The Ultimate Dips Workout: 4 Exercises For A Stronger Upper Body

Dips are one of the best bodyweight exercises for the muscles of the chest, shoulders, upper back, and triceps in the upper arms.

However, depending on your fitness level and your strength training goals, you may want to perform different dips exercise variations in your upper-body workouts.

In this dips workout guide, we will explain how to perform bodyweight dips for different fitness levels to help you get stronger and keep your dips exercises from becoming monotonous.

We will cover: 

  • How Do You Do Dips?
  • Tips for Performing Dips Workouts
  • How to Do Dips for Beginners

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing dips.

How Do You Do Dips?

Although there are different dips variations you can do in dips workouts, let’s explain how to do basic bodyweight dips.

Here are the steps for how to do bodyweight dips from dip bars:

  1. Grip the dip bars with a neutral grip, palms facing one another, and press yourself upwards until your elbows are fully locked out.
  2. Once you are up at the top position, bend your elbows and use your triceps to lower your body down until your elbows are bent to 90°. Make sure to squeeze your glutes and your abs to maintain a straight spine as you lower your body down. 
  3. Pause and hold the lowered position for 1-3 seconds. Keep your gaze forward so that you do not round your back or hunch your shoulders forward.
  4. Press through the heels of your hands to return up to the full lockout position. 

Tips for Performing Dips Workouts

Here are a few tips that will help you perform dips properly and target the bodyweight dips muscles more effectively without increasing the risk of injuries or strain to your shoulders, elbows, or wrists:

#1: Use Good Posture

Make sure to engage your upper back muscles and core and keep your chest up and shoulders down throughout the duration of the exercise.

#2: Engage Your Muscles

Think about squeezing your upper portion of your pecs (chest muscles) and triceps as you lift your body up and control the descent.

This will help properly engage the muscles worked by dips while also helping you control unnecessary shaking or movement so that you have more stability while doing bodyweight dips.

A person doing dips.

#3: Keep Your Torso Upright

Try to keep your torso upright unless you are specifically trying to target different portions of your chest or arms with the muscles worked by dips.

Leaning your torso forward when you do the dips exercise puts a lot of strain on the anterior part of the shoulder joint, and leaning back can put excessive strain on your wrists, wrist extensor muscles, and elbows.

#4: Keep Wrists, Elbows and Shoulders Stacked

Do your best to minimize the angle between the wrists, elbows, and shoulders so that they are stacked on top of each other as much as possible to reduce torque on the joints.

This may be more or less possible depending on the width of the parallel bars or dip bars you are using for your dips workouts.

Some dips exercise bars are actually able to rotate so that you can flip them closer or further apart from one another based on how broad your shoulders are.

The Ultimate Dips Workout: 4 Exercises For A Stronger Upper Body 1

How to Do Dips for Beginners

Most beginners are unable to perform full bodyweight dips using dip bars or parallel bars because they lack sufficient strength in the muscles worked by dips.

Assisted dips and bench dips are excellent dips exercise modifications for beginners.

Assisted Dips

You can modify dips workouts for beginners by performing assisted dips using an assisted dip exercise weight machine.

This machine allows you to kneel on a platform while performing bodyweight dips holding onto the dip handlebars on either side of your body. You can select a certain number of pounds or kilograms to offset from your body weight on the machine.

Unlike most weight training machines, the heavier you select with the assisted dips exercise machine pin, the easier the dip exercise will be because you will be getting more assistance.

Essentially, choosing a higher weight on the assisted dip weight machine is effectively like removing more of your body weight.

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg) and you set the weight machine to 60 pounds (27 kg), you will be doing bodyweight dips as if you weigh only 105 pounds.

If you are working out in a location where you have access to parallel dip bars, such as at a gym or a park that has calisthenics equipment, you can perform regular bodyweight dips from dip bars as long as you have adequate strength in the muscles worked by dips.

A person doing dips.

Bench Dips or Chair Dips

For at-home bodyweight arm workouts or bodyweight chest workouts where you do not have dip bars, or if you aren’t strong enough to do full bodyweight dips, you can perform chair dips or bench dips with your legs straight out in front of you (or knees bent if you are a beginner).

The relative percentage of your body weight and the angle of dips from a chair reduces the difficulty of the dips exercise as well as the strengthening benefits of bodyweight dips. 

For this reason, bench or chair dips are great for beginners.

Here are the steps for how to do chair dips:

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair or weight bench with each hand along the front end of the chair on either side of your hips. 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.
  2. 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 none of your body is supported by the chair except for the very back of your butt and your hands. If you are strong enough, straighten your knees all the way so that you’re on your heels with your toes pointing up to the ceiling; otherwise, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Press through your palms to lift your butt off of the chair. Bend your elbows to lower your hips so that they are just above the floor in front of the chair. 
  4. 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.
  5. Pause, and then press through your palms, using your triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles, to lift your body up.
A person doing dips on rings.

Rings Dips

Dips on the rings are even harder than body weight dips from dip bars or even parallel bars because gymnastics rings or rings in CrossFit gyms are not stationary. 

Consequently, you have to use your core muscles along with your rotator cuff muscles and all of the muscles in your upper body to provide stability while you try to perform ring dips.

Ultimately, this is an advanced bodyweight dips exercise for strength training athletes who have mastered regular parallel bar bodyweight dips and need to progress dips workouts to further challenge the muscles worked by dips.

These muscles include the triceps, deltoids, traps, serratus anterior, pectoralis major and minor, and rhomboids.

Bodyweight dips from gymnastics rings add to the “dips muscles worked“ list with the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor), deeper spinal stabilizers and core muscles, lats, teres major, all of the grip strength muscles, along with the biceps and brachialis in the upper arms.

A person doing dips on rings.

Here’s how to do this advanced dips workout variation:

  1. Get up on the hanging exercise rings with your arms straight, torso leaned slightly forward, and back straight. You will have to consciously contract and engage all of the muscles in your upper body, core, and potentially even your hips and glutes to keep your body firm like a board since the gymnastics rings themselves will be trying to swing around and not providing a reliable and stable base of support for performing the exercise.
  2. Keep your chest up as you bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together to lower your body down. Again, think about trying to keep your torso and upper body as rigid as possible while allowing your arms to bend to minimize swinging or movement of the rings while you do your dips exercises.
  3. Once your elbows are bent 90°, press through your palms to raise all the way back up until your elbows are fully extended.

For any dips exercise, you can increase the difficulty and muscle-strengthening benefits of the movement by wearing a weighted vest. 

Check out our guide to the benefits of running in a weighted vest here.

A person doing 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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