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How to Do Dips to Build Up Your Chest

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SHOULD YOU COUNT dips, the bodyweight staple exercise gym-goers have been doing for decades, as a chest or triceps move? The debate has split swolemates apart and lit up fitness message boards—but there is an answer.

We’re here to settle the debate once and for all. If you do the exercise in its safest form, a dip will hit both muscle groups, since the exercise works through both elbow extension and chest adduction, says Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health fitness director. That said, you can bias one muscle group more. If you want to target the chest more, there’s a few slight form shifts you can make to optimize your angles to place more emphasis on your torso.

Just because it’s possible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s optimal, though. The effectiveness of the chest dip relies largely on your shoulder health. “You might not be able to get the greatest stretch on your chest, and we know that living in those stretch positions is the key to muscle growth and development,” Samuel says.

If your shoulders can handle it, though, the chest dip might work for you. Samuel explains how to do both the traditional and chest-biased versions of the dip, here.

How to Do the Classic Dip

Men’s Health

The classic dip is slightly more biased towards the triceps. You will get some chest engagement when you drive up.

How to Do It:

  • Set up on the bar, gripping with both hands. Squeeze and slightly depress your shoulder blades down.
  • Think about driving your elbows together, close into the ribcage.
  • Lean slightly forward.
  • Start bending at the elbow, lowering as far as you can. Ideally, you’re able to lower down to where your upper arm is parallel with the ground, but not everyone is going to have that ability.

How to Do the Chest Dip

dip

Men’s Health

To make this move more chest-oriented, you’ll need to do two things: drop your chin and bend your hips. This will bring your torso into a more parallel position with the ground—think closer to a pushup—putting the chest in an optimal position.

How to Do It:

  • Set up on the bar. Squeeze and slightly depress your shoulder blades down.
  • Think about driving your elbows together, close into the ribcage.
  • Lean just slightly forward. Dip the head forward. Bend the hips slightly.
  • Start bending at the elbow, lowering as far as you can. Ideally, you’re able to lower down to where your upper arm is parallel with the ground, but not everyone is going to have that ability.

Chest Dips Muscles Worked

Yes, we’re biasing the chest more when we shift into the forward position—but remember, the dip is going to always depend on your triceps for elbow extension. Both muscle groups will be engaged, no matter the variation.

Risks of Chest Dips

The dip puts your shoulders in a very compromised position. “There’s a lot more chance of your shoulders slipping into internal rotation at the shoulder joint, and this is not a great position for shoulder health,” Samuel says.

If you want to spare your shoulders, there are a lot of better moves to target your lower chest: decline angle pushups, decline bench or dumbbell presses, or glute bridge floor presses. All of these will allow you to push more volume, without risking the health of your joints in the same way.

How to Incorporate Chest Dips Into Your Routine

If you’re determined to do chest dips, put them at the end of your workout. This is not a main lift, and should come after you hit your larger compound movements like bench presses and flies. Think of the dips as a finisher, performing 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. Don’t take this move to failure because of the stress you’ll put on the shoulders.

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