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Dips illustrationWhat are dips?

Dips, like chin ups and pull ups, are bodyweight exercises. This means that you have to support your body weight while performing the dip, usually using parallel bars.

To complete a dip, you lower and raise yourself in a vertical line using your arms. The action is simple: you bend your elbows to lower your body and then straighten them again to raise your body.

What muscles do dips use?

Dips are a great exercise for the upper body, using mainly the tricep muscles. However this is a compound lift, so dips also work the shoulders (deltoids), chest (pectoralis major) and upper back (trapezius).

The dip is an excellent choice of bodyweight exercise to supplement the deadlift and bench press for a great overall upper body workout.

Benefits of dips

Dips work your upper body hard. You will gain fantastic arm definition and strengthen your triceps, shoulders (deltoids) and chest (pectoralis major) in particular. Do high reps to build strength endurance.

If you do not have access to parallel bars you can improvise with furniture or other items to create a stable hold for your dip exercise.

Position for dips

To prepare to perform dips, firstly hoist yourself up into position with arms straight and your body suspended between the parallel bars.

Grip strongly to keep your body upright in a straight line.  Your weight should be equally distributed between your two arms, with shoulders down and not hunched up.

A good dip position means your chest should be up and your chin parallel with the ground. You may chose to cross your ankles to aid stability.

Make sure to keep your legs motionless and your weight centred throughout the dip bodyweight exercise to keep good balance.

Grip for dips

Alter your grip when performing dips for different developmental benefits. The type of dip you perform will also affect the grip you choose. A narrow grip emphasises the triceps, whereas a wider grip emphasises the chest muscles (pectorialis major).

It is a good idea to vary your grip for different sets of dips, so that you gain the most benefit from your dips workout.

How to perform dips

The dip exercise contains an ascent and a descent. You begin at the top of the movement, descending slowly from your suspended position to the bottom of the movement.

Then you complete the dip by ascending again back into your starting position, using your arms to push yourself back up.

The descent

When performing the dip bodyweight exercise, slowly lower your body down between the parallel bars with a controlled motion by bending your elbows.

If you have chosen a narrow grip, keep elbows close into your body; if you have chosen a wide grip the elbows will move outwards – this is fine.

Keep lowering your body until your upper arms are parallel with the floor, so your arms have a 90 degree angle at the elbow. You can lower yourself further if you want to, which will make the exercise more difficult, but this will tax the shoulders.

If you have any problems with your shoulders do not move lower than 90 degrees.

Keep your body upright and chest out if you have chosen to use a narrow grip for your dips. You will naturally lean further forward if you have chosen a wider grip.

Dips descent - bodyweight exercise

The ascent

When you reach the bottom of your dip, push up through the arms to straighten your elbow and slowly push yourself back up to your starting position. Straighten your elbows out at the top of each rep, without totally locking out.

Keeping a slow and controlled motion throughout the dip exercise, using the full extent of the movement. This will give you the best dips workout and help to develop your upper body muscle to their fullest extent.

Once you know how to perform dips effectively, they are sure to become an important part of your bodyweight strength training routine.

Dips ascent - bodyweight exercise

Types of dips

There are various types of dip and different ways of making dips harder or easier depending on the strength of the exerciser and the equipment available. Here are some ideas for creating an interesting and challenging dips workout:

Using gymnastic rings for dips

When performing dips you can use gymnastic rings to make the exercise harder. Gymnastic rings are very unstable so you will have to concentrate on keeping the rings close together throughout the exercise.

This uses more muscle groups in order to stabilise the movement. This exercise forces your stomach (abdominals), back (traps and lats) and particularly your shoulders (deltoids) to work hard to keep your motion stable in an up and down movement and stop you from falling down between the rings.

Using a dipping belt

Another type of dip is the dip with dipping belt. You can use this method to add weights to make dips harder. To use a dipping belt, you add weight plates to a special belt designed for this exercise. This belt is then tied around your waist while you perform the exercise.

The use of the dipping belt simply increases the weight you have to lift in each rep. In effect, this works to increase your body weight for the duration of the exercise.

Seated dips

Dips can be performed from a seated position with legs stretched out in front of you, instead of performing the dip standing up, raised between parallel bars. The seated dip can also be used as one of the types of tricep extension.

In the seated dip, you hold onto a raised platform or chair behind you and raise yourself off the ground. The sitting position uses your abdominal muscles to hold your legs straight out.

The seated dip exercise is hard work for your abs, so this is a great variation on the exercise to increase abdominal strength. This is also a very easy exercise to do in your own home without equipment.

Which type of dips exercise do you prefer?

Read more about other exercises for the arms, shoulders, back and chest, including the lateral raise, shoulder press, lat pulldown and bench press.


  1. 1. Dips exercise illustration by Everkinetic at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  2. 2. Dips descent by Ulf Liljankoski via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
  3. 3. Dips ascent by Ulf Liljankoski via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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