As an upper-body press-motion exercise, dips target more than a few muscles across this region. Exactly as they sound, dips involve a "dipping" motion of the body through space, and using just bodyweight alone, it is one of the most effective forms of exercise to progress in strength.
Performed on two parallel bars or a dip-assisted machine, they require modest equipment and are convenient to throw into strength-training sets or a round of HIIT. But what exactly do they work out, and what muscles do they target? To find out more, we asked personal trainers Dominic Anthony and Rebekah Santiago to give us the full breakdown on dips. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
What Type of Exercise Is a Dip?
Let’s start with how to properly perform a dip, as described by New York–based fitness trainer Rebekah Santiago:
- Using your own body weight, place your hands on an elevated surface, such as a chair or bench.
- Hovering your glutes off the chair, bend through your triceps.
- As you find a 90-degree angle at your elbows, press your body back up and repeat.
Given the recruitment of muscles involved, dips can lean toward a strength-focused exercise. But the function of dips can change depending on how you incorporate them into a workout. “Dips are most recognized as building strength, but you will most certainly build endurance as well, given that weight training is a form of cardio,” explains Anthony.
And on the subject of cardio, Santiago adds: “It's all about how you use the muscles. If you incorporate dips into a time-based HIIT circuit, they can burn out the upper body and jump-start your heart rate, making them an effective cardio exercise.”
What Do Dips Work Out?
“Dips work on upper-body strength, including targeting the triceps, shoulders, and the chest,” explains personal trainer Dominic Anthony. “Alongside this, they also work the core due to its required engagement in maintaining proper form throughout the exercise.” Given the compound nature of dips (meaning they enlist multiple joints and muscles), they are also optimal for working on your power, compared with muscle-specific exercises.
Are Dips Safe for Everyone?
As the dip movement requires a degree of mobility in the shoulder joint, it may not be suitable for those suffering from injuries or tension in this region. “Individuals with tight shoulders or moderate shoulder injuries should avoid these, due to the placement of your weight, which can put unnecessary stress on your shoulder muscles,” warns Santiago.
Due to the positioning of the arms, dips also target an internal section of the shoulder and force the arms to move unnaturally backward from the body, thus requiring a combination of strength, stability, attention to form, and precise execution to perform without mistakes.
“Anyone with specific injuries of the shoulder or triceps or chest should first work on overcoming their injury or correcting any problems in those areas before they perform this exercise,” warns Anthony. “However, dips are such an effective exercise for building strength while toning the body, that once those areas are ready to work, you can start off with assisted dips until enough strength is built to perform them with just bodyweight alone.”
His final words of advice? “Always clear your injury with a professional to avoid reinjuring!”
How Can I Add Variety to My Dips?
With plenty of dip variations out there, here are a few exercise descriptions from the trainers to start you off.
Assisted Dip Machine
- Set the weight on the machine, with more assistance as the added weight increases.
- Grasp the handles on each side, extend your arms, and kneel on the sliding platform.
- Lower your body by bending the arms until the elbows reach a 90-degree angle, before pushing up to return to the starting position.
- Exhale and keep the core engaged as you raise up. Repeat for a set number of repetitions.
Dips on the Bench
- Position the body perpendicular to the bench with the palms on the edge and elbows extended fully, supporting your body. Keep your heels on the floor and knees slightly bent.
- Lower the body until the elbows reach 90 degrees, then dip up by extending your arms until the elbows are straight but not locked.
- Exhale as you come up, squeeze and release, before repeating,
- First, loop each end of the band around each dip bar handle.
- Start with both arms extended and place the knees against the band.
- Lower the body against the resistance band until your elbows are at 90 degrees.
- Dip up to the starting position (as much as you can) until elbows are straight but not locked. Repeat for a set number of repetitions.
- Place your hands on your bench, with feet either bent or straight out on the floor in front of you.
- Slowly lower your body down toward the floor for a count of three until you reach a 90-degree bend in your elbows.
- Dynamically press your body back up to your starting position, and repeat.
Triceps Dip Alternate Leg Raise
- With your hands on your bench and legs bent on the floor, lower your body down toward that 90-degree angle in your elbows.
- As you press back up to your starting position, lift your right leg off the floor and your left hand off the bench.
- Finding your balance, reach your opposite hand toward your opposite toe.
- As you replace your hand and foot, find your triceps dip again, and repeat on the opposite side.