Dips Are One of the Best Exercises for Building Strength

When you do your next workout make sure you add a few sets of bodyweight dips into the mix. This effective, multi-joint exercise is considered one of the best bodyweight exercises available. Talk about getting a lot of “bang for your buck” from one single compound movement. Let’s take a deeper look at why this exercise is so beneficial.

Muscle Recruitment During the Movement

One of the many great things about performing dips is, depending on how the body is positioned, will ultimately dictate how the load is placed on the prime muscle groups. Meaning, as you lean forward slightly (45-degree angle), you’ll put more demand on the chest muscles as the movement is executed. When trying to involve more chest, the arms are angled away from the body slightly. In contrast, when the body is positioned and held more vertical, the demand shifts more towards the triceps. If the goal is to target the triceps more, then keep the arms closer to the body. As seen in the left photo below.

Exercise Technique

  • Take hold of each handle with a firm grasp. Extend both arms until they are almost locked out and the body is vertical.
  • Engage the core by drawing the navel in towards the spine.
  • Inhale as you lower the body downward by flexing the arms.
  • Slowly lower the body until the triceps are parallel to the floor while keeping forearms vertical. Arms should be at a 90-degree angle.
  • The upper body is leaning forward slightly throughout movement. Pause and return to the starting position as you exhale.

Primary Muscle Groups

The exercise is ideal for building strength and muscle mass in both the chest (pectoralis major, pectoralis minor) and arms (triceps brachii). There is also demand placed on the shoulders, especially the anterior head of the deltoid. In addition, the back also gets worked (latissimus dorsi, rhomboid and trapezius). This is one reason why it’s considered, by many, one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do!

Exercise Options

One of the great things about this particular movement is its versatility. The options and exercise variations are many.

  • Machine-based dips
  • Machine-assisted dips
  • Bench dips (feet on the floor)
  • Bench dips (feet elevated)
  • Traditional dip (as pictured)
  • Weighted dip (*hold off until you can perform 10-12 bodyweight repetitions using good form*).

Muscle Recruitment During the Exercise

The great thing about performing bodyweight exercises like dips is depending on how you position the body, can dictate the load placed on different muscle groups. Meaning, as you lean forward slightly (45-degree angle), on the upward and down phase, you’ll put more demand on the chest muscles. When the focus is the chest, the arms are angled away from the body slightly. In contrast, when the body is positioned and held more vertical, the demand shifts more towards the triceps. If the goal is to target the triceps more, then keep the arms closer to the body. As seen in the left photo below.

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How Dips Help Other Exercise (like Bench Press)

By doing dips, you’ll end up getting not only stronger, you’re able to push through plateaus better for exercises like bench press. Research shows that exercises that require you to move your body through space, versus stationary exercises, require more muscle recruitment. This is why an exercise like a squat will always be superior to a stationary or supported movement like a leg press. A dip exercise also develops a large proportion of muscle that sits on the upper body. Dips will get the chest and arms stronger as well as the shoulder muscles. The shoulder muscles are used as stabilizers during the movement. As a result, performing dips will increase strength in the shoulder joint. If you have any type of shoulder issues or have a shoulder impingement, this should be a contraindicated exercise.

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Exercise Review: Deadlift

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One of the best and most often used exercises is the deadlift. However, it’s also an exercise that many people perform incorrectly for a multitude of reasons. A good rule of thumb prior to lifting, is to address posterior chain mobility. This can be done by assessing back, hip and hamstring mobility. Try the following test, see if you can touch your fingertips to the bar prior to performing the deadlift. Attempt this by keeping the legs straight and not rounding your back. If you can, you’re in good shape.

Exercise Execution

Starting Position

  • Begin with the feet flat, positioning them somewhere between hip and shoulder-width apart. Feet should be pointed straight or angled out slight (10-15 degrees), depending on your choice and experience. Note: some movement expert like Dr. Kelly Starrett suggest positioning feet straight ahead while others say turn the feet out slightly. Moreover, doing this engages more of the glute muscles like the glute medius. The question arises, however, can you brace your body and create the torque needed by “screwing” the feet into the floor when the feet are turned out?
  • Next, squat down until the hips are lower than the shoulders grasping the bar with a closed, alternated grip (one overhand the other underhand). Other grip choices include double overhand and hook grips. Please note, if you have trouble getting into this position – you’re probably not ready to perform the movement due to hip or back mobility issues.
  • Position the Olympic bar about 1-inch away from the front of your shins.
  • Make sure you check off the following items regarding your body position. Your back is “flat”, relaxed neck & trapezius area, retract your shoulder blades, and position shoulders over the bar.

Upward Movement

  • Pull the bar from the floor by extending the knees and hips.
  • This is key – do not let the hips rise before the shoulders.
  • Keep the elbows extended and shoulders over the bar during the execution of the lift.
  • As the bar passes the knees push the hips forward.

Downward Movement Phase

  • To return the bar to the floor, think about sitting back first. Allow the hips and knees to flex as the bar returns to the floor.
  • Maintain a flat back keeping elbows extending, looking straight ahead.
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Deadlift Upward Movement: Pull Phase

Exercise Options

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Hex Bar Deadlift

Dumbbell Deadlift

Muscle Groups Involved During the “Compound Movement”

PRIME MOVERS (Hip Extensors)

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings

STABILIZERS

  • Quadriceps
  • Lower leg
  • Back
  • Core

REFERENCES

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2nd Edition, NSCA, Baechle T. R., Earle R.W. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL., 2000.

Becoming a Supple Leopard, Starrett K. and Cordoza G., Victory Belt Publishing: Las Vegas, NV., 2013.

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