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. Here’s the best video I’ve found online of a guy doing a good dip with great form:
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: