A powerful bodyweight exercise for your chest and triceps, dips force you to lift your body in a challenging and unsupported position. Witness the tremendous physique of gymnasts who maneuver on parallel bars. By doing incline dips, your chest comes under more pressure than your triceps on the lift. The forward tilt of the position of your trunk also takes the pressure off your shoulders.
Chalk Up the Benefits
Dips strengthen your chest, triceps and the anterior deltoids, or the front of your shoulder muscles. Compared to other resistance exercises, such as the bench press or chest flyes, the dip is a functional exercise in which you train your entire upper body and not just one muscle. When dipping, your body has to function as a single and synchronized unit, engaging your core musculature to maintain stability. However, a standard dip can put too much stress on compromised shoulders. By leaning forward on an incline when you dip, the position redistributes your weight, shifting the stress of the exercise from your shoulders to your chest. If you're prone to shoulder injury, such as impingement due to overuse, you're better off doing the incline variation of the dip.
Focus on Form
Begin by grabbing a pair of dipping bars with an overhand grip. Lift yourself up so your hips and buttocks are above the bars and arms are fully extended. Your back should be erect, arms aligned with your shoulders and legs and feet together. Lift and bend your knees at 90-degree angles as if you're sitting in an invisible chair. Hold this chair-like position throughout the exercise. Inhale, bend your elbows and slowly lower your body until your upper arms are slightly below parallel to the ground. Keeping your elbows tucked in, allow your trunk to lean forward on the descent and avoid dropping your legs. Exhale and press your body back up to starting position. Perform 15 to 20 reps.
Go Easier or Work Harder
If dips without support are too difficult, perform assisted dips in which you use a dip machine to lighten the load to below your body weight. Alternatively, support your lower body by resting your feet on a chair or have a partner hold your legs while you dip. When you can easily do 10 reps with your body weight, progress the exercise by gradually increasing the load in 10-lb. increments. Secure a dumbbell or weight plate to a rope or chain and then attach the other end of the rope to your waist. Grab the weight with your legs to keep it stable during the dip. If you allow the weight to rock, it can warp your form and leave you vulnerable to injury. Be aware that the greater the load, the more your chest is stretched at the bottom of the descent, putting you at risk for muscle strain or tears.
Tabs on Safety
Warm up with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity before you hit the parallel bars. Also, make sure the bars are truly parallel and not V-shaped. If you use the V-shaped bars and a grip that is wider than shoulder width apart, it'll put too much stress on your shoulders and chest. Your hands should align directly under your shoulders. Also, find bars that are thick enough so your thumbs and fingers don't overlap. When performing dips, keep your back straight and use fluid and controlled motion on the lift and the descent. If chest dips are causing shoulder pain, skip the exercise.
About the Author
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.