October 09, 2021 9 min read

Bodyweight exercises are an extremely handy tool as they build functional strength. Many of these workouts are so effective because they’re compound exercises and work multiple different muscle groups. Take push-ups and dips, for example.

They’re both excellent for building a balanced upper-body physique and strength training. However, that then begs the question: Which of these is the overall better exercise? In this article, we’ll answer just that question, while also teaching about both of these exercises and how they can benefit you.

Target Muscles

Before you learn how to do these exercises, it’s important to know which muscle groups are targeted by them. This way, you’ll know whether or not you should include them in your routine to reach your goals. Luckily, this is pretty straightforward.

muscular man in gym with naked torso

Dips and push-ups actually target the same muscle groups: chest, shoulders, anterior deltoids, and triceps.

With that being said, you’re probably wondering what the difference between these two exercises is, especially since they seem to engage the same muscle groups. Well, there are a few catches that we’ll go over in just a second.

Pros and Cons

Pros of Dips

  • Great for building up your lower chest and triceps
  • Ideal for someone who’s looking to build functional strength\
  • Can be done just about anywhere and most gyms will carry the equipment to perform them
  • You can add on extra weight if you find them to be too easy for you

Cons of Dips 

  • If done improperly, dips can be very hard on your shoulder joints
  • Generally recommended for advanced lifters due to the difficulty of the exercise
  • Not as many variations as a push-up

Pros of Push-Ups

  • A great beginner upper-body exercise
  • They can be done literally anywhere and require no specialized equipment or accessories
  • Tons of variations making them a versatile exercise

Cons of Push-Ups

  • Advanced lifters will have to do a lot to really challenge the muscles
  • While there are ways to increase weight, it’s mainly limited to your own body weight.

Differences and Similarities

At first glance, these two exercises seem like they could easily be swapped out for one another. They’re both convenient as they only require your body to do, they’re compound movements and hit most of your upper body, and they’re both straightforward. However, they actually have some big differences that can affect which one you should pick for training.

Body Angle

The angle of your body is the biggest difference between the two of these exercises. But why is this such a dividing factor between the two? It’s because the different motions will actually hit different parts of your chest. For those of you who are unaware, your chest is made up of two main areas: The pectoralis minor (the upper chest) and the pectoralis major (the lower chest).

By changing the angle of your body, you’ll work on developing a different part of your body.

The push-up is really more of an upper chest, if not an entire chest exercise. The dip, on the other hand, is really great at isolating the lower chest muscles. This is because a push-up utilizes a horizontal pressing motion, whereas the dip uses a vertical pressing motion.

Range of Motion

Another difference between these two exercises is the range of motion involved with them. With dips, you’ll actually have a larger range of motion, as your shoulders are able to go below your hands during the exercise. With a normal push-up, this is impossible as the floor stops your shoulders from going beneath your hands. There are variations that you can do if you’d like your push-ups to have a greater range of motion, but we’ll get to that later.

Body Weight Percentage Lifted

This is actually quite a big difference between these two exercises and explains why dips are generally more difficult to do than a push-up. A dip requires you to lift your entire body weight during the exercise. Meanwhile, a push-up only requires you to lift about 60% of your total body weight. This can make a big difference when choosing which one to do as some lifters may need assistance for doing dips.

Which One Is Best? 

Knowing more about these exercises, is there a clear winner? The answer is, unfortunately, no. Both push-ups and dips are extremely useful exercises that are effective upper-body bodyweight workouts. That being said, each of them can cater to your training needs. 

For instance, chest dips, as we mentioned, are great for working your lower pecs. Additionally, they’re excellent for lifters who are looking to maximize strength gains as it requires you to lift your entire body. That being said, dips are somewhat notorious for causing shoulder pain due to poor form or if you dip too low in the exercise. Additionally, the exercise can be difficult to attempt without dip bars. 

Push-ups, on the other hand, are a lot easier to do than dips.

They’re great for building endurance because you can do more reps and are just a good exercise to do for general fitness. Additionally, you don’t need bars to perform them. You can actually do a lot of different variations of this exercise as well, making it very versatile. 

To quickly summarize, dips are best for lifters who are looking to maximize strength gains and build a nice lower chest. Push-ups are something for lifters who want to test their endurance and improve their overall fitness. However, there are other variations of the push-up that can isolate different parts of your body for a potentially more effective workout.

Dips and Push-Ups: How To Do Them 

Now that you know all about dips and push-ups, it’s time that you learned how to properly do them. As with any exercise, form is extremely important. This is doubly true with dips as the exercise is somewhat notorious for shoulder injuries.

Dips

  1. First, you’ll need bars, or two sturdy surfaces side-by-side. 
  2. Then, you’ll need to grab both bars/surfaces, make sure your arms are straight, and then jump up so you’re suspending yourself with your arms. 
  3. Slowly dip down until your shoulders they’re just below your elbows. Don’t dip down too far, as this could cause injury 
  4. Now, lift your body back up by straightening out your arms. 
  5. Once your elbows are locked out pause for a moment before starting the next rip. 

Tips For Perfect Dips

Because this exercise is quite difficult to do, here are some tips to help you perfect your form and make sure you get the most out of them. 

