If you’re looking for a simple dip progression to help you get your first full dip, then post is for you.
In this post I’ll take you through a 5 step progression to work your way towards your first dip.
Dips are sometimes referred to as “the squat of the upper body.” They are deadly effective at building brute strength and muscle mass, particularly the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
You can target either your triceps or your chest depending on how you perform the dip. However, this post will primarily focus on the triceps dip.
Regardless, there is a lot of overlap. Whichever dip version you choose, both your chest and shoulders will get a great workout.
The Anatomy Of A Dip
As mentioned above there are two versions of the dip:
- Triceps Dip
- Chest Dip
For the triceps dip your body remains mostly vertical:
For the chest dip your body maintains a slight forward lean to target more of the chest:
For the purposes of this post we will focus on the triceps dip. The reason is three-fold:
- The chest dip is harder to perform while maintaining your body in a straight line
- If you are training pushups alongside dips, you are already targeting your chest
- There is a lot of overlap (in other words, your chest still gets some work with the triceps version of the dip)
Triceps dips primarily target the triceps (no surprise there.) The triceps are the largest muscles in your upper arm, making up about 2/3 of the muscle (the biceps make up the other third):
However, being that dips are a compound exercise there are MANY other muscles that get worked:
- Front shoulder muscle
- Chest (including upper chest)
- Rear shoulder / neck
- Back (including the lats and rhomboids)
Even your biceps and core get some work to help stabilize you in position.
Simply put, dips give you a lot of bang for your buck.
How To Do Dips With Perfect Form
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
Executing an exercise with proper form should be your #1 priority in calisthenics training.
I have no tolerance for sloppy reps. If you cannot perform a rep of an exercise with perfect form, go back down to a previous exercise in the progression and work from there.
With that said, here are some general guidelines to perform dips with perfect form:
- Body straight or slightly hollow
- Straight arms at the top (push down to keep the shoulders depressed)
- Elbows close to your sides
- Go down until you feel a light stretch in your shoulders
If your parallel bars are too low such that you have to bend at the knees, that’s okay. Just keep in mind that if you eventually progress to weighted dips, the weights may hit the ground.
Where To Do Dip Progression Exercises
Dips are traditionally done on parallel bars, but you can do them on any two parallel surfaces.
For example, you can place the backs of two chairs beside each other and do dips there. Put weights on the seats if you’re afraid of them falling over.
Alternately, you can use stools, tables, or even the corner of a kitchen counter. Look around at your environment and you’ll almost surely find somewhere to do dips.
I personally have this set of parallel bars in my home gym, which I love. However, these are not necessary when first starting out.
Note: If you have rings, it is recommended to first master dips on parallel bars. Ring dips are more difficult than parallel bar dips.
Step 1: Parallel Bar Support Hold
The first step in the dip progression is the parallel bar support hold.
Before you try to do anything on parallel bars, it’s important to first get comfortable supporting your bodyweight on them. Otherwise, dipping is out of the question.
The parallel bar support hold is a static position that is held for time.
Stand between your parallel bars and jump up to the top position of the dip. Your arms should be straight as an arrow and locked tight.
Squeeze the bar tightly and depress your scapulas. Do not allow your shoulders to come up towards your ears.
Try to maintain a straight body if you can. If you need to bend at the knees to keep from touching the ground, that’s okay.
Once you can hold this position for about 20-30 seconds, move on to the next step.
Note: Once mastered, I recommend keeping parallel bar support holds in the warm-up / mobility portion of your workout. It will help you build straight arm strength.
Step 2: Jumping Dips
The second step in the dip progression is jumping dips.
Similar to jumping pull ups in the pull up progression, jumping dips use your leg strength to compensate for a lack of pushing strength.
Begin in the parallel bar support hold position (Step 1). Lower yourself down to the bottom position of the dip with control.
At the bottom position place your legs on a chair, box, or the floor beneath you. Lower yourself until you can get into a squat position.
Using a combination of strength from your legs and arms, jump back up to the top position of the dip.
Over time try to use your legs less and less for assistance. Once you can do 10-15 reps of jumping dips, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Negative Dips
Next is negative dips. Negative dips entail just the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise.
Begin in a support hold position (Step 1). Slowly lower yourself down to the bottom position of the dip.
The goal over time is to work up to 10 second negatives.
A slightly advanced technique is to perform eccentrics in “clusters.” For example, instead of performing a single eccentric and then resting, you would perform 2-3 eccentrics in a row before counting it as a “set.”
You can add a short rest between these “cluster” eccentric repetitions if you want, or you can perform them one right after another.
Regardless, you should always rest the full amount of time between sets.
Step 4: Assisted Dips
The next step in the dip progression before full dips is assisted dips.
Assisted dips are the same as negative dips (Step 3), except now you’ll add the concentric (raising) portion of the dip back into the equation.
Begin in the support hold position (Step 1). Slowly lower yourself to the bottom position (ideally a 10 second descent). This is the same as Step 3.
In the bottom position place your legs on a chair, box, or the floor beneath you. Lower yourself until you can get into a squat position.
Alternately, you can bend at the knees and place your lower legs on the surface beneath you.
Using as little assistance from your legs as possible, push yourself back up to the starting position.
Assisted dips couple an unassisted eccentric with an assisted concentric. This combination is wildly effective at achieving full range of motion exercises.
This technique can also be used to obtain other exercises such as the pull up.
Once you can perform about 10 reps of this exercise, move onto the next step.
Step 5: Full Dips
If you’ve followed all of the previous dip progression steps, you should be able to perform at least one rep of a full dip.
The full dip is similar to assisted dips, except you eliminate the assistance on the concentric portion of the exercise.
You can also shorten the time it takes on the eccentric since you aren’t training negatives. However, go slow enough to maintain control.
Begin in the support hold position (Step 1). Lower yourself with control until you reach the bottom position.
Once you feel a light stretch in your arms and shoulders, press yourself back up to the top position. Try to keep your feet straight the whole time.
Once you master a single rep of the full dip, start adding reps. Work your way up to 15 perfect reps before moving on.
Once you master bodyweight dips, you can begin adding weight with a dip belt. you can also experiment with different body leans (such as performing the chest version of the dip).
Alternately, take your dip training to the rings. Rings dips are more difficult than dips performed on parallel bars.
Lastly, you can begin experimenting with other vertical pushing exercises such as handstand pushups.
Dips are a fundamental calisthenics exercise for building brute strength in the triceps, chest, and shoulders. It is certainly worth your while to master this exercise.
Mastering dips opens up doors to work on more advanced bodyweight exercises such as the back lever.
Always remember to train safely. Ensure that your parallel bars (even if it’s the back of two chairs) are sturdy enough to handle your bodyweight.
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