If you’re looking for a way to target your chest and triceps without putting undue stress on your wrists, or loading up a lot of weight that you may need a spotter for, then dips may be just what you’ve been searching for.
As a bodyweight movement that targets your chest and triceps, dips have numerous benefits in terms of strength improvements, mass building, and general fitness performance. While they may not be for everyone, it’s definitely worth giving them a try!
10 Benefits of dips
1. One of the best upper body exercises
Dips are a compound movement. They require the use of multiple joints simultaneously while also forcing your body to stabilize. This makes it a powerhouse upper body movement that’s right up there with pull-ups as far as the benefits that you can reap when using them appropriately.
In addition to stimulating more muscle growth, improving your strength and potentially increasing your performance in other lifts, they can be done almost anywhere. Plus, it can be pretty satisfying to lift all of your body weight with just the use of your arms.
If your goal is weight loss then dips can also be effective in speeding up your metabolism through body composition changes. Since you’re hitting a lot of muscle groups at one time with this compound movement, it causes your body to work harder, thereby increasing the intensity and ultimately your calorie burn.
It takes way more energy for your body to grow and support muscle than it does fat. So, by adding more muscle to your frame you’re telling your body to be more efficient at burning calories, and fat, which leads to a leaner, stronger physique.
2. Build more muscle
Research has shown that functional resistance training is just as effective for muscular fitness as traditional resistance training.
Dips may be more effective at building your chest and triceps than the bench press. More muscle fibers have to jump into the game when you’re doing a compound movement that also requires you to stabilize your body.
When you’re doing a bench press your body is supported by the bench that you’re pressing against with your back, as well as the floor where your feet are planted. So, if you remove the bench from the equation and start pushing your full body weight, it increases the intensity of the exercise because more muscles are being recruited.
The more you elevate your intensity and engage multiple muscles simultaneously, the more your strength and hypertrophic, or muscle-building, gains will improve. Yes, bench pressing can also be made more intense. However, it won’t target your chest the way that a dip will.
3. More effective than push-ups
If someone asked me to name a bodyweight upper body exercise that works your chest the first one to come to mind would probably be push-ups. For the longest time, I thought that they were the best overall body weight chest builder and arm chiseling exercise extraordinaire.
Well, I was wrong. Let’s break down the mechanics of a push-up for just a second. Yes, you’re working against gravity which is a huge check in the plus column as far as bodyweight resistance training is concerned. And Yes, you’re using your core, chest, and arms.
However, due to the position of your body during this movement, you’re only actually pushing a portion of your body weight and it’s generally the lighter portion of your body. Your legs are your biggest muscle group, which often means that they weigh more than your torso and arms.
In the push-up position, your arms are mostly supporting your upper body weight.
But during a dip, you’re supporting all of your body weight with just your arms. Your core really comes into play as well in order to keep you from swinging since you don’t have the added stability assistance of keeping your feet on the floor as you do during the push-up.
Basically, dips give you way more bang for your buck when it comes to the all-around chest and tricep development.
4. Functional exercise
Functional exercises help you to improve your movement patterns and can increase your quality of life by decreasing your aches and pains during everyday activities. While resistance training is great for building strength and altering your body composition, it can sometimes leave you lacking as far as your smaller muscles are concerned.
Bodyweight and functional exercises train your muscles to work better together, making your movements more efficient and thereby lessening the likelihood of tweaking something because the correct muscles weren’t being recruited or targeted.
It’s a lot easier to cheat while lifting weights, especially if you aren’t a glutton for strict form. However, if you’ve ever tried to do a bodyweight exercise with the correct form you may find that it’s more challenging than you anticipated. This is largely due to the fact that your muscles and joints have to work together to keep you safe during the movement.
Bodyweight exercises often encourage a greater range of motion and protect your joint health in comparison to heavier lifts with external weight that may cause some compensation if you aren’t paying attention.
5. Tangible progress
Whether you’ve mastered the dip or you’re working on getting your first one, it’s an exercise that really lends itself to tangible progress measures.
