Bodyweight dips are arguably one of the most practical and effective upper body exercises to build the chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, there are a few things to remember if you want to get the most out of them, stay safe, and keep nagging aches at bay.
There are many variations of bodyweight dips, so you have a lot of latitude to perform this supremely effective exercise. You can get creative both at home or in the gym to take advantage of this awesome bodyweight exercise.
And although it’s not quite as effective, you can actually perform this exercise with no equipment at all.
Read on to learn what it takes to master this fantastic movement.
Table of Contents
What Are Bodyweight Dips?
Bodyweight dips are an intermediate-level exercise where trainees must suspend themselves in the air by holding on to parallel bars.
Once in position, the trainee must descend or ‘dip’ by bending their elbows and using the chest, shoulders, and triceps to move back to the top position.
While seemingly simple, the exercise is challenging to master because it requires above-average pressing strength and excellent body control. The midsection and back muscles are essential as they flex isometrically to keep the body stable from start to finish.
Like push-ups and similar activities, bodyweight dips also work the serratus anterior––the boxer’s muscle. It plays a crucial role in scapular stability and is involved in shoulder protraction, such as when throwing a punch.
Primary Muscles Worked 💪
Secondary Muscles Worked 💪
How to Perform Bodyweight Dips (Step-By-Step)
Things to keep in mind:
- Maintain a slight forward body lean
- Grip the handles firmly
- Keep your core tight
- Direct your gaze forward
- Bend or straighten your legs––whichever feels more comfortable
- Grab the pair of parallel handles and step on the foot platforms at your sides.
- Retract your shoulder blades, squeeze your glutes, take a deep breath, and engage your abs.
- Flex your triceps and step off the platform, suspending yourself.
- Lean your body forward slightly, take another breath, and lower yourself as much as you comfortably can––ideally, to the point where your elbows form a 90-degree angle.
- Press through your hands to extend your arms and return to the top. Exhale.
The Benefits of Bodyweight Dips
One of the greatest benefits of the exercise is that it targets the lower portion of the chest, which may not get the necessary stimulation through bench presses, flyes, push-ups, and other exercises people commonly do. Performing dips could lead to a more evenly developed chest.
Another benefit is that it doesn’t require special equipment––a dip stand is enough. This means you don’t have to wait for a bench to free up at the gym, and you can even do the exercise outside and while traveling.
Third, bodyweight dips have tremendous overloading potential, as trainees can attach additional weight to themselves via a special weight belt.
Tweaks and Variations of the Bodyweight Dip
A simple tweak is to maintain a more upright torso, which would shift the emphasis from the chest to the triceps. Another option is for users to do the exercise on a special dip machine that takes away some (or a lot of) resistance, making the movement more beginner-friendly.
Alternatively, as mentioned above, trainees can attach additional weight to themselves to make the exercise more challenging.
Working Your Chest With Bodyweight Dips
If you move from a vertical position in the start position to a position where your upper torso is curled forward, this engages the chest. So your upper torso is curled forward, and you should be looking straight down at the floor.
Performing dips in this position will work your chest and pecs, and less emphasis on your triceps.
Bodyweight Dips: Variations
Bodyweight Dips Using Two Chairs
Note: Make sure you use steady, solid chairs with a strong grip.
Triceps Bench Dips
This one should be a staple for all of your triceps workouts, and it’s great to work as a bi-set. So rope pulldowns or pushdowns, followed immediately by bench dips.
Make sure to use proper form with triceps dips on a bench:
Bodyweight Dips Using One Chair
Note: Make sure you use a steady, solid chair and have a good grip on both sides of the chair.
Bodyweight Dips on the Floor
The key to making bodyweight dips on the floor work, is to make the motion as “long” as possible.
If you just go up and down, there’s not enough range of motion to be effective. So you need to start as far back as possible, and then slide forward as you move to the down position.
Safety Tips and Final Considerations
Dips are inherently safe, but trainees must still be mindful of a few things. First, always warm up through light cardio, dynamic stretching, and light sets of dips and push-ups. The whole thing doesn’t need to take more than 5-7 minutes. (1)
Second, lower yourself carefully and never to the point of discomfort or pain. The only tension you feel should be in your chest, shoulders, and triceps in the form of fatigue and a burning sensation. (2)
Third, avoid pushing yourself too explosively to the top position. Doing so could place additional stress on your elbows and eventually lead to aches. Slow and controlled reps will provide the necessary stimulus and make it easier to stop a set immediately if you fail a rep or feel pain.
Here are some more bodyweight exercise considerations, and the first one is top-notch to work the lateral head of your triceps:
- Diamond Push-ups
- Bodyweight Dips – Muscles Worked
- Bodyweight Chest Exercises
- Bodyweight Bicep Exercises
- Bodyweight Back Exercises
- Elizabeth Quinn, M. S. (2020, March 13). Prevent injuries. Verywell Fit.
- Ward, S. (2023, May 31). How to get rid of lactic acid: Is it possible to reduce lactate?. Healthline.