Sometimes, you don’t have time to go to the gym.
But that shouldn’t mean you sacrifice your physique or workout routine simply because you’re stuck at home.
Thankfully, calisthenics exercises provide an amazing alternative to resistance training.
And by far, the best upper body workout to develop a thick, manly chest and cut, chiseled triceps is the dip.
Dips have been known to be better than push-ups in some areas, while it’s easier to include extra resistance on your dips than most other calisthenics exercises.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into dips, going over how to do them, what muscles they target, the benefits, how you can do dips practically anywhere in your house, and how to progress while away from the gym.
Without further ado, let’s get to dippin’!
What are Dips?
In a nutshell, dips are moving your body up and down by hinging at the elbows.
Widely considered one of the top tricep movements you can do, it involves very little equipment: Essentially two elevated parallel platforms where your hands can either lay flat or grip (i.e. bars).
When it comes to home-made physiques, dips are the ideal upper body builder technique.
This becomes even more true if you have zero weights to play with.
If you workout with only your bodyweight, then dips are the premier movement for your home gym.
How To Dip:
Note: This is for a traditional dip. For variations and progressions, check out the section below.
- Begin by positioning your body in-between two parallel objects. Ideal choice would be horizontal bars, but any steady furniture with a flat surface will suffice.
- Place your hands down on the surfaces by your sides, bracing to lift all of your weight by your hands.
- Retract your scapula. This is really important. Essentially, shift your shoulders back and down.
- Lift your body up. Once in the air, bend your legs at the knee, to give yourself room to dip down.
- With controlled movement, lower your body down, bending at the elbow. Keep your chest up (unless you’re doing chest dips, in which case tilt your entire body forward to focus on the chest more).
- When you get to a 90-degree bend in your elbows, push back up to the top position. Contract your chest and triceps while keeping your shoulders locked in.
- At the top, make sure to lockout at the elbow, getting a full contraction in your triceps and pecs.
- Repeat 5-7 for desired reps.
What Do Dips Strengthen?
Seeing as we’re toting it as a full-blown upper body workout, dips get the heaviest hitters up top:
- Pectoralis major (your chest)
- Anterior deltoid (shoulder caps)
- Triceps brachii (back of your upper arms)
- Pectoralis minor (outer chest, beneath armpits)
- Rhomboids (inner upper back)
- Levator scapulae (outer neck)
- Latissimus dorsi (mid-back)
- Teres major (outer back, beneath armpits)
- Lower trapezius (inner middle back, as a stabilizer)
While dips do indeed get a little bit of everything, they use the back and smaller muscles as synergists only.
Also, the trapezius is used as a stabilizer.
For the most part, the first three are the major benefactors of the dip.
Depending on the variation of dip, you can target your chest more or less.
The dip provides a slew of benefits:
- Superior upper body strength: Of course, the top advantage of doing dips is getting powerful in your shoulders, chest, and triceps. This helps with other major lifts, such as bench press or military press, and gets your upper-body muscles huge. Strength creates muscle mass, so once you can do weighted dips with a weight belt and a 45-pound plate hanging from your core, be sure that you’ll be lookin’ good.
- Assistance in creating the V-taper: The ultimate sign of a perfect physique, the V-taper is the shoulder-to-waist ratio in men that literally measures attractiveness. The bigger your taper, the sexier you are. Dips build that big upper chest, thick shoulder caps, and triceps that look like ridges in a mountain. Get super strong in the dip, and your V-taper becomes irresistible.
- It’s a closed kinetic chain exercise: A closed kinetic chain (CKC) exercise is where you’re performing a movement while your hands or feet are in a fixed position. What this does is it works your muscles both when you are lowering and raising your body. Of course, lifting up works the triceps/chest/shoulders, while the lowering hits all of those other synergists in the back, as well as stretching the triceps.
- You can throw unlimited weight on the belt: This is one of the reasons why it’s the best compound calisthenics movement you can do. With a weight belt, you can throw plate after plate onto your midsection, becoming a god who can move not only his whole body, but also an extra 30, 40, 90 pounds through space…using just your raw strength.
- Lockout strength is enhanced: At the top of a dip rep, your arms lockout at the elbows. This particular feat of strength is rarely called upon; however, when it is, be thankful you do dips with heavy weight. It improves your lockout strength, which increases your arms’ overall strength when in the lockout position (i.e. when your pushing a heavy object).
- Still better than the push-up: Another reason why dips are superior to your push-up variations is total amount of weight. While you can definitely add plates to your back and build up a thick chest and triceps with push-ups, only dips have you lifting your entire Push-ups give you a partial bodyweight lift.
Sometimes, you don’t have the time or equipment to workout. Luckily, dips are so universal you can do them anywhere, anytime, and with various pieces of furniture!
Here are some of the dip variations you can do at home without parallel horizontal bars:
You can dip two different ways with a pair of chairs.
One is where both hands are at your side on one chair, your feet are resting on the other chair in front of you, and you basically dip your upper body in front of that first chair.
Or, straddle the chairs and use the technique described in the how-to above to do normal dips. You can use either the seats of the chairs or the backs, but make sure they’re stable!
This version works well if you have a corner. Face the counter, put your hands on either side of the corner, and lift your body.
Do dips against the countertop. Once you get really good at dips, doing them in a straight area of your counter adds a little difficulty to the exercise.
Back Of A Straight Couch
Similar to your counter top, dip behind your couch.
