This is a complete guide to bodyweight dips.
So if you want to learn how to do your first bodyweight dip, need a dips workout, or want to know the ins and outs of this incredible exercise, you are in the right place.
In this article, we will be talking about:
So if you are ready to change your dipping game, let's gets started.
What is a dip and what muscles does it work?
The bodyweight dip is a compound exercise.
In a compound exercise, multiple joints and muscle groups are working to complete the movement - in this instance, the elbow joint and the shoulder joint. This is the opposite of an isolation exercise - like a biceps curl - where only one joint (the elbow joint) and one muscle group (the biceps) are working.
The dip is also a pushing exercise.
A pushing exercise is an exercise where the center of mass and the hands are moving or pushing away from each other. This is the opposite of a pulling exercise - like a pull-up - where the center of mass and the hands are moving or pulling towards each other.
What muscles do dips work?
Knowing the above, we can conclude that there are several pushing muscles which are activating to complete a single repetition of the dip.
Aside from these muscles, the dip also works the core in an indirect manner. When you are performing a bodyweight dip, the muscles of your core have to engage to stabilize your body.
Bodyweight dips form: how to do a proper dip
If you can’t do a bodyweight dip yet, you can head to the “getting your first dip” section where we teach you how to do it.
Regardless of whether you are training with regular dips or an easier progression, the form cues in this section still apply.
Here is how to do a proper dip:
This is it.
Parallel bar dips are one of the staple exercises in bodyweight fitness.
Keeping your core tight, body straight, and elbows in, will promote a good technique. It is important to hone in the correct form early on. This way, you will be able to eventually progress to weighted dips without fear of injury.
Getting your first dip: exercises & workout
If you can’t do a bodyweight dip yet, don’t worry. We will provide a progression plan, as well as a workout plan to help you get your first repetition, and more.
In the lines below we will talk about:
Before we get started, I want to make a disclaimer.
We are strong believers in the fact that specificity in training is key. Therefore, we do not believe that doing push-ups will make you better at doing dips. Even though there will be some strength transferability, if you want to get better at dips, you should be doing dips.
Exercises to get your first bodyweight dip
Begin with a resistance band which is the right intensity for you - gauge this by the thickness of the band, and by testing them out. You want to shoot for a resistance that will make the dip manageable, while still keeping it challenging.
Test until you find a band that allows you to do 3 sets of 5 to - maximum - 10 repetitions.
Once you have a band, follow the steps below:
Pausing in the bottom position is a must.
The band gives the most assistance at the bottom and we need to offset the potential downsides with a brief pause. Furthermore, if you do not pause, the band is going to recoil back through the movement, making the exercise considerably less effective.
What about the assisted dip machine?
Chances are, if you are training in a commercial gym, you have one of these available.
You might be tempted to think it is similar to a banded dip, choose the right amount of assistance, then start repping dips.
Honestly, we do not recommend the use of that machine.
When you are doing dips, whether they are banded or not, your core has to do a lot of stabilization work. An assisted dip machine will have you kneel on a seat, taking away most of the work your core has to do.
If you do not have access to bands, using the machine is not great but not terrible either.
However, we recommend you to do some other exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and maybe some targeted core work to offset the negatives.
Eccentric (negative) dips
If you are a beginner with dips, eccentric training is one of the most effective ways to improve. By lowering through the exercise slowly, you are going to build strength in reverse towards the bodyweight dip.
With eccentric dips you will want to start with a 3-second eccentric, meaning that you will be lowering over a period of 3 seconds. The goal is to complete 3-5 sets of 5 eccentrics, each eccentric taking 3 seconds.
If you can do more than 5 eccentrics, increase the lowering time to 5 seconds instead of 3.
As you progress in strength and can do 3-5 sets of 5 eccentrics, of 5 seconds each, increase the lowering time to 8 seconds.
When you are ready to start eccentric training, follow these steps:
As you are doing more repetitions within a set, expect your body to start shaking and the exercise to feel more and more challenging. This challenge is necessary; it forces your body to adapt through increased strength and muscle mass.
Also, expect your body to drop faster the more repetitions you are doing.
