Why should you include dips in your training? Because they are one of the greatest upper body muscle and strength building exercises ever created. Aside from chin-ups, dips are a best test of one’s upper body strength to body weight ratio indicators and a very functional exercise.
The reason behind their effectiveness is that dips are a closed chain, compound movement that involves moving your own bodyweight. These types of exercises have long been proven to be the most effective at building muscle and functional strength. Other examples include squats, dead lifts, chin-ups and pushups. Dips work the chest, triceps, front deltoids & back.
Chest vs. Triceps
Depending on your form you can heavily target either the chest or the triceps. If you choose to train triceps after chest you could assign chest dips as your last chest movement and then roll right into triceps dips as your first triceps exercise.
Dips for chest
To target the chest your elbows should be flared out wide. Your hands should be a few inches wider than your hips. Going any wider will take its toll on your shoulders. If you’re using V shaped bars you should be facing into the V. The idea is to get your upper body forward of your lower body. Your chin should remain tucked down on your chest and your back should be rounded. One way to position your feet is by crossing them and bending your knees at a 45 degree angle behind you. Another way, advocated by the Iron Guru (the late Vince Gironda) is by curving your entire body into a crescent moon shape so you’re looking down at your feet. Vince even taught his students to use a reverse grip where your little fingers were on the inside of the bars and out in front. I’ve tried this grip and found it to be harsh on my wrists but I do like Vince’s ‘feet in front’ position. The chest is highly involved in the lower portion of the exercise so you can opt not to lock out at the top but you need to descend until your shoulders are in line with your elbows. I don’t recommend going any lower because it puts too much stress on the shoulder joints. As always, descend in a slow controlled manner to take advantage of the negative portion of the movement. Your ascent should always be faster than your descent.
Dips for Triceps
To target the triceps your hands should be close to your hips. If you have access to V bars you should be facing out. The focus is to keep your elbows in tight and pointing back. Using a thumbless grip will assist in keeping your elbows tight. Your head should be in a neutral position and your body should stay upright. Your feet should hang straight down. Don’t bend your knees because that will cause your upper body to shift forward. Descend until your shoulders are in line with your elbows. Some trainers advocate not ascending to full lockout so as to keep tension on the triceps but I like the feeling I get from holding a full flex in a fully locked out top position.
Bodyweight: Add or Subtract
Obviously people with lighter bodyweight will have an advantage when performing dips. If you can knock out twelve good reps you should consider adding weight. You could hang a plate or dumbbell from a dipping belt or hold a dumbbell between your legs or feet. I’ve used the latter method to do a drop set. You can rep out with the added weight and then just release the dumbbell and continue on with your set.
On the other hand, If you can’t press out more than six reps with your bodyweight, hopefully your gym has an assisted dip/pull-up machine. Use the machine to get your strength level up to where you can do more than six unassisted reps.
Bring em back
The strongmen of the past who trained in gyms that looked more like dungeons built impressive physiques and achieved incredible strength using very basic equipment. There were no scientific studies proving that chin-ups, pushups and dips were effective. Results were the only proof they needed.
Disciples of Vince Gironda used dips as their primary chest builder and many of them repped out with hundreds of pounds added to their bodyweight.
Now scientists can use electromyography (EMG) to detect the amount of muscle activation recruited by various exercises and dips have proven to be one of the top in overall triceps activation.
Charles Poliquin, one of the world’s most respected trainers, named dips as “the absolute king of triceps builders.”
If you like getting more “bang for your buck” you should be dipping your way to more power and mass.
About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com