Dips vs Bench Press: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 13, 2022

Two of the most frequently encountered chest exercises are that of the dip and the bench press - seemingly similar exercises with quite a number of differences due to their individual equipment and biomechanical distinctions.

As such, some confusion can be found between dips and the bench press when selecting for a compound movement in a push workout.

To put it short - dips are primarily a bodyweight exercise that involves the exerciser suspending themselves with their arms, whereas the bench press is a free weight exercise that involves the exerciser lowering and pushing a weight from their chest.

What are Dips?

Dips are a compound bodyweight exercise that make use of a pair of dip bars or similar items so as to allow the exerciser to suspend themselves throughout the set.

chest dip movement

Dips are usually included into a bodyweight workout or as a secondary compound exercise in a chest training session, both of which involve performing the exercise without additional resistance for several high volume sets.

It is an exercise performed for the purposes of inducing muscular hypertrophy in the chest and arms, as well as improving the muscular endurance and strength of said areas.

Benefits of Dips

Dips are best known for being an efficient and highly effective bodyweight chest exercise, though certain variations may involve the addition of further weight or certain types of equipment so as to up the intensity and resistance of the exercise.

Furthermore, dips are known to be quite functional due to their improvement of general mobility in the shoulder joints alongside a marked isometric contraction of the core musculature - resulting in development of general athletic prowess and a reduction in risk of injury over time.

Disadvantages of Dips

The main disadvantage of dips involves its self-limiting characteristic in regards to additional weight. This can result in dip practitioners developing strength less efficiently than those who instead choose to perform other chest exercises that do not feature the same limitation of resistance.

Apart from limited maximal weight, dips also place the shoulder in a disadvantageous position during certain portions and bar widths, potentially resulting in injury if performed incorrectly or in excess.

Variations of the Dip

Variations of the dip exercise can vary from simple weighted dips or assisted dips that alter the resistance of the exercise, to more advanced variations such as ring dips and planche dips.

weighted dips

The majority of dip variations involve a change or addition in the sort of equipment used, and do not generally alter the basic mechanics of the exercise whatsoever.

How-to Perform the Dip

To begin performing a set of dips, the exerciser must find a pair of parallel bars that provide enough space to lower oneself between so as to reduce the risk of subacromial impingement.

Suspending oneself between the bars with the arms fully extended, the exerciser will then bend at the elbow in a slow and controlled manner, leaning the torso slightly forward and ensuring that their feet are completely cleared from the ground so as to retain the suspended state.

Then, once the arms are at a 90 degree angle, the exerciser will then press their hands into the bars and extend their arms once more - resulting in the torso rising back to the starting position and the arms returning to a state of full extension.

This completes a repetition of dips, with subsequent repetitions simply requiring that the exerciser lower themselves once more prior to pressing themselves back up.

What is the Bench Press?

The bench press (in its traditional form) is a barbell-based compound exercise performed for the purposes of developing muscle mass and strength in the pushing muscles of the upper body

barbell bench press

It is most frequently performed with the use of a power cage or bench press rack, though certain variations only require a pair of dumbbells and an exercise bench.

The bench press is considered to be a member of the “big three” compound exercises, known for their effectiveness and efficiency at developing muscle mass and strength in parts of the body. This is the reason for its frequent inclusion into practically every bodybuilding or powerlifting training routine, as well as the fact that it is featured in many weightlifting competitions.

Benefits of the Bench Press

The bench press is considered to be nearly unparalleled when it comes to development of gross muscular strength and muscle mass of the upper body, especially in regards to the triceps brachii and pectoral muscle groups.

This is only further reinforced by the fact that the bench press has several variations that can further the specificity of training stimulus induced by the exercise, with factors like unilateral or bilateral muscular recruitment and the angle of resistance relative to the torso all being easily changed with a few select pieces of equipment.

Additionally, powerlifters will wish to practice the bench press over most other chest compound movements due to the fact that it is a major competition lift in their particular sport.

Disadvantages of the Bench Press

The main disadvantage of the bench press is in the complexity and technicality of its movements - the usage of improper form or excessive weight can easily result in serious and life-threatening injuries.

Connected to this is the fact that training to absolute failure with the bench press is rather difficult without the use of a spotter, as it is easy to become trapped beneath the bar when at this point of muscular exhaustion.

Additionally, the bench press has a rather limited range of motion in comparison to other chest exercises like dips or dumbbell flyes, as the bar comes into contact with the chest and does not maximize the range of action of the pectoral muscles.

Variations of the Bench Press

Variations of the bench press primarily feature a change in the sort of equipment used, and do not alter the actual mechanics of the exercise to a very significant extent. 

This is characterized by a change in the angle of the exerciser’s torso relative to the floor, the switching of bilateral to unilateral muscular activation or even a reduction in the total range of motion through safety bars.

How-to Bench Press

To begin performing the bench press, the exerciser will lie atop a bench with a loaded barbell placed on a rack above them.

Driving the feet into the ground and arching the lower back as the buttocks remain in contact with the bench, the exerciser will retract their scapula and place their hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart along the barbell as they unrack it.

bench press muscles

Then, ensuring that the elbows do not excessively flair, the exerciser will lower the bar to somewhere between their stomach and their clavicles.

Once the bar makes contact with their chest, they will pause for a moment before squeezing the pectoral muscles and fully extending the elbows once more - “pressing” the barbell back upwards.

This completes a repetition of the bench press, with subsequent repetitions requiring that the exerciser simply lower the bar to their chest once more, with no returning of the barbell to the rack.

