Triceps dips are an exercise that many people do to build stronger, more defined triceps. It’s an exercise you can do in a variety of ways, by using the edge of a bench or by placing your body between two parallel bars and grasping each bar with your palms and lowering your body toward the floor. Some people even use gym rings instead of bars to grab onto to dip.
Another alternative for doing triceps dips is to place your hands on a sturdy chair and your feet on another sturdy chair and dip. However, the best way to start as a beginner is to plant your hands on the edge of a bench or chair and your feet on the floor to perform the exercise. Do this version until you can do the movement with good form. Regardless of which type you do, triceps dips are an effective exercise for building the triceps.
Triceps dips make your triceps burn! They also build strength and increase muscle size. However, they do more than work this small muscle in the back of your upper arm. Dips are a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time. What other muscles do you activate, other than your triceps, when you dip?
Muscles That Dips Work
When you dip you activate your triceps, and your biceps get far less stimulation. Building forearm strength with dips is beneficial as you need strength in this portion of your arm to maximize the amount of weight you can lift with other exercises. So, triceps dips can help you get the most out of other exercises.
Another major muscle group you work when you dip are your shoulder muscles, including your deltoid muscles. When you lower your body into a dip, the pressure increases on the main joint in your shoulder, the glenohumeral joint. The glenohumeral joint is where the upper arm bone, or humerus, attaches to the scapula or collar bone. Since the glenohumeral joint has a ball-and-socket structure, it can move in many directions, making it one of the least stable joints in the body.
The pressure on the glenohumeral joint is substantial enough that fitness trainers and sports medicine doctors may recommend dips that you don’t do dips if you have a history of a shoulder injury or chronic shoulder pain. Not only do dips place stress on the joint, descending too low into a dip can, over time, stretch the ligaments that surround the joint and lead to laxity. Always descend into a dip at a controlled pace and stop when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Don’t try to go too far down when you lower your body into a dip. If you feel discomfort, stop, and make sure you’re not dipping too low.
Triceps dips also work the muscles in your chest since you’re pushing against bars or a bench when you do the ascending portion of a dip. The muscles in your chest act as synergizing muscles rather than prime movers. Dips activate the pectoral muscles in the chest, but not to the same degree as the bench press. So, don’t use dips as a substitute for bench press if you’re trying to maximize chest strength.
Dips also work the muscles in your core, including your abs, as your abs tighten to keep your body in alignment as you dip. Muscles in your back, including your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and teres major act as stabilizing muscles as you dip. Triceps dips shouldn’t be the only exercise you do for core strength, but they get benefits when you do this exercise using good form.
Because triceps dips work so many muscle groups at the same time, they’re a compound exercise, meaning they burn more calories and have more of an anabolic effect than isolation exercises that work the triceps, like triceps extensions.
Tips for Safer Triceps Dips
As mentioned, triceps dips place stress on your shoulders, particularly the anterior deltoids. If you have shoulder problems, you may want to avoid this exercise entirely, and if you don’t have good shoulder mobility, reduce the range-of-motion of the exercise.
Triceps dips are also hard on your wrists. After a warm-up, do some wrist stretches to get your wrists ready to do the exercise. If you have a history of wrist injury or wrist pain, reconsider doing this exercise and stop if you experience pain.
Always choose stable surfaces to do triceps dips off of. If you use chairs, make sure each is sturdy and won’t topple over or slide. Keep your body straight as you descend into a dip and when you come back up. Don’t let your shoulders fall forward or flex your back. You should feel the movement mainly in your triceps and shoulders. Mind your elbows too. Keep them straight and don’t let them flair out to the side.
The Bottom Line
Triceps dips are an exercise you can perform anywhere there’s a bench or two parallel bars. You can even do triceps dips using the edge of a bench at the park if you enjoy exercising outdoors. You work multiple muscle groups when you do this exercise and it will pay off with stronger triceps, shoulders, chest, and, to a lesser degree, core.
Know the limitations of triceps dips too. If you have a history of shoulder pain or injury, don’t do this exercise if it causes discomfort. The lower you go, the more stress you place the anterior deltoid and the ligaments that support it. There are other safer exercises for working your triceps if you have a shoulder injury, such as triceps extensions and push-ups. You can increase the activation of your triceps when you do push-ups by placing your hands closer together and doing narrow push-ups. Enjoy the benefits that triceps dips offer and the many muscles they work but do them safely.
- info. “The Shoulder Joint”
- American Council on Exercise. “ACE-sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises”
- com. “How to Do Dips with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide”