Dips Exercise Guide

The ultimate guide to performing perfect dips.

The dip (which can be performed with bodyweight or additional loading) is a movement that can be used to develop serious upper body strength, stimulate triceps muscle growth, and improve lockout performance for strength, power, and fitness athletes.

In this dip exercise guide, we’ll cover multiple topics including:

  • Dip Form and Technique
  • Benefits of the Dip
  • Muscles Worked by the Dip
  • Who Should Do the Dip ?
  • Dip  Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
  • Dip  Variations and Alternatives
  • and more…

How to Perform the Dip: Step-By-Step Guide

The below step-by-step guide discusses how to perform the dip, in this case, the bodyweight dip on parallel straight bars.

Step 1. Grab the Bars

Stand between the dip bars, and take a grip on the bars that are running in a parallel manner it yourself. Be sure to select a bar that allows the hands to be relatively close (like 1-2 inches) outside of shoulder width

Be sure to not have the bars too wide, as this could add some strain to the shoulders

Coach’s Tip: Keep the elbows tucked into the body, as this will help to isolate the shoulders more.

Dips Exercise Guide - Set Up
Dips Exercise Guide – Set Up

Step 2. Set the Back

This is key to minimizing anterior shoulder involvement and shoulder strain. Work to keep the shoulder-blades retracted and depressed (together and down towards the buttocks).

You may need to allow for a slight forward lean of the torso to do this.

Coach’s Tip: Have a slight forward lean so that the chest is slightly in front of the hands.

Dips Exercise Guide - Bottom Position
Dips Exercise Guide – Bottom Position

Step 3. Squeeze the Bar and Press

Squeeze the bar to help support the wrists, and press yourself upwards. Be sure to not pull your body backwards as you press, but rather stay slightly leaned forward and push through the palms into the hands.

Be careful not to let the triceps flare outwards.

Dips Exercise Guide - Halfway
Dips Exercise Guide – Halfway

Step 4. Flex the Triceps at the Top

Once you have reach full extension at the top, be sure to flex the back of your triceps and stabilize your body.

Your torso should be nearly vertical, maybe a slight lean forward.

Coach’s Tip: Flex the triceps hard at the top (like you are in a photoshoot).

Dips Exercise Guide - Lockout
Dips Exercise Guide – Lockout

3 Benefits of the Dip

Below are three (3) benefits of the dip that strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from.

1. Improved Lockout Strength and Performance

The triceps are involved in elbow extension, which is the final phases of movements like the bench press, jerk, overhead press, push press, handstand push up, etc. Often, lifters who struggle with the lockout phases of a movement (upper body pressing) need to add in exercises, like the bench to help isolate weaknesses and develop strength specific to that range of motion/muscle group.

2. Greater Overhead Stability

The triceps help to stabilize the elbows in the overhead position, making them a key muscle group to develop (in addition to the stabilizers of the wrist, scapular region, and shoulders) for overhead athletes. When performed correctly,

3. Bigger Arms

The tricep muscle takes up more than half of the arm, which means the larger those triceps get the larger the arm gets. For those of you on a quest for 22 inch pipes, be sure to work your triceps hard, as they will contribute greater (about ⅔) more to arm circumference than the biceps.

Muscles Worked – Dip

The dip is a upper body exercise than can be done to add strength and muscle mass to the triceps and chest. That said, it may also add some volume to the anterior shoulder as well.

  • Triceps
  • Pectorals (Chest)
  • Anterior Shoulder

Who Should Perform Dips?

The dip can be used with strength, power, and fitness athletes to increase upper body pressing strength, triceps hypertrophy, and lockout performance in sporting lifts.

Strength and Power Athletes

Strength and power athletes can benefit from including the dip at times when triceps strength, hypertrophy, and overall upper body mass is the priority.

  • Powerlifters and Strongman Athletes: The dip can be used to further develop the triceps, which are a vital muscle group during the bench press and other overhead pressing movements. Using the dip to isolate the triceps (and even the chest) can help to further enhance muscle hypertrophy and aid in overall upper body strength and mass development.
  • Olympic Weightlifters: The triceps are key in proper elbow extension and overhead lockout strength, making the dip a good bodyweight and/or weighted movement to add into accessory programs to further develop the pressing muscles of the upper body. Stronger triceps will often correlate with greater overhead stability and strength in the snatch and jerk positions.

General and Functional Fitness

The dip, in addition to overall strength and muscle growth of the triceps, can be used to increase upper body strength and development, aid in increasing overhead stability and pressing performance, carry over to gymnastic based movements (such as muscle ups and other calisthenics), and be performed at nearly any gym.

Dips Exercise Guide
Dips Exercise Guide

Dip Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations

Below are two (2) primary training goals and programming recommendations when programming dips into training programs.

Strength – Reps and Sets

Below are recommendations on how to program dips to develop general upper body pressing and triceps strength.

  • 4-6 sets of 3-8 repetitions
  • While there are no exact guidelines as how to strengthen the triceps using dips, adding tempos, load, and partial ranges of motion (at times) can all be used to further facilitate strength development.

Hypertrophy – Reps and Sets

Below are recommendations on how to program and train for triceps and chest hypertrophy using the dip.

  • 5-10 sets of 8-15 repetitions
  • Once again, there is a wide array of loading, sets, and rep schemes available to coaches to train the dip for size and strength. The key here is to focus on the muscle contractions and “pump”, rather than just mindlessly moving weights. Additionally, the loads themselves do not need to be heavy to have an effect.

Dip Variations

Below are three (3) dip variations that can be done to improve strength, size, and overall muscle growth of the chest, triceps, and upper body.

1. Elevator Dips

Elevator dips are a series of partial range of motion dips (similar to 21s for bicep curls) that force a lifer to develop strength and control at various stages throughout the range of motion. To do this, a lifter starts at the top or bottom of the lift, and performs a set number of repetitions to the halfway point, pausing for a second, and then descending into the full rep, pausing, and coming back up. You can get create and add pauses at whatever level you would like to increase body control, muscle tension, and difficulty.

2. Weighted Dips

The weighted dip can be done with any of the variations discussed, and simply entails a lifter to add load to the movement. This can be done using a weighted belt and/or chains, holding a dumbbell between the thighs, wearing a weight vest, or any other form of loading.

3. Ring Dips

The ring dip is an advanced variation of the standard dip as it is performed on gymnastic rings, which require a greater amount of joint stabilization, muscle coordination, and strength. The movement is performed on rings to increase range of motion, application to movements like muscles ups, and often increases time under tension via suspension training.

Dip Alternatives

Below are three (3) dip alternatives that can be done to vary programming, challenge lifters, and more.

1. Close Grip Push Up/Bench Press

The close grip push up and/or bench press is a fundamental exercise to build raw strength and muscle mass in the triceps and chest muscles. This exercise can be used to target many of the same muscle groups as the dip, with much more load, and often less strain on the anterior shoulder.

2. Handstand Push Up

The handstand pushup (HSPU) is a bodyweight exercise that targets primarily the triceps and shoulders. This exercise does a wonderful job of isolating the triceps when an athlete takes the depth of the HSPU so that their back of the arms are parallel to the floor. Further attack the triceps by making sure to keep the elbows nearly parallel to one another during the movement, rather than letting them flare outwards.

3. Floor Press

The floor press is a movement that targets the triceps (elbow extension) and the chest, similar to the dip. While the angles are slightly different between these two exercises, the close grip bench offers lifters the opportunity to develop serious strength and muscle hypertrophy, especially at times when the dip may cause shoulder discomfort (some lifters may experience this).

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