A common staple of bodyweight strength training routines, the bench dip is a variation of the more common dip exercise that places a particular focus on the triceps brachii and latissimus dorsi muscles, both of which are responsible for the pushing motion of the arms away from the torso.
However, whether due to a soft tissue injury or simply because the exerciser wishes to spice up their workout program, certain situations may require that the bench dip be substituted with an exercise of similar muscular activation and training intensity.
Fortunately, most exercisers will find substituting the bench dip to be rather easy, with quite a few variations of the dip exercise perfectly substituting the bench dip – as well as certain other exercises being capable of isolating the particular muscle groups worked by the bench dip, if a variation of the dip exercise is not considered a suitable alternative.
The bench dip primarily activates the triceps brachii, of which is located along the rear portion of the upper arm, as well as the latissimus dorsi along the back and the pectoralis muscle group located atop the chest.
As such, with the capacity to activate multiple muscle groups at once, the bench dip is automatically classified as a compound exercise and as such may be more easily substituted with similar compound movements instead of by isolating each muscle group that is worked by the exercise.
However, this is not to say that substituting the bench dip with two or three alternative isolation exercises is not possible, and supersetting a mixture of such exercises like the overhead triceps extension and the pec dec can even surpass the bench dip in terms of induced muscular hypertrophy and strength gains.
A variety of causes may exist as to why the bench dip may require substitution, with serious reasons requiring the supervision of a coach or physical therapist like injuries and disorders being among the most common reasons why performing an alternative exercise to the bench dip may be needed.
Other circumstances like requiring a slightly different or more intense form of training stimuli as well as simply desiring a change in their otherwise routine workout program can also be perfectly valid reasons as well – though first consulting with an exerciser’s coach or physician is still advisable in such a situation.
Even in niche circumstances such as an individual not being strong enough to perform a bench dip unassisted can have their needs fulfilled with a suitable alternative exercise that retains the same function of the bench dip itself, so long as the proper equipment is present.
Finding a suitable alternative to the bench dip can be as easy as simply altering the particular variation of the dip the exerciser is using, with a slightly different grip or the use of more specialized equipment allowing for a change in muscular activation between exercises.
It should be noted, however, that the following variations of the dip exercise are no different to the bench dip in terms of the stress they may place on certain areas of connective tissue located in the upper body, as well as which particular muscle groups are activated during the performance of the exercise.
Performed with the use of a pair of parallel bars either, in the form of gymnasium exercise equipment or in an impromptu scenario, the parallel bar dip differs from the bench dip in the fact that the exerciser suspends their entire body weight between their arms, keeping a constant level of tension in all activated muscle groups.
The parallel bar dip is usually found to be somewhat more intense than the bench dip and as such is occasionally considered to be a direct succession to the bench dip in terms of difficulty and progressive muscular overload.
A variation of the dip exercise that requires the use of a dip machine, the machine-assisted dip is an excellent alternative for individuals that cannot perform the bench dip itself.
This is due to the fact that the machine-assisted dip takes the form of a parallel bar dip wherein the exerciser remains suspended between both of their arms – with the single difference being the presence of a padded platform placed beneath their feet or knees that bears a portion of the exerciser’s bodyweight, essentially reducing the total resistance found during the exercise.
The machine-assisted dip is considered a predecessor to the bench dip or parallel bar dip, both of which place the entirety of the exerciser’s bodyweight against the exerciser’s muscles.
An advanced bodyweight exercise considered highly intense and best reserved for experienced bodyweight athletes, the ring dip is performed by the exerciser fully suspending themselves between a pair of rings hanging from the ceiling, placing not only the entirety of their body weight on the activated muscles but also forcing said muscles to act as stabilizers.
Ring dips are best used as a bench dip alternative only in the event that the exerciser has reached the point of surpassing any reasonable benefits that may be accrued from performing said bench dip, with their particular level of experience requiring a more difficult exercise be used instead.
A more niche variation of the dip, the Korean straight bar dip is another highly advanced bodyweight exercise primarily performed by high level athletes either for the purposes of competition or as a test of their strength and mobility.
In terms of acting as an alternative to the bench dip, Korean straight bar dips – much like ring dips – are best used once the exerciser has surpassed the ability to accrue any significant training stimuli from the exercise, with the Korean straight bar dip acting as a direct yet more intense replacement.
A similarly easier alternative to the bench dip, much like the machine-assisted dip, the primary advantage to performing wall dips over the latter exercise is a lack of required equipment in order to perform the exercise, with the wall dip being performed solely with the use of a low enough platform that the exerciser may hang their upper body from.
Wall dips are best used as a last resort owing to the difference in muscular activation to the bench dip as well as the relative discomfort that may be experienced from the exerciser’s abdomen and rib cage dragging over the lip of the wall as the exercise is performed.
