What Muscles Do Dips Work: A Comprehensive Breakdown

Dips are a popular upper body exercise, but what muscles do they work? Here, we’ll explore the muscle groups activated during dips and how various dip variations can be used to target specific muscle groups, enabling you to adapt your training for specific goals. 

What muscles do dips work?

Dips are an upper body pressing exercise that mainly works your:

  • Chest (pecs)
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders (front delts)

Dips emphasise the chest muscles more if you learn forwards, whereas they can place a greater focus on the triceps if you keep an upright torso.

While dips primarily target the chest, triceps and shoulders, the back muscles, including the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major and trapezius, play a supportive role by either assisting or stabilizing throughout the exercise. 

Dips muscles worked diagram

Labelled diagram of the muscles worked during dips

In-depth analysis: how each muscle works during the dip

Pecs

The pecs, more commonly known as the chest muscles, are crucial during dips, especially when leaning forward slightly. Located in the chest region, the pecs help push you up during the upward phase, which involves a concentric contraction as they actively work to bring the arms closer together. As you lower, the pecs undergo an eccentric contraction and assist with the movement. 

Triceps

The triceps, located on the back of the upper arm, play a pivotal role in extending the elbow during the upward movement of the dip. As the arms straighten, the triceps work concentrically, actively working to push the body upwards. 

Anterior delts

The anterior delts which are located on the front side of the shoulders, assist the pecs and triceps during dips. The anterior delts stabilise the shoulder joint throughout the movement. 

Dip variations & the muscles they work

Variations of dips target muscles in slightly different ways, each offering unique benefits. Understanding these subtleties can enhance the effectiveness of your workout programming when aiming to target specific muscles.

Weighted dips

What are weighted dips?

Weighted dips are a variation of the traditional dip exercise, in which additional weight is added to the body during the movement. This can be achieved by using a weights belt with attached weights or by wearing a weighted vest. 

What muscles do weighted dips work?

The same primary muscles (chest, triceps and anterior delts) are worked, but the added resistance increases the demand on these muscles, promoting hypertrophy and strength development.

Why do weighted dips?

Weighted dips are performed to increase the intensity of the dip exercise, where adding weight can be an effective way to progressively overload the muscle to enhance strength or size.  

Assisted dips

What are assisted dips?

Assisted dips involve using assistance, such as a dip machine or resistance bands.

What muscles do assisted dips work?

Assisted dips primarily target the same muscle groups as regular dips, focusing on the chest, triceps and shoulders. The assistance, whether from a machine or bands, aids in reducing the strain on these muscles, making the exercise more accessible while still providing an effective workout.

Why do assisted dips?

Assisted dips are beneficial for individuals at varying fitness levels, especially beginners or those working towards unassisted dips. The assistance reduces the load on the muscles, allowing individuals to perform the exercise with proper form and build the necessary strength to eventually perform unassisted dips.

Seated dips

What are seated dips?

Seated dips involve performing the dip exercise in a seated position, typically on a machine. Unlike traditional dips where the body is suspended, seated dips allows individuals to keep their feet on the ground, providing stability during the movement.

What muscles do seated dips work?

Seated dips primarily target your triceps, with a lesser involvement from the chest and front delts. This differs to the regular dip, as the torso is positioned in a more upright position during seated dips.

Why do seated dips?

Seated dips are beneficial for those individuals who may have difficulty or discomfort with the upright, suspended position of traditional dips. The seated position minimizes strain in the lower back and allows individuals to focus on working the upper body muscles. 

Ring dips

What are ring dips?

Ring dips are a variation of the dip exercise performed using gymnastic rings instead of parallel bars. The use of rings introduces an element of instability, requiring additional control and stabalization during the movement. 

What muscles does ring dips work?

Ring dips primarily target the triceps, chest and shoulders, similar to the traditional dips. However, due to the unstable nature of the rings, there is an increased demand on stabalizing muscles, including the muscles of the core and upper back. 

Why do ring dips?

Ring dips require a significant amount of stabilisation, making them more challenging than standard dips. They are great for individuals such as gymnasts and crossfitters which require stability, yet, they are not the most optimal choice for strength-based athletes. The inherent instability of the rings can hinder the ability to build strength, making other variations such as the weighted dips more suitable for those aiming for maximal strength.      

How many sets and reps should I do for dips: tailoring your dips for specific goals?

