Just as squats are the King of lower body exercises, dips are the King of upper body training.
Considered by many as a tricep exercise, dips in fact, are a complex, compound movement that engages virtually all of the muscle groups of your upper body.
You can vary the angle and intensity to shift the focus of the movement to your chest by simply leaning forward.
To perform basic dips, center yourself between the dip bars and place one hand on each bar with your palms facing down and inward.
Lift your body above the bars by straightening your arms and hold your body up above the bars.
Keep your arms straight as you flatten your back and slowly lower your body as far as you can and then push back to the straight arm start position.
1. Grab the dip bars on the dip machine or parallel bars (you can even use the rails on your treadmill if you have one) and push yourself up to the start position. You can cross your feet behind you, but knees should be bent and arms fully extended.
2. Slowly and under total control, lower your entire body until your triceps are parallel with the floor.
Allow your elbows to go wide if needed. Your body should be tilted forward at around 45 degrees, and you should feel a stretch in your chest that extends all the way across from shoulder to shoulder at the lowest point of your dip.
3. Continue to lean forward as you push yourself back up to the start position. You should stop short of locking out at the top – stop just before your elbows lock out.
As you train, you will feel the range of motion that works your triceps versus your chest. Stop just before your triceps engage until your chest is fatigued and then train triceps.
Your triceps will fail before your chest and will prevent you getting the full training effect.
Muscles worked include your Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Anterior Deltoids, Triceps Brachii, Rhomboids, Levator Scapulae, Latissimus Dorsi, and Teres Major.
You can perform dips at the gym on elaborate dip stations, at the gymnasium on parallel bars or between Olympic style rings, or at home on your own lightweight dip station or simple to assemble portable dip bars.
Home gym versions are often easy to assemble and may be partially disassembled for easy storage.
Why Dips Work
They’re simple, require only your bodyweight and the bars as support and work your triceps and chest simultaneously.
By varying the angle of the bars OR the angle of your body you can focus more on your triceps (for toning or building arm muscle) or specific muscles across your pectorals, or chest muscles.
If you have access to a dip station or dip bars and a chin up/pull up bar, you have everything you need to train and tone your upper body!
When performing dips, keep your core tight, that is, tense and hold the muscles of your abs and lower back throughout the movement.
Once your dips become easy, add some weight to your body to increase the intensity. There are fancy weight belts that attach to weight plates, even dumbbells, but a simple solution is a backpack full of books.
Chest Dip Mistakes
- Don’t “work through” shoulder pain. Dips can be an excellent rehab exercise for shoulder recovery but must be done carefully. Assisted or partial dips would be your best option.
- Don’t roll your shoulders. Shoulders forward takes the focus off of your pectorals (chest muscles). Keep your shoulders back and chest forward and up.
- Locking (or not locking) your elbows. If training your chest, DO NOT lock your elbows, stop just short and you will maintain tension across your chest. However, when training triceps specifically, you should lock your elbows and squeeze your triceps at the top of the movement.
Dip Progressions and Variations
- Assisted Dips – Use assisted dips as a beginner, or after a regular set to increase your rep total. Depending on the height, you can stand on one or both legs and or a chair and use all or part of your bodyweight as resistance.
- Chest Dips for Pecs and Delts – Lean forward to target your chest muscles and let your elbows move away from the body as you dip. Avoid shrugging your shoulders. Chest Dips rapidly build your chest and shoulder muscles.
- Tricep Dips – target the Tricep, the largest muscle in the arm – This movement requires a more upright, up and down movement.
- Diamond Dips – This variation adds a side to side motion and degree of difficulty by focusing more to each side. Start upright and lower your body but to either left or right and then move upward at an angle, forming an “X” after each pair of dips. Keep your elbows over your wrists throughout the movement.
- Weighted Dips – For added resistance and intensity, strap weights at your waist or wear a weighted vest or backpack filled with weights or books.
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