What Muscles Do Dips Work? | A Complete Breakdown for Each


There are some exercises that get their just due for how important they are to training such as squats, deadlifts, rows, and pull ups. One exercise that does not get the credit it deserves is the dip. Dips are a great exercise that can target all the pushing muscles of the upper body so you can get bigger and stronger, and there are multiple ways to include it in your training.

Examples include the triceps dip, chest dips, and bench dips. You can do weighted dips with weight hanging from a belt or use just your body weight. They can be performed on parallel bars or you can do ring dips. Well, you get the idea. If you want to build lean muscle and improve pushing strength, you need to do your dips, and we break down how effective they are and if you are wondering what muscles do dips work, then we clear that up as well.

Overview of Dips for Triceps and Chest Muscles

The dip is a body weight exercise that targets the chest and triceps. The exercise calls for the lifter to hold themselves up by their arms while holding handles such as bars or rings. The lifter then lowers their body down while bending the elbows, then use force in the pushing muscle groups to push up to the starting position.

Dips, like all bodyweight exercises,  are a tremendous exercise for beginners to develop pushing strength and build size in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. (1) Intermediate and advanced lifters can use it as a top accessory movement for exercises such as the bench press and overhead press. Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, they will make a tremendous asset to have in your workout routine.

What is even better is that you can do them with several different setups. There are dip stations, but you can also use parallel bars, gymnastic rings, or even place your hands behind you on a bench to focus on the triceps. If you train at home and need a simple setup, use chairs that are at or wider than shoulder width apart to create your own setup.

Benefits of Doing Dips

Performing dips regularly at a dip station or anywhere else you can train will help you work on multiple fitness goals at once. You can use them to get bigger, stronger, or simply be able to control how you use your body better. They are a very versatile movement that should be a staple in your programming.

Types of Dips and Their Upper Body Mechanics

The dip is a compound exercise that can work the chest and triceps as well as the shoulders. There are different variations of the dip movement that can place extra emphasis on either the chest or the triceps. There are also ways to make the movement easier or harder, depending on what you need for building upper body strength.

Chest Dips

The chest dip requires the trainee to lean forward slightly so they can place extra stretch on the chest and place the body in the best position to make the pecs take on the brunt of the load. The anterior deltoid are also going to be playing a supportive role.

Hold yourself up on the dip bars, handles, or rings, and lean slightly forward. Slowly lower yourself until your shoulder joints are below the elbow and you feel a stretch in the chest area. Flex your chest and push yourself up until you are close to locking out the elbows. Stop just short of that lockout to keep tension on the chest and repeat for the desired reps.

Performing dips this way will help activate the minor pectoralis muscles and allow both the chest and triceps to share the load as the main muscles for the movement. This can help add muscle mass to the lower chest area and create that armor-like shape to the pecs that many lifters are looking for.

Triceps Dips

When you are performing the tricep dips, you should hold yourself up on the handles with your body more upright. Once again, lower yourself until your upper arms are at least parallel to the floor or your shoulder joint is lower than the elbow. Push up as quick as you can, but this time, straighten the arms so the triceps can flex and support your weight. Repeat for the desired reps.

This more upright position will shift the focus to the medial head of the triceps, but the chest and shoulders will still be on standby to assist. This is a great bodyweight exercise to increase upper arm size because the triceps actually take more space in this area than the biceps.

Assisted Dips

So, what if you cannot perform dips properly with your own bodyweight? There are other variations you can do that will allow you to receive support and assistance so you can continue training until you are strong enough to use your own weight properly. Assisted dips can be a great option for beginners as well as those that are trying to recover from an injury or simply find a way to extend training as they get older.

There are tricep dip machines or assistant options in many gyms. If you have access to one of these, you should follow the instructions on how to perform the exercise correctly on that unit. If you only have access to handles resistance bands, then you can do band assisted dips.

Secure the ends of the bands around the handles, and make sure they will not come off and the band is strong enough to support your weight. Place your knees on the band. Lower yourself down in the full range as you would if doing a normal dip. The band will stretch. As you go to push up, the band will release tension, which will provide the assistance you need to complete the rep until you have your arms straight. Even with the assistance from the band or machine, the exercise will challenge all the muscles targeted the same.

