How To Use Dips As a Primary Chest & Triceps Exercise

| May 30, 2015 by Truth Seeker |

Most fitness and powerlifting media promote dips solely as an assistance exercise for the bench press, but the truth is that the dip can be a primary lift too if you give it an opportunity to shine.

Have you ever wondered why the bench press is always treated as the Queen of all pushing exercises? It‘s all about sex appeal.

The Bench Press and the Weighted Dip are two girls that are technically equally as pretty, but for some reason, one is more popular in high school, even though both are on the same level.


The bench press is simply a little more mainstream due to being blond and dressing in a more provocative way while the dip is more of an introvert that does not try to appeal to everybody despite its charm and potential to deliver.

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

In terms of primary movers both exercises rely on the front deltoids, the triceps and the chest, just like most pushing exercises. Many argue that the bench press uses more back mass since you need a strong pushing base formed by the upper back and the lats. While all of this is true, the dip activates many back muscles as supporters too. 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.

Therefore, the argument that the bench press uses more upper body muscle than the dip is neither true nor important in your choice of a primary pushing exercise.

Horizontal vs. Downward Movement

Obviously, the bench press is a horizontal pushing exercise whereas dips require downward force production and resemble a decline bench press. Pushing downwards is easier than pushing forward, and that’s why your weighted dip 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. The 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 the results vary, there is one dominant trend – the decline activates the largest amount of chest fibers. Since the decline and the dip are relatively similar, it’s pretty safe to assume that the dip works the chest a little more than the bench press.

My personal experience supports this idea. When I started doing 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, though. 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 bench press. The weighted dip can definitely match 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 deltoids. 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, the shoulder will become very strong.

However, people with a limited range of motion due to an injury may find the bench press easier, at least in the beginning. It requires less flexibility. If you add a large back arch, you can reduce the range of motion and the pressure on the shoulder even further.

Programming

You can use any bench press routine to program weighted dips too. It will work, although you may have to use smaller jumps (1-2 kg) which not all gyms have.

I rely on small jumps and classic linear Western periodization for dips, but you can do other programs too.

If weighted dips are your primary pushing movement, do them first in your workout. This may feel weird in the beginning, but you will acclimate quickly.

Before jumping on the weighted dips train, you have to 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. Don’t get obsessed with the number 20, though. If you can do 16-18 solid reps in a set, that is enough too.

However, avoid weighted dips if you can barely do 10 dips with good form. At this stage, adding weight is not as beneficial. The purpose of the high reps is to condition the musculature and the joints for the next phase.

Once you have developed a base, start adding 2 pounds {1kg} 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 recover faster. In most cases, you will need about 5 days to recuperate. This means that 3 sessions in 2 weeks are a good starting point. Obviously, you will have to adjust your training according to your personal needs and your body’s feedback.

What about ring dips?

Ring dips are a variation allowing you to make the exercise more challenging without adding weight. Once you have built a sufficient base with parallel bar dips, you can try dips on the rings.

You could add weight too, but I personally prefer to save that for the bars. It just feels way better. Also, the extra weight makes the rings more stable and removes the stabilization challenge. Ultimately, it’s up to you, though.

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 including the upper part too regardless of what the muscle magazines or kids on bodybuilding.com say. Nevertheless, you can always do an incline press with dumbbells or a barbell after your dips.

Honestly, I highly doubt that the dip will make your chest appear like boobs for a few main reasons:

1. When you are natural, you cannot get that big.

2. An overdeveloped lower chest is actually natural because that part of the muscle is simply larger by default. Also, a big lower chest does not look like boobs when developed. I am sorry, but you aren’t getting beer tits from dips. 

3. Look at number one.

4. Look at number three.

5. Repeat 1,3,4.

The dip promotes a better body composition and is less ego driven.

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

In addition, since almost nobody will ask you how much you can dip, the exercise is less likely to become an ego driven obsession, although with the rise of the calisthenics movement this has changed.

Availability

The bench press requires a spotter or a safety cage. Benching alone when you are not protected is stupid.

The bench is fine for people who have the equipment, but less equipped individuals may find their savior in the face of the dip. With a little imagination and a small financial investment, you can make or find a place to safely do dips at home.

For example, I do weighted dips on my balcony because it has a specific design mimicking V-handles. It looks made for dips. I guess it was destiny.

In conclusion

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. You aren’t. Besides, you can always go back to the bench press anytime you want.

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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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