When I used to spend a lot of time at regular gyms, I don’t recall doing much on dip stations. My love affair began when someone gifted me a proper one years ago. Since then this machine has been a huge part of my training life. This guide digs into the humble dip bar – what it is, how to use it and all the best (and worst) bits about them.
What’s a dip station?
There’s a wide and colourful array of dip machines out there, everything from simple bars you attach to an existing gym, or a wall, to dedicated dip stations that don’t do anything else. More on all these a bit later. But first, what’s a dip station and what will it do for you?
The dip is a simple ‘pushing’ exercise that works a number of upper body muscles at once.
A simple compound pushing exercise that trains your upper body
A dip is a compound exercise. It works a number of muscle groups at the same time.
A dip station is simply two parallel, horizontal bars. They’re roughly slightly wider than average shoulder width, and higher than waist height.
You take hold of these bars, lift yourself up into a straight arm position, and then dip down, bending at the elbows and leaning slightly forwards.
You then stop at the correct height and then push back up to straight arm locked position to complete the exercise. The dip is a simple ‘pushing’ exercise that works a number of upper body muscles at once.
Your downs are as important as your ups
Both the down move and the up move are equally important and valuable to your muscle and strength development. While there’s a range of alternative exercises you can undertake on a dip station, this is primarily a method to strengthen upper body only.
Muscles you’ll be working during a dip
The muscles it’s particularly effective at building are:
- Core muscles
- Chest (pectoralis)
- Back muscles (including the rhomboid)
- Shoulders (Anterior deltoids)
- Upper arms (especially triceps)
- Forearms & grip
the dip station always proves to be a challenge.That’s a polite way to say it kicks my ass.
So, how do you dip?
Quick Tips to Training safely on your dip station
Doing dips isn’t rocket science, but lets go over a few quick tips to get your form right, especially for anyone new to the world of dip stations.
A quick video on good dip form
Check out this video (less than 5 minutes) for a good guide on getting your dip form spot on every time.
There’s all kinds of dips you can do, including the ones mentioned ion this guide, and things like suspended rings (which are super-tough!) There’s also a simple dip bench. This exercise has you sitting with the bench to your back, legs straight and dipping up and down that way.
I’ve got to be honest, I do this exercise a but but it’s just not comparable to the training you get from a dip station. I do this on lighter training days but feel like I’d have to do a hell of a lot to get any progress. Whereas the dip station always proves to be a challenge.
That’s a polite way to say it kicks my ass.
Which dip equipment is right for me?
We’ve got another guide all about the best dip stations out there to buy today. It covers the different kinds of gear you can get and weighs up which of them might be right for you.
Why you need one in your home gym: 5 things you’ll love about owning a dip station
- It should last forever – See all those fancy rowing machines, Multi-gyms, SkiErgs and treadmills? There’s a lot can go wrong with all those pulleys, wheels and moving parts. A dip station is a rare and wonderful bit of gym kit that absolutely won’t go wrong.
- You can do more than dips – It took me a while to realise there’s a world of exercises you can do with the dip station other than, obviously, dips. And we’re not talking segueing in some weird exercise just to bump up the value you get. There’s some genuinely interesting and useful exercises you can do (see below).
- It’s really hard – Maybe I’m just too heavy but the one thing I love about my dip station is it’s so easy to get a really good workout. And I feel like this strengthens my upper body better than any other exercise I do.
- There’s nothing to assemble – well, nearly nothing. My dip station came in 5 huge parts and a handful of bolts that had to be put in. It didn’t actually come with instructions but any 4-year-old Duplo fan could tell you how to put it together. And it’s so sturdy.
- You’ll never out-grow this equipment – One of the good things about dips is that they’re bloody hard to do! Even if you’re only planning to do body weight, it’s something that will provide a real challenge for a very long time. And if you do get used to doing dips to the point they become easy, get a dip belt and try adding some extra kgs to your sets.
Other awesome workouts you can do on a dip station
With a bit of creative thinking, you can technically work out your entire body using your dip station. Here’s some ideas on the kinds of workouts you might want to try if you get one. As well as moving exercises, there’s a whole host of isometric ‘holds’ you can try, along with a collection of other possible exercises you can work into your training routine.
- The support hold – there’s a number of holds you
- Lowering yourself down – You start with straight arms and lower yourself down.
Thanks to Minus the Gym for these exercises. You can see them in action below.
Bars and stations – which one to go for?
Why you might not want one
There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to dip. If you get it wrong, you can add a lot of stress onto your shoulders.
Now lets look at some of the down-sides to the dip bars and why it might not be the best machine to get.
They take up a fair bit of space
The kind of dip station I really like is the dedicated fixed one – the kind you’d expect to see in a commercial gym. I’ve got a big chunky hunk of metal which only does dips. The footprint is around 30″ square and it’s not portable at all. If you’re short on space (mine lives behind a sofa, oddly enough) then they’re not a good choice. There are far more compact bits of gym gear out there.
It might not be suitable for beginners
Some dip machines, either strand-alone, or the ones that are built into multi-gyms, have a counter weight that lets you dip and move up without much effort. If you’re new to dips, you might find it too difficult at first. Check out our guide on how to do dips properly.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But don’t expect to hop on and blast out sets of 20 to start with. Unassisted dips are not for the faint-hearted and you might need the counter-weight version, or to build more upper body strength in other ways to prepare for dipping!
The bench dip can be a good, lighter way to start dipping.
Excess weight on your shoulders can cause problems if you don’t do it right
While anyone can jump on a dip station and have a crack at it (I can’t seem to keep my kids off mine!) There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to dip. If you get it wrong, you can add a lot of stress onto your shoulders.
While I’ve never been injured on my dip station that I can pin point, it’s possible. Check out the tips we’ve mentioned in this guide and the videos that go along with it to stay injury-free when you’re on your dip machine.
References and further reading
- Body Building.com has a great article on the benefits of dips
- There’s a really in-depth in The Most Valuable Exercise You’re Not Doing (dips)
- There’s a good Wiki on dips and how to perform the exercise correctly
- Healthline has a good article on adding compound exercises into your workout routine
- MSN Lifestyle have some in-depth guides on the bench dip and it’s different forms.