Variations and Modifications

These versions are optimal for training, but you are not limited to these alone. If you need a simple way to do dips as a part of a circuit, place your hands behind you on a bench and table, then place your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent. You can support your body weight and train the triceps in an isolated manner. You can then straighten the legs out in front of you so you can increase the resistance as you get stronger.

The ultimate goal for many is to get strong enough that they need more than their body weight to be challenged. If this sounds like you, then you can add extra weight by placing a weight plate or dumbbell onto a dip belt to provide that extra resistance you are looking for. Weighted vests can also be a great training ally.

Ring Dips

Then, there is the opposite end of the extreme. Some athletes need to find more challenging and unique ways to perform the dip exercise, and you get that with the ring dip. Because the rings are hanging by straps and are not connected to a fixed machine, they will move while you hold yourself up. This provides a new challenge because you have to keep yourself stable and maximize coordination to properly execute reps in the same manner you would with a basic version.

If you do ring dips, you will notice there are other muscles involved. The core has to remain tight and strong. The posterior deltoid and upper back muscles also have to help provide stability throughout the range of motion. Of course, the same muscle groups are still doing the majority of the work, but the chest, shoulders, and triceps will find this version to be much more intense.

Common Mistakes and Safety Tips

As is the case with all exercises, there are wrong ways to do them, and you may be susceptible to injury if you are careless. Cutting the range of motion short will not help you look or get stronger, and if anything, it will take an extra toll on the joints. This would be counterproductive.

Another common mistake is going too fast throughout the rep to get the most reps possible. If building muscle is the goal, then you should perform each rep in a calculated manner. Make the muscles do the work. Last but not least, do not use additional weight if you have any doubt if you are ready or not. The ego bump will not help you, and no one grows from the house recovering from an injury. A good gauge is the 20-rep rule. If you can do 20 reps with your body weight, then you can start pushing yourself with additional weight.

Training Recommendations

If you are a beginner, then it would be a great idea to do dips first in a routine or even on their own so you can master the form before using it as a part of a larger routine. You could start with bench dips and upgrade to bar dips later. (3) Now, once you get stronger and more advanced, you can use them for power and endurance as you would any other exercise. Strength and size can be yours with a rep range of 5-10 reps. If endurance is your focus, then rep out as many as you can until failure.

If you are engaged in a powerlifting or bodybuilding program, then the way you use dips will dictate the results you can see with them.

Chest Routine with Dips

Dips can be placed anywhere in a chest routine, but if you want to use them for pec development, then pre-exhausting the other areas will help you isolate the lower chest, even though this is a compound exercise. Give this plan a go if chest is a priority for you.

Incline Dumbbell Press - 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Seated Chest Press Machine - 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Flat Dumbbell Flye - 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Dips - 3 sets to failure

Triceps Routine with Dips

If you want to focus on building muscle on the back of the arms, dips are a great tool of the trade as well. They can help you warm up and maximize the load on the triceps in a safe and effective way. Try this routine out for yourself.

Triceps Dips - 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Lying Triceps Extensions - 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Overhead Triceps Extension - 3 sets of 12 reps

Rope Pushdown - 3 sets of 15 reps


The dip is a premiere upper body exercise that can help you improve size, shape, and power in the upper body. There are several ways to do them, and they can be a superior body weight movement for the pushing muscle groups as opposed to something like push ups. The sooner you add them to your routine and use them in challenging ways, the sooner your body and strength will reach new levels of improvement.


  1. Effects of free weight and body mass-based resistance training on thigh muscle size, strength and intramuscular fat in healthy young and middle-aged individuals. Madoka Ogawa 1 2, Yuto Hashimoto 3, Yukina Mochizuki 3, Takamichi Inoguchi 3, Ayumu Kouzuma 3, Minoru Deguchi 3, Mika Saito 3, Hiroki Homma 3, Naoki Kikuchi 2 3, Takanobu Okamoto 2 3
  2. Fatigue Increases Muscle Activations but Does Not Change Maximal Joint Angles during the Bar Dip. Alec McKenzie,* Zachary Crowley-McHattan 
  3. Bench, Bar, and Ring Dips: Do Kinematics and Muscle Activity Differ? Alec McKenzie,* Zachary Crowley-McHattan, Rudi Meir, John Whitting, and Wynand Volschenk. Paul B. Tchounwou, Academic Editor

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