If you are looking to get started with and improve your straight bar dips, you are in the right place.
Straight bar dips (or single bar dips) preferentially get more chest activation, being a great choice to build bigger chest muscles. Furthermore, they are both a precursor of the straight bar muscle-up, and the ideal pushing exercise to supplement your muscle-up training.
Lastly, it is a good preparation exercise to get you started with Bulgarian dips on the rings.
Taking all these benefits into account, we believe that straight bar dips are worth being part of your training plan. In this article, we will cover everything there is to cover about this exercise.
How to do a straight bar dip
Before you attempt doing the single bar dips, we recommend you to first work your way up to around 10 parallel bar dips.
What muscles do straight bar dips work
The muscles that engage with straight bar dips are:
All dipping exercises will work these muscles.
However, with straight bar dips you will preferentially get more chest activation. This is due to the fact that, as opposed to parallel bar dips, the straight bar variation places you in more internal rotation, which leads to more pectoral activation.
There is not much difference in the muscles worked with different dips variations; the difference lies in the muscle group a given variation focuses on.
When should you do single bar dips
Choosing an exercise over another, or simply choosing a variation of an exercise over another boils down to your goals. As mentioned before, there are three uses for the straight bar dip:
If you are someone training to get their straight bar muscle-up, then you should be using the single bar dip in your training, as opposed to the parallel variation.
The reason for this is simple: strength is specific.
The muscle-up consists of three elements: high pull-up, transition, straight bar dip. If you find the dipping section difficult or it gets you fatigued, then separately working on it will have a high transferability when you put all of them together.
Building a bigger chest
There is only one instance when, for muscle building, we recommend choosing the straight bar dip over the parallel bar variation: when you don’t have access to a dipping belt and weights.
The parallel bar dip can be loaded heavily.
For instance, I am dipping 135lbs (60kg) over my weight, and for other people out there this is something to sniff at. The truth is, weighted exercises will always be superior to their unweighted counterparts, as far as building muscle is concerned.
However, if you don’t have access to weights, then the straight bar dip is a better option than the parallel bar dip for building your chest muscles.
But can’t you heavily load single bar dips and get the best of both worlds?
We do not recommend that. Your shoulders are weaker in their internal rotation position - the position assumed during the straight bar variation. Therefore, the risk-reward ratio is so bad that a heavily weighted straight bar dip is not worth pursuing.
Preparing for Bulgarian ring dips
The Bulgarian ring dip is one of the best dip variations to develop your chest muscles.
However, as with most ring exercises, the entry point in terms of muscular strength and joint integrity is quite high. Therefore, to build up to it you need a preparatory exercise.
The single bar dip is the ideal preparatory exercise for Bulgarian ring dips. With the single bar variation, you are training the same movement pattern as on the rings. However, the instability component of ring training is taken out of the equation, allowing you to focus on correct form and building strength.
Once you master the single bar dip, you can start training for the Bulgarian ring dip.
Common straight bar dip mistakes
There are a few common mistakes most people do when they try to do a straight bar dip:
In the following lines we will describe each issue and present solutions to solve them.
No scapula depression
During any type of dipping exercise, it is recommended to keep your shoulder blades shrugged down. The shoulders to your ears position is unstable and can lead to injury.
Shrugging your shoulder blades down (depressing your scapula) is not only recommended, but necessary if you want to have a strong position for the shoulders to work, and to avoid injury.
If you have a hard time holding the correct position, you should train it specifically.
At the end of each upper body workout session, take five more minutes and do three sets of maximum hold of scapula depression on a straight bar.
Work your way up to 3x60s, with a 1-minute break in between sets.
Flaring the elbows
Flaring the elbows is a common mistake when you are lacking pushing strength.
If you are flaring out the elbows during a dip, you are putting yourself in a position to develop shoulder impingement. This is a condition of the shoulder, where your scapula (shoulder blade) is pressing on the surface of your rotator cuff.
Shoulder impingement is characterized by pain and inflammation.
As mentioned above, flaring the elbows is a sign of weakness. When you are tucking your elbows in, the exercise becomes significantly harder.
Therefore, the easiest way to solve this issue is to regress to an easier progression, either banded straight bar dips, or negatives.
Doing half repetitions
When you are not performing an exercise in its entire range of motion, you are leaving strength gains on the table. Basically, you are creating a certain angle after which your muscles are no longer able to exert force.
This usually happens because you started with an exercise you were not strong enough for. Instead of stepping back, you kept progressing in the range of motion you could train.
Similar to the flaring of the elbows issue, this is a matter of weakness.
The easiest way to solve this issue is to work within your actual capacity, by regressing to an easier variation of single bar dips - band assisted or negative.
Are straight bar dips harder than parallel dips?
Straight bar dips are not harder per se. However, the body position is more awkward so it may take a bit of practice getting used to it. Besides, this variation preferentially gets more chest activation; if you have a weaker chest, you may perceive them harder than parallel bar dips.
What do straight bar dips work?
Straight bar dips work the chest, triceps, and shoulders. The core is also engaging to stabilize your body in the entire range of motion of the exercise.
Are straight bar dips bad for shoulders?
No. As long as you are performing the exercise with good form and prevent your elbows from flaring out, the straight bar dip is a safe exercise.
The bottom line
Even though there are better options when it comes to building strength in general - like the weighted parallel dip - the straight bar variation has its place. If you are training for a straight bar muscle-up, this exercise is not only recommended, but vital.
Likewise, if you can only train with your bodyweight, the single bar dip is superior to the parallel bars, because it puts the pectoral muscles in a better position to work.
Lastly, it all boils down to your particular goals and picking the best exercises to support them.
It’s your turn to give straight bar dips a try.
Over to you.