It’s understandable that when you’re first starting out it can be a bit frustrating not to be able to hold your body weight up in a stable manner, not to mention trying to lower and feeling the pain that tells your body if you don’t stop you may actually die.
Of course, dips aren’t going to kill you. However, if you do them incorrectly they can cause injury which is why it’s so important to work your way up and use progressive overload.
It’s so satisfying, in my opinion, to experience the frustration of not being able to do a bodyweight exercise very well at first, and then practicing until you can execute it with precision and really start seeing results!
6. Improve pushing strength
Pushing is one of the fundamental movement patterns. These are movements that you do in your everyday life that help you to function better while doing tasks like squatting down to pick up something heavy or bending over with proper form to pick up your child and then pressing them into the air playfully.
You’ve probably met or currently know someone who has tweaked something while doing a normal, everyday mundane activity. These tweaks often happen because they aren’t paying attention to their form and consequently move wrong, causing a muscle to tighten through overcompensation.
Aside from helping you in your everyday life though, doing dips can make you stronger by contributing to your overall strength.
When you strengthen your ability to push in different positions it translates to other bigger lifts like bench press, push-ups, and overhead press.
7. Target your chest
Dips are an effective way to target your chest. While bench pressing may be a popular go-to for chest day, it may behoove you to add dips to your routine.
The angle of your chest during a dip does a few things to benefit you as far as building your chest is concerned. While dips are a great exercise for targeting your chest and triceps at the same time, by changing your hand, elbow, and torso positions you can induce greater chest activation.
You also get the added benefit of including a little more core in the movement, which further aids in sending a greater anabolic, or muscle building, signal to your body in order to stimulate growth.
It makes a lot of sense that lifting heavy during a bench press will also stimulate muscle growth. However, the superiority of calisthenics exercises as far as minimizing injury makes it a slightly more effective method of targeting your chest without exposing yourself to the risks of pushing heavyweight that could require the help of a spotter.
Dips don’t require a spotter. You can do them anywhere. And you’ll definitely feel them, and see results provided that they’re programmed and performed correctly.
I’ve mentioned stabilization as a contributing factor in reference to the benefits of using dips to target your chest and triceps, but why does this matter so much?
Your core is primarily responsible for stabilizing your spine and keeping it safe during all movements. It’s made up of a bunch of different muscles in the front, sides, and back of your torso and contributes immensely to engaging in exercise with proper form.
Since your body is basically hanging in the air while you perform a dip, it takes a lot of stabilization to keep your body from shifting all over the place. Often, if you tend to just do exercises where your body is supported by the floor, a bench, or a machine, you may be missing out on training your smaller, supportive stabilizer muscles.
These muscles have myriad benefits when it comes to building a stronger and more defined body, not to mention this is where a lot of your power originates from. So, the more stabilizing your core does, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you get overall.
9. Wider chest
There are a ton of reasons why adding dips to your routine can really make a difference in your chest and tricep development.
Depending on your hand placement, dips can really contribute to well-rounded chest growth which can give you the aesthetically pleasing v-taper. When you are executing a dip correctly, you are able to manipulate the angle of stimulation to increase the intensity of the stretch at the bottom of the dip.
As you increase the stretch at the bottom of the movement, this facilitates getting a better contraction through muscle fiber activation. An increase in muscle fiber activation will enhance the intensity of the exercise, thereby creating more of a muscle-building stimulus to build your chest.
While it is difficult to isolate your outer chest, a greater muscle-building stimulus executed through added intensity will ultimately contribute to overall chest development which can give you the appearance of having a wider chest.
10. Improve your bench press
Dips are significantly helpful in improving your pushing strength. Whenever you increase your strength in a primary movement pattern, it contributes to making gains in other similar exercises that replicate that same pattern.
Thus, as you improve your dip performance you’re inadvertently improving your bench press performance as well.
What muscles do dips work?
Main muscles targeted
The main muscles targeted by the dip are your chest, triceps, and the front of your shoulders.
The upper and lower pecs are activated through shoulder adduction, which happens when you bring your arms across your body toward each other.