It is up to you to force good form and struggle to keep a constant lowering speed.
If you find eccentrics too difficult, you can use your feet on the ground for assistance. Stay on your tiptoes and assist only as much as needed to complete the designated number of repetitions.
Weighted eccentric (negative) dips
If you can do just a handful of dips at a time, our recommendation is to take a step back and work on weighted eccentric dips instead. In training, you want to take an approach of building strength, not testing your strength.
Doing only a couple of reps means testing your strength - working outside of your capacity.
To progress in strength and muscle mass, you will want to pick a progression that allows you to do enough reps to provide a good training stimulus.
If you can do at least 5 dips, you can start training the full dip with 5 sets of 3 reps.
But I digress…
Start with a 3-second eccentric for 3-5 sets of 5 reps. As you progress, increase the eccentric (lowering) time for each repetition from 3 seconds, to 5, then 8. Start with 11lbs (5kg) and increase it after you reach 5 sets of 5 reps, 8 seconds eccentric.
Follow the steps below for optimal technique:
As you keep doing the exercise and gaining strength, you will notice your control improving in the entire range of motion - top, middle, and bottom position of the dip.
If you are unable to hold the top position of a dip, you will find them difficult. The best way to go about doing dips is to start with the foundation - and that is the top position.
You should work towards holding the support hold for a full minute. Start by holding the support hold for 30 seconds, in as many sets as needed.
Follow these steps to do a correct support hold:
This exercise will not only improve your scapula depression strength in the top position of a dip but also improve your overall dipping control.
In conjunction with the support hold exercise, you should also work the dip shrug.
This exercise is similar to the support hold, but instead of holding a position you will be working through a complete range of motion.
Start with 3 sets of 4 to 6 repetitions. Once you can do 3 sets of 6 repetitions, increase to 8 repetitions. Keep working until you can do one set of 15 repetitions.
Follow the steps below:
Remember that this is an accessory exercise. You don’t need to get to 3 sets of 12. Therefore, you shouldn’t stress too much over it.
Workouts to get your first bodyweight dip
If you can’t do a dip yet, chances are you are a beginner. Therefore, we will provide an upper body workout that is tailored towards your goal of getting better at dips.
For leg training, we highly recommend you to use barbells.
You will be training 3x a week, with a rest day in between workouts, and two rest days after the third workout. It will look something like this:
Additionally, you will have two workouts - workout A, and workout B - cycled throughout the week. Therefore, over two weeks the workout would look like this:
Week 3 will look like week 1, and week 4 will look like week 2. I think you get the idea.
Tuck hollow hold
As many as necessary
Minimal between sets
You will notice that some exercises don’t have their own designated rest break. The resting is split between two exercises. That is a superset. In a superset, you do the first exercise, then without resting do the second exercise, and only after that you rest.
So in workout A, you have inverted rows and push-ups supersetted (among others).
Therefore, you do a set of inverted rows and immediately after, without resting, you do a set of push-ups. After that, you rest for 2 minutes and repeat 2 more times, for a total of 3 sets.
How to target different muscles with dips
By changing the position of your body during dips, you can place the emphasis on one of the working muscle groups. In this part of the article, we are going to teach you how to do:
By changing your body position you are changing the biomechanics of the exercise, forcing certain muscle groups to work more than the others.
Shoulder dominant dips
In this variation you will lean forward to emphasize the front part of your shoulder. Additionally, your core will have to work more to stabilize your body, because the center of gravity is in front of your wrists.
The general idea is: the more you lean forward, the more your shoulder will work.
Triceps dominant dips
With triceps dominant dips you will want to keep your torso straight and elbows tucked in. You may notice that with this variation the elbows are not staying right above the wrists but they are shifting backwards.
Be advised that this variation is more stressful on the shoulder joint.
We recommend you to do it mindfully and avoid loading it with too much weight, if any.
Chest dominant dips
To target your chest with dips you will have to lean a bit, then bring your legs forward as you are lowering. This movement is similar to a straight bar dip but performed on parallel bars.
With this variation we also recommend slightly flaring your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
Bodyweight dips common mistakes
Throughout our years of training - ourselves and others - we were able to detect a handful of mistakes most people make with dips. These mistakes will diminish your results and can lead to impingement or other issues, including injury.
