All About Triceps Dips

One of my most vivid adolescent memories is the first time I ever attempted a parallel bar dip. It was my freshman year of high school and I had just started to explore the wonderful world of working out.

I signed up to take weight training my second semester that year, and there was a dip station in the weight room, so I decided to give it a go. I understood the task at hand and felt confident approaching the dip bars.

Once I began lowering myself though, it suddenly felt like someone had punched me hard in the sternum. Rather than being able to press myself back up, I instead fell to the ground and recoiled in pain, feeling like I would NEVER be able to do a single dip on the bars. The few kids in gym class who could do one suddenly seemed like super-human deities.

I Dip, You Dip, We Dip

I didn’t let that early experience stop me from trying again, however, and a few weeks later, I got my first real dip – it was a very exciting time! I’ve done a lot of dips since then and learned a lot of different variations. Dips are a great exercise and there are endless ways to keep them fresh and challenging. Keep in mind that while they emphasize the triceps, dips also work your chest, shoulders and core muscles. Pretty much any time you use your arms to press your bodyweight while in an upright position, it’s a dip. Here are the basics:

Bench Dips
As I discussed in my previous dip tutorial, the best way to start out is to do dips with your hands on a bench and your legs resting on the ground straight out in front of you. Try to keep your chest up and your back straight when performing bench dips.

If you find it hard to stay upright with your legs straight, it’s okay to bend your knees and put your feet flat to make it easier. On the other hand, if bench dips with straight legs are not difficult, try putting your feet up on another bench for an added challenge.

Parallel Bar Dips
Eventually, bench dips will get easy even with your legs elevated. That’s when you’re ready for parallel bar dips.

When you perform a parallel bar dip, keep in mind that the movement pattern isn’t just straight up and down. You’ll need to pitch your chest forward as you lower yourself or you’ll likely put unnecessary strain on your shoulders.

If you’re having a hard time when starting with parallel bar dips, ask a spotter to help you. Have them grab your ankles while you bend your knees so they can assist you on the way up.

Straight Bar Dips
While the parallel bars are the most common place to work this movement pattern, dips can also be done on a straight bar, which most people will find more difficult. It’s also a great variation for anyone working on muscle-ups.

When you are dipping on a straight bar, you can play around with placing your hands wide or narrow. A wide grip puts more emphasis on your chest, while a narrow grip places more of the burden on the triceps. For this reason, the narrow grip tends to be harder for most people.

Korean Dips
You can also do a straight bar dip with the bar behind your back. This is sometimes referred to as a Korean dip.

Korean dips are a very challenging variation and you’ll really need to concentrate on keeping your entire body engaged in order to perform them properly. Keep your abs and lower back tight while squeezing your legs and glutes in order to prevent yourself from swinging around excessively while practicing this variation.


Plyometric Dips
Like all the basic exercises, you may eventually build up enough strength and power to get airborne at the top of a dip. My favorite way to do plyo dips is by exploding across a long pair of parallel bars. Clapping dips are another great way to amp up this classic move with some plyo-power!

When you do plyometric dips, you’ll need to get your whole body into it. There’s nothing wrong with using your hips and legs in order to utilize your full explosive power.

Less Lip, More Dip
Talk is cheap – if you want to improve at dips, it’s gonna take time and practice. However, keep in mind that people who try to do too much, too soon often wind up burned out, injured or just plain ol’ frustrated. Always remember to progress gradually and stay humble. Take it one rep at a time and enjoy the ride.

Watch the video below for more:

This entry was posted in Body Weight Exercises, Strength and Conditioning. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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  • Jim Arkus

    I know you filed this under Bodyweight Exercises, but weighted dips are great too. Doing a couple bar dips with 100 lbs. on your back? That’s fun.

  • Dragonmamma/Naomi

    Once you’ve got those triceps developed, don’t forget to show-off by challenging people to crab-walk races!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Yeah you can definitely use a weight vest or weight belt to add resistance to your dips. For the record, I filed this under strength and conditioning too!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Haha you know I love a good crab walk!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.pairaktaridis Bill Pairaktaridis

    Great post, Al! However, from what I know, it’s potentially dangerous for your shoulders to do bench dips since it puts your shoulder joint in a very unnatural position. What say you?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Bill. I’ve heard this concern before but I think bodyweight bench dips are usually fine. Unless the person is severely obese, has limited range of motion in their shoulders and/or a previous injury, their bodyweight alone will not bring harm upon their shoulders in my experience. Once someone is strong enough to do parallel bar dips, however, there isn’t much need for a bench dip (except possibly for a drop set or super-set). It’s really more of a learning tool than anything else when you look at it this way.

  • Jenifermparker

    i find the different grips interesting — the similarities too. really cool.

    i’m using my perfect pull up in the low position to do bar dips and row thingies.

    i think i’m going to try a flag this weekend — see if i can get a photo so that i can update my web site with a fun photo. :)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Good luck with the human flag – you may be in for a humbling. It’s harder than it looks! :)

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DHLKU5R4MHCL4ZUIBQ6LXPJMLQ nunh

    Excellent instruction – thank you!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    You’re welcome!

