Dips: The Most Valuable Exercise You’re Not Doing

Although there has been a recent upsurge in the popularity of chin-ups, there hasn’t been as much enthusiasm for parallel bar dips. Bodybuilders say it tears apart the shoulders, personal trainers say it’s too difficult for most of their clients, and strength coaches complain that it’s not sport specific. It’s time to look at the facts and fallacies about an exercise that was once a staple in athletic and physical fitness programs.

Dipping Science

Dips work the anterior shoulders, pectorals and triceps – many of the same muscle groups worked by the bench press. As a bonus, the trapezius and other back muscles are involved to provide stability. In any list of best-ever triceps exercises, it would be hard-pressed to find one equal to dips. According to MRI research, dips are superior to close-grip bench presses for developing all three heads of the triceps.

Chins & Dips: A Great Upper Body Combo

When you think of dips, you usually think of chin-ups. When dips are combined with chin-ups, you have a great upper body combo. Even if you don’t do a single skull crusher or biceps curl, you can develop great upper body strength and muscle mass with these two exercises.

Although pressdowns and French presses are fine for bodybuilders, as they offer different recruitment patterns, such isolation movements are not nearly as effective as dips. But the primary reason most athletes avoid them is laziness – they are hard work!

Technique Tips

The movement begins with the triceps contracting to control the descent of the movement. Controlling the descent is essential to avoid injury.

Novices can begin building strength with an assisted dip machine. These are often available as part of a dual chin-up/dip machine.

As your strength increases, you will need to increase resistance. Here are two methods:

  • Hold a dumbbell between your ankles or
  • Use a chin/dip belt.

Holding a dumbbell securely is more difficult to coordinate compared to using the belt, and eventually the weights will become too heavy to hold in this manner.

Another great variation is to attach lifting chains to a belt, as the chains will make the exercise more difficult at the top of the movement where you are strongest.

Bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda recommended using a reverse grip (palms facing away from the body) in dips. Do them by rounding your upper back. Pull your chin to chest. Point elbows straight out, feet together, toes pointed down and under the face. Such a variation is a bit harsh on the shoulders. One solution is to perform dips on a V-shaped apparatus, which accommodates a greater variety of body types.

Final Words

Dips are a great exercise for anyone who just wants to be strong. Give this exercise a chance – you'll love the results!


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