Dips are a classic exercise for building upper body size and strength, but what muscle do dips work? And how can you get the most out of the exercise?

If it’s your first time here, I’ve spent the last 10+ years as a professional strength and conditioning coach, I make my living by providing an online coaching service where I guarantee athletes and lifters measurable improvements in their performance (or they don’t pay) so I literally put my money where my mouth is when it comes to topics like this.

In this article we’ll be covering:

Let’s jump straight in.

What Muscles Do Dips Work?

Dips are an upper body pressing movement, specifically the muscles used in dips are:

  • Your chest
  • Your triceps
  • Your anterior delts (to a lesser extent)

Do dips work triceps or chest?

Dips work both your triceps and your chest. With that said, you can place more emphasis onto your chest or triceps based on how you perform the exercise.

Chest dips have you leaning your body further forwards and target your chest more, whereas tricep dips keep your torso more upright and target your triceps more. So the next someone asks you “dips work out what muscle?” you can let them know that it all depends on how you perform them.

Dip Muscles Worked Diagram

Dip muscles worked diagram

Do dips work shoulders?

Yes, dips do work shoulders, specifically dips work your anterior (front) delts. However, dips do not work your lateral (side) delts, or your posterior (rear) delts, so if big shoulders are your goal, consider adding in some exercises like lateral raises and face pulls.

Do dips work back?

No, dips do not work your back. Your back muscles are the antagonist (opposite) muscles to the ones being worked. If you want to build a big, strong back then consider adding exercises like pull ups and rows into your training.

Dip Variations and Alternatives

There are numerous of dip variations and alternatives that you can use to train your chest and triceps, here are three of my favourites, plus which muscles they work, as well as why you might use them.

Assisted Dips

What muscles do assisted dips work?

Assisted dips are a simple dip variation in which a machine (or band) supports some of your bodyweight, allowing you to achieve more reps. Assisted dips mainly work your chest and triceps, as well as your front delts to a lesser degree.

Personally, I like assisted dips as a way to focus on mind muscle connection, and to achieve higher rep sets of 20-30 reps for an intense tricep burn.

Seated Dips

what muscles do seated dips work?

Seated dips mainly work your triceps, with a small contribution from your chest and front delts. The upright position of your torso places more emphasis on your triceps than a standard dip. There is also less of a stability demand, so you can more easily focus on feeling the muscle work.

Top Tip: This exercise tends to work better in higher rep ranges (20-30 reps) and it can be difficult to get much out of them when performed heavy.

Ring Dips

What muscles do ring dips work?

Ring dips mainly work your chest and triceps, with some contribution fro your front delts. They are typically much harder than standard dips, as they require significantly more stabilisation work.

Personally, I think ring dips are a good exercise for gymnasts and crossfitters, but a poor choice of exercise for strength athletes and bodybuilders, as the lack of stability makes it hard to produce maximal force outputs.

Quick Training Recommendations for Dips

How many reps should I do for dips?

The amount of reps you should do for dips depends on your training goals:

  • For hypertrophy, anything from 5 to 30 reps is acceptable
  • For strength, I would stick in the 5-10 rep range

From experience, whilst the ‘strength rep range’ is typically suggested as 1-5 reps, this type of low rep heavy loading doesn’t tend to work well with dips, as it places uncomfortable loads through your elbows and shoulder joints. It’s better to use dips as a strength assistance exercise.

How many dips is a good number?

There’s no set number of dips that counts as a ‘good number,’ it all depends on your ability level, bodyweight and training goal. For example, a heavier strength athlete performing weighted dips might be happy with 6-8 reps at their chosen weight, whereas a lighter, experienced crossfit athlete might be happy with sets of 20-30 reps.

How many sets of dips?

I recommend anything from 2 to 6 sets of dips within a single workout. The amount of sets you do will depend on how well you recover, where you are in your training cycle, and how sensitive you are to training volume.

For example, if your triceps are insanely pumped after 3 sets, you probably don’t need to do 6. Use your own judgement, you can always add another set next time.

How often should I do dips?

“I recommend doing dips in your training anything from 1 to 2 times per week.”

Any more dip sessions than this per week and you’ll probably find that your elbow and shoulder joints start to feel a little niggly. I recommend adding in some different chest and tricep exercises for variation.

How much weight should you use for dips?

You should use a weight for dips that allows you to perform the exercise with good technique through a full rnage of motion. That means a controlled descent, a decent stretch at the bottom (as much as your shoulders are happy with) and a big squeeze at the top.

Can I do dips and bench on the same day?

You can absolutely do dips and bench on the same day, just remember that since they both work the same muscle groups you will likely need fewer sets of each exercise.

Dips Workout What Muscle: Frequently Asked Questions

Will dips build a big chest?

Yes, dips will absolutely help you build a big chest. The trick is to perform them with your torso inclined forwards by at least 20 degrees, then control the descent, and aim to feel a really deep stretch in your chest at the bottom of each rep. Plus, make sure to follow hypertrophy (muscle-building) training guidelines. For maximal chest development I also recommend adding some bench press and/or press-ups.

Do dips build big arms?

Sort of, dips can build big arms by growing your triceps, but dips do not train your biceps, so you won’t be able to get a complete arm workout using only dips. If your goal is to build big arms I highly recommend adding in plenty of specific bicep exercises such as barbell curls and dumbbell curls.

What chest muscles do dips work?

Dips work all of your chest muscles to some degree, but they place more emphasis on your lower chest, and less emphasis on your upper chest.

Are dips for biceps or triceps?

Dips are for triceps (and chest). Dips do not train your biceps, so you’ll have to add in bicep exercises like barbell and dumbbell curls to target those.

Are dips better than push ups? Are dips better than bench?

Dips might be better than push ups for YOU, and dips might be better than bench for YOU, but they might also be worse. It all depends on how you personally respond to each exercise. Generally speaking, dips, push-ups and bench are all great upper body exercises, and you should probably give them all try at some point in yourn training.

Should legs be straight or bent for dips?

Luckily, it makes absolutely no difference whether your legs are straight or bent for dips, the muscles worked are still exacty the same, and they’re worked exactly the same amounts.

Next Steps

Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…

1) Get in the gym and start using some dip variations to build strength and size in your chest and triceps. Or if you need a bit of help planning your training, consider having a look at my custom programme options

2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.

3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.

‘Til Next Time

Alex

Strength coach

Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.