Dips are a powerful bodyweight movement that requires strong core muscles and upper body strength.
They are an excellent supplementary exercise to include in your workout routine, whatever your fitness goals may be.
Depending on the type of dips you do, the exercise can work everything from the pectoralis major muscles in the chest to triceps, lats, and deltoid muscles. While chest dips work the pectoral muscles more, bench dips target the trapezius muscles above everything else.
Dips are a commonly underutilized exercise that many people could benefit from adding to their workout regimen.
It’s an excellent chest-building bodyweight exercise that also places a lot of emphasis on surrounding muscles such as the trapezius, lats, and delts.
If you want to build a stronger upper back and pectoral muscles without using weights, then you could do a lot worse.
What Muscles Do Dips Work?
There are several major and minor muscle groups that dips target.
Generally, dips work the major muscles of the chest, shoulders and upper back.
More specifically, they target the following muscle groups.
Pectoralis Major (Pecs)
Pectoralis major refers to a significant portion of the chest muscle that’s wedged in between the sliver known as the lats and the deltoid part of the shoulder.
When you look at your chest in the mirror, the pectoralis major is the main muscle you’ll see.
This is the muscle that you often hear referred to as the ‘pecs,’ and if you want to look broad and strong, it’s worth your while targeting the muscle group with several exercises.
While pushups and bench press are excellent choices, dips can be an interesting alternative to make your pecs pop.
Anterior Deltoid (Delts)
The anterior deltoid is the part of the shoulder that’s next to your pectoral muscles on the front of your body.
While the lateral deltoid refers to the part of your shoulder the faces the outside, the anterior deltoids are the muscles that connect your chest to your shoulder.
Otherwise known as ‘delts,’ these are great muscles to work if you want to build a strong upper body as they complement the chest muscles.
Triceps Brachii (Triceps)
The triceps brachii is a muscle group found on the rear side of the arm.
The tricep muscles are commonly worked out with the biceps, and they are muscles that can add a lot of size to your arms.
The lower part of the dip movement as you bend your elbows activates the tricep muscles, but there’s also a variation you can do to specifically target them.
Instead of bending your knees and lowering your chest to the bar, you should keep your legs straight and lift yourself up until your arms are locked out to better target the triceps.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
The latissimus dorsi is commonly referred to as the ‘lats’, and it is the largest muscle in the upper body.
The lats are like wings under the shoulder blades, accounting for a large section of musculature on the back.
Rhomboids (Upper Back)
The rhomboids are a minor muscle group on the upper back that are often spoken of in the same way as the scapular.
These small slivers of muscle support the scapular, so they’re good lesser-well-known muscles to put through their paces.
The trapezius muscles, better known as the traps, account for a large portion of muscle in the upper back.
Targeting the traps with exercises like dips is an excellent way to fill out your frame and strengthen the upper back.
There are several variations of the dip exercise, each one providing different benefits and working different muscle groups.
The most common dip is the chest dip, which has its own equipment in most gyms, but there are other variations you might like to supplement your workouts with.
Chest dips are the exercise you’ll see people doing in the gym using the dip bar.
A dip bar is simply a U-shaped bar that has two handles you can hold onto as you raise and lower yourself with your arms.
Usually, if it’s in a gym this dip bar is attached to another machine, or forms part of a bodyweight exercise piece of equipment with a pull up bar.
The chest dip is hands-down the best variation for building strong pectoral muscles and rounding out your shoulders.
To perform a perfect rep, do the following:
- First, grab onto either bar and push yourself up until your arms are locked out. At the top position, you should fold your legs in so that they won’t touch the ground as you descend.
- Now, slowly lower yourself down as you inhale until you reach the point that your shoulders dip below your elbows. You should feel it in your chest muscles at the bottom of the movement.
- To ascend, push up as hard as you can on an exhale, squeezing your pectoral muscles and core as you do so.
If you’ve got the hang of this move and you want to get more from it, you can wear a weight vest or hold onto a plate weight with your feet for extra resistance.
Tricep dips are very similar to chest dips, and also require the dip bar.
However, the main difference between the two is that while the former focusses on the chest, the latter targets the tricep muscles.
To work your triceps with dips, follow these steps:
- Grab the bars like you would for a standard dip, and push up until your arms lock out. This time, though, instead of tucking your legs in, you’re just going to cross one ankle over the other and keep your legs straight.
- With your legs straight, lower yourself down, until your upper arm is parallel with the bar, and then raise yourself back up again. As you perform this exercise you should feel a burn in your tricep muscles.
Chair dips are the easiest variation to do and simply require a chair or bench to perform.
To do a chair dip, here’s what you need to do:
- Sit on a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground and your palms face down on the chair either side of you.
- Shift yourself forward until your whole body is off the chair but your arms are still pushing down on it. Your body should still remain in the sitting position, with your feet now planted on the ground.
- In this position, with palms facing forward, lower yourself down until your shoulders approach the level of your elbows and then push yourself back up.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Dips Work
What are the benefits of doing dips?
Dips are an excellent bodyweight exercise that make for a welcome change if you’re tired of doing pushups all the time.
Dips work the chest muscles primarily, but they also target the shoulders and upper back so they can help you fill out your frame without relying on weights.
The other main benefit of doing dips is that for the most part you can do them anywhere, while chest and tricep dips may be trickier without bars, chair dips can be done anywhere from your home to the office or even a hotel room.
Are dips for triceps or chest?
It depends on the variation you decide to do.
The most common variation is chest dips, but tricep dips which require a slight alteration in form can be very effective for building triceps.
Whichever type of dips you do, though, you should be able to target both muscle groups.
Are dips better than pushups?
It’s possible that dips are better than pushups, but hard to say with any certainty.
Dips are an excellent exercise that rely on your bodyweight as resistance, and they work several key muscle groups such as the pectoralis major of the chest.
While pushups offer an astonishing array of variations, dips target specific muscle groups which pushups may not be able to hit.
A Final Word From Energetic Lifestyle
Dips are one of the best bodyweight exercises for building a strong chest and upper back muscles.
They rival the pushup for convenience, and the bench press for effectiveness.