As a kid growing up, I used to watch a TV program called ‘SuperStars’ and was in awe of a guy called Brian Jacks who was able to do 100 dips in 60 seconds!
I’m not quite at that point yet – plus having annoyingly skinny wrists and long arms, dips don’t really favor my physique.
However, I do know that chest dips are a classic bodyweight, compound exercise that can seriously stimulate muscle-growth, and is probably the best chest and tricep workout out there.
Dips are technically easy to perform, and they engage virtually every muscle in the upper body, with the major emphasis on the chest, shoulders and triceps.
Dips also builds and strengthens supporting/stabilizer muscles in your core and back, which is vital for so many day-to-day activities.
Visit any gym and you’ll invariably find an exercise station for pull-ups/chin-ups and dips.
It usually comes with a seat and a counter-weight, for those who need help raising their own bodyweight.
It’s often the least used piece of kit in the gym, simply because the exercises are hard work!
Tricep and Chest-Dip Variations
There are 2 variations to this exercise which significantly changes the focus on which muscles are used.
There is the classic tricep-dip, and the chest-dip.
As the name implies, the tricep dip mainly works the tricep muscles.
This will happen when (during the set up) your chest alignment is vertical, i.e. you aren’t leaning forward slightly.
You do not want to be performing this exercise for 2 reasons:
1. It puts too much stress on the shoulders, which can easily lead to injury.
2. We don’t want to perform exercises that isolate particular muscles. It isn’t an efficient way of training and has less overall benefits than compound moves.
The chest dip is very similar to the tricep dip except the chest dip brings into play more muscle groups.
Slightly less emphasis on the triceps (although still plenty enough for muscle growth), and it doesn’t place nearly as much stress on the shoulders.
To perform this exercise correctly you need to lean your chest forward slightly.
Major Muscles Targeted: Chest, Shoulders, Tricpes
Other Muscles Used: Back, Core, Abs, Forearms
How To Perform The Chest Dip Correctly
As always, the best way to learn an exercise is by watching someone perform it.
Here’s a video that demonstrates the perfect way to perform chest dips:
Step By Step Form Guide:
1. Set the parallel bars to the wide position. Ideally wider than shoulder width.
2. Grip the bars and lean forward. I like to curl my legs up behind me to help keep my chest forward, and for stability.
3. Inhale and bend the elbows to bring the chest level with the bars.
4. Your elbows should be flared out to the side, not tucked in.
5. Lower until your arms are at right angles – no further.
6. Exhale as you push back up.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Stop short of locking your arms out at the top.
The last 2 to 3 inches is all tricep muscle, so stop before that point and begin the negative part of the rep again. Locking your arms out at the top, will also stress your elbow joints.
- Don’t lower yourself further than 90 degrees, as it will stress your shoulders. Ideally, lower until you are just above the 90 degree angle.
- Don’t allow your body to swing.
- Keep your head in a neutral position or chin slightly towards your chest.
As the video explained, you can perform the chest dip with added weight by using a weighted chain, holding a dumbbell with your ankles, or wearing a weighted vest.
However, this could encourage your torso to swing and become more upright, placing more emphasis on the triceps and other stabilizing muscles.
Unless you can perform around 3 sets of 20 with relative ease, I don’t think it is necessary to start adding weight.
If you really struggle to perform just 1 or 2 dips, then you can add weight to the dip machine and place your knees on the seat.
Just try to reduce the amount of weight you use until you can perform approx 8 chest dips unassisted.
Chest Dips At Home
If you don’t belong to a gym or you prefer to workout at home, there’s a simple but effective piece of kit you can buy for chest dips.
The Body Press Dip Stand is a neat idea that makes a great addition to your home gym equipment.
It is relatively cheap, sturdy, and can be used even in the tightest of rooms.
I don’t own one myself, but know a friend who does, and it works perfectly for chest dips.
It’s got some good reviews on Amazon with a 4/5 star rating.
I can see how beneficial it would be to have in the house.
I have my pull-up bar permanently set up over my office room door. At least once or twice a day, I’ll do a few pull-ups.
The same could be employed with the Press Dip Stand.
If you have it permanently set up somewhere in your home, you could just bang out a few reps now and again.
Here’s an idea; have it set up in the living room, and every time your TV program breaks for the commercials, you have to perform 3-5 dips!
A – Drastically improve your chest dip performance
B – Stop you from watching so much TV!
Now you know the correct way to perform chest dips, you should start adding them to your workout.
You could perform chest dips in place of the bench press every now and again.
Once or twice a week I will end my workout with 3 sets of 8-10 chest dips. It just about ‘finishes me off!
It is a great compound exercise that involves almost the entire upper body, and you only need your body-weight to do it.