The nice thing about this variation is you can most likely grip the back with your hands instead of simply putting your palms down on a surface.
Pair Of Sawhorses
If you have ‘em, use ‘em. These are the optimal pseudo-parallel bars, even though you can’t grip the tops 100%.
A great aspect of sawhorses is they’re at an ideal height for the majority of people, causing a tremendous dipping area.
Any Pair Of Parallel, Horizontal Objects
Get creative! If you have two objects that can fit the following criteria, try dipping on them:
- It can withstand your weight (and then some)
- Has a flat surface at the top (or has bar-like grips at the top for your hands)
- It gives you room underneath to dip below the surface and back up
- It has good balance when weight is placed on top of it
- They’re movable so you can put them parallel to each other
Hopefully you can find some furniture in the house that can act as a nice substitute for dip bars.
Dips At Home
This section is for everyone on the spectrum, from complete beginner to the most advanced progression and variation. Follow this timeline to continue building a beastly upper body!
How To Do Dips At Home For Beginners
Using a single chair, begin by sitting on the edge.
With both palms firmly on the seat of the chair behind you, extend your legs out in front of the chair.
Suspend your body by your hands, then dip in front of the chair (with your feet still on the floor).
This is the ultimate beginner option. Work up to a decent amount of reps.
Once you get to 50 unbroken reps in this variation, you can move onto other variations and progressions.
If you don’t have a chair for some reason, a firm couch edge, low tabletop, or low countertop should work just fine.
How To Do Dips At Home For Triceps
If your main goal is to get thick, defined triceps, your focus should be on dips that keep your body upright.
The more perpendicular you are to the ground, the more you rely on your triceps to take on the majority of the weight.
As for what you can do at home, two chairs side-by-side works well.
Also, any dip version where your arms are behind you and your body is in front will target the triceps.
The beginners variation will get your triceps good, as well as parallel sawhorses and any other parallel, horizontal objects.
How To Do Dips At Home For Chest
The opposite of triceps work, putting a focus on building that square, powerful chest involves tilting your bodyweight forward.
This forward position puts emphasis on using your pecs to lift back up from the bottom of the movement.
Any variation that involves a single surface, like a countertop or couch back, works wonders for the chest.
This is because your body naturally leans forward to keep your balance.
Of course, any variation where you can do tricep-heavy can be made chest-heavy by simply tilting forward.
Dip Variations And Progression
Start with the beginner’s variation.
After that, move onto full-body dips, the triceps variation (straight up and down). Use the seats of chairs for the best possible dip.
If you use chair backs, sawhorses, or any parallel horizontal objects, use this following progression list:
- Negative tricep dips (use your legs at the bottom of the rep to “jump” back to the top)
- Tricep dips, normal
- Chest dips, normal
- Weighted tricep dips (using a weight belt and plates; or band resistance)
- Weighted chest dips (using a weight belt and plates; or band resistance)
When you get to a decent weight on chest dips with parallel objects, you’ll notice massive strength gains.
There are other dip variations. Here they are, complete with how to do them from home:
Rather than bending at the knee and keeping your legs out of the dip, levitate your legs in front of you in an L-sit. Then dip. Good luck with this one. (You can use the seats of chairs or any parallel objects.)
You’ll need rings or movable objects for this version. To do Bulgarian dips, as you go down flare your elbows out, shifting your hands outwards. At the bottom of the movement, it should look like you’re doing a bad robot dance.
Lift back up to the starting position. Using towels on slick, flat surfaces may work, but stay safe and be smart when attempting Bulgarian dips.
Similar to a single-surface dip, but with your back to the surface. For this variation, it is necessary to have a grippable surface, such as a parallel banister.
You also need room for your legs and body to dip below the object you’re gripping, as you’ll naturally tilt forward during this type of dip. Again, stay safe and smart with this and the following variations.
Pronated/Supinated Grip Dips
This is an easy change of the grip. “Pronated” is palms facing backwards in a dip grip. “Supinated” is palms facing forward when at your sides during a dip. These different grips alter what muscles are fatigued first. This helps to trick your body into never getting comfortable with a specific variation of dip.
These last three progressions are getting into elite-level dipping. Russian dips are when you get to the bottom of the movement, you go farther by dropping your elbows onto the surface your hands are on. At the very bottom, your forearms are flat against the surface.
Using a combination of strength and a little momentum, push back to 90 degrees and then the top. Use objects that can withstand the surface area of your forearms and potential jarring weight when you reach the bottom.
As easy as it sounds – dip while in a planche. Extremely advanced, you need room behind and ahead of you to move your planched body through space. Also, the objects you’re using need to be incredibly balanced or even bolted into the floor. This is one variation where everything needs to be absolutely ideal.
We applaud you if you get to this point. Only those with exceptional strength and body control can pull these off. Dipping with one arm involves putting your working arm in the middle of your body and having the space to move your body.
Plus, the object needs to be gripped and unbelievably sturdy. A parallel bar is optimal for this last difficult variation.
Dips are awesome, there’s no denying. Hopefully, now you know what they are, how to do them, and what furniture in your house can be turned into impromptu gym equipment for this effective exercise.
The benefits are massive, plus they strengthen almost everything in your upper body.
Find out where you’re at in the dipping spectrum, find two parallel, horizontal objects, and get to dipping! You’ll have impressive triceps, a full chest, and sculpted shoulders in no time at all.