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  • Anil

    Hello Al,

    I hope you are super good! :)

    I got a question about dips.  I cannot do a single dip on the parallel bar. So I have been doing bench dips as you instruct. I can do 4 sets like this 8-8-8-6.  That makes a total of 30 bench dips. When I first started doing this a week ago. I was able to do 5-3-5 which makes a total of 13 bench dips. So in a week I advanced a little bit. But I still cannot do a single dip on the parallel bar.  I think being able to do dips on the parallel bar and more importantly on the horizontal bar is very crucial if one wants to achieve a lavel of being able to do muscle ups on the horizontal bar.   And well, My first goal is being able to do 5 muscle ups in a year and my second goal is being able to do an human flag. Do you think that these are a realistic goals if you consider that I just started calisthenics two weeks ago. I am setting myself goals about calisthenics because this way I feel much more motivated about working out.  At this age of 31, I discovered the beautiful and mind freshing world of calisthenics and I want to be as good as I can about it.

    Here is my performance:
    7 pull ups
    50 sit ups
    5 chin ups
    ZERO dips :(

    I really need some advice…

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    It sounds like you are doing great, Anil.  Just keep practicing and be patient.  Your goals are achievable, but it might take a few years.  Don’t put time constraints on yourself, just take it day to day and train hard.

  • John Bohlig

    Dips are how I built my strength for Tae Kwon Do! Great article!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, John! 

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  • reincarnate100

    Hey Al, how far should I be going down on Straight Bar Dips (I’m training to do my first real Muscle-up!). I’m trying to go to my mid-chest! Is this good? Also the bar I am using can turn slightly while going down, making it a bit harder, what is your opinion on that? P.S. I’m planning to use the workouts on twentypullups.com but do Straight Bar Dips with instead, do you think this is a good idea? Thanks!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Go as low as you can on those dips!  As long as you stay consistent, the 20 pull-ups program will work for most people.

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  • reincarnate100

    Thanks! Only 1 week of doing the Single Bar Dips and I feel much stronger already. I’m going super low on them, above my mid-chest! Muscle-ups are waiting around the corner! ;)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Glad you’re progressing!  Thanks for the update!

  • reincarnate100

    Hey Al, just another update – these Single Bar Dips are really paying off. I already said that but today was special. I managed my … first ever … One Arm Push-ups! 2 on my left, 1 on my right! Going super low on the Dips is all I have done, and it’s enabled me to do that!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Congrats!  Keep training hard!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/reincarnate100 reincarnate100

    Thanks! I posted my attempt on your One Arm Push-up Training video as a response! If you have time, let me know if my form is ok! It’s my first time really practising the technique too!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZiTd4loKGI

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Looks like you’re off to a great start!  Like anything else, you’ll get better with more practice.

  • Fi

    Hi Al,

     

    I must say that i
    can do now 5 dips and i was really amazed because 2 months ago i couldn’t do
    single one. And Paul „Coach“ Wade is amazing J. Keep gonig Al, me and my friends follow your great tips and tricks
    and mental attitude. U are great inspiration for us all.

     

    Sry for bad english, not my mother tongue L

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Fi!  Keep training hard!

  • Anonymous

    I bought a dip station from NY Barbell. http://www.newyorkbarbells.com/8120.html After several years of bench dips, bench dips with weight on my lap, and a full year of parallel dips using the dip station, I can do sets of chest dips, which are described as dips with a forward lean. However, I am still having difficulty doing tricep dips, which are generally described as a drop motion with the upper legs straight, in line with the torso, and the lower legs back. Because these are tough for me, I’m wondering if assisted tricep dips, with the upper legs at a right angle to the torso and the lower legs supporting the body on the dip station cross bar would be acceptable. Whaddya think? I just don’t want to do an exercise for months only to find out that it’s wrong. Thanks Al.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Sounds good to me – try it and see what happens!  By the way, I go into much more thorough discussion of the different dip variations in my new book, Raising The Bar: http://www.dragondoor.com/eb63/?apid=4e8cb1ea167b0

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  • Rafael Melo

    Hey Al, I love dips, but I heard in forums that it could be detrimental to the shoulders. What do you think of that? And no, I haven´t felt a thing on mine. 

    And oh, please, if you have time, check my youtube channel with some exercises:http://www.youtube.com/user/yupiie?feature=mhee 

    The last vids are of my exercises.
    Let´s keep at it man!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    What do you value more, your own firsthand experience or the advice of strangers who posts things on internet forums?

  • SSJ

    Another good variation is the Russian dip. You can look it up on youtube. It really helps improve the slow, controlled muscle ups.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Russian dips are one of the variations I discuss in my new book, Raising The Bar.  In fact, there are lots of exercises in that book that aren’t on my blog.  I can’t give everything away for free!

  • k96

    Do dip shrugs build the trapezius? Are they safe?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Dip shrugs can theoretically build your traps but I think there are a lot of better exercises.  Like dips.

  • Sam

    Hi Al,

    When i’m trying to get off the bar in the lower position (arms bent) my collarbones are hurt like hell for 1-2 seconds.
    Could it be, that i’m not holding my shoulders correctly?
    I’m trying to train for muscle ups and it really slowing me down :(

    Have a nice day
    Sam

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Don’t flare your elbows out to the sides. And forget about muscle-ups for now. Get good at dips first.

  • Sam

    Thanks, that did the trick :)

    Have a nice day!
    Sam