How To Use Dips As Primary Chest & Triceps Exercise

Most fitness and powerlifting media promote dips solely as assistance exercise for the bench press, but the truth is that dips themselves can be a main lift, if you are willing to give them an opportunity to shine.

Have you ever wondered why the bench press is always treated as the Queen of all pushing exercises? Once again, it’s all about sex appeal.

I look at the Bench Press and the Weighed Dip and see two girls who are technically equally as pretty but for some reason one is more popular in high school, even though both are on the same level overall. The bench press is a little more mainstream due to being blond and dressing in a more provocative way, while the dip is more of an introvert and does not try so hard to be appeal to everybody, even though she has exceptional charm and potential to deliver.


What’s the difference between the bench press and the dip?

In terms of primary muscle movers both exercises rely on the front deltoids, triceps and chest, just like most pushing exercises. A lot of people argue that the bench press uses more of the rear musculature since you need a strong upper back as a pushing base, and the lats have to be strong and contracted in order to stabilize the bar and keep the back arched the whole time. While all of this is true, dips also activate many back muscles as supporters. Don’t be surprised, if you feel your lats and traps working during dips.

At the end of the day, however, you should not be doing either of those exercises for the back development/activation they provide. It’s not their main benefit and there are way more effective and complete back movements that can be done separately. Therefore, I believe the argument that the bench press uses more upper body muscle than the dip is first not true and second not important in your choice of primary pushing exercise.

Horizontal Vs. Downward Movement

Obviously, the bench press is a horizontal pushing exercise while dips require downward force production and resemble a decline bench press rather than flat. Pushing downwards is easier than pushing forward and that’s why your weighted dips will always be stronger than your bench press. I have never tested this theory, but many people claim that your flat bench press is usually 80% of your weighted dip. Obviously, this percentage goes even higher for the decline bench press.

Another side effect of the different patterns is that the dip activates more chest fibers. There are many studies analyzing the effect of the incline, flat and decline bench presses on upper chest activation and while results vary, there is one predominant trend – the decline activates the most amount of overall chest fibers. Since the decline and the dip are relatively similar, it’s pretty save to say that the dip works the chest a little more than the bench press. My personal experience supports this idea. When I started doing deep dips I was able to feel the chest muscles work a little harder compared to benching. However, there is also a personal factor involved and this may not be universally true for all people. One thing is certain: the dip definitely works the chest at least equally as hard as the bench press.

As far as triceps activation is concerned both seem to be on the same level, unless you are using a really wide grip for the your bench press because this diminishes triceps’ help. The weighted dip can definitely fight with the bench press as far as building strong triceps is concerned. I would even say that it’s better for some people, but that’s subjective.

Finally, we arrive at the front deltoid which is part of the big three pushing muscle groups. Many people say that dips will destroy your shoulders, but the truth is that the bench press is not kind to this area either. If you have the flexibility to do full range of motion dips and your programming is somewhat decent and allows you to recover, it’s very unlikely to injure your shoulder from dips. If anything, it will become very strong in a flexible position.

Still, for people with limited range of motion due to serious injury, it may be easier to just do the bench press, at least in the beginning. It requires less flexibility, and if you use a large back arch, you can reduce the range of motion even further, which diminishes the pressure on the front shoulder. That, however, is essentially weakness compensation.

Programming

You can use any bench press routine to program weighted dips too. It will work without a doubt, although you may need to use smaller jumps – 1-2 kg, which not all gyms have. I personally use small jumps and classic linear Western periodization for dips, but you can rely on other programs too. When you are using weighted dips as primary pushing movement, make sure to do them first in your workout. This may seem weird in the beginning, but you will get used to it before you know it.

Before jumping on the weighted dips train you have to first build a base with bodyweight only repetitions. A good rule is to reach 3 sets of about 20 reps done in one day. You can do 20 in the morning, 20 at noon and 20 at night. It does not matter. However, don’t get too obsessed with the number 20. You can reach 16-18 and that is enough too. What’s important is avoiding doing weighted dips when you can barely do 10 dips with good form. Adding weight will not benefit you as much at this stage. Those light reps condition the musculature and the joints for the next phase.

