How to Do a Perfect Dip (No Tobacco Required)

So you’re looking to build up your muscles, and you’ve learned how great it is to train with compound exercises.  Rather than isolate your chest for 5 exercises, your shoulders for 5 exercises, and triceps for 5 exercises, why not pick a few that work all three at the same time!  One such exercise is the Dip.

Now, a bodyweight dip requires you to have a pretty good base level of strength throughout your body, because you’re going to be lifting up your whole body up and down.  Yeah, the dips I’m talking about require you to grab two parallel bars, hoist yourself up, and then lower your entire body by bending your elbows.  I don’t recommend the dips where you put your feet up on something in front of you because it puts your arms and shoulders in a really weird angle and you’re just asking for injury.  So, today’s exercise is just the dips where you’re supporting your whole body weight below you.

Okay so here is what you do:

  • First of all, make sure you can do a dip. Don’t hop up there and then lower yourself unless you’re fairly confident you can get through at least one of these things.  We can’t have you tearing any muscles or falling on somebody, because that would suck ass.
  • Grab the parallel bars, and hoist yourself up. At this point look straight ahead, and contract your stomach muscles (just like you do when you do squats and deadlifts).  If you’re keeping your abs tight for all of these exercises, you’ll never have to do a crunch again and you’ll still have washboard abs.
  • Cross your legs and bend your knees if you like (so your feet are out behind you), for stability purposes, but keep your head up and look straight ahead.
  • Keeping your elbows at your side, lower yourself until your triceps are parallel to the floor. A lot of websites will recommend you go past parallel, but I think this puts too much strain on your shoulders at a weird angle and can cause injury/discomfort.  I only go down to parallel and haven’t had any issues, so I’d recommend the same.
  • Once you hit parallel, explode back up until JUST before you’re able to lock your elbows. By not locking your elbows, you keep the tension in your muscles and don’t jack up your joints.  w00t.
  • Now do another one.  And then another!

Those are dips.  By keeping your elbows as tight as possible, keep your abs tights, and keep your body in balance as you go up and down.

Dips Video

Some extra tips:

  • Don’t swing - this goes for practically every exercise.  If you start swinging your body as you go up and down, you take the emphasis off the muscles you’re actually trying to work.
  • Don’t go down past parallel - This is a point of controversy with some, but for me I’d rather not risk it.  A few months back I was teaching a client how to do dips and this out of shape guy came over to tell us that we need to be going all the way down to the floor (essentially lowering our triceps 30 degrees past parallel).  I thanked the man for his input, then went back to doing them my way.
  • Don’t flair out your elbows if you can avoid it. The more “out” your elbows are, the more emphasis on your chest.  Elbows tight = emphasis on shoulders and triceps.
  • Don’t settle for cheap substitutes – don’t use dip machines or other isolation tricep machines – These don’t recruit any of your stabilizer muscles, put your body at weird angles, and don’t give you full results.  Stick with bodyweight dips!

Now, once you can do 3 sets of 15 dips no problem, you have a few options to ramp up the difficulty:

  • Add weight – picking up a dumbbell between your feet, wearing a weighted backpack, or wearing a weight belt with some weight plates hanging off it.  At one point last year I was doing dips with a 60 pound dumbbell between my feet but it got too difficult to carry it with my feet, and it started to bother my shoulders.  I’d recommend a weight belt or backpack if you’re going to do dips with heavy weight.
  • Your other option, and the better option in my opinion - GO SLOW – keep your abs tight, and lower yourself ridiculously slowly.  Your body will have to recruit every muscle in your chest, shoulders, and triceps (including all stabilizer muscles) to keep your body under control.  Personally, I would do dips without weight after you’ve already done an exercise like Incline Dumbbell Presses.  Rather than add weight, do them slowly and safely.

There you have it: a great bodyweight exercise that will have your triceps popping out in no time (provided there isn’t too much body fat covering them).  If you have limited time in the gym or at your house, you can work out every muscle in your body with these three exercises:

Look at that, in just three exercises you’ve done a complete full body workout.  Crank that workout out in 20 minutes, and then go play some Halo.

-Steve

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  • Clint

    What is the point of controversy on going past parallel ? Is there a high risk of a injury ? I have always gone as low as I can go & try to max out on reps at the end of my chest workout but just before I start my triceps. I’ve seen many of those puffed up guys ,who look like they have just been stung by a bee , climb on to the dip bars with a ton of plates chained to themselves.They make such a spectacle of themselves it’s hard not to stare. ( similar to a car accident) Only to see them go (in my opinion) half way down. I see this on squats all the time as well. Guys who use a ton of weight & only go down half way. I like to do squats with no weight at all , but my ass can almost touch the floor. I try to do 100 like that (very difficult to get on & off the toilet the next day) In the end , I guess the best workout is the one that you will do. Thanks Steve, still one of the best sites going.

