What Muscles Do Dips Work Out?

Dips are a body-weight exercise that can be performed even without fancy equipment. You can even do a dips workout at home.

Dips work your chest, upper arms, and shoulders. (Image: iprogressman/iStock/GettyImages)

Dips are a compound push-type exercise that works a large number of muscles at the same time. This exercise targets the upper body. Dips can be performed in two different ways to work various parts of multiple muscles in your upper body.

Tip

Dips exercise benefits include targeting muscles throughout your chest, upper arms and shoulders.

Parallel Bar Dips and Muscles

Parallel bar dips— also called chest dips — are performed using a specially designed parallel bar machine or by using any objects that are sturdy and of equal height so that your knees will not touch the ground.

To perform parallel bar dips, grab the two hands of the machine and start with your arms fully extended with you above the bars and your legs crossed and bent. Then lower yourself until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle before pushing back up to the starting position to complete one repetition.

The pectoralis major muscle of the chest is the primary muscle that is worked during parallel bar dips. According to ExRx.net, other muscles that are heavily worked include the pectoralis minor, the anterior deltoid and rhomboid in the shoulders, the triceps and the lat muscles in the back. The trapezius muscle in the upper back is activated as a stabilizing muscle during parallel bar dips.

Read more: Dips vs. Push-Ups

Bench Dips and Muscles Worked

Bench dips, or triceps dips, are performed by using one or two weight benches or any surfaces of equal height. This allows you to do dips exercises at home. Beginners can keep their feet on the floor, but as you get stronger, placing your legs across an equal height surface will make the exercise more challenging.

Start by placing your hands behind you onto a bench so that your fingers face forward. Place your heels on another bench or on the floor. Raise yourself up so that your arms are straight and this is the starting position. Then lower yourself until your arms are at a 90-degree angle before returning to the starting position to complete one repetition.

The triceps muscle at the back of the upper arm is the primary muscle that is worked during the bench dips exercise. According to ExRx.net, the pectoralis muscles of the chest are also worked during the exercise. The main action though comes from the triceps, as the triceps muscle is responsible for extending the elbow which is the primary action in triceps dips.

Consider Your Options

Dips require significant shoulder flexibility. If you have a history of shoulder injury or decreased shoulder range of motion, other exercises can be substituted to target the same muscles. These include:

  • Bench press with barbell or dumbbells
  • Push-ups
  • Chest flyes with cables or dumbbells
  • Skull crushers
  • Triceps push-downs
  • Cable cross-overs

Consider stretching prior to performing dips to warm up your muscles and shoulder joints.

  1. Reach one arm up overhead. Drop your hand behind your head with your elbow pointed toward the ceiling.
  2. Grasp your elbow with the opposite hand and apply gentle pressure to intensify the stretch.
  3. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each arm.
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