Building Straight Arm Strength With Handstands & L-Sits on Parallettes

Chapter 1 – Intro and Setup / Chapter 2 – Challenges and Benefits / Chapter 3 – Parallettes Routine / Chapter 4 – Bent Arm Strength / Chapter 5 – Straight Arm Strength / Chapter 6 – Make Your Own P-Bars

You’ve always wanted to be able to do cool skills like handstands and L-Sits, skills that require high levels of straight arm pressing strength.

In the last chapter we focused on how the parallettes can help you build bent arm pressing strength (important for skills like push-ups, dips, and inverted presses). In this chapter, we’ll take a closer look at using the parallettes to build straight arm pressing strength.

Let’s get into it.

How Parallettes Will Help You Develop Straight Arm Strength

Like with bent arm strength, the parallettes offer an entry point to working on developing straight arm strength in a way that is less intimidating than the floor.

Part of this has to do with the different leverage you get when you elevate your hands. But another, more basic aspect of this is that the very act of gripping the p-bars radiates tension into your lower arm, upper arm, shoulder, and even upper back and chest muscles. This teaches you how to generate the necessary tension to perform these skills before moving to the floor.

As you work on straight arm strength on the parallettes, you’ll learn a lot about proper mechanics and technique, providing a good transition to the ground when you’re ready.

Parallettes Straight Arm Strength in Action

There are many skills you could work on to build straight arm strength on the p-bars, but in this video, I’ll run through some of the most common ones. Below the video, you’ll find details on each of these exercises.

Let’s take a look.

Plank Position on the Parallettes

When was the last time you worked on making sure your form was perfect in the straight arm plank position?

It’s a position that’s often glossed over on the way to the push-up, but building strength here teaches you how to create tension in your core for more complex skills.

The plank is also a position people struggle with, especially if they aren’t used to thinking about where their hands are in relation to their shoulders. When you set up, make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders, not in front of them, and not behind them. Your shoulders and thumbs should be more or less in the same line.

Once you are in the plank position on the p-bars, push through your hands to move your shoulder blades away from your spine (protraction). This action is important to attain the proper position for many more advanced skills.

You can get a sense of the action right now by taking your arms up in front of you at shoulder level. Make loose fists with your hands, and make sure the fists are facing each other. Imagine there is a wall in front of you. Push your hands towards the imaginary wall.

This mimics the position of your shoulder blades in a properly performed plank.

The other thing that tends to happen is people forget about the legs. Even though the emphasis is on the upper body, you want to make sure your legs are engaged the entire time, as they help support the weight of your body. To do this, pull your kneecaps up to contract your quads and tighten your glutes.

The ability to hold a strong straight arm plank position is a precursor to developing skills like a handstand.

If you can understand what the work feels like in a position that’s familiar, when you go upside down, you have a better frame of reference for how everything works together to support you.

How to Do a Parallettes L-Sit

The L-sit is a fun position. It builds shoulder strength, triceps strength, mid back strength, leg strength, and ab strength (so, pretty much everything). Plus, it will make you feel like a badass because not everyone can do it, and who doesn’t like that? 😉

If you’ve ever tried an L-sit on the floor, you know it’s challenging for a number of reasons.

Your hands may or may not reach the floor and if they do reach the floor, pressing down enough to lift the hips can feel virtually impossible. If you try to lift the legs at the same time and survive the intense quad cramp that inevitably ensues, you probably don’t last very long before you realize you are no longer pressing the hands into the ground.

Elevating the hands on the p-bars gives you a chance to think about the mechanics in the arms and upper body without worrying whether your arms are long enough. But this doesn’t mean the L-Sit on the parallettes is easy.

The trickiest thing with the set-up of the L-sit is making sure your hips are directly under your shoulders. There is a tendency to set up with the hips behind the shoulders because it makes it easier to lift your legs in front of you, but this prevents you from experiencing as much work in the triceps.

One way to make sure your hips are directly under your shoulders is to take a quick video of your set-up. You can learn a lot from video feedback, and if you get the set-up down, it makes it easier to execute on the skill.

When you press your hands straight down into the bars, your torso should rise toward the ceiling slightly as your shoulders move away from your ears (opposite of a shrug). The shoulders shouldn’t move forward. When you press the hands straight down, keep the chest lifted by pressing the shoulders down and back.

Handstand on the Parallettes

Elevating your hands on the parallettes for handstands is a great way to work on the strength and body position required for handstands while keeping your wrists in a neutral position.

Plus, practicing a skill in a variety of ways makes you better at the skill, so if you’ve been doing handstands for a while and have stalled in your progress, practicing on the parallettes is a great way to change things up and make you better when you return to your practice on the floor.

One thing to keep in mind is the floor is farther away, which means getting your legs in the air requires more strength and flexibility in your hips than a regular handstand. Try our hip mobility routine to gain the strength and flexibility that will make the elevated position more comfortable and accessible.

All of the same things we’ve talked about already apply to the handstand too.

Make sure you really press your hands down into the parallettes bars. This moves your body away from the bars and brings your feet closer to the ceiling. And don’t forget to point your toes!

A Note on Elbow Hyperextension

Some of you reading this might have a tendency to hyperextend your elbows.

While you do want your elbows locked when working on these straight arm movements, if your elbows bend in ways most people find a little unusual, try focusing on using your muscles as much as possible to keep your arm straight. This will help you build more strength in the position.

Get the Tools and Start Working on Your Parallettes Exercises

It’s time to take all the knowledge you’ve gained throughout this guide, and get yourself a pair of p-bars so you can get to work! In the next chapter, we’ll give you three great options for parallettes–two DIY options and one option for the less handy among us 😉

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