The muscle on the back of your arm, opposite your biceps, is activated through elbow extension, which happens when you straighten your arms.
- Anterior deltoids
The fronts of your shoulders are stimulated by raising your arms straight out in front of you.
The supporting muscles that aid you in executing a dip, but are included to a lesser extent than the main movers include your rhomboids and trapezius muscles. It’s important to remember to retract and depress your shoulder blades before doing a dip in order to keep your shoulders safe.
To retract and depress your shoulder blades you can roll your shoulders back and down and hold them there to keep your shoulder from jutting forward and putting undue stress on your shoulder joint.
One of the risks of doing a dip incorrectly is shoulder impingement. Since there’s a lot going on in your shoulder area, it’s easy to create unnecessary friction that can lead to injury if you have form deficiencies.
This is why your supporting muscles play a helpful role in aiding you to do a dip properly and safely.
Your main stabilizing muscles are made up of your core musculature which mainly includes your glutes, abs, and lats. While your core is made up of a lot of different muscles, your main stabilizers are activated while supporting your body weight on your arms and pushing.
Wide vs narrow grip dips
As we’ve already established, dips are great for building your triceps and targeting your chest. While you can’t really isolate one or the other, you can change the emphasis of the exercise by adjusting your hand position and torso angle.
This is the best grip for targeting your triceps. When you keep your elbows close to your body it stimulates your triceps more. This is further facilitated by keeping your feet beneath your body or a little in front of you so that your torso is more upright.
A wider grip is better for targeting your chest. With this grip, you’ll want to aim to flare your elbows out away from your body, while leaning forward with your torso and keeping your feet behind you. Lower yourself until you feel a stretch in your chest, but be careful not to go too far because it can put extra stress on your shoulders.
How many dips should I do?
It’s best to start with just bodyweight dips and aim to achieve a number of repetitions that you can get through without feeling like you’re dying by the last one. You want to allow your body time to adapt, rather than focusing on recovering so try not to go to failure often.
Work your way up to about 3 sets of 12-15. You can go as high as 30 repetitions or more while training bodyweight dips. The higher repetition range contributes more to a muscular endurance goal.
At this point, once you’ve mastered the proper form, you can start adding some external resistance and lower your reps for more of a strength and mass building rep range or 6-12 repetitions. If you haven’t been lifting for longer than 6 months to a year, I’d keep your sets to about 3 for now.
You can also use dips as a finisher at the end of your workout, at which point you’d go for as many bodyweight reps as you can manage with proper form. When you feel your form starts to break down that’s your stopping point. You can repeat this 1-3 times depending on your fitness level.
If you’re a beginner and aren’t able to do a dip on your own just yet, then you have the option of using an assisted dip machine. However, not all gyms or homes have one of these machines readily available. So, if you find yourself without one of these helpful contraptions, you have some other options.
Negatives are your best friend if you’re trying to get better at an exercise! Studies have shown that the eccentric portion, the lowering or lengthening phase, of an exercise has the biggest impact on strength and mass gains due to the increased stretch at the bottom of the movement.
Should I do weighted dips?
Weighted dips are a fantastic way to add some external resistance in order to keep progressing. However, it’s important to learn and be able to maintain proper form through a few sets of bodyweight dips before adding a load to the exercise. This will help you to prevent injuries and muscular imbalances.
The assisted dip machine is great for beginners and overweight people. Small deviations in your form can lead to injuries and result in targeting the wrong muscles. So, using a machine to give you some added safety and support can be beneficial when first learning the movement.
Dips at home
You don’t need a gym to do dips! There are various pieces of equipment that you can find online or around your house that can help you to get your dips in.
- Dip stands
- Suspension straps (like the popular though overpriced TRX)
- A playground near your home
- Kitchen counter
As you get better at the exercise, you’ll want to add some weight to keep challenging your muscles as they adapt so that you don’t plateau and stop seeing results.
Some options for external resistance include weighted vests and weight belts. Both can be found at a store that sells sports equipment or can be ordered online.