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While talking to my son's gymnastics instructor, the topic of working on strength exercises at home came up. He suggested a set of parallettes to help out. They are pretty easy to make, so my son and I decided to work on a set together. Parallettes are small devices used to simulate parallel bars and allow you perform various exercises that use your own body weight for resistance. You can perform pushups, dips, L-sits, handstand pushups, etc. You can buy parallettes for anywhere from $30 to $100, but, as you will see, it is pretty cheap and easy to make your own set. And their compact size and light weight makes them easy to move and store.

Components (makes one pair of parallettes)

  • One 10 ft length of 1/2" PVC pipe (~$2.00)
  • Four 1/2" PVC 90 deg elbow joints (~$0.30 each)
  • Four 1/2" PVC Tee joints (~$0.50 each)
  • Eight 1/2" PVC Caps (~$0.40 each)

Tools

  • PVC Cutter (~$7.00) (or hacksaw or any other method you have available to cut PVC)
  • PVC Solvent and Cement (~$8.00)
  • Pen or marker
  • Tape measure
  • Old newspaper or drop cloth

The costs indicated are approximate, but the total cost of the PVC components is around $8.40. If you need to buy a PVC cutter and the PVC Solvent and Cement, it will add another $15, but you can use those items for many more projects. PVC is very cheap, sturdy, and versatile so those are worthwhile investments.

Step 1: Gather Materials

The design of these parallettes is very simple. It consists of two identical parallette bars. Each bar is made from one longer piece of PVC where you will place your hands during use. Shorter pieces provide the vertical elevation off of the ground and stabilizing feet for the bar. The PVC joints are used to securely fasten these pieces together. Each bar will need two elbow joints, two tee joints and four end caps. Go ahead and group your components together to make sure you aren't missing any pieces.

PVC can be permanently bonded using PVC Solvent and Cement. This is a two part mixture consisting of a primer and cement. You will find it at any home improvement store alongside the PVC itself. You can often find small packs as shown in the photos, but if not, make sure you buy one can of each part of the mixture. Over time the PVC cement may harden or become unusable so check it before you start working. If it is sticky or clumpy, then you will need to replace it. I already had solvent and cement, but it had been a while since my last project and they had indeed gone bad and needed replacing. NOTE: The PVC primer is typically purple to help indicate where it has been applied (often required by code for plumbing work), but you can also buy CLEAR primer. If you don't plan to paint or cover your parallettes, you might want to consider clear primer otherwise you will have some purple stains visible on them later.

The PVC cutter shown here is a fairly cheap tool, but works very well. I find it much easier to cut PVC with this than with a saw or any other method. The cutter has a ratcheting action that allows you to repeatedly cut further and further into the pipe material, until eventually you cut completely through. I highly recommend picking one up if you plan to do more than one or two PVC projects.

Step 2: Measure and Cut PVC

Now you are ready to cut your PVC to length. The 10 foot section of PVC will yield enough pieces for one pair of parallettes. You will need to mark and cut the following lengths, and will have about one foot of PVC left over.

  • Two 18" pieces
  • Twelve 6" pieces

Using a tape measure, measure the distance you want cut, then mark the PVC pipe with a pen or marker. Place the PVC cutter over your mark perpendicular to the pipe and cut straight through. Once you cut a 6" piece, you can use that as your gauge to mark the rest instead of measuring. That way, even if you initial measurement was off a bit, the pieces will be the same length. The lengths do not have to be exact, but you do want them to be consistent, otherwise your finished parallettes may not be level. After cutting your pieces you are ready to move on to assembly.

Step 3: Assemble Components

The first step here is to dry fit your pieces together with no cement to make sure everything works as you expected. It's a good time to plan how you will cement the pieces together. When you apply the primer and cement to the PVC sections and press them together, they will start to bond almost immediately. You will not have much time to reposition things, so it's best to have a plan in mind.

The 6" pieces, tee joints, and caps all connect with no specific orientation, so you can assemble those as subcomponents without worrying too much about it. The 90 degree elbows however, need to be oriented in the same direction, otherwise the legs of your parallettes will have a twist to them and the feet will not rest flat on the floor. When attaching those, you will need to carefully align the pieces before bonding them.

Applying the primer and cement is pretty easy, but it can be messy. These chemicals seem to run all over so put down some old newspaper or a drop cloth to protect your working surface. Make sure you work in a well ventilated area. Separate the parts you intend to bond, then using the included brushes in your cans, apply a layer of primer on the surfaces that will be touching on both pieces. Then, apply a layer of cement on top of the primer. Now press the two pieces firmly together and hold for a few sections while the bond sets up. It happens very quickly so make sure you don't try to slowly work the pieces together or they might bond before being fully seated.

After assembling your subcomponents (legs), you are ready to work on the top bar. One technique I found that helps with aligning the elbow joints is to take that left over one foot section of PVC, dry fit it into one side of a 90 degree elbow. Then, use that as a "handle" to help you position the elbow joint perpendicular to one of the legs. Otherwise it is hard to tell visually if the elbow is perpendicular or not. Cement the other side of the 90 degree elbow to the top of one of the legs, being very careful to not bond your "handle" side. Remove the scrap PVC and repeat on the other leg. Now you can simply cement each end of the top bar into the elbow joints.

Repeat these steps for the other parallette bar. And that's it!

Step 4: Start Exercising!

Once you have your materials, this will only take you 30 minutes or so to put together. It's a great project to get your kids involved with as well because they can safely and easily help build this. Make sure you follow the manufacturers safety instructions on your PVC solvent and cement. I've tested these with an adult weight (over 200 pounds) with no problems.

Not only is this a fun, easy, kid-friendly build. You get a great piece of exercise equipment as well. For less than $10 and 30 minutes or so of your time, it's well worth it. If you want to personalize it further, you can consider paint or wrapping the bars with grip tape. It's up to you to customize however you like! Now you can add these to your exercise routine to get or stay healthy.

Note: If you have any health concerns, consult a physician before beginning any exercise routine. If you are concerned about the strength of the bars in supporting your weight, you do have a couple of options. If you shorten the length of the top bar (to say 12" instead of 18") it will flex less under load and can hold more weight. Also, I used standard Schedule 40 PVC, but if you can find Schedule 80 PVC, the pipe walls are thicker and will hold more weight as well (the outside diameter is the same so the same joint fittings will still work).

I would be tempted to join the feet using 90's rather than caping and that would give less flex in the grip. My son will want a set.

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