How to Do Dips the Right Way

Learn how to do Dips with perfect form to build stronger triceps and save your shoulders.

Dips are a bodyweight exercise that develops the triceps and other upper-body muscles. The exercise begins when you hold on to parallel bars with your arms straight. You then bend your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground before driving up to the starting position.

Here's everything you need to know to correctly perform Dips, avoid common mistakes and build bigger and stronger triceps.

How To Do Dips

To perform Dips, you need parallel bars, a dip stand or a dip machine. These devices can be standalone units, combined with a pull-up bar or attached to a rack, as shown in our demo below.

Here's how to do the exercise.

Step 1: Grasp the parallel bars and hop up so your arms are straight. Lean forward at about a 45-degree angle, bend at the waist so your legs are vertical and pull your toes up toward your shins. Pull your shoulders down and back. Maintain this body position throughout the exercise.

Dip Starting Position

Step 2: Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body into the Dip until your upper arms are about parallel to the ground. Keep your elbows tight to your body.

Dip Bottom Position

Step 3: Straighten your arms to drive your body up to the starting position.

Dip Form Mistakes

According to Dr. Joel Seedman, owner of Advanced Human Performance, Dips are one of the most commonly butchered exercise in the weight room. He believes this is because there's far less info on proper form compared to the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and most other exercises.

Dips are commonly viewed as an exercise that you can't screw up, which is far from the truth. Dips done with poor form are not only less effective, but are highly likely to cause shoulder pain.

Here are the common mistakes that you need to avoid.

Mistake 1: Poor upper-body position

Dips Form Mistake

Form Mistake: Rounded back and shoulders

This is the number one mistake people make when performing Dips. Most people lean too far forward, round their back and have forward rounded shoulders. On the flip side, others try to maintain a close-to-vertical torso to more directly target their triceps.

Either form error puts your shoulders in a vulnerable position. There's a good chance that if you experience shoulder pain during Dips, one of these technique mistakes is the culprit.

The fix requires you to:

  • Maintain a 45-degree angle with your upper body
  • Pull your shoulders down and back
  • Keep your core tight

Mistake 2: Flaring your elbows

Dips Form Mistake

Form Mistake: Flared Elbows

Another surefire way to screw up your shoulders is to flare your elbows out to your sides as your lower into a Dip. Some bodybuilders actually recommend flaring your elbows to hit the chest, but the stress placed on your shoulders isn't worth it.

Similar to Push-Ups or the Bench Press, your elbows should be at no more than a 45-degree angle with your body. This puts your shoulders in a strong and stable position. For Dips, they can even be closer to your torso than when you do a Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Press or Close-Grip Bench Press.

Mistake 3: Messing up your range of motion

Dips Form Mistake

Form Mistake: Lowering too far

Lowering yourself too far puts your shoulders in a dangerous position. Failure to lower enough and you're only doing a partial rep that won't fully challenge your muscles.

The key is to find the happy medium between the two. At the bottom of the dip, your upper arms should be parallel to the ground and your elbows should be bent at approximately 90 degrees.

Mistake 4: Weak grip and bent wrists

Dips Form Mistake

Form Mistake: Bent wrists

There's a tendency for the wrists to bend severely, often causing wrist pain. A poor grip limits muscle activation throughout the rest of the body, impairing stability and reducing the benefit of the exercise.

Throughout an entire set of Dips, try to crush the handles with your hands and maintain strong wrists. If you have trouble with this, spend extra time in your workouts improving your grip strength.

After reading about the mistakes, you can probably conclude that Dips have a tendency to cause shoulder problems, which is especially true if they are done incorrectly. If you have a shoulder injury or you're an athlete who relies heavily on his or her shoulders, such as a baseball player or volleyball player, it's best to avoid this exercise altogether.

The Benefits of Dips

Dips are considered an upper-body pressing exercise that primarily build bigger and stronger triceps, but they also hit the chest, shoulders and even the back.

In fact, Dips are one of the best exercises for developing overall upper-body strength and size. Many believe they're as essential to developing complete upper-body strength as the Bench Press, Pull-Ups and Rows—that is if you can do them with good form and have healthy shoulders.

The triceps and general upper-body strength added by doing Dips will also improve your Bench Press strength. Stronger triceps help you drive through the sticking point (middle portion of the rep) of the press and have a stronger lockout.

Dips Muscles Worked

Dips are an upper-body exercise that focuses on the triceps. However, you can expect them to target your pecs, anterior deltoids and muscles in your back. Even your biceps get a workout because they have to help control the descent.

For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the triceps, pecs and anterior deltoids.

Dips Muscles Worked

Dip Alternatives and Variations

Here are three Dip variations that will help you decrease or increase the difficulty of the exercise.

Assisted Dips

Attach a band to the dip machine and place it under your feet. This provides assistance and makes it easier to perform the exercise if you lack the strength to perform it with proper form.

Weighted Dips

If you have mastered bodyweight Dips, it's time to load up and challenge yourself. A weight vest is the ideal option, but you can also use a weight belt or simply hold a dumbbell between your feet.

Ring Dips

Ring Dips are the most challenging variation, because of the added instability.

Avoid: Bench Dips

Bench Dips involve placing your hands on a bench behind you and bending your elbows to work your triceps. This is a common variation because it's easier to perform and you only need a bench to do them. Problem is, this setup puts your shoulders in an extremely vulnerable position.

"Bench Dips cause maximal internal rotation and glenohumeral extension, which is a recipe for disaster," says Tony Gentilcore, strength coach and owner of Core (Boston). "This is particularly problematic for athletes who have a history of shoulder problems or who play an overhead sport such as tennis or baseball."

Dip Workouts

Here are a few options to help you add Dips to your workouts.

Dip Upper-Body Superset

1a) Dips - 4x8

1b) Dumbbell Rows - 4x8 each arm

Dip Arm Workout

1a) Dips - 3x12

1b) Hammer Curls - 3x12

Upper-Body Workout With Dips

1) Bench Press - 5x3

2) Barbell Rows - 5x5

3) Dips - 4x10

4) Pull-Ups - 4x8-10

5) Skull Crushers - 3x12

6) Hammer Curls - 3x15