Once you have the base developed, start adding 2 pounds {1 kg} every time you do dips. In the beginning it will be easy, but sooner or later your reps will get down to 3-5. At this point, deload and build back again to something higher or simply switch to a different routine.

How often?

I personally cannot tolerate heavy dips more than once a week, but other people may be way better than me and recover faster. In most cases, you will need about 5 days to recover and push the limits again. This means that doing 3 session in 2 weeks is a general rule you can follow. Obviously, you have adjust your training according to your personal needs and body feedback.

What about rind dips?

Ring dips and other more difficult dip variations are another way to progress, which does not require you to use weight. Once you have built a sufficient base with parallel bar dips, you can try dips on the rings. You can also do weighted dips on the rings, but I personally prefer to save that for the bars. It just feels way better. Also, keep in mind that the more weight you are adding, the more stable the rings become and you lose that stabilizing challenge. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

What about my upper chest? I don’t want my chest to look like boobs.

Oh, brother! Don’t say!

The truth is that the dip works the whole chest and that includes the upper part too, regardless of what muscle magazines or kids on bodybuilding.com say. Nevertheless, you can always do an incline press with dumbbells or a barbell after your dips or on another. I highly doubt that dips will make your upper chest appear like boobs for a few main reasons:

1. when you are natural, you cannot get that big;

2. overdeveloped lower chest is actually natural, because that part of the muscle has been originally designed to be stronger and does not look like boobs, when developed. You ain’t getting beer tits from dips. Sorry, or not.

3. look at the number one;

4. look at the number three;

5. repeat 1,3,4;

It’s time to bring out of our heads any dilemmas placed there by professional bodybuilders and their crews of bro-scientists.

The dip promote better body composition and less ego

It’s simple: you will always bench press more as a fatso than when you are lean and small. In my eyes that’s another bonus in favor of the dip. It does not encourage bulking at all. The fatter your the harder it is to dip.

In addition, since almost nobody will ask you how much you dip, the exercise is less likely to become an ego driven obsession, although with the rise of the calisthenics movement this has changed. Still, this rule remains true for most commercial gyms where the bench is still Queen. “Less ego” promotes better form which reduces the chance of injury and regression.

Of course, all of this can be done with the bench too. You just have to watch your diet to avoid getting fat and don’t expect to bench 200 lbs the first time you try it just to match the morons around you. If we have to blame anybody for such behavior, it’s us – not the bench.

Availability

The bench press requires a spotter or a safety cage. Benching alone when your are not protected is stupid. For people who have the needed equipment for safe benching and do not need a lift-off, this may be fine, but less equipped individuals may find their savior in the face of the dip. With a little imagination or financial investment, you can make or find a place to safely do dips at home.

For example, believe it or not, I do weighted dips on my balcony, because it has a specific design mimicking V-handles. It looks made for dips, which I guess is a destiny.

In conclusion

Related article: How To Get Better At Weighted Pull-ups

When choosing exercises always take into consideration your personal goals and needs. Don’t change your routine just because somebody says you should. If you like the bench, keep benching. However,if you are looking for a simple and effective pressing movement that will make your triceps, front deltoids and chest very strong, you can become a dedicated dipper without being afraid that you are missing something by not benching. You ain’t and on top of everything, you can always go back to the bench press anytime you want.

3 comments

  1. john gwynn

    i have been useing dips as my primary upper body movement for 2 years my strength has improved dramaticly astheticly i have gone from a bulky frame to a more proportionate and athletic build wish i had done this years ago i only use dips pullups pushups deadlifts at 56 ive been told that i look better than i ever have

  2. Artorias of the Abyss

    I started doing dips as my main movement after I got a back injury and couldn’t bench without hurting my back from doing the arch. Feels good to know there are some people who also do them as a main exercise. Personally I have been doing them in sets of 18 to avoid shoulder injury but I’m tempted to start adding weight.

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