Dips exercises use your own bodyweight to work your shoulders, triceps and chest areas. This movement builds muscle and strength in the core and upper body while improving your overall conditioning.
Do dips from your knees to build shoulder strength before progressing to a full bodyweight-style dip.
Types of Dips Exercises
Dips come in many different variations, and the style you use influences the muscle groups worked. The most common dip exercise is the triceps dip, which uses two bars not much wider than the hips. You grip the bars with your arms positioned straight by your hips and then bend your arms to lower your body and push to raise it.
The triceps dip engages the triceps muscles, but it also works the shoulders and requires strength from the core, grip and arm muscles to complete the motion. Leaning into the dip more turns the exercise into a chest dip, and as demonstrated by ExRx.net, that increases biceps and pectoral muscle use. It still works the triceps, and the motion works as a hybrid bench press and dip exercise.
Both of the latter options use your own bodyweight and require a significant amount of strength to perform. Building your muscles with lower-weight exercises first will help lead into the dips.
You can do this by performing dips on a lowered set of bars that allows the use of your knees. Some machine weight systems also use cables and pulleys to help control the weight used while you perform the dips.
A simple weight bench or even a park bench also works for dips. Sit on the edge of the bench and grip the bench edge (palms down) just outside each hip.
Walk your legs out slightly to remove your butt from the bench. Bend your arms to drop your butt, and press to raise back up. Control the weight by walking your legs out farther and use them less to increase the body weight lifted.
Workout Frequency Considerations
Dips require a significant effort from your upper body, and you should expect some soreness after including the exercises in a workout routine. Even an isolated set of dips will challenge the muscles and can lead to soreness, especially when you are new to dips.
Integrate this movement into a lifting or general exercise routine, and start with lower resistance options like the machine or bench. Doing several low set reps and gradually increasing their number over time is beneficial, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. As you become more comfortable with the reps, add resistance until you are prepared to manage the full body exercise.
Dips do place significant strain on the shoulders and elbows. As a general exercise, they are best done one to three times per week. Give your joints a few days off each week for recovery.
If you feel the strain and have pain in the joints, consider a lower impact exercise like dumbbell extensions as suggested by the American Council on Exercise. Even using the bench for dips helps, because your legs pull some weight off the shoulders and elbows.
If you have strong, flexible shoulders and elbows that do not experience pain from body-weight dips, however, the exercise remains a great method of building strength. Do some standard warm-ups and stretches, and continue using the dip as a form of strength training several times per week.
Calorie Burn and Muscle Tone
Dips are not a go-to exercise for calorie burn — but like any movement, they can benefit by adding to the burn of your overall workout session. The big benefit associated with dips is muscle definition and tone. The increased strength in the triceps, chest and general upper body area deliver bigger muscles and more definition.
The core is also heavily involved, and you may experience increased strength in your abdomen. A standard dip focuses on the arms to support the movement, but the core is inevitably required to flex for stability. The result is a stronger core that will experience some calorie burn and increased overall strength.
Although you will experience a calorie burn, cardio is more effective for increased calorie burn and weight loss.
Downside of Dips Exercises
While tricep dips benefits are numerous, there are a few downsides. The exercises are very focused, working a small number of muscle groups in many cases.
Using the full body-weight style dip will engage mostly the upper body, but it does work the core as well. Removing your body weight and using a machine or bench places more focus on the triceps specifically.
This makes the dip a good exercise for a bigger-picture exercise plan. As a standalone movement, dips are beneficial but limited in application because they won't help your lower body or contribute to athletic movements that require fast-twitch muscle fibers for bursts of energy. The dip builds strength that is useful for your grip, moving weight and functioning from a more static position.
The final downside to the dip is the pressure and strain placed on the joints, as mentioned. The shoulder joint is not necessarily designed to support large loads of weight in an isolated setting.
When someone is strong and has the supporting muscles available to control the movement, the strain is mitigated — but someone with weak shoulders attempting to perform dips under a heavy load may experience increased wear and tear on the joints.
Try Alternative Exercises
Dips are not the only method of working the triceps, chest and upper body. You can work the triceps in a very focused manner with a single- or double-handed dumbbell extension.
Grip a dumbbell with one or both hands and hold it behind your head. Press upward to work the triceps with this exercise. You can perform the extension standing or while laying flat on your back on a bench.
A cable machine with a triceps extension station is also useful. You can stand and press down or use a similar above-the-head extension movement if the machine has a high-position cable. The cables allow for weight control, and you can build up strength on these exercises while limiting pressure on the shoulder joints.
Resistance bands are another great option to consider for triceps presses and extensions. These accessories are very low impact and work well if your joints hurt. They come in varying degrees of resistance, and you can find high strength bands that will continue to challenge and grow the muscles without concentrating body weight directly on the joints.