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March 26, 2021 10 min read

Dips are an excellent exercise to tighten up your triceps, beef up your delts, and improve your overall upper body stability. When you take the time to slot in some dips, you’ll be working on auxiliary muscles that are key to supporting your upper body.

If you’ve been stuck on top of a plateau for a while, and you’re looking for a way to break through, then dips will help you along your way. They work on a lot of tough to reach places that will pay off more than you would have initially thought, and they’re easy to fit into a routine without too much fuss.

A man doing dips in the park with a bench.

Key Muscles

The most important part of learning any new exercise is understanding which muscle groups you’re working on. Dips in particular focus on your triceps and several muscles on the uppermost section of your upper body that deal with imparting stability to your lifts, especially on the anterior side of your chest. Youranterior deltoids and your pecs are going to get taking on a major supporting role, while your upper back, abdominal muscles, and biceps are going to provide most of the stability necessary to allow you to make the dipping motion throughout this exercise.

Triceps:Your tricep muscles, or more formally, your triceps brachii is a set of muscles located on the back of your upper arm. They have three heads that originate from your scapula and come together into one thick body on the back of your upper arms. Those three heads end up providing a lot of structure and stability to your lower arms and allowing for the finer motor skills you need to write and type during your daily life.

They’re primarily responsible for the extension of your arms, making them the antagonists to your biceps. Whenever you need to push something away from yourself or extend your arms after flexing them, thank your triceps. The three heads of your triceps work together to provide the force your arms need for exercises like skull crushers, bench pressing, and, of course, bodyweight dips.

The long head is probably the head of your triceps you’re most familiar with. The long head fascicle is engaged when your body is generating a sustained force. It’s going to be the part of the muscle you use when lifting a barbell away from your chest or when you’ve dipped your body down towards the floor and you’re going to push yourself back up into an extended position. The long head of your triceps is also going to be responsible for allowing your shoulder and elbow to work together and provide stability across your arm. They work together with your biceps and deltoids to provide stability when you’re holding a weight out in front of yourself or above your chest.

The triceps aren’t just for generating and sustaining explosive force, they stabilize your arms when you’re writing. By creating a synergy between your elbow and shoulder, you can use your triceps to make fine movements with your lower arms. This is why clean legible handwriting involves more than just your wrist. When you bring your triceps into the picture you can get smoother lines and more reliable results.

Dips take advantage of all aspects of your triceps. You’re going to be moving the bodyweight of an entire human being, so the amount of weight you’re managing during a dip is substantial, meaning that you’re going to need the explosive power that all three heads of your triceps will generate together, but you’re also going to need the stability to lower yourself with enough control to get any meaningful exercise.

Deltoids: The deltoids are your shoulder muscles. They’re the muscles that are responsible for holding your shoulders in place, rotating your arms internally, and adduction away from your body. They’re the antagonist muscles to your pecs, so you’re going to be getting work in on your delts and pecs while supporting your body weight during dips. 

Dips for your deltoids are excellent because they’re going to put a strain on them in amounts that are manageable without running so much of a risk for dislocation or injury due to improper rotation. This exercise doesn’t push your body so far that your shoulders are at risk for injury, but they’re getting the kind of exercise that will build strength in your deltoids over time and direct that growth towards breaking through your bench press plateaus or helping master pull-ups.

Stabilizer Muscles: Your pecs, abs, traps, and obliques are all going to be recruited for additional stability. Stability is one of the key aspects of executing a good set of dips. Your core needs to be tight so that your torso and lower body are all under control when you’re dipping yourself. If you’re flailing about and unable to focus on your upper body, then you’re not going to be getting much out of the exercise.

Your posture is also important during dips. Your upper back needs to be straight while you’re dipping. Keeping your upper back and chest engaged when you’re dipping. This is going to engage the muscles in your upper back like your traps because you need to be fighting against gravity and your body’s tendency to lean forward, but your pecs are going to be engaged throughout this exercise, which is going to put more strain on your traps, making this a great exercise for building up stability and endurance in your upper back. 

Forearm Strength: Your forearms are often forgotten when talking about the muscles an exercise will target, but the health and strength of your forearms will make or break your ability to progress in a specific lift. Your forearms are far from being the stars of the show here, but you’re absolutely going to need decent grip strength if you want to get anywhere with your dips.

The grip you use is going to engage your wrist strength as well as your forearm flexors. If you’re not used to engaging your grip and wrists, then prepare for an early butt kicking the first few times you set out to dip yourself. 

Dips!

Dipping Your Toes In 

Dips aren’t a very difficult exercise to pull off, once you’ve learned the intricacies of the exercise, you’re going to be a dipping pro. Just watch your posture, keep your elbows in, and remember to engage your core.

Find a dip station: You can do dips in your kitchen if you position yourself in between your counters and your kitchen island if you’re really struggling for a good set of parallel bars, but any good gym will have a sturdy dip station for you to settle into. These are a great place to work on your triceps as well as your abs, you can do a wide range of bodyweight exercises on these stations ranging from dips and all of their variants to leg lifts and other body exercises that require holding yourself up in the air.

Get your hands in place: Grab the bars of a dip station with your palms facing inward and your arms straight. This is where you’re going to need your grip strength. This grip is, by no means, as intense as something like a deadlift or biceps curls, but you’re going to need good wrist and finger control if you want successful dips. 

Cross your ankles: Crossing your ankles isn’t necessary, but it’s incredibly helpful. If you allow your feet to dangle then you’re going to have to watch your legs while you descend it’s just one more thing to focus on. Make it easy on yourself by crossing your ankles and raising your legs at the knee to keep them from brushing up against the ground when you lower yourself during your dips

Lower Yourself: Lower yourself until your arms are making a right angle at your elbows. Make sure you keep tension on your triceps and control the rate you’re lowering yourself. Make sure you don’t flare your elbows out while lowering your body

Return to the Starting Position: Push yourself back up into your starting position, and continue dipping and returning yourself to your starting position until you’ve finished your reps.