  • Clint

    What is the point of controversy on going past parallel ? Is there a high risk of a injury ? I have always gone as low as I can go & try to max out on reps at the end of my chest workout but just before I start my triceps. I’ve seen many of those puffed up guys ,who look like they have just been stung by a bee , climb on to the dip bars with a ton of plates chained to themselves.They make such a spectacle of themselves it’s hard not to stare. ( similar to a car accident) Only to see them go (in my opinion) half way down. I see this on squats all the time as well. Guys who use a ton of weight & only go down half way. I like to do squats with no weight at all , but my ass can almost touch the floor. I try to do 100 like that (very difficult to get on & off the toilet the next day) In the end , I guess the best workout is the one that you will do. Thanks Steve, still one of the best sites going.

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Hey Clint,

    My decision to only recommend going down to parallel is due to my own personal experience with dips and the experiences of Jason Ferruggia, a fitness guru who I really trust. He runs a great site over at JasonFerruggia.com , and actually wrote about his thoughts on dips here: Jason Ferruggia thoughts on dips . My shoulders really started to bother me (I had tendonitis in one) when I was doing heavy weights and dropping way below parallel on dips so I backed off and still saw pretty solid results. A lot of my readers are just starting out with exercises like this and I want to give them the safest advice possible until they’re strong enough to branch out.

    If you can go way down with lots of weight, more power to ya. If it doesn’t bother your muscles or strain you in any way, I don’t see any reason why you can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

    I absolutely agree with you on squats though. Guys who load up 3 plates on each side and then only drop down a quarter of the way are a joke. I can only squat about 200 pounds, but I go almost ALL the way down until my ass hits the floor. My back and legs really hate me, but they’re MUCH stronger because of it. No knee problems either.

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Hey Clint,

    My decision to only recommend going down to parallel is due to my own personal experience with dips and the experiences of Jason Ferruggia, a fitness guru who I really trust. He runs a great site over at JasonFerruggia.com , and actually wrote about his thoughts on dips here: Jason Ferruggia thoughts on dips . My shoulders really started to bother me (I had tendonitis in one) when I was doing heavy weights and dropping way below parallel on dips so I backed off and still saw pretty solid results. A lot of my readers are just starting out with exercises like this and I want to give them the safest advice possible until they’re strong enough to branch out.

    If you can go way down with lots of weight, more power to ya. If it doesn’t bother your muscles or strain you in any way, I don’t see any reason why you can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

    I absolutely agree with you on squats though. Guys who load up 3 plates on each side and then only drop down a quarter of the way are a joke. I can only squat about 200 pounds, but I go almost ALL the way down until my ass hits the floor. My back and legs really hate me, but they’re MUCH stronger because of it. No knee problems either.

    -Steve

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  • Jjkid

    Going past parallel is really hard on your shoulders and that's a fact. Go to parallel: going further doesn't do any more to your triceps and it doesn't put it under any more tension.

  • Ramanavaish

    dips are the best for pecs

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  • Lauxa

    No suggestions for people who can’t do a dip? I’ve got a couple. The first is chair dips, where you place hands on the seat of a chair and feet on floor and lower down. The second is to assume support position on bars or rings, where you just hold yourself up for as long as you can. What do you think, are these good exercises for building up to full dips?

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z2SOA2QSMUDNREAIDKEKWXVL2A krinks

    Rest Pause Singles on a close grip bench press helped me get to the point where I could start doing dips. At 47 yrs old at 230lbs that is no small feat.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z2SOA2QSMUDNREAIDKEKWXVL2A krinks

    Rest Pause Singles on a close grip bench press helped me get to the point where I could start doing dips. At 47 yrs old at 230lbs that is no small feat.

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  • IhaveID

     Pushups work as well.

  • TheCaptain

    On the off chance you’re still checking comments for this:  My gym has a station where I do pullups, and it has bars for dips as well- but they are not perfectly parallel.  The bars actually angle inward slightly.  Do you see this having a major impact?  Should I seek some perfectly parallel bars?  Thanks.

  • Ann

    Angled bars should be fine. It’s just a slight variation like using different hand positions in push-ups.

  • Chris

    I have a home gym set up, and for dips I bought a zimmer frame! (can get them pretty cheap on eBay or Amazon) It works a treat, I’m 6’4″ so I have to set the legs quite long which makes it wobble slightly but it’s not a real issue!

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  • Yamahatzr125

    The reason commercial dip bars are angled is so people of different widths can use them, if you have a narrow frame use the narrow front part of the bars, if you have a wide frame use the back. I bought a shamrock gym for home dips recently, really cool product, just hooks up into a door like the iron gym but you can do dips and rows aswell as pullups

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  • JP

    Any alternative to dips available if I can’t find the time to go to the gym?

  • SLB

    Push-ups

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  • mufasa

    d video no longer exists