Don’t skip this classic upper-body builder. Here are the four best dip variations for beginners and advanced lifters. Try them all!
Old-school lifters built slabs of muscle using a simple combination of pull-ups, rows, bench presses, and dips. Or at least, that’s what it would seem. But, take a closer look into the training of those who solely rely on these “meat and potatoes” exercises and you’ll actually find a lot of variation.
They used slight tweaks in technique to help them target their muscles better and avoid unwanted pain. Of these old-school muscle-building lifts, dips are arguably the most misunderstood. When you read “weighted dips” on a training plan, your mind probably goes to one type of dip.
Here are four alternative ways you can do them: from beginner to pro.
If you can’t do five dips with bodyweight alone, then start here. That’s your first goal. If you can, then jump to some more advanced variations below.
To get stronger on dips, it’s essential to do them on a regular basis; ideally twice a week or more, provided you vary the loading parameters and/or spread the volume. Simply trying to get stronger triceps by doing variations of pushdowns won’t cut it, and exercises like narrow-grip bench presses have very little transference.
To get better at dips, you must dip.
Using a resistance band replicates the real thing more closely than using a machine for assistance. Why? The band unloads you more at the bottom where you’re weakest and less so at the top where you’re strongest.
And if you have shoulder issues, the band-assisted version will also work well. It unloads you more in the bottom position, where your shoulders are hyperextended and most vulnerable.
Just select a band thick enough to allow you to get your first 5 reps. Stick with it until you can get 10, then select a slightly lower resistance band that’ll put you back at 5 reps again. Rinse and repeat until you no longer need to use a band.
These are harder than you think. The setup is a little elaborate, but you’ll become addicted once you’ve tried them.
Getting assistance by placing a bench behind your dip station will keep you stable and pressing at a consistent angle. As you get closer to technical failure, use your feet to push on the bench and help out. This is somewhat like a drop-set.
The pressing angle emphasizes more of your lower pec fibers than the standard, more upright version.
John Meadows was a master at tweaking old-school favorites to get every little extra bit out of them. When working with elite physiques, small details matter.
The Meadows dip is a good option if you’re trying to build the lower portion of your pecs – the costal region. Finish each rep at the top by thinking about driving your shoulder blades down and around your ribcage and pushing your upper arms down toward where your lower pecs meet in the middle.
Extend your legs in front to maintain a more optimal pressing angle. These work best in a higher hypertrophy range (think 12 or more reps) with a massive focus on contraction and tension throughout. If you want to load them, try using a weighted vest or chains over your shoulders. Avoid the dip belt.
Regular ol’ dips can be loaded in a variety of ways, including hanging weight over your shoulders or around your hips. Once you’ve built a considerable amount of strength within your desired rep range, use weighted versions. Around 50% of body weight via a dipping belt is a good start. Then try using accentuated eccentrics for breakthrough progress.
You’re around 40% stronger during the eccentric/negative phase of a lift. Emphasizing the negative helps tap into that extra strength capacity, creates a lot of mechanical tension and tissue breakdown (important triggers of muscle growth), and helps to develop more inter- and intra-muscular coordination for greater strength, muscle, and bulletproofing from injury.
Do the lowering phase for 4 seconds or up to 10 seconds for you sadistic lot. Aim for 5-8 reps.
I’ve shared four versions of dips for different starting points and training goals. While you might want to run off now and try them all, you must stay on course with your training objectives and pick which ones will work best for you.
- If you’re just starting out with dips, want to improve, or work around unhappy shoulders, try the band-assisted version.
- The bench-assisted version can be a great option for cranky shoulders too, but more so if you’re looking to build your lower pecs and add some intensity to your workouts.
- You can also use bench-assisted dips if you’re looking to hit a higher rep range that you couldn’t otherwise achieve with regular bodyweight dips.
- If you don’t have much of an ego and you’re looking to be humbled by your own body weight, then use Meadows dips to stick it to your lower pecs. Of course, you’ll target your triceps with all these versions, too.
- Finally, accentuated eccentric dips are a more advanced version of regular dips. You can do them with your torso upright for more of a triceps focus or lean slightly forward for more pec focus.
Be sure to have some solid foundations set before doing them. Let us know how you get along.
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