The bench press is one of the best exercises we have for training the chest muscles and triceps. We use the bench press because we can easily add weight to the bar or grab a heavier dumbbell for increased resistance. Probably the biggest drawback to the bench press, however, is that only your arms are moving.
Technically (and I hate getting too technical), pushups are a better movement in terms of total body mass trained. But you already know that trying to increase the resistance on pushups can be a real pain. And let’s be honest, even if pushups are better than nothing when you’re out of town, doing a few sets of 30 pushups won’t have the same mass-building effect as heavy benches will.
The weighted dip is an excellent movement because it allows for the training of the chest and triceps together in a way that uses a greater mass of muscle from more muscle groups. You’ll notice that you should be able to dip more weight than you are able to bench press for a given number of reps. That should indicate that more muscles are working together to move your body through the full range of motion.
Dips place greatest stress on your “lower chest” and triceps. When I say “lower chest” I’m not referring to the mythical lower pectoral muscle that doesn’t exist, but rather meaning that the upper chest is less involved in this movement for some pretty obvious reasons if you think about how the exercise is performed.
Also, don’t confuse the dips as being a variation of the decline press. The decline press has a decreased range of motion when compared to dips, and dips are generally a superior exercise when compared to the decline press.
When it compares to the bench press, however, dips can really make a great addition chest/triceps routine, and they make a decent replacement for the bench press if you’re not able to bench press for whatever reason.
The first thing you’ll probably notice when you come up to a dipping station is that the grip bars are not parallel to each other, but increase in distance the farther away they are from the base. This is so that you can choose a grip width that suits you best.
- Grip width: In general, a wider grip will place somewhat more emphasis on your chest muscles. A narrower grip will hit your triceps somewhat more.
- Leaning: You can adjust your form slightly depending on how much you bend your knees. Bending your knees more places the weight of your feet further behind your body and requires you to lean forward to compensate. Leaning forward involves the chest muscles in the movement more. On the flip side, keeping your legs straight below you and keeping your body more upright will use less chest muscle and involve the triceps more.
- Recommended form: The form that I recommend the most is to take a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width (don’t go too crazy here) with the knees bent. This forward lean involves the larger chest muscles and allows you to get more reps with a heavier weight. Working more muscles overall means building more muscles overall.
Range of motion: All the way. Go down as far down as you can comfortably and safely go. Increasing the range of motion on your dips will increase the amount of muscles fibers that are recruited to complete the movement. Your chest muscles are more heavily involved in the bottom portion of the movement, and so are your shoulders to a certain extent.
So, in this way, doing full dips is important for the same reason that doing full squats is important. They simply work more muscles mass. And as you know by now, working more muscle mass means building more muscle mass (yes, I’m repeating myself on purpose here).
Ok, so we already established earlier that pushups are technically a great movement but that they don’t always get the job done for us because it’s tough to add weight. Well, that’s the nice thing about dips… adding weight is easy with the right equipment.
A special weight belt with a chain that attaches in front is all that is needed. You can buy your own and some gyms will have one available. Simply use the chain to secure a weight plate or a dumbbell in front you and proceed to do your dips as usual. Apply the same principles of resistance progression just as you would to any other exercise by adding weight to your dips once you’re able to do full sets at body weight.
Also, be careful when setting up the weight in front of you. The weight belt sits on your hips and the chain runs downward in front of you, and it comes close to a very sensitive area for guys. I’d hate to hear about any of you getting something important caught in the chains, if you know what I mean…