These mistakes are:
No scapula depression
Most beginners, and even some advanced trainees, will keep their shoulders shrugged up towards the ears when doing dips. This is not a strong position for the shoulders and the arms to work. To avoid strengthening this sub-optimal movement pattern, we recommend you to be mindful about your form and shrug the shoulders down.
The shoulders to your ears technique is not stable and is not safe.
If you consider doing weighted dips at some point, having learned the correct technique from the very beginning will come in handy.
Flaring the elbow
While a slight outflare of the elbow is not wrong, and can even help you target the chest muscles, an excessive flare to the side can lead to unnecessary pressure on your shoulder.
Avoid this mistake by keeping your shoulders tucked in throughout the entire range of the exercise.
Doing half repetitions
Another common mistake with dips is not having a high enough range of motion.
The mid-to-bottom portion of the dip is the most difficult, making most people just skip it altogether. In doing so, they are depriving themselves of most benefits dips have to offer in terms of muscle breakdown.
To avoid this pitfall, lower until there is a 90-degree angle at your elbow before pushing back up.
Too easy? Try these variations
Dips are very difficult when you get started. However, you will quickly find out that the intensity decreases greatly as your strength increases. To counteract this issue, there are a few more difficult variations you could try.
Straight bar dips
The most common first progression after parallel dips, is the straight bar dip.
In terms of muscle building properties, parallel bar dips are superior to straight bar dips. However, for people who want to learn how to do a muscle-up, the straight bar dip is a prerequisite.
To do a straight bar dip follow these steps:
With straight bar dips, your range of motion is limited by the bar. We only recommend this exercise if you are trying to improve or get your first straight bar muscle-up.
The bodyweight dip is a staple exercise, even for bodybuilders. However, with the help of gymnastics rings, you can take dips from a good exercise to an awesome one.
When you are doing ring dips, the rings are going to be moving all over the place.
This constant movement forces your muscles to work harder to stabilize the rings. Furthermore, in the top position you are forced to lock out the movement, which means that your muscles have to work harder and you will be getting more results.
Ring dips instructions:
Ring dips are excellent for chest and triceps development. Furthermore, they will help with your biceps tendon conditioning for straight arm exercises like the planche.
The easiest way to progress with dips is by adding weight.
If you are a beginner, you may find dips very difficult. However, the exercise gets so easy that you may get to a point where you can easily add 90 lbs (40kg) of extra weight. Some athletes add as much as 220 lbs (100kg) of extra weight to their dips.
The form stays the same, except that this time there is a dipping belt and weight plates attached to your body.
However, when adding weight, you should be very mindful of your form.
How to do dips at home
If you don’t go to a commercial gym, nor have a calisthenics home gym, you may think you don’t have a place to do dips. That is far from the truth; you can still do:
If you have two chairs or bar stools, you are good to go.
However, before you start repping out dips, consider your safety first. Stay away from furniture that is wobbly or that doesn’t seem to be able to support your weight.
If your furniture is too short, you can dip with your legs or knees on the floor. Just make sure to lower ever so slowly; the increased muscle tension will counteract the effects of the assistance.
Similar to chair dips, countertop dips are an effective choice if you don’t have equipment.
Find two sturdy countertops that form a 90-degree angle, where you can place your hands to the sides. You should also have enough room to maneuver between them for this to work.
Although this setup is not ideal, due to the cabinets being in the way of your body, doing something is still better than doing nothing. Work with what you have and the results will still come.
With this setup, you will only be able to do straight bar dips.
However, as mentioned above, doing something is better than doing nothing.
If you have a sturdy table, jump on it and do straight bar dips. If you find your wrists are hurting you, due to lack of wrist extension flexibility, turn them to a 45-degree angle. Your fingers will not be facing straight forward, but slightly to the sides.
The bottom line
That’s it for our guide on dips.
Though overwhelming at first, you will soon find out that dips look more scary than they actually are. With the right approach and workout, you too will be able to do bodyweight dips.
It is just a matter of having patience while building the necessary strength.
Over to you.