  • Make sure you’re not over-extending your elbows when you lock out. A very slight bend in the elbow will ensure that you keep tension on the tricep while avoiding any damaging pressure on your elbows 
  • Remember to keep your torso pretty straight during parallel bar dips. While leaning forward a little can help to emphasize your lower chest, it’s smart to stay straight to avoid unnecessary pressure on your shoulder joints. 
  • Don’t flare out your elbows too much. When you do this, you’re going to put a lot of strain on your rotator cuffs. It’s very important to make sure your elbows are pointed back to avoid possible rotator cuff injury
  • It’s very important to not use the natural momentum to assist you with tricep dips.  That means don’t swing your legs or other body parts to help you. If you do this, you’re robbing yourself of gains! 

Push-Ups

  1. First, you’ll need to get down on all fours, placing your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. 
  2. Straighten out your arms and legs, your body should be suspended in the air, held up by your arms and feet. 
  3. Lower your body, with your elbows flared slightly inward, until your chest almost touches the ground. 
  4. Wait for just a second and then push yourself back up.

Pointers For Perfect Push-Ups

While the push-up is not as difficult as the dip, it’s still important to practice proper form when doing this exercise. Without proper form, your run the risk of injuring yourself and you won’t work your muscles properly! 

  • Absolutely make sure you’re not flaring out your elbows excessively. Like with dips, this can put a lot of unnecessary stress on your shoulder joints, making them prone to injury. For a perfect push-up, make sure your elbows are tucked in by your sides at about a 45-degree angle. 
  • Make sure your pelvis is completely straight, don’t let your butt dip down. 

Dip Variations You Should Try

Because it’s a bodyweight exercise, the dip has some other variations that you can try out that will emphasize other muscle groups and give you a more rounded upper body workout. 

  • Wide-grip dips are something that we really only recommend if working your chest is your biggest priority for this exercise. Obviously, it requires that you use a wider grip for the exercise. The downside of this variation is that it can cause shoulder joint pain. So, if you’re feeling any big discomfort or pain during this variation, it’s safer to try something else instead. 
  • Assisted dips are an excellent alternative to normal dips. They’re perfect for making sure you’ve got the correct form and great for beginners who aren’t yet strong enough for normal dips. Unfortunately, this exercise does require a specialized machine but most gyms are likely to carry it. 
  • Bench dips are another easier alternative to regular dips. With this variation, you’ll rest your feet on the floor and put your hands on a bench, or another similar surface. The great thing about this exercise is that you canpractically do it  anywhere, even if you don't have parallel bars. 
  • Weighted dips are the more challenging version of the exercise if you can believe that. If you’re strong enough for them, you’ll need something like a weighted vest or a specialized dipping belt. Some lifters will even drape heavy chains around their necks. Remember not to go too crazy, you don’t want to overload your muscles. 

Push-Up Variations You Should Try 

As we previously mentioned, the push-up is an extremely versatile calisthenic exercise that can be modified to fit a variety of needs.

Here are a few to help spice up your workouts:

  • Three-quarter push-ups are great for new lifters who are trying out the exercise or don’t yet have the strength for a real push-up. For this variation, all you need to do is bend your legs inwards so you’re resting on your knees, instead of your toes. Essentially, you’re taking off the weight from your arms so your weight is easier to push around 
  • Incline push-ups are great if you’ve had a previous injury and want to avoid putting stress on your shoulders. For this variation, simply put your hands on a raised surface as you would for a normal push-up, put your feet together, and do one! 
  • Clap push-ups might seem like a variation that’s made for the athlete who wants to show off. However, they’re actually great for increasing your muscle power! For this variation, you’ll perform a normal push-up, but when you’re approaching the top of the rep, push yourself off the floor, clap, and catch yourself and do another rep. 
  • Wide-arm push-ups are a good tool for lifters who are looking for a quick alternative to the bench press as it'll increase activation of the pecs. If someone stole your spot, you might want to try this until they’re done with their sets. To perform it, you simply do a normal push-up but have your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Decline push-ups will end up putting more pressure on your triceps and shoulders than your chest. For this one, you’ll need something like a bench or a chair. Rest your feet on it but then perform a push-up as you would normally. How high your feet are will determine how difficult the exercise will be. 
  • Deficit push-ups aim to give you a wider range of motion and will give you shoulder mobility. This variation is done by placing something like a yoga block, brick, or something similar under each of your hands while you perform a normal push-up. 
  • Spider-Man push-ups are a variation that might sound appealing but are harder than you’d imagine. While doing a normal push-up, lift up and bend one leg to the side, your goal is to try get your knee as close to your elbow as you can. When you come back up, put your leg back down. This variation will definitely make you feel the burn in your abs. 
  • One-arm push-ups are the variation for a true test of strength and balance. If you can do these, you’ll probably impress a lot of people. For this variation, do a normal push-up, but put a hand behind your back when you do them. 
  • Handstand push-ups are great if you’re looking for a tricep exercise. You’ll need to kick your feet up so you’re flat against the wall. Now, bend your arms and lower your head to the floor, then push yourself back up. 

Final Verdict

When it comes down to push-ups and dips, neither exercise is better than the other. They each have their own place in a lifter’s exercise routine and are convenient as they don't need any equipment like barbells or dumbbells. Push-ups are great for beginners who are looking to build up some strength or endurance.

Meanwhile, dips are great for building strength because of how difficult and demanding they are. Choose whichever pressing movement and variation are good for your workout routine.


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