Equipment Requirements of Dips and the Bench Press

Dips and the bench press utilize distinctly different types of equipment and sources of resistance.

With traditional bodyweight dips, it is the exerciser’s own body that acts as a source of resistance, making it difficult to reduce the total weight that is being moved as such would require the exerciser to reduce their own bodyweight.

dip cage

Whereas during the bench press, free weight equipment such as barbells and dumbbells are the source of resistance - making them more beginner friendly as even particularly physically weak individuals can perform the exercise safely.

Furthermore, dips simply require a pair of parallel bars or similar items with which to suspend the exerciser from, while the bench press will often require multiple pieces of gym equipment to be performed correctly.

flat bench for bench pressing

As such, for home gym owners, dips are arguably superior - whereas the bench press is better for incremental weight modifications instead.

Muscular Recruitment Differences of Dips and the Bench Press

Both the dips and the bench press exercises are known to recruit the anterior deltoid head, pectorals and triceps brachii muscles to a significant extent.

However, due to the differences in angle of resistance and equipment, it can be said that dips are more effective at recruiting the pectoral muscles within their own range of motion - beating out the bench press in terms of pure muscular activation.

Conversely, the bench press is arguably far superior at recruiting the muscles of the triceps brachii, as simply drawing the hands closer together along the barbell is sufficient to shift the focus of the exercise to the arms instead of the chest.

Strength Development Differences of Dips and the Bench Press

Though dips are quite capable of improving relative muscular strength over time, they do not do so in a manner as efficient and quick as that of the bench press. This is simply because of the additional resistance induced by the bench press, as well as the fact that it is executed in a far more controlled and structured manner.

Furthermore, the free weight nature of the bench press allows for incremental progressive overload to be achieved - something that dips do not have the capacity for unless a weight belt is utilized, which will often require that the exerciser is already at a more advanced level of strength.

So - for strength athletes or gym goers that wish to improve their muscular strength as efficiently as possible, the bench press is clearly the better choice.

Biomechanical Differences of Dips and the Bench Press

Both the dips and the bench press essentially target the same muscles, but will otherwise feature different biomechanics as they go about achieving this.

The bench press will often feature a pronated grip, whereas the dip is most often performed with a neutral grip. Conversely, dips do not require scapular retraction and allow the shoulder blades to move relatively freely, while the bench press will pin the shoulder blades against the bench so as to reduce risk of shoulder injury.

The bench press will feature a small amount of flaring of the elbows to the sides due to the angle of resistance, while during dips these elbows do not need to flare as they remain purely vertical in terms of opposing resistance.

While these differences are relatively small and unlikely to directly affect the final outcome of either exercise, it is quite important to understand the biomechanical distinctions between the two for previously injured lifters or more advanced athletes that require such a degree of specification.

Combining Dips and the Bench Press

Though exercisers will usually choose between either dips or the bench press, it is entirely possible to combine the two exercises within the same workout so as to retain the best aspects of either exercise.

This is especially useful because of the bodyweight nature of dips, wherein the additional resistance of the bench press makes up for the few disadvantages associated with solely utilizing a body weight source of resistance.

As such, structuring a combination of both dips and the bench press involves placing the bench press first in the order of exercises, followed by dips sometime after the former exercise has already been completed.

In addition, it is best to utilize the more variable resistance of the bench press by reducing total volume of each bench press set, while instead leaving high volume sets for the dips.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Many Dips is Considered "Good"?

The answer to this question is variable, as 5 repetitions of dips for a 200 pound person can be just as impressive as 30 repetitions for a 130 pound person. 

In actuality, it is best to measure whether your dips progression is “good” by comparing your rate of progress to that of several months ago. 

Novices and intermediate level lifters can expect to see a large improvement in their performance over a relatively short period, whereas more advanced lifters may not receive as much stimulus from bodyweight dips alone.

Can You Bench Press and do Dips on the Same Day?

Yes - performing bench press and dips within the same workout day is entirely fine. 

In fact, doing so can be more beneficial than simply performing one exercise or the other, as combining them allows for their individual weaknesses to be overcome by the other exercise.

Can Dips Use Weight?

The addition of further resistance to the dips exercise is known as weighted dips, and is usually executed when the lifter has reached a point of simple body weight resistance being too time consuming or inefficient to be worth the effort involved.

Adding weight to the dips exercise can take the form of a belt and set of weight plates, a dumbbell gripped between the legs of the exerciser or through the use of certain resistance machines specifically meant for such a purpose.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it; the main differences between dips and the bench press. 

From the relative differences in biomechanical utilization to more obvious distinctions like equipment, one can see that the two exercises are quite similar in goal but drastically different when examined more closely.

To summarize these various distinctions, it can be said that the bench press is better for lifters geared towards resistance and complex movement, whereas dips are better for exercisers in need of high volume sets and more functional training stimuli.

References

1. Tillaar RVD. Comparison of Kinematics and Muscle Activation between Push-up and Bench Press. Sports Med Int Open. 2019 Sep 5;3(3):E74-E81. doi: 10.1055/a-1001-2526. PMID: 31508485; PMCID: PMC6728153.

2. McKenzie, Alec, Zachary Crowley-McHattan, Rudi Meir, John Whitting, and Wynand Volschenk. 2022. "Bench, Bar, and Ring Dips: Do Kinematics and Muscle Activity Differ?" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 20: 13211. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192013211

3. Ciccantelli, Pat C.S.C.S., Strength Coordinator. STRENGTH EXERCISE: The Dip. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal: December 1991 - Volume 13 - Issue 6 - p 53-54

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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