steel I am LESS concerned about this as they are more likely to BEND vs SNAP in the worst case scenario, and I really don’t feel like the steel bars I use are near their limit.
Comparing weight capacity across brands can be a minefield with no standard definition – static weight capacity, dropped capacity, is a bend considered a failure or is it a total snap, etc. This is where brand reputation, design and build quality can help us narrow the choices down.
Durability & overall build quality
A little section on build quality and durability specifically – possibly overkill, but I can’t stress enough that when doing calisthenics or holds the parallettes are ALL THAT IS STOPPING A FACE PLANT. Given how cheap these are it is worth the extra few pounds to buy a properly engineered, premium set that will give you confidence when trying to train.
Defining quality is more tricky – I tend to look for good quality steel, a good quality manufacturer and nicely finished, non-slip feet. The feet are particularly important as if I use them on my wooden floors and scratched them up my other half would kick me out!
Like my other equipment I tend to lean towards supporting known brands and shopping direct instead of going for no-name or drop shipped brands on Amazon or the like.
Price will be driven by materials – the bigger the parallettes generally the more expensive they will be, and those finished with hardwood ash or similar wood tend to command a premium.
Here in the UK, good quality wooden parallettes retail for around £100+ per pair, with steel equivalents around half that in the £50-£70 range (depending on brand and size.)
Of course there are outliers of cheaper and more expensive bars – but hopefully this gives some perspective that these are not expensive bits of kit compared to more typically home gym equipment.
Assembly is a doddle for most of these – a few minutes to tighten a handful of bolts at worst. There are alternatives that click together which are less durable, but are consequently much easier to collapse down and travel with.
Brand & user experience
As touched on earlier parallettes are quite a cheap and simple piece of equipment. As such the cost of buying a premium branded equivalent compared to a generic or drop-shipped unbranded version is only a few pounds.
PERSONALLY I prefer to support the brands that are pushing out innovative equipment, have a proven customer service regime and are known for delivering quality products. As such I would prefer to buy from an established UK home gym supplier.
So, what are parallettes and are they worth it?
Parallettes are a pair of parallel bars that are raised above the ground and allow you to hold on to them and perform various exercises. They are simple, they are cheap, easy to store and they CAN be effective if used correctly. They are a descendant of traditional parallel bars as used by gymnasts, but this connection is diluted down sufficiently that they are small, light, and affordable compared the very massive gymnast-spec parallel bars you see!
I have roughly zero interest in gymnastics – not that I actively dislike the sport, but it’s just something that has never captured my imagination. So what am I doing talking about parallel bars, parallettes and training?! Well these days it’s pretty common to see parallettes used for a ton of things which DO interest me – most notably dips, CrossFit, static holds and other calisthenics based workouts.
Whether they are worth it or not is a personal call based on your budget, training needs and interests but in general they are very affordable and open the door to a range of movements. I think they are worth it if you are prepared to invest the time and effort to learn train with them properly.
Just don’t expect to pick them up on day 1 and be a calisthenics guru by day 2, training with them is a humbling experience!
Calisthenics: Bodyweight, gravity and parallel bars!
The word ‘callisthenics’ descends from the Greek words for ‘beauty’ and ‘strength’ – this is probably why the movements (when done by an expert!) look so cool!
Calisthenics is training which leverages your body shape, body weight and gravity to challenge you. Progression is through reps, range of motion, time under tension, body angle or one of any number of inventive metrics that can be tracked.
We can up the ante by throwing on a weighted vest or dip belt and bringing some additional kilograms to the party. Nothing will bring the buzz-kill like a 20kg weight vest!
Group boot camps and military training have brought calisthenics to the mainstream. Why, though? Well bodyweight exercises are easy to program for large parties which is super handy for the coaches who don’t have to carry a ton (literally) of weight around, and as you’re fighting your own bodyweight it is naturally self regulating.
Parallettes add a bit of variety to these calisthenics based workouts – they are light, cheap and easy to transport so ideal for boot camps and they open up a range of training moves from the simple wrist-friendly press-up through to the more advanced L-sits and planches.
The downside? Well, as a beginner, it can be pretty tough to get off the starter blocks with even entry level training requiring a DEGREE of strength and ability.
