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What Muscles Do Dips Work Out? + Dips Variations To Try Out

Dips are one of the best exercises for triceps mass and strength, but the dips exercise also works out other muscle groups.

So, what muscles do dips work out?

Do dips work shoulders as much as triceps? Do dips work chest muscles? Can you alter the muscles worked by dips if you angle your torso or do parallel bar dips vs bench dips?

Keep reading to learn how to perform dips correctly and learn about “muscles worked dips” as we answer your question, “What muscles do dips work?

We will cover the following: 

  • How Do You Do Dips?
  • What Muscles Do Dips Work Out?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing dips on bars.

How Do You Do Dips?

Before we look at the muscles that dips work or how to potentially modify the “dips muscles worked,” 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 dips exercise bars with a neutral grip, palms facing one another, and press yourself up until your elbows are fully extended. You can bend your knees to 90° and hold your feet behind you.
  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. 

What Muscles Do Dips Work Out?

So, a common question is: “Dips work which muscles?“ meaning which muscles are strengthened by dips?

Dips are often considered to be primarily a triceps exercise, but they also target other muscles including:

  • The muscles of the chest (pectoralis major and minor)
  • The anterior deltoids, which are the front portion of your shoulder, with some contribution to the middle and posterior deltoids
  • The core muscles like the abs and deep lower back extensors
  • Some of the upper back muscles including the traps, rhomboids, and serratus anterior.

In fact, the large range of motion when performing dips on parallel bars is a great way to increase upper chest hypertrophy and strength because you are maximizing your time under tension and lifting your entire body weight rather than a percentage as with a traditional push-up.

Dips exercise.

Moreover, in addition to the muscles worked by dips, bodyweight dips are a fantastic exercise to help increase your lockout strength, which can translate to better overhead presses, bench presses, and Olympic lift performances such as with the snatch.

There are various ways to modify dips or perform different variations of dips exercises in chest workouts, arm workouts, or upper body workouts.

The specific types of bodyweight dips exercises you perform for how you structure dips workouts will primarily depend on your fitness level, the equipment you have available to you, and the primary dips muscles that you want to target.

Although the muscles worked by dips will be similar in any dips exercise (namely, the triceps, deltoid, pecs, rhomboids, and traps), how you perform dips can change the specific portions or fibers in the muscles worked by dips.

In other words, you can modify dips for upper-chest workouts by changing the position of your body or how you do dips vs how to do dips to strengthen your triceps for dips workouts geared towards the arms.

You can add dips to your chest workouts and make it an even more effective exercise for angling chest muscle fibers specifically by angling your body slightly forwards or backwards while you perform the exercise.

The extended position of dips.

For example, if you want to do lower chest dips that target the lower pecs muscle fibers, you can angle your torso forward while performing dips on the parallel bars or dip bars. 

This is also a good way to do dips for shoulder muscles.

The one caveat here is that a forward torso lean when performing parallel bar dips places quite a bit of strain on the front of your shoulders.

Therefore, if you deal with acute or chronic shoulder injuries or have shoulder instability, this is probably not the best lower chest exercise to incorporate into your workout routine.

Make sure that you perform the forward lean from your hips so that your entire torso is tilted forward; you do not want to hunch or round your back.

If you want to shift the muscles that dips work out more to the triceps instead of doing dips for chest muscles (pecs), you can do bodyweight “triceps dips” on parallel bars.

This body positioning will recruit your triceps more than performing dips on angled bars or rings because your arms (and especially your elbows) are tucked into your sides rather than flared away from your body as you drop down.

Like the close-grip bench press, this body positioning is also easier on your shoulders because it keeps them in a neutral position.

Bench dips.

Bench Dips or Chair Dips

Because the dips exercise is a bodyweight exercise, many people mistakenly think that it is “easy,“ or less challenging than many weightlifting exercises with heavy weights.

However, bodyweight dips are very difficult, particularly for anyone who is just getting started with strength training, carries excess body weight, or lacks strength in the muscles worked by dips, namely the upper-body muscles like the triceps, deltoids, traps, and pecs. 

For this reason, most beginners are unable to perform full bodyweight dips using dip bars or parallel bars.

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. 

Chair dips.

Therefore, if you are an advanced athlete trying to do bodyweight chest workouts to maintain or increase your strength and mass, it is best to try to replicate parallel dip bars for bodyweight dips at home. 

This may be possible by using the top backs of high chairs (with weights in the chairs to keep them stable), a high countertop with some other parallel surface, etc.

That said, 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.

Remember that the muscles worked by dips should be those in the upper body and not of the lower body.

Therefore, try not to press through your heels or lift from your hips/butt at the bottom of each rep when you are coming back up to the top position. 

The strength or force to lift your body should be coming from your arms, shoulders, upper back, and the chest muscles targeted by chair dips. 

This ensures that you are actually engaging the correct muscles for dips.

Many people inadvertently “cheat“ when doing chair dips workouts by spreading the muscular workload to perform the exercise between the legs and upper body.

However, in order to maximize the strengthening benefits of the chair dips muscles worked, you really should be lowering your body and lifting your body almost entirely with your arms by pressing through your hands on the chair.

For more specific chest workouts, you can check out our complete inner chest workout guide by clicking here.

Bench press.
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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