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February 10, 2022 8 min read

Chair dips are an effective bodyweight exercise for tricep strength training. Whether you’re at the gym, at home, or on the go, the chair dip is an essential and functional component of any upper body workout. With nothing more than a simple bench, sturdy chair, staircase, or parallel bars, you can effectively engage the triceps with nothing but your own body weight.

Chair dips or bench dips are excellent exercises for beginners because they can be done almost anywhere. 

The simplicity of tricep dips makes it both practical and full of potential to progress the movement and add weight, thereby eliminating the plateau effect that can come with excessive bodyweight-only strength training. 

Learning how to properly use a chair to get an effective triceps workout in is a fitness hack you won’t regret.

Benefits of Tricep Dips

The tricep brachii is a thick muscle on the back of your upper arms. It is comprised of three parts:  long head, lateral head, and medial head.

The purpose of the tricep is elbow extension. Training your triceps isn’t only about looking good in a tank top, although that is a perk.

Much like biceps, triceps can be a highly visible muscles.

Having robust triceps is a must if you do any sort of bicep training. Not only will training both help prevent functional muscular imbalances, there is an aesthetic component to the triceps muscles.

Strengthening your triceps will also assist your bench press and push-ups.

Triceps are synergist muscles for most pushing and pulling movements. If isolating the chest muscles, specifically the pectoralis major, hasn’t been enough to push you past your next bench press plateau, then try adding some triceps exercises to your next chest day! 

Incorporating chair dips into your triceps routine can help you look better, and crush your next PR goal on the bench. 

How To Perform a Chair Dip

 

It should be noted that your equipment doesn’t have to be limited to a chair. Any sturdy chair or bench will do.

This exercise is commonly done on the side of a bench, and if you’re in a gym setting, then using a bench may actually be ideal. 

The ability to use a common sturdy chair for this exercise, however, is a valuable skill to have. Chairs are everywhere. Wherever you find yourself in the world, the chair dip is one exercise that you shouldn’t have trouble finding equipment for.

Whether you’re at home, at the airport, or outside near a bench, a chair is almost always available. 

The chair dip may be a simple exercise, but without proper form and a full range of motion it isn’t going to be as effective for triceps muscle growth. There are 3 different primary positions in a chair dip or bench dip, all varying in level of difficulty.

How to Perform a Standard Chair Dip (Level 1):

  1. In the starting position, place your hands slightly greater than shoulder-width apart with your knuckles forward, on the edge of the chair or bench.
  2. Bring your butt out just past the chair/bench, but stay close to it.
  3. In the up position, before your dip, your legs should be placed at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the ground. 
  4. As you dip, bring your body down until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Your elbows should point behind you. The range of motion for your elbows will be a 90-degree angle (elbows bent) to no angle (straight armed).
  5. Keep your core tight and squeeze your triceps on the way up.
  6. Depending on your body weight and fitness level, the number of reps you can and should do will vary greatly from person to person. Try 5 sets of 20 with 30-second rest intervals in between. Increase or decrease the number accordingly from there.

How to Perform an Intermediate Chair Dip (Level 2):

If regular chair dips are too easy for you, and high rep/low weight training isn’t for you, then you can add some difficulty to the exercise without increasing your time under tension (TUT) or the number of reps.

  1. In the starting position, place your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart, with your knuckles facing forward, on the edge of the chair or bench.
  2. Bring your butt out just past the chair/bench, but stay close to it.
  3. Place your legs at a 135-degree angle. To do this, place your legs at the basic chair dip starting position, with your legs at a 90-degree angle. Then move your feet out farther away from your knees, but not completely straight. Keep your feet flat on the ground, just like before. There should still be a bend in your knees. Do not lock your legs or straighten them completely.
  4. As you dip, bring your torso down until your arms are parallel to the floor. Your elbows should point behind you.
  5. Keep your core tight and squeeze your triceps on the way up. (For additional time under tension, try pausing at the top of each rep.
  6. Depending on your bodyweight and fitness level, the number of reps you can do will vary greatly from person to person. This is a more advanced dip, so if you cannot complete 10 reps of a level 2 chair dip without solid form, then you need to revert back to a standard level 1 chair dip.

How to Perform an Advanced Chair Dip (Level 3):

To take your triceps dips to the next level and make it even more challenging, try the straight-legged version of the exercise.

  1. In the starting position, place your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart with your knuckles facing forward, on edge of the chair or bench, just like the standard and intermediate versions of the chair dip.
  2. Bring your butt out just past the chair or bench, but stay close to it.
  3. Place your legs at a 180-degree angle. To do this, place your legs completely straight out in front of you, with your heels on the ground and your toes pointing up.
  4. As you dip, bring your torso down until your arms are parallel to the floor. Your elbows should point behind you. Your knees should be almost locked.
  5. Keep your core tight and squeeze your triceps on the way up. Keep good posture with the spine in a neutral, upright position.
  6. Depending on your body weight and fitness level, the number of reps you can do will vary greatly from person to person. This is the most advanced dip, so if you cannot complete 10 reps of a level 3 chair dip without solid form, then you need to revert back to standard levels 1 or 2.

