If there’s one thing we agree on at Home Gym Experts it’s that dips are one of the best upper body exercises out there. This compound exercise builds multiple muscles at the same time and is great for your core strength too. But how do you know you’re getting them right?
This guide looks at how to do dips properly and give you all the tips on best form and mistakes to look out for.
What do you get out of doing dips?
Dips work a lot more than your triceps!
A popular misconception (and one I thought for a long time) is that the dip station is just another way to train your tricep muscles. While this exercise is a popular method of triceps development, there’s a lot more benefits to dips than that.
Dips are a simple body-weight exercise, although you can add weight once you get good at them and have built up the necessary strength.
Apart from your tri’s, here’s the main things you’ll get out of adding dips into your workout
- Build Shoulder muscles – One of the main groups you’ll be targeting is those shoulder muscles.
- Chest development – The dip station is often overlooked in favour of the bench press, push-ups and other traditional exercises. But with the right form, the dip is super-powerful at developing your chest.
- Chest separation – definition between your pectoral muscles is often tricky to achieve and the dip station is one of the tools you can use to get there.
- Get better performance in other exercises – Dips are a good way to increase weight in other exercises, by increasing strength in the muscles you’ll need. A good example being the bench press.
- Core strength & overall conditioning – You’ll definitely build up your core strength when you start building up your reps on the dip station.
- Grip strength – We’ll take every little gain we can get and the paralel bars of the dip are a proven way to increase your grip strength!
Dips are easy – you just jump on and push up and down, right?
Dips are one of those things where you can just jump on a dip station and have a go at it. But the problem is there’s a risk you can injure your shoulder, and miss a lot of training because of it.
Also, if you’re planning to build up to weighted dips, it’s really important to get into the habit of doing dips properly, or even correct your form like I had to!
What is good form when you’re doing dips?
Three easy steps to perfect dips!
The best thing about getting dips right is that there’s not too much to get right. Mastering a few simple basics is going to seriously pay off.
STEP 1: Getting into position before you dip
It’s easy hop up on the dip station and concentrate on the form going up and down. But when you get on, one of the most important things you can do is to pause, take a minute and get the starting position correct.
- Jump up and straighten your arms
- Lean slightly forward
STEP 2: Dip down
This is the negative part of the dip action. There’s nothing complicated here. Simple bend your arms and lower yourself down at a steady pace. Keep going until your arms are around the 90° and then pause. Keep your forearms vertical all the way down. Keep your back neutral – not curved either way or awkwardly flat.
STEP 3: Back up
Reverse step 2 and push straightup. Keep going until your arms are completely straight and ‘locked’. That completes one set of dips. Again, keep your forearms vertical here. If you’re wondering what to do with your legs, there’s no right or wrong. I like to bend mind and tuck them back out of the way. You’ll want to do this if your dip station is closer to the ground.
Mistakes to look out for when you’re doing dips
A guide to proper dip form wouldn’t be complete without looking at some of the habits that are easy to fall into in this exercise. Although dips are beautifully simple, there’s still a few things to look out for:
Don’t dip down too deep
You can dip for life without injury or strain. The key to it is not to dip down too deep. If you do that, you’ll put a lot of strain on your shoulder and rotator cuff. While it’s not easy to check without a mirror, or spotter, try not to let your elbows go to a smaller than 90° angle.
Watch your elbows don’t flare out
Keep those elbows tucked in, but not touching your body.
Don’t angle your forearms back
This one is really easy to get wrong. Check that your forearms are vertical and you’ll get much better form on the way down and up.
How do you target the chest when you’re doing dips?
The simple answer to ‘how do you target your chest with dips?’ is make sure your chest is doing most of the work. Let’s look at how you can engage your pecs more when you’re doing your dips and build your chest up quicker.
It’s all in how you lean!
It’s possible to do dips without ever realizing that a tiny adjustment to some of your sets could get some serious work done on your chest development. If you can lean forwards – just slightly – when you dip down and push up, you’ll put the load onto your pecs and work on those muscles.
How far forward should you go?
Lean forwards to around 1 O’clock position, or around 30 degrees. This activates your chest as well as just shoulders and triceps.
Another tip: keep your shoulders down if you want to develop your chest with dips
Another little secret that’s easy to overlook is to keep your shoulders down (as in the opposite of ‘hunched up’) This will give you a better chest contraction and also protect your shoulder joint.
Should I start with ring dips or fixed handles?
If yo’re new to dips or getting back to this exercise, you might be wondering which one you should get. Ring dips are a much harder form of dips and it’s easy to get injured on them if you’re not used to them.
Definitely start with un-weighted fixed handle dips to begin with. Keep your form right and don’t overdo it. Build up the reps and sets as usual.
I suck at dips – how can I build up to them?
Because dips are a body weight exercise (although you can use things like dip belts to add weight later) if you’re a heavier person, or just don’t have the upper body strength, they can be incredibly tough to get into. Here’s a few quick things you can try:
- Just hang out! Get used to the dip station. Get into position. Just hang there. Yes, you can build up strength without doing anything.
- Take it slowly and increase very gradually –
- Do mini-dips – When you’re comfortable hanging there, with your arms straight, try a mini dip. You don’t have to go down to near-90 degrees. Try a slight bend and then back up.
- CHEAT! – Get a plyo box or a suitable low table or box and take some of the weight on your legs. No-one is going to know and it’s a great way to build up strength.
- Build up your push-ups – Other exercises that use the same muscles can be great for building up your strength. Work on increasing your push-ups and your dips will get easier.