Expanding You Dip Flavors

There are all sorts of ways to work dips into your routine. If you’re struggling with a standard dip or you’re not getting enough of a challenge, then there are several alternatives you can mix into your repertoire to get the most out of your workout. 

Weighted Dips

There are several ways to weigh down your dips, and they accomplish different goals. If you think you could push your stability further or you want to build on the amount of weight you can dip slowly, then you could add chains to your dips. 

  • Chains are a unique way to add weight to any exercise. When you have chains weighing you down then you’re naturally doing to have to fight against their loose and wobbly nature. This is going to put more pressure on your stabilizers and it’s going to vastly improve the work that your auxiliary muscles are able to output
  • If you just want a simple boost in the raw amount of weight you can dip, then you can add weights around your waist with a weight band or a chain looped through some plates. The latter will have you working on your stability but to a lesser degree. A dip machine is also a great way to up the challenge or ease your way into increasing your body strength. 
  • If you want easier dips, then adding resistance bands will allow you to get more triceps dips in when you’re struggling to get started

Bench Dips

Bench dips are going to be a great way to do dips anywhere you have a chair. They’re also going to be one of the best variants for anybody struggling to dip their full body weight. Even though you’re reversing your grip, you’re still primarily targeting your triceps, you’re sacrificing a little bit of the involvement from your muscles across the front of your upper body and the muscles in your forearms in exchange for versatility and portability.

  • Find a bench or a sturdy chair
  • Rest your hands on the bench shoulder-width apart as if you were lowering yourself down onto it to take a seat
  • Extend your feet all the way out in front of you and rest on your heels as a pivot point
  • Lower your body slowly until your arms make a 90-degree angle at your elbows
  • Press yourself back up by driving through your palms until you’re back at your starting position

All of the same rules apply here, keep your shoulders engaged and don’t dip further than the effective range of your triceps. You want to keep your movements controlled and deliberate in order to maximize the involvement of all of your muscles. 

Plyometric Dips

Plyometric dips are a fancy way of saying “jumping dips” these dips are identical to bench dips except you’ll be pressing yourself back up into your starting position with enough force to launch your hands a few inches off of your bench. Plyometric exercise is an excellent way to push the explosive power of your muscles, and they’re incredibly challenging. If you’re looking to get your dips done wherever you can squeeze in the time, and you’re worried about bumping up against a challenge level ceiling, then you should work plyometric dips into your routine.

Arm Dips

Dips in Performance 

Dips are one of the best exercises for working out some tough areas of your body. You’ll be tightening up a lot of the muscles responsible for imparting stability and pushing through your plateaus, but if you’re not careful about keeping your form tight and getting the exercise done right you’re not going to get the incredible benefits that dips can grant you. There are several common mistakes that you should be keeping an eye out for if you don’t want to waste your time on the dip station.

Flaring your elbows: Flaring your elbows is probably the easiest bad habit to slip into. You’re not going to have a great view of your arms when you’re going down for a dip, especially if you’re going into the motion with the right posture. This means you should probably get in front of a mirror or start working on your dips very slowly. You want to make sure that you’re keeping your arms near your torso, instead of allowing them to bow out away from you. This is going to be best for getting your triceps engaged properly as well as keeping your shoulder joints from taking on long-term damage. If you can keep your elbows in check you’re going to be miles ahead of anybody else going into their dips with anything other than proper form.

Leaning Too Far Forward: It’s important to keep your center of gravity in the right place. It’s easy to want to lean further forward than you should because of the position of your arms and your body’s natural tendency. Once you’re holding yourself in the ready position, take care to engage your core and pull your shoulders back, you shouldn’t be arching the top of your back or leaning into the gravity acting on your upper body.

Relaxing Your Shoulders: Don’t allow yourself to sink into your shoulders. Dips are supposed to engage your delts for stability. If you’re letting your shoulders fall slack and just resting your weight on your arms then you’re not really getting any work done. At this point, you’re just using physics to hold yourself up like a tripod rather than using dips as an opportunity to get yourself shredded and push through your limits. Don’t let your dips do you, show them who’s in charge and get the most out of this exercise.

Landing On Your Feet: Dip stations don’t tend to be that far off of the ground. When you’re lowering yourself towards the ground, your arms should be suspending your body above the floor throughout the entire exercise. If you’re lowering yourself down onto your feet, then you’re missing out on a huge part of your exercise. There should be tension on your upper body for the duration, you don’t get to lighten the load until you’re done with your set.

Embracing the Speed Demon: Save the speed for your cardio workout. When you’re dipping you want to be in control the entire time. If you blast through your dips you may be done much quicker, but the real work is done when you’re fighting your body for stability and control. Lowering yourself and pushing your body up with full control maximizes the engagement of your stabilizing muscles and puts a lot of eccentric and concentric contraction on your triceps. These are contractions that will encourage hypertrophy and leave you with bigger and badder muscles when you’re done with a good session. 

Chips and Dips

If you’re looking for an exercise that will feed into your routine and pump you up enough to blast through your limits, then you’re looking for dips. These are an exercise that will solidify your triceps. You’re going to get great arms, balance out your biceps, and increase your overall stability in the gym. They’re easy to work on, and you don’t really need any specialized equipment to pull them off. As long as you’re dedicated to adding them into your workout routine and careful about your form, then you’re going to see a huge payoff all over your weightlifting. They’re a simple way to redirect when you’ve hit a wall in your progression without uprooting your routine. Skip the dumbbells when you’re looking to strengthen your triceps, and take the time to get them right and you’ll be delighted that you did.