Check out this demonstration on how to perform all three levels of the triceps bench dip.

Weighted Chair Dips

 

If you’re advanced in your upper body strength training, then weighted chair dips might be for you! If you’re fit and of healthy body weight, you’ll likely have to go high rep with the chair dip if you aren’t using any added weight. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if high rep, low weight training doesn’t fit into your program, then suddenly the chair dip becomes less appealing. 

Adding weight fixes this advanced-level plateau problem.

By placing weighted plates on your thighs, you can effectively increase the load and tailor the triceps chair dip or bench dip to your training goals.

How to perform a weighted chair dip:

  1. In the starting position, place your hands on the bench the same as you would for a regular chair dip or bench dip.
  2. Put your feet out with yourheels on the groundand yourtoes pointed up. (It may be beneficial for you to raise your feet up by placing them on two large, sturdy dumbbells that might be necessary to keep the plates from sliding off, thus preventing imbalances and instability during the exercise.)
  3. Place a weighted plate (25-45 lbs will do) on the top of your thighs.
  4. Dip with a full range of motion. Your elbows should go from 0 to a 90-degree angle with your elbows. Your upper arms should be parallel with the floor at the bottom of each lift.
  5. Keep your core tight and squeeze your triceps on the way up. Keep good posture with the spine in a neutral, upright position. 
  6. Repeat for 10-20 reps. Let the weight fall off to the side of you, or have a spotter take it off. Your range of motion may be shorter with the added weight, and that’s OK at first. Work on increasing your range of motion with one weight before increasing the load.

Bench Press/Chair Dip Circuit

Conveniently, chair dips (or bench dips depending on your available equipment), can be easily incorporated into a bench press circuit routine.

The triceps are important muscle synergists in the bench press exercise. 

Adding chair dips in between sets on the bench press is a great way to effectively increase your performance in both of those lifts, and also knock out a time-efficient, properly periodized strength training routine. If bodyweight exercises are more of your thing, then the chair dip can be paired perfectly with push-ups as an alternative to the bench press.

Try this Bench Press/Chair Dip circuit:

  1. 12 reps (60-70% of your max) on the bench press.
  2. 20 reps of bench dips, chair dips, (or 10 reps of tricep dips with parallel bars)

(Rest 60 seconds)

  1. 12 reps on the bench (stay above 60% max, if you can)
  2. 20 reps of bench dips (or 10 reps of tricep dips with parallel bars)

(Rest 60 seconds)

  1. 12 reps on the bench (stay above 50% max, if you can)
  2. 20 reps of dips (or 10 reps of tricep dips with parallel bars)

(Rest 60 seconds)

  1. 12 reps on the bench (stay above 40% max, if you can)
  2. Last set. Max out and go until failure on this set of bench dips, chair dips, or triceps dips.

This circuit will help you save a lot of time on your next chest and arm day. After a set like this, your biceps and shoulders will be ready to be worked out.

Using Parallel Bars

Parallel bars tricep dips are another great, more advanced way to do tricep dips. A small set of parallel bars can be purchased for home use, but a full-sized set of parallel bars, which can be found at most gyms, will allow for a greater range of motion, and thus, greater results.

How to perform a tricep dip on parallel bars:

  1. In the starting position, grab both handles on the bars, or even just the parallel bars themselves.
  2. Push yourself up from the bars, pointing your lower body pointed behind your waist.
  3. Dip just low enough for your upper arms to go below your elbows. Your elbows should point up past your shoulder blades.
  4. Come back up and squeeze your triceps at the top of the lift and hold it for a second.
  5. Repeat for as many repetitions as you can, effectively and with good form.

The parallel bars should be considered an advanced progression of the chair dip, and it may not be suitable for beginners.

Tricep dips with parallel bars have the added benefit of engaging the chest muscles as well.

It should be noted that the parallel bars are a less isolated version of the tricep dip. The bench press, paired with parallel bar tricep dips, makes an excellent superset for your next chest and triceps day.

Tricep dips, chair dips, and bench dips are all important bodyweight exercises for growing and strengthening the triceps muscles. These triceps exercises can be accomplished from the beginner level to elite athletes, and everyone in between.

With proper form and a substantial amount of repetitions with a solid range of motion, the chair dip exercise is one of the best ways to hack your tricep muscles. The chair dip is just one of many foundational  bodyweight exercises that can at the gym, at home, or on the go.


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