T Nation



Many years ago, while serving in the military, I was sent on a temporary assignment to the west coast for a couple of weeks to attend a technical school. After checking in at the base, I changed my clothing and went in search of the base gym. This particular base had just built a state of the art athletic complex with basketball courts, racquetball courts, indoor running track and two indoor pools.

Though I hoped that the weight room would be well equipped, I was not surprised to find a small dusty room in the back littered with assorted bars and plates and few basic pieces of rusty equipment. I trained for about forty-five minutes and decided to finish up with a couple of hard sets of bar dips. I have always enjoyed doing bar dips, it is a basic exercise that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought, you can just focus on going up and down and pushing them to the absolute limit.

Dips are probably the easiest exercise that you can do forced reps and negatives without the aid of a spotter. The small weight room had no equipment for dips and I was unable to rig up a temporary set of dip bars. I left the weight room and walked down the hall into the basketball court area in hopes of finding a couple of chairs or some railings which could be used for dips. I spotted an old pair of gymnastic parallel bars in a corner of the gym. I went back to the weight room, collected a couple of 25lb plates along with my belt and dipping hook and walked back to the parallel bars to do a couple of sets of dips to complete my training for that day.

Those three sets of dips were easily the best three sets of dips that I had ever done in my life. The movement was smooth, the weight felt relatively light and when I was done I felt a deep ache throughout my entire upper body. I thought that maybe the wooden bars had a bit of spring to them and that they were giving me an artificial bounce. I had used the very ends of the bars and I concluded that they were as rigid as any steel parallel bars. I continued to use the gymnast bars for the next two weeks and I improved my weight for reps on each successive workout.

When I resumed my training at my normal gym back home, I was disappointed to find that I was unable to duplicate the weight and reps that I had so easily performed on the gymnastic bars. Several months later, I trained at a small private gym, which featured equipment that had been custom made by the owner. The dip bars were constructed out of heavy-duty two-inch pipe. Using these bars, I again had a phenomenal dip workout.

I concluded that it was the thickness of the bars themselves that were responsible for the increased performance. I have always made it a point since then do perform my bar dips with very thick bars. I believe that the added thickness helps distribute the weight more evenly across the hands and wrists, resulting in a more efficient movement. The difference between using standard dip bars and extra thick dip bars has to be experienced to be believed.

If you are training in a commercial gym, it is simple to modify a set of regular dips bars to an increased thickness. You could make a plastic sleeve out of PVC piping and then wrap small towels around the bars and then slide the piping over the bars. You can also purchase Olympic bar adapter sleeves at most sporting goods store. These sleeves allow you to convert an exercise bar into one that can accept Olympic plates (why anyone would want to do that is beyond me) The sleeves can slide over most dips bars that are open ended to create a two-inch sleeve. If you train at home you can purchase a couple of two-inch metal pipes from any hardware store and with the aid of some in-expensive muffler clamps, create a thick dip bar apparatus in your power rack. Use your imagination and be creative-you might just end up with a stronger and better developed upper body.

Keith Wassung


Outstanding post. I just had a epiphany as to why I dip better at my gym compared to my home power rack. You made my day.

it all makes sense now. i have never been able to dip as well as i did in this one gym i used to work out at.

it had large haldles.

it was always more comfortable too.

Yes! Very true, I started doing dips with a foam wrap on the bar as the thin bar hurt my hands and I could suddenly crank out double the number of reps. I then added about 20% of my bodyweight and could do nearly as many dips as with the old thin bars.


This post came just in time for me as I’m thinking of making up a home gym, I’ll keep this tip in mind.

It is interesting to note that at my gym they have an assisted dip machine and a normal dip station, which has much thicker bars. As I was progressing up to being able to use the non-assisted station I really struggled to increase the weight. Then I started using the non-assisted station and found things much easier. Seems like your post explains the reason why!

Would wrapping towels around a bar until it’s thicker work? I don’t want to bother with funky pipes in the YMCA, but it would be pretty easy to just wrap towels around the dip bar and start knockin’ 'em out.

u can use that tampon thing too…

I have thick bars on my dip station and find the movement easier on my hands and grip, My dips on bars have vastly improved since i incorporated dips on rings (thick bar) as well :wink:

Although the rings take a lot more concentration :confused:

it seems like doing dips on flat surfaces
(i.e. putting two tables next to each other)
limits the ability to do dips, right?

Good point. I’ve never thought about that before. When I do heavy dips, regardless of bar size, I get a deep pain across my clavicle to my shoulders. Anyone else ever feel that before?

You can also achieve increased results by using a thicker bar on cable tricep work, such as pushdowns, etc.