What Muscles Do Dips Work and How You Can Target Them More Effectively

What Muscles Do Dips Work

“What muscles do dips work?”

You’ve probably asked yourself this very question before if fitness is on your radar. After all, dips are incredibly popular, and tons of people recommend doing them. They are a powerhouse bodyweight workout that works various muscle groups.

But what direct benefits can you get from this exercise? What makes dips so great? More importantly, how to get started with them?

You’re in luck because we’ll break everything down today. Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • The triceps are 70% of your arms, if you want bigger arms, prioritize training your triceps.

  • Dips are a great way to isolate your triceps.

  • Using a dip-assist machine is the best way to start doing your dips if you are a beginner.

  • Dips engage multiple muscle groups, so they're a top bodyweight exercise.

Muscles Worked By Dips

Dips are a bodyweight exercise that primarily works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. First, your chest (pectoral) muscles work hard as they are the primary mover during this exercise. 

To emphasize your chest even more, lean your torso forward a bit. So your upper body is somewhat hunched over so your chest is nearly parallel to the floor.

Deltoid (Shoulders) Worked With Dips

Your shoulders (mainly the front deltoid heads) and triceps also assist with pushing and descending. Your shoulders directly help your chest and keep you stable, while your triceps – the primary elbow extensors – contract to straighten your arms. (1)

Besides these three muscles, dips also involve your serratus anterior, abs, transverse abdominis, back, and glutes. These muscles work to keep you in position, but they also offer some active role in supporting and stabilizing your body going up and down. So it’s a really solid upper body exercise that engages a number of key muscle groups.

And finally, your traps and biceps also work to some degree, mostly for stability and to keep your shoulders in position.

What Muscles Do Dips Work

Muscles Worked

Primary

  • Triceps
  • Pecs / Chest

Dark Red muscles above are primary.

Secondary

  • Shoulders
  • Back

Light Red muscles above are secondary

Tricep Dips to Isolate and Engage Your Triceps

Tricep dips are different from standard dips, and work different muscles. Click the button below for tricep dips, which are a great bodyweight exercise to work and build your triceps. Another great triceps exercise are tricep bench dips.

What Makes Dips So Great?

Dips are great for a variety of reasons. Most notably, the movement is fantastic because it requires minimal equipment and trains your entire upper body. Everything from your chest, shoulders, triceps, core, back, and biceps has to work hard. (2)

Dips are also fantastic because of their impressive overloading potential. You can use this movement to overload your body for months, even years. All you have to do is increase the number of repetitions you’re doing. Eventually, you can start to attach weight to yourself for extra resistance.

How to Start Doing Dips (And Where To Do Them)?

Having access to a dip station is best because these are made specifically for the exercise. Plus, they provide stability and work well for most people. If you don’t have access to a dip station, you can improvise at home with a pair of chairs or other solid and sturdy objects. (3)

Make sure to adjust the distance between objects to fit your width, allowing you to train your chest well without hurting your shoulders. Be careful and stop a set if you start feeling pain.

Alternatively, if you can’t to a single unassisted dip, leg-assisted machines or having a spotter can work. Assisted machines work as such:

Select how much weight the machine should take away (reduce your weight), place your knees on the pads, and begin to learn the dip movement pattern.

A partner can assist you with going up by pushing you and then letting you descend on your own. This is great for building eccentric strength (the muscle lengthening under tension).

If you don’t have access to either option, you can also do jump dips. Essentially, you grab onto the dip station, jump up, and straighten your arms. You then lower yourself unassisted as slowly as possible. This is great for building strength in your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

You can also do a dip variation to emphasize your triceps better. It’s almost the same as chest dips, but the goal is to keep your body more upright, which would take the emphasis away from your pectorals and force your triceps to work harder.

Muscles Worked By Dips

One of the Best Bodyweight Exercises

Based on my experience, dips are one of the top two or top three bodyweight exercises. They are very simple to do, and they engage a number of important muscle groups.

And I love them because they are an anywhere and anytime exercise. So if you’re traveling and want to get a great tricep and shoulder workout, nothing better than dips to achieve that. All you need is a low table or bench, and boom, you’re in business!

And there are many variations that you can do with dips. The triceps are an obvious target muscle with dips, but the chest is also in play.

Targeting Your Chest With Dips

You can target your chest with dips by making one slight modification in your posture. So when you are on parallel bars, instead of keeping your upper body vertical and upright, you’ll need to curl the top half of your upper body forward so that you’re looking at the floor.

By doing this simple adjustment, you will target your chest with dips. It’s almost like doing a push-up in a sense, but you are targeting the lower chest.

And this is a great exercise to do in conjunction with other chest exercises. So for example, you might do a flat bench press or chest flyes, followed immediately by chest dips. The key to engaging your chest during the dip movement, is the upper half of your torso needs to be facing the floor.

Varying the Resistance

You can vary the resistance with dips in a number of ways. First, you can add a weighted belt to make the resistance heavier.

And to reduce the resistance, many gyms have dip machines where you can position your knees on a lever to reduce the resistance.

And if you are doing tricep dips on a bench, you can increase the resistance by placing your feet on a chair or table so that they are higher in the air.

No matter what your goals and situation are, always make sure to warm up properly, especially your joints – shoulders, wrists, and elbows. Begin with some light cardio, warm your joints up with dynamic movements, and lift some light weight to warm up your muscles.

Your triceps are a part of the “push muscles” along with your shoulder and chest. Check out our bodyweight shoulder and chest exercises to grow them and gain explosive pushing force.

Here are some more bodyweight exercises:
Bodyweight Back Exercises
Bodyweight Bicep Exercises
Bodyweight Ab Exercises

Click to check more bodyweight exercises, and also our video library of bodyweight workouts.

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov

Philip is a fitness writer, blogger, certified personal trainer, and the founder of ThinkingLifter.com. He has spent the last nine years writing fitness content and training men and women in the gym, as well as online. His passion is fitness and exercise, and helping others improve their fitness and wellness.

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References

  1. Onkst, T. (2019). What muscles do dips work out? LIVESTRONG.COM. https://www.livestrong.com/article/403921-what-muscles-do-dips-work-out/.
  2. Broser, E. (2019). 5 reasons you should do dips. Muscle & Fitness. https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/5-reasons-you-should-be-doing-dips/.
  3. Marcin, A. (2019). Chair dips: How to do and muscles worked. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/chair-dips.

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