December 16, 2021 7 min read
Tricep exercises are one of the keys to obtain bigger arms, despite the belief that endless bicep curls will. The triceps muscle is the largest muscle in the arm and helps provide overall upper body strength. A bodyweight exercise you may be familiar with is the triceps dip, but you may not be as familiar with its more advanced brother, the weighted dip.
You probably guessed that it's almost identical to the triceps dip, except the added weight will transform this already difficult exercise into a seriously brutal version.
Although the triceps are a big part of this exercise, they're not the only muscles activated during a weighted dip. Several muscle groups are recruited to lift your own bodyweight and the extra resistance.
The triceps are composed of three heads that are located on the back of the arm, opposite the bicep. They are responsible for extending the arm and stabilizing the shoulder. These arm muscles are crucial during the lockout phase of exercises like the bench press or overhead press. If your triceps are weak, it can compromise your shoulder stability, cause shoulder pain, and limit your range of motion. Exercises like the weighted dip help to strengthen your triceps, potentially reducing your risk of a shoulder injury and helping get past sticking points.
Stretching across your chest are your pectoral muscles, also known as your pecs. These are the muscles responsible for the pec dance that Terry Crews is known for. Their slightly less entertaining responsibilities are flexion, adduction, and rotation of the arms. Most of the chest exercises are pushing exercises like the bench press and push-ups. A strong chest can contribute to good posture, better physical performance, and overall upper body strength.
The muscles found in the shoulders are the deltoids, and they are responsible for moving the shoulder back and forth. Under the deltoids are the rotator cuff muscles, and they help with range of motion and keeping your shoulder joint stable.
Shoulder health is important for potential injury prevention, especially as we age, and for function in and outside of the gym. Anytime you lift anything overhead, you put your shoulders at risk, so keeping them strong is essential. Weighted dips and their variations are sometimes seen as bad for the shoulders, but if done properly and safely, they can help to strengthen them.
When done correctly, weighted dips can contribute to overall upper body strength. They also have the ability to build muscle mass and assist in other lifts.
Depending on the positioning of your body, weighted dips have the ability to put more emphasis on the triceps or on the chest. So based on your goals, you could perform the same exercise but in a different way. If you flare out your elbows, tuck your feet behind you, and lean slightly forward at about a 45-degree angle on the dip bar, you're able to target your chest muscles more.
If you're looking to get more tricep activation, you'll position your body differently. In this case, your elbows should be tucked close to your ribs and pointing behind you. Keeping your legs straight will help you maintain a tall chest and not lean forward.
Bodyweight dips accrue several benefits and can be more beginner-friendly, but if you're looking to build muscle mass and you've mastered the dip, weighted dips are more for you.
Studies suggest that strength training is more effective than bodyweight at increasing hypertrophy. This is especially important with bodybuilders whose goals are to make large muscle gains.
Your weak point in a lift may just be the reason you can't push that heavier weight. A common sticking point is a lockout or the ending position where the joints involved are fully extended. The lockout in the bench press is the very top of the lift where your elbows are extended and are tricep-focused. So, if your triceps are weak, then your bench press could suffer. Practicing weighted dips help to build tricep strength and could help improve that stubborn sticking point.
The great thing about weighted dips is their versatility. Depending on the positioning, you can target different muscles, and you can use different equipment for resistance. A dip belt with weight plates attached is the most common, but you can also use a weighted vest or hold a dumbbell in between your ankles. Whichever you choose, perform dips properly by following the steps, and you can reap the benefits.
1. Find a dip station or parallel bars to set yourself up on. Wrap the dip belt around your waist, making sure the chain and weight plates are hanging in front.
2. Face toward the station and grab the bars, lifting your body up so your arms are extended. It's important to keep your shoulders away from your ears by activating your lats.
3. Lean forward more and flare your elbows to target your chest or stay more upright and keep your elbows tucked to target your triceps.
4. Lower your body down until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Lessen your range of motion as needed.
5. Press through your palms to extend all the way back up to the starting position and reset for another repetition.
Dips by themselves can be a complex movement for gym-goers inexperienced in weightlifting and adding weights in can make it all the more difficult. Often mistakes are made that may lead to unproductive workouts or even injuries. Below are common mistakes to avoid when performing weighted dips.
A common mistake made with any lift is letting your ego get in the way and adding too much weight. If you haven't perfected bodyweight dips, you definitely shouldn't be adding weights, but once you're ready, adding only a little at a time is crucial. Too much weight could result in injury.
If you're unsure of where the proper range of motion for a dip is, you could end up going too far and injuring your shoulder. You want to lower just until your triceps are parallel to the floor, or even less if that's what your range of motion is.
On the opposite end of too low, you could end up not going low enough and not getting anything out of the exercise. A common reason for this mistake is underdeveloped muscles not allowing this motion yet. If you're not going low enough, you may not engage as many muscle fibers and risk an inefficient workout. Start with strengthening the triceps with progression exercises.
The weighted dip exercise is an advanced one and should only be performed by experienced lifters. Don't be afraid of seeing a personal trainer or working on progressions to work up to this exercise. If you're done this before and are lacking equipment or looking for variety, below are some good options for that as well.
The close-grip bench press is great for building chest and tricep strength to progress to dips. Close grip refers to your elbows staying tight towards your ribs for more tricep activation. You may find you can't push as heavy of a weight as you would with a standard bench press, but it recruits similar muscle groups and can help build up to weighted dips.
This variation is pretty self-explanatory--it's a dip, but you're using a resistance band to assist in the movement. The band-assisted dip is great for progressing to bodyweight or weighted dips. Wrap each side of the band around the dip bar handles and mount the bars the same way. Put your knees on the band and lower your body until your elbows hit 90 degrees, then press back up.
A negative rep is one where you're focusing on the eccentric part of the movement. It can be done with almost any exercise and is especially beneficial for building up pull-ups and dips. For this variation, you can either jump up to the starting position, or you can grab a bench tall enough that the bars are about hip level. You'll start with your arms extended and slowly lower down to 90 degrees. Reset your feet back on the ground and repeat.
You'll get more support with this variation, and you can do it bodyweight or add a weight plate to your lap for a challenge. Find an elevated surface like a bench and face away from it. Place your palms on the edge of the bench with your arms fully extended and legs stretch out in front of you. Having your feet on the ground will provide more support, so if you need even more assistance, move your feet closer to your body. Lower your body until your elbows hit 90 degrees. Press back up to the starting position.
Rings aren't just for gymnasts, but they should be used with caution. This more advanced dip requires more balance and stability to not only stabilize your body but the rings as well. The movement is the same for this variation, but you'll perform it on gymnastic rings instead of dip bars. If you've mastered this one, you can try adding weight.
There are plenty of ways to build upper body strength, but when you're doing bicep curls and bench presses, don't forget that the triceps are essential for bigger and stronger arms. Dips are a great way to build the upper body for better lifts and quality of life.
The weighted dip is a beast, and it's important to do it properly. Practice and progression will be your best friend when building up this exercise. Dips by themself are difficult but adding weight should not be taken lightly—no pun intended.