the joy of strength training


February 21st, 2008 at 12:37 am

How-to: Dip

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
dip top position dip 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.

Dip variations

The fun aspect of the dip is that there are lots of variations and progressions to get stuck into.

Added weight

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!

Ring dips

ring dipsIf 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.

Negative dips

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

chest dipThe 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.

Related posts

Bodyweight or bust!

Ring training: getting started

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  • 1

    I used to do a lot of rock climbing earlier and dips was an easy exercise back then. Now, on the rings, I have a struggle on my hands! The extra 15kgs of mass probably have something to do with the matter as well of course. But anyway, doing dips on rings is a fantastic exercise with so many variations possible.
    My nick should probably be “hooked on rings” or something..

    Rolfe on February 21st, 2008
  • 2

    Is there a mod if the movement hurts your elbow? I just cannot do dips for that reason — my right elbow always says “hell no!” when I give it a try.

    ClickerTrainer on February 21st, 2008
  • 3

    @ ClickerTrainer: Yes, quite a few people seem to have this problem. I am not sure what would work for you as the elbow bend is the fundamental bit of the movement.

    Are they any easier on the elbows if you do dips off a bench with your legs stretched out in front of you?

    Alternatively are you okay with close-grip bench press or does that also cause problems?

    @ Rolfe: Yup, I’m really into ring dips at the moment. I still do parallel bar dips as well as they serve slightly different purposes. I do parallel bar dips with added weight to assist my bench press, and ring dips for all-round awesomeness!

    gubernatrix on February 21st, 2008
  • 4

    A personal favourite exercise of mine. Dips are superb for improving all aspects of upper body strength, particularly movements with elbow and shoulder extension.

    Daniel on February 21st, 2008
  • 5

    @ Daniel: Yes, I think they are sometimes underrated. People often tag them onto the end of a workout as a tricep exercise, rather than thinking of them as a key upper body strength exercise. I see hundreds of people benching in the gym but only a fraction of them use dips.

    gubernatrix on February 21st, 2008
  • 6

    @gubernatrix Yes, a close grip on the bench press is painful too. For now, I’ve been avoiding dips and just doing other stuff. As I get stronger, I may be able to do it.

    I guess that twenty years of computer programming will mess up you wrists and elbows pretty thoroughly. Also your eyesight. Can only see things that are lit up and at 25 cm from my head. 🙂

    ClickerTrainer on February 21st, 2008
  • 7

    Could be worth seeing an expert for rehab on your wrists and elbows?

    gubernatrix on February 21st, 2008
  • 8

    While talking about dips, do you have the muscle up? I am working on it, and find the hardest part to be the last inches of the pull up.

    Rolfe on February 22nd, 2008
  • 9

    Hi Rolfe, I don’t have a muscle-up yet. It’s one of my goals for this year!

    Anyone else?

    gubernatrix on February 23rd, 2008
  • 10

    I love dips. My brother got me hooked on them when he trained for the entrance-test of the sports university here. We would do them from the climbing-frames on the playground and kids would always come and try to do them as well. It was so funny. Get them hooked young… 🙂

    Markus on February 23rd, 2008
  • 11

    Darn good exercise. Love dips for hitting the upper body.

    MoneyMan on February 24th, 2008
  • 12

    dips are a great upper body exercise, if you superset them with chinups/pullups, that a good upper body blast in two exercises!

    do you remember ‘superstars’ on bbc, when they had the gym tests and the dips was the won to win! Brian Jacks was the boy! (or am i showing my age there!!)

    tentigers on February 24th, 2008
  • 13

    @ tentigers: I don’t remember superstars but then I’m not a great telly person. I didn’t even watch Gladiators the first time round.

    gubernatrix on February 24th, 2008
  • 14

    @ markus: I definitely agree about getting them young. Kids are so strong and agile.

    gubernatrix on February 24th, 2008
  • 15

    I like to substitute dips for other pressing exercises in some Crossfit routines. For example “Cindy” is agreat one: 5 pullups, 10 dips, 15 squats – max rounds in 20 minutes! Keeps the variety going!

    Andy on March 2nd, 2008
  • 16

    That’s a good idea Andy. In the context of Cindy I would imagine that dips are harder than press-ups as well.

    gubernatrix on March 2nd, 2008
  • 17

    Hi, i love doing the dips at the gym but was wondering where you can buy a decent dip machine to use at home ?

    big D on May 4th, 2008
  • 18

    @big D: I’m having a similar problem, finding a good dip machine for home – as it is, I’m essentially having to omit dips from my home workouts. Let me know if you find anything that works for you!

    lelak on May 12th, 2008
  • 19

    […] Dip […]

    Assistance exercises | Hard Sweat on January 6th, 2010
  • 20

    gotta love them dips!

    spence on February 3rd, 2010
  • 21

    Dips at home. I find that I can do my dips at home using the corner of the kitchen worktop. You need to lift your feet up. I can use a small rucksack if I need to do weighted dips.

    craig on February 16th, 2011


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