A primary mover muscle activated during the entirety of the bench dip exercise, the pectoralis minor and pectoralis major may both be isolated through the use of certain exercises that activate the muscle group in a similar manner to the bench dip, with certain alternatives even surpassing the level of muscular activation found therein.
Also considered a compound calisthenic exercise much like the bench dip itself, push-ups are a class of pectoralis-focused closed kinetic chain exercise known for training not only the chest muscles but also the triceps brachii, core muscles and deltoid heads, making its muscular activation pattern quite similar to that of the bench dip as well.
The push-up is best used as a bench dip alternative exercise in a direct one to one ratio of volume, wherein every repetition of the bench dip in a set is substituted with a repetition of the standard push-up.
This, of course, does not apply if more difficult push-up variations are used instead, such as diamond push-ups or even weighted push-ups, though the latter is of questionable connective tissue safety.
Simply the horizontal machine assisted version of a chest fly, the pec dec machine is a type of gym equipment wherein the exerciser will sit upright in the designated area and place one or both arms in the padded grip portion of the machine.
Once appropriately situated, the exerciser will then engage their pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles by drawing their hands together against a specified level of resistance, isolating their chest muscles in a manner that can be more intense than what chest dips are capable of replicating.
The pec dec machine is best used alongside other isolation exercises that activate other muscle groups normally worked by the bench dip, such as triceps and latissimus dorsi isolation exercises.
Usually performed with a pair of dumbbells or similar weighted resistance exercise equipment, the chest fly is yet another pectoral muscle group isolation exercise that may act as an excellent substitute for the chest muscle activation that would normally be produced from performing the bench dip exercise instead.
Much like the pec dec machine, the chest fly is best combined with isolation exercises that also target other muscle groups normally involved in the bench dip so as to best recreate the same training stimuli.
Another primary mover muscle involved in the performance of a bench dip repetition, several alternative triceps brachii exercises may be combined with the usage of other kinds of isolation exercises so as to recreate the full muscle-training effects of said bench dip exercise.
A direct triceps isolation exercise assisted through the use of a cable pulley machine, the cable triceps push-down is performed by way of the exerciser attaching a rope handle to the cable machine prior to gripping both ends of the rope and drawing their hands downwards, until they reach approximately waist or ribcage level, fully activating the triceps.
Another triceps isolation exercise, the overhead triceps extension utilizes practically any sort of free weight exercise equipment to as to induce a level of training intensity that is on par or even superior to what would be accrued from the bench dip – though care must be taken so as not to injure the exerciser’s shoulders as they perform the exercise.
Primarily performed with the use of a dumbbell or kettlebell, tricep kickbacks activate the triceps brachii muscle group in a similar manner to the bench dip – wherein the hinging of the elbow places significant mechanical tension on the triceps as it extends, thereby inducing training stimuli.
Though also considered a primary mover, the latissimus dorsi is activated in a smaller capacity in comparison to the pectoralis muscle group or triceps brachii, and as such will not require as intense an alternative exercise in the case that the exerciser wishes to recreate a similar level of training intensity to the bench dip.
Activating both the biceps brachii and the latissimus dorsi, the cable machine assisted lat pull-down activates both the same muscles as the bench dip as well as one other muscle group, making it unsuitable for individuals wishing to only isolate the same muscles as would be found in the bench dip.
Otherwise, the lat pull-downs make an excellent alternative lats exercise with a highly variable level of training intensity that may surpass that of the bench dip, if so desired.
A compound bodyweight exercise wherein the exerciser will hang suspended from an elevated handle as they draw their body upwards, pull-ups not only activate the latissimus dorsi to a major extent but also the pectoralis muscle groups, alongside several others not normally used in the performance of a bench dip.
As such, pull-ups are best used as a bench dip alternative in combination with triceps brachii isolation exercises so as to attain a similar pattern of muscular activation to the latter exercise – though with a different spread of training stimuli per muscle group.
A class of back muscle focused exercises performed with a variety of different resistance equipment, rows are known for being the primary method of latissimus dorsi activation in a large majority of workout programs, making it also suitable for substituting the bench dip in terms of training the lats in a certain intensity.
Much like pull-ups, however, most forms of the row exercise also activate the biceps brachii and rear head of the deltoids muscle group, making it unsuitable if pure latissimus dorsi activation is what is required of a bench dip alternative exercise.
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2. Hurd, Jeff C.S.C.S.1; Goldenburg, Lorne C.S.C.S.2; Bliss, Steve3 TEACHING TECHNIQUES #13, National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal: April 1991 - Volume 13 - Issue 2 - p 66-69
3. Wikipedia Contributors. Dip (exercise). Wikipedia. Published August 13, 2021. Accessed January 18, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dip_(exercise).