The dip is a staple of many a strength or bodybuilding programme and there are many ways to perform it. A classic bodyweight exercise, it is a good place to start to develop functional strength with no equipment needed.
What is the dip?
The dip is an upper body strength exercise where you lower and raise your body simply by bending at the elbows and then straightening them. Usually you will have each hand holding a parallel bar with your body suspended between them as you dip up and down (a parallel bar dip).
Resting your feet on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you makes the exercise easier, while adding weight or using a less stable apparatus such as gymnastic rings makes the exercise harder.
Why is it such a great exercise?
The dip is very versatile as it can be performed in a number of ways and can emphasise the triceps, chest, shoulders and core muscles in different ways. The dip is a great strength exercise in its own right, especially for anyone who feels they are lacking in upper body and arm strength compared to other areas. Dips are also a useful assistance exercise for big lifts such as the bench press and deadlift.
How to perform the dip
It is important to perform dips in a slow and controlled manner in order to prevent injury to the shoulders. A narrow grip, with your arms close to your body will emphasise the triceps while a wider grip emphasises the chest.
Step 1: Starting position
Hoist yourself into the top position. Your arms should be straight, with your body suspended between them. Shoulders are down, not hunched. Keep your chest up and chin parallel with the floor. You can cross your ankles for stability.
|Starting position||Bottom position|
Step 2: Bend elbows back
Slowly lower your body by bending the elbows back. If your grip is wide, you will naturally bend the elbows outwards a bit, but if your grip is narrow (arms close to your body) you should strive to keep your elbows close in. Bend the elbows straight back until they are parallel with the floor.
There is nothing to stop you going even deeper than elbows parallel with the floor if your shoulders are strong. However, do this with care as the shoulders can be a sensitive area where tweaks and injuries are concerned.
When your grip is narrow, try to keep your body as upright as possible by sticking your chest out and keeping your chin parallel with the floor. When your grip is wide, you will naturally want to lean forward more due to the different shoulder position, which is fine.
Step 3: Push up through the arms
When you get to the bottom position and your elbows are parallel with the floor or deeper, push up hard through the arms and straighten your elbows to lift your body back up to the top position. Make sure your elbows are straight at the top, don’t cut the exercise short as you will not be getting the full benefit of the exercise. Keep your chest and chin up to help with the ascent.
The fun aspect of the dip is that there are lots of variations and progressions to get stuck into.
Once you can do ten or more bodyweight dips fairly easily, it is time to think about adding weight to the exercise. Most gyms have a dipping belt you can use for this purpose. It is a wide belt with a chain attached that you can use to thread on weight plates. These then hang from the belt round your waist as you perform the exercise.
If you don’t have access to a dipping belt you can grip a dumbbell between your legs just above the knees. This is do-able with light dumbbells, e.g. 10 kg, but is rather awkward with heavier weights. However, dipping belts are not difficult to make so consider making your own!
If you have access to rings, these are an excellent progression from parallel bar dips as the instability of the rings makes the dip more challenging. On the rings, the technique is slightly different. As you dip, focus on keeping the rings tight in to your sides – they will want to swing out.
You can get a greater range of motion with ring dips, because the rings can be pulled right into the body. Forget about elbows being parallel with the floor and just lower yourself until the rings are in your armpits.
If you are having trouble with dips, either on the parallel bars or on rings, doing negatives is a good way to improve, i.e. doing just the downward phase of the exercise.
Start in the top position as normal and lower yourself as slowly as you can to the bottom position – elbows parallel to the floor or lower. Try to take 5 seconds or longer. Then lower your feet to the ground, let them take the weight and use them to help push your body up into the top position for the next repetition.
How to use the dip in your training
The dip is a compound upper body strength exercise and therefore fits well into any upper body or bodyweight strength routine. A narrow grip targets the triceps, a wide grip the chest. You can use the dip as your main exercise for chest or triceps (adding weight when you are comfortable with the bodyweight variety) or as a secondary or assistance exercise for the bench press and other big lifts. If you are using the dip as an assistance exercise, don’t do the exercise in the same session as the big lift itself since you might end up overworking those muscle groups.
Dips are a popular exercise in circuit training or military training to improve strength endurance. They should be performed with high reps to get this effect. If you are training outside, it is easy to use a bench, log, railing or wall to do the exercise.
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