By Alfred Page
The Dip is a hugely productive exercise. As an upper-body exercise and in particular a ‘chest’ exercise, it is often overlooked in program design in favour of the more common ‘Bench Press’. The Bench Press is a productive exercise, but a fixation can often develop. This is usually geared around the infamous question- ”How much do you Bench?”. Trainees can then become obsessed about increasing their poundages, disregarding good form, so they can answer gains more respect. When were you last asked- ”How much can you Dip?”.
The Dip is performed on parallel bars, by holding the body upright on locked arms (feet suspended in the air), then lowering and raising the body by bending at the elbows. It incorporates a wide range of musculature including the pectorals, triceps, deltoids and, unlike the Bench, requires a good deal of back strength as well.
Like Chins, the Dip is not simply a ‘bodyweight’ exercise. It should be performed progressively. In this fashion, a belt with a length a chain-link attached is used. The chain-link is fed through the centre of weight plates and is then hung around the waist, hanging between the legs. This provides additional resistance to the trainee’s bodyweight.
Rates of Progression
To begin with, if you cannot perform repetitions using only bodyweight, then perform negatives. Work up until you can perform 2-3 sets of 8+ reps, using bodyweight and in good form.
Then add small increments as often as possible. Set goals of bodyweight+10lbs, then +15lbs, 20lbs and so on.
Marvin Eder was a legendary strength trainee during the 1950’s and 60’s. In 1953, 200lbs bodyweight, he was credited with a 435lbs Dip. That's a total of 635lbs!
Eder was not genetically typical and these poundages are unrealistic for most trainees. Still, if you progress to bodyweight+100lbs, you will be astounded with the gains you make. For genetically typical trainees a really outstanding achievement would be bodyweight+’150lbs’.
If you have stagnated with the bench press or never seriously trained the Dip before, then add it to you’re current program as a chest exercise. It truely is an excellent exercise. Just look at the muscular development of Gymnasts who perform work or compete on the Parallel bars or Pommel Horse. These athletes spend hours training in a position similar to the Dip. Although any exercise done in poor form is potentially harmful, with the Dip you have the added safety incentive of not being underneath a loaded barbell, as you would in the Bench or Overhead Press.
Summary of correct Form
- 1. Choose bars which are approximately 22″ apart. Depending on preference or size etc you may prefer slightly wider bars.
- 2. Position yourself on bars with arms locked out and ‘knuckles out’ grip.
- 3. Bend the legs. Keep the elbows in the same plain as the wrists. Inhale.
- 4.Keep the chest out and the shoulders pulled back.
- 5. Lower to a comfortable position. Distribute stress over all of the involved musculature. DO NOT overstretch.
- 6. Press up and exhale.
- 7. Pause at the top on locked arms, do not let the shoulders slump. Repeat.
Do not over stretch or descend too far into the bottom position. This will wreak havoc on the joints, shoulder external rotators and solar plexus. Never descend on a deflated chest and always remember to keep elbows in the same plain as the wrists- NOT flared out to the sides. If you currently suffer from shoulder problems or have in the past, consult a physician or knowledgeable strength coach before performing the dip.
As with all exercises – correct form and technique should always take priority over poundages. If an exercise isn’t done in good form it doesn’t matter how much weight you use. Dipping with only bodyweight in good form, is far more impressive than dipping with additional poundage but descending only 3″ and with flared elbows!