The dip exercise is a workout that targets the triceps, deltoid, and pectoral muscles. While the movement required by the exercise is fairly simple, the upper body strength needed to carry an individual’s entire body weight may not be achievable for some people. Hence, alternative exercises that work the same muscles to enhance strength and increase size in the arms, shoulders, and chest may be preferable.
Alternative exercises to the chest dip are workouts that are able to provide the same benefits of targeting the chest, shoulders, and arms. Some of these alternatives may use added weights or equipment while others may use body weight alone. These exercises include close grip push-ups, decline dumbbell bench press, cable rope pushdown, and close grip bench press.
Knowing how to perform a chest dip, the muscles it targets, and the benefits gained from properly executing the exercise is key to understanding how alternative exercise may be useful in building the arms, shoulders, and chest.
What is a Dip?
A dip is a compound exercise that uses an individual’s own body weight to work large groups of muscles simultaneously. It is an exercise performed on parallel bars or on a pull-up and dip bar and is used to target the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles. Depending on which muscles are desired to be targeted, dips offer variations by changing the form, arm position, and angle to alternate the focus among different muscle groups.
Triceps Dip vs Chest Dip
There are two main variations of the dip to target either the triceps or pectoral muscles more, namely the triceps dip and the chest dip. Both the triceps dip and chest dip make use of a dip bar and an individual’s body weight to execute the workout.
The bar is held straight in the hand with the forearm almost perpendicular to the bar for the chest dip, whereas for the triceps dip, the bar is held diagonally. Because of the hand position, the form for each dip differs.
In executing the chest dip, the elbows should flare to the sides and the trunk must lean forward as the body is lowered into the dip. The knees and hips should also bend during the exercise. This movement targets more of the pectoral muscles, thus strengthening the chest and increasing its size.
For the triceps dip, the upper arms should be held close to the body. As the individual lowers into the dip, the torso is held upright and the elbows should only bend straight back. In this variation of the dip, the lower extremities remain in an extended position as compared to the flexed position for the chest dip.
Dip Alternative Exercises
Close Grip Push-ups
The close grip push-up is a variation of the standard push-up that involves placing the hands closer together than shoulder-width apart. In this position, there is greater triceps brachii and pectoralis major activation as compared to that in a standard push-up. Because it is a calisthenic exercise, close grip push-ups may be performed anywhere without the need to worry about equipment restrictions.
Close grip push-ups are performed by getting into all-fours with the knees flexed and positioning the hands a few inches apart. The scapula should be protracted as the participant gets into position. The lower extremities are straightened out to lift the knees off the ground while keeping the elbows extended to assume a high plank position.
Upon getting into position, the core is engaged to maintain the plank as the chest is slowly lowered down by bending at the elbows. As the trunk approaches the ground, the scapula should be retracted. The elbows are to be maintained close to the torso and should not be allowed to flare out. The body is lowered until the arms are at the side of the body, parallel to the trunk. A pause is observed at the bottom of the movement before initiating the upward movement.
The upward movement is started off by forcing through the pectoral muscles as the elbows are straightened out. The shoulder blades are protracted as the trunk is lifted. At the top of the movement, the triceps and pectoral muscles are squeezed before repeating the process until a set is completed.
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The decline dumbbell bench press is a variation of the flat bench press where the bench is set 15 to 30 degrees from the horizontal. This position puts emphasis on the lower pecs while also working the triceps and shoulder muscles.
To perform a decline dumbbell bench press, the individual lies on their back on a declined weight bench with dumbbells in hand. The dumbbells are held directly above the chest with the elbows fully extended and arms perpendicular to the ground. The dumbbells are slowly lowered to the sides of the chest by bending at the elbows while holding it close to the body, creating a 45-degree angle at the bottom of the movement. This position is held for a second before pressing back to the initial position.
Cable Rope Pushdown
Another alternative which may also be used as an initial exercise before progressing to a dip is the cable rope pushdown. Cable rope pushdown, or tricep rope pushdown, is an exercise that involves the use of a cable machine with a rope handle attached. This exercise isolates the triceps muscles. Although it is not a calisthenic exercise, the activity could be used as a stepping stone towards doing dips when there is insufficient muscle strength that hinders an individual to carry their body weight.
To prepare for the activity, the individual positions themselves in front of the cable machine after adjusting the weight setting. The rope handle is grasped in both hands and should be situated at about chest level. The movement is initiated by pushing downwards, until the elbows are fully extended without overextending and locking the elbows. The position is held for a brief moment before slowly returning to the initial position. The elbows must remain close to the body with the torso upright throughout the duration of the activity.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is a variation of the standard bench press that involves having the hands closer together on the bar. The standard bench press works the triceps, shoulders and pectoral muscles with emphasis on the chest, while the close grip bench press puts the bulk of the work on the triceps. By utilizing a narrow grip, the focus shifts from the pectoral muscles to the elbow extensors to complete the activity.
A close grip bench press is performed by having the individual lie on the bench with the feet flat on the floor. The barbell is grasped with the hands placed slightly less than shoulder-width apart. The core is engaged and the shoulder blades are squeezed to stabilize the body as the weight is lowered slowly. Upon reaching the bottom of the movement, the weight is pressed up in an explosive motion. The elbows are kept close to the sides throughout the duration of the activity to emphasize triceps activation.
Dip Common Mistakes
There are a couple of mistakes commonly committed by people who perform chest dips. Because of these, individuals do not gain as much as they could from the exercise. Additionally, some of the mistakes committed may even lead to pain and injury. These mistakes include not going low enough in the dip, going too low in the dip, not keeping the chest up, not locking out the elbows, and going too fast.
Not Going Low Enough in the Dip
When executing a dip, the upper arms should be slightly below parallel at the lowest point of the exercise which places the shoulders a little below the elbows. However, some individuals do not reach this point as they stop halfway into the dip. Not going low enough into each dip repetition results in reduced benefits.
Going Too Low in the Dip
While not going low enough is a mistake in executing dips, going too low also poses a problem. The amount of pressure placed on the shoulder joints when an individual goes too low in the dip may lead to injury. Thus, maintaining a position where the upper arms are parallel or slightly below parallel at the lowest point of the exercise is ideal.
Not Keeping the Chest Up
The two variations of the dip, chest dip and tricep dip, require different chest positions. The individual should lean forward more during a chest dip while keeping the body more upright is appropriate for the tricep dip. However, both variations will benefit from positioning the chest up and keeping it tight to ensure that the shoulders stay back, as well as to avoid torso pain.
Not Locking Out the Elbows
Locking out the elbows helps prevent injury in the joints while making sure that each repetition is completed. Not locking out the elbows is similar to not going low enough in the dip as this reduces the benefits gained from the workout.
Going Too Fast
Many individuals make the mistake of performing a workout too fast as if trying to get through an exercise as quickly as possible. This mistake is often seen in doing dips where individuals bounce up and down on the parallel bars. When this occurs, the aforementioned mistakes are also often committed. Hence, the individual is either not reaping the benefits of the exercise or risking injury.
Dips are useful exercises for strengthening and growing the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and arms. However, alternative exercises to the dip such as the close grip push-ups, decline dumbbell bench press, cable rope pushdown, and close grip bench press are able to provide the same benefits while adding variety to workout routines. One exercise is not necessarily better than the other, thus the choice of workout for targeting the triceps, deltoid, and pectoral muscles still relies on individual preference.