The Chair Dips Exercise: How To, Muscles Worked + Variations

If you have ever looked into doing at-home strength training workouts, at-home arm workouts, or upper body workouts, you might have heard of (or tried!) the chair dips exercise. 

Chair dips are a popular upper-body strengthening exercise that can be performed with nothing but your body and a chair, making it a great exercise for bodyweight workouts.

But, what are chair dips, and how do you do them? What muscles do chair dips work? Can you modify chair dips workouts for beginners or progress chair dips workouts as you get stronger?

In this exercise guide, we will discuss what the chair dips exercise entails, how to do chair dips based on your fitness level the muscles worked, and how to structure chair dips in upper-body workouts or at-home strength training workouts based on your fitness goals.

We will cover: 

  • What Are Chair Dips?
  • How Do You Do Chair Dips?
  • How to Advance Chair Dips Workouts

Let’s dive in! 

A chair dip exercise.

What Are Chair Dips?

Chair dips are a popular bodyweight exercise that targets several key upper-body muscles.

Although there are some supplementary muscles worked by chair dips, the “chair dips muscles worked” list primarily centers around the triceps in the upper arms, the deltoids in the shoulders, and the pectoralis major and minor muscles of the chest. 

Chair dips can be seen as a modified version of body weight dips performed on parallel bars, also called parallel bar dips.

By using a chair, weight bench, or other similar aid, the chair dip exercise is not only more feasible for at-home workouts where you likely don’t have a dip exercise station or a dip bars for full dips but also more approachable for beginners relative to full bodyweight dips.

This is not to say that chair dip workouts can’t be challenging; depending on your fitness level, body weight, and how many reps and sets of chair dips you do, most people can still get a great upper-body strengthening workout with chair dips.

A person doing chair dips.

How Do You Do Chair Dips?

Ultimately, there are two different ways that you can do chair dips.

In the beginner exercise, you will have your knees bent, and in the advanced exercise progression, you will have your legs straight.

We will explain the steps for how to do bent-knee dips for beginners and how to do straight-leg chair dips as you get stronger.

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to perform bent-knee chair dips for beginners:

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair, couch, bed, coffee table, or weight bench with your hands cupping the edge of the chair on either side of your hips. Basically, fold your hand along the edge of the chair or sitting surface so that your palm is flat next to your butt on either side, and your fingers are folded where the hand meets the fingers and are pointing down along the front of the chair or bench.
  2. Make sure that you are sitting upright with good posture, engaging your core to keep your belly tight, your shoulders back and down, your chest up, and your gaze forward.
  3. Scoot to the very edge of the chair so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, your knees are bent 90°, your shins are vertical, and your feet are flat on the floor, but the chair supports none of your body except for the very back of your butt and your hands.
  4. Press through your palms to lift your butt off of the chair, further scooting it forward off the front edge of the seat. At this point, all of your weight should be in your hands and your feet.
  5. Bend your elbows to lower your hips so that they are just above the floor in front of the chair. Your hands should be behind you on the chair.
  6. Go as low as you can without your butt actually touching all the way down to the floor. Your elbows should be pointing up and back behind you, and you want to keep your back as close to the front edge of the chair as possible without scraping it.
  7. Pause, and then press through your palms, using your triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles to lift your body up.
  8. Try not to sit back up on the chair but hover just in front of it with your butt before descending back down to begin the next rep.

Once you build more strength in your triceps, shoulders, chest, and core muscles, you can progress from doing chair dips with your knees bent to chair dips with your legs straight. 

During this process, you can slowly start straightening your knees and bringing your feet further away from your butt so that your legs are somewhat straight.

Once you are ready, you will be able to fully straighten your knees and perform chair dips with your legs straight.

Here are the steps for how to do straight-leg chair dips:

  1. Assume the same starting position at the edge of the chair with your hands positioned on either side of your hips.
  2. As you shift your weight into your hands and scoot your butt off the edge of the chair, walk your feet all the way out so that your knees are straight and you are weight-bearing on the back edge of your heels, with your toes pointing up towards the ceiling or away from your body towards the upper wall/ceiling on the opposite end of the room. This is your starting position.
  3. From here, keep your legs straight and your weight on the back of your heels and in the palms of your hands as you bend your elbows to lower your hips until your butt is just above the floor in front of the chair. Your hands should be behind you on the chair.
  4. Pause, and then press through your palms, using your triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles to lift your body back up until your lower back is just in front of the front edge of the chair seat.
  5. Again, pause here, squeezing your upper body muscles before bending your elbows to drop down for the next rep.
Bench dips.

How to Advance Chair Dips Workouts

In general, chair dips are a beginner-friendly version of full bodyweight dips performed using dip bars or parallel bars at the gym.

People often perform bench dips, which are essentially chair dips using a weight bench at the gym instead of a chair at home, if they are not strong enough to do full body weight dips, or the gym does not have an assisted dip machine to offload some of your bodyweight while performing upright bodyweight dips.

That said, if you have to perform chair dips for home workouts because you can’t get to the gym or you are traveling, you can progress straight leg bench dips or chair dips by adding external resistance.

For example, you can wear a weighted vest to make this exercise more challenging.

Wearing a weighted vest is ideal because it shouldn’t compromise the form and technique for bench dips.

Bench dips.

If you do not have a weighted vest, you can potentially make chair dip workouts more difficult by placing a weight plate, sandbag, or dumbbell along the crease of your hips/lap if you have a way to secure it to your body when performing straight leg bench dips or chair dips.

There are a few important form and technique things to be mindful of when doing chair dips.

  • Keep your back as close to the edge of the chair as possible rather than having your arms way back behind you with your butt several feet in front of the chair. This will cut back on shoulder irritation.
  • Keep your core tight so that you maintain a neutral spine. Do not hunch your shoulders around your back.
  • If you find that this exercise is bothering your wrists, try spacing your hands a little closer together once you scoot off of the chair, or rotate your wrists and hands slightly to the outside until you can find a comfortable position.
  • Make sure that you are using your arms and not pushing through your feet to lift your body back up. This ensures that you are actually engaging the correct muscles for dips.

For other ideas about bodyweight exercises you can try at home, check out our guide to no equipment biceps workouts here.

Bench dips.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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