The Benefits of Triceps Dips & How to Make Them Easier or Harder

image of Cathe, Jenn and Brenda doing dips on a bench with a weighted barbell

Are triceps dips part of your routine? If not, they should be. Dips are one of the most effective exercises for working your triceps muscles, the muscles in the back of your arms. Sometimes, we’re so focused on working the “mirror” muscles, the muscles in the front of the body, like the biceps, that we neglect the opposing muscles, such as the triceps. Yet, we should always aim for a balanced upper body workout. Your triceps need love and attention too! As much focus as we give to the biceps, we should give to the triceps. It’s all about balance!

One of the most popular exercises people do for the triceps is triceps kickbacks, an exercise where you extend your arm behind you while holding a dumbbell. Triceps kickbacks effectively isolate the triceps muscle, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by including triceps dips in your routine. Here’s why.

Triceps Dips Are a Compound Exercise

Triceps kickbacks are an isolation exercise that involves movement around a single joint. This popular exercise works only one muscle group, your triceps. In contrast, dips work your chest, triceps, and the muscles in the front of your shoulders. So, you’re working multiple muscles at the same time when you dip. Why is this important? When you work more than one muscle simultaneously, you burn more calories and get more of a metabolic effect than you do with isolation exercises.

Compound exercises also improve how your muscles work together as a unit for better functional strength and movement patterns. Not that you shouldn’t do isolation exercises, but around 75% of your training should consist of compound exercises.

No Equipment Required

Dips are an exercise you can do without dumbbells or other special equipment. In fact, you can start by using a sturdy table or bench to place your hands on and dip. If you’re at a playground, you can use a bench or parallel bars to do dips. It’s convenient to have this type of flexibility!

How to Make Dips Easier or Harder

When you’re first starting out, it’s easiest to rest your hands on the seat of a sturdy chair and place your feet on the floor in front of you. Then, bend your legs when you dip. When you lower your body down into the dip, you can use your legs to push yourself back up until your upper body gets stronger. Once you can do a dip with your legs bent, try extending your legs out straight when you dip. This will make the move harder. You can take it up another step by placing your feet on another chair or bench when you do the exercise.

Another trick when doing chair dips, once you’ve mastered the basic move, is to place your hands close together on the chair to further isolate your triceps muscles when you dip. This should make the move more challenging as it forces your triceps to work even harder.

The tempo with which you do a dip also makes it easier or harder. When you lower your body down slowly, taking 5 or more seconds to reach the bottom of the movement, you increase the intensity because you keep the muscle under tension longer. Doing this can lead to greater gains in strength and size over time, as time under tension is a factor in muscle hypertrophy gains.

Another way to enhance your gains is to hold the bottom of a dip for a few seconds before coming back up. This reduces momentum and makes your triceps, chest, and anterior shoulders work harder. Once you’ve mastered the basics of dips and need even more challenge, place a weight in your lap when you dip. A weight plate works well for this.

To add to the challenge and get your core in on the action, do triceps dips with your hands on an exercise ball. To do this, stand in front of the exercise ball with your back facing the ball. Now, squat down, tilt backward, and place both hands on the exercise ball, leaning your weight into it. Your knees and elbows should be bent. Now, lower your body toward the floor with your hands on the ball behind you and your knees bent. Slowly bring yourself back up. Repeat.

Another variation is to place your hands on a bench and your feet on an exercise ball. Place the heels of your hand on the edge of a bench with your fingers facing forward. Extend your legs out straight and place your feet on a stability ball. Your hips and buttocks should be close to the bench. In this position, slowly lower your body down. Then straighten your elbows and bring your body back up to the starting position. Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps. Using an exercise ball to do dips is more challenging as you’re adding a balance component.

Keep Your Workout Balanced

Triceps dips is an exercise that will give you many happy returns. But, keep in mind that dips are a “pushing” exercise. Balance it out with a “pulling” exercise that works the upper body, like rows or pull-ups for a balanced workout. Not balancing out the “push-pull” aspect of your routine increases the risk of injury and creates muscle imbalances that can impact your posture.

In addition, it’s important to do more than one exercise for your triceps. In fact, a study carried out by the American Council on Exercise showed that triangle push-ups, triceps kickbacks, and dips activate the triceps the most – something to keep in mind when planning your triceps routine.

The Bottom Line

Triceps dips are an effective way to work your triceps and target the muscles in your chest and anterior shoulders as well. Plus, you can modify this compound exercise in a number of ways to make them harder or easier. But, make sure you’re working your triceps as much as your biceps. Triceps dips are a great way to do it!



American Council on Exercise. “ACE-sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises”


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