Training ideas for parallettes
How you train with your parallel bars will be influenced by your goals and your parallettes themselves. Taller parallettes open up different options given their increased ground clearance – one of the reasons I lean towards recommending them for beginners and general trainees.
Being totally honest I wasn’t sure where to start when I first picked up a set of bars – I knew I wanted to add some VARIETY and SPICE to my workouts, but I couldn’t hand on heart say WHAT I wanted to do or how I was planning to progress over time.
There are a TON of options when you get in to it – try and be inventive and give yourself 5 – 10 minutes of parallettes time at the end of each workout to experiment and hit a ton of reps. After a few weeks you’ll have tried out a few things, learnt a ton of stuff and – hopefully – begin to see some shape changes.
Here are some ideas to kick you off…
What muscles do parallettes work?
Here are a few muscle groups I’ve hit (and how) to give you a flavour of how to incorporate these in to your training:
- Abs, obliques and associated core muscles – one of the main areas I’ve been focusing on. I’ve been hitting these muscles with L sits and holds.
- Triceps – In a home gym tricep isolation work can be a little tricky and at times a bit dull. I’ve been doing dips to hit them – try raise your feet on a bench and then use the parallettes to dip down keeping your torso upright. This will really move the focus in to your triceps.
- Pecs and chest – Press ups are a nice finisher at the end of a session. Low parallettes make awesome handles for press-ups and allow a little more range of motion as we can lower ourselves between our hands. The parallettes also take some stress off our wrists which is great after heavy bench work when hitting high rep press-ups
- Lats and back – Inverted rows are a pretty cool way to get rep work for your upper back. If you struggle with higher rep sets of pull-ups or chins these are a great way to get volume in to the muscle group.
What exercises can I do with parallettes?
Make yourself a mini-circuit with a few of the following exercises and see which you enjoy the most:
- Inverted rows (or Australian pull-ups)
- Full dips (lend themselves to taller bars)
- Feet up dips
- Planche – tucked or otherwise
- Tuck swing
- Handstands and handstand pushups
What are the benefits of training with parallettes regularly?
There are a few drivers that really show the benefits of training with parallettes in your home gym:
Improves & builds your body English
While the term ‘body English’ makes me shudder with cliche-derived embarrassment, it is unfortunately the best way to explain this benefit.
You probably THINK you have a pretty good understanding of your body and how to control it – you may need to revisit that assumption once you try and hold a L-sit!
I’ve found working with parallettes truly humbling for this – starting from scratch with body control and these holds is a huge challenge, but one I am enjoying.
If you like learning new things (which has the added benefit of rapid, highly motivating ‘newbie gains’) then getting to grips with some holds is a great way to kick off a new challenge.
Adds variety and options
If you’ve got a fully kitted out home gym then you likely will be able to hit all the muscle groups you want with your existing equipment.
So are parallettes worth it? Yes – if you value VARIETY.
I’ve got a decent home gym set up but one of my bugbears – which I mention above – is doing tricep isolation work regularly. For some reason I am PANTS at consistently doing this with bars and weights. I just don’t seem to LOVE it. Throw a set of parallettes in to the mix and BANG – I’m knocking out dips all over the place! My training is therefore more complete and rounded as I’m hitting everything I SHOULD be!
So they offer a simple way to open up different exercises for me. Plus I like to take them in the garden when the sun is shining – suns out, guns out! Nothing makes me WANT to do a GPP day more than knowing I will in the sunshine – even if it means I am hitting triceps and doing all my ab work…!
This element of variety is what I like – you can combine them with resistance bands or a weighted vest to tweak your movements a little more again.
Rounding this post off, I think the Bulldog Gear large parallettes are the best parallettes available in the UK for for MOST buyers, but if you prefer (or need) shorter bars then their small equivalent bars are an awesome alternative (if a little harder to get to grips with initially!)
Training with parallettes is a pretty cool thing to pick up and try to get to grips with – I’ve certainly found it refreshing to have something different to work on that’s separate to my typical barbell training routines.
Given how cheap they are I think grabbing a pair and trying them out is a great idea for anyone who enjoys training at home. Take them out in to the garden when it’s sunny – training will never be the same again 🙂