The optimal sets and reps for dips to build hypertrophy or strength can vary depending on individual fitness levels and your training goal. Here is a general guide for hypertrophy and strength development:

  • Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) –  3 to 5 sets of anything between 5 to 30 reps.
  • Strength – 4 to 6 sets of between 6-10 reps, potentially incorporating added weight to stay within this rep range. We caution going below this rep range, as the loading required for a strength adaptation may place too much stress on the elbow and shoulder joints.

How to perform dips: a step-by-step guide

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gym-goer, refining your technique when performing dips can make all the difference for your shoulder health and working the correct muscles.

  1. The Set Up & Positioning – Stand between two bars, and grip with your palms facing inward. Jump or step up and straighten your arms to support your body weight, keeping your chest up, and lean slightly forward with your feet crossed behind you. 
  1. Downward Phase: Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping them close to your body, until your shoulders are slightly below your elbows, or as far as your flexibility allows. 
  1. Upward Phase: Push yourself back up by straightening your arms, whilst maintaining a slight forward lean for optimal chest engagement. 

Top tips for dips:

  • Dips can place your shoulder joint in a vulnerable position, where the shoulder starts to roll forwards at the bottom of each repetition – if you perform dips, take caution! 
  • As with all exercises, prioritize quality over quantity. It’s more beneficial to do fewer reps with proper form than more reps with poor technique.
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the movement. This provides additional stability and protects the spine. 

What muscles do dips work: frequently asked questions

Do dips work shoulders?

Yes, dips engage the shoulders, particularly targeting the front (anterior) delts. It’s important to note that dips do not effectively activate the side (lateral) or rear (posterior) delts. 

Do dips work back?

Dips do not directly work the back, although dips do recruit the back muscles to play a supportive or stabalizing role throughout the exercise.

What chest muscles do dips work?

Dips work all chest muscles, with a greater emphasis on the lower chest muscles and less emphasis on the upper chest muscles. 

Are dips for biceps or triceps?

Dips target the triceps (as well as the chest and shoulders), as the triceps play a key role in the extension of the elbow during the upward movement of the dip. But, dips do not work the biceps. 

Are dips better than push ups? Are dips better than bench?

It depends, the push up, bench press and dip are all great upper body pushing exercises, but it depends on your training history and your training goals for which one is better for you. 

How many dips is a good number?

The number of dips that is considered a “good number” is dependent upon you – on your training history, your bodyweight and your specific training goal. For someone new to dips, having a relatively heavier body weight, or incorporating added resistance, 3-8 repetitions might be considered a good number. Concersley, a gymnast, a relatively lighter athlete or someone with more experience, might view 20 or more reps as a good number. 

How often should I do dips?

The frequency of how often you should do dips depends on your fitness level and recovery. For most, 1-2 times a week is common, but if you find your recovery is compromised, adjusting the frequency, perhaps by reducing it or incorpororating chest and tricep variations, may be necessary.

How much weight should you use for dips?

The weight used for dips should be challenging, but must allow you to complete each rep with good form and a full range of motion. This weight will be different for everyone, depending on your training history and goal. 

Should I do more reps or more weight for dips?

If you are training for strength, focus on increasing the weight during dips, whereas if hypertrophy if your goal, strive to increase the number of repetitions in each set. 

Will dips build a big chest?

Yes, dips will build a big chest, especially when performed with a slight lean forward, following hypertrophy (muscle growth) training guidelines and incorporating other chest exercises in your training routine.

Do dips build big arms?

Kind of, dips play a role in developing the triceps, a significant factor in overall arm size. However, for comprehensive arm development, incorporating exercises that specifically target the biceps is crucial. A well-rounded program addressing both muscle groups is essential for building big arms.

Do dips build muscle?

Yes, dips can build muscle in the chest, triceps and anterior delts, if you follow hypertrophy (muscle growth) training guidelines.

Do dips work all 3 heads?

Dips work all three ‘heads’ of the triceps: the long, lateral and medial head. 

Should legs be straight or bent for dips?

To ensure proper form and engage your core effectively during dips, it’s ideal to keep your legs straight and slightly infront of you. This position promotes a more controlled and efficient dip movement. However, in many cases, dip bars may be too low, so you have to bend your knees to prevent your feet from touching the ground. 

Why are dips hard?

Dips can be challenging due to the substantial demand they place on the triceps, chest muscles and shoulders, requiring significant upper body strength to lift your own body weight or with additional weight.

Summary

Dips are a pressing movement that is effective for developing upper body strength and size, targeting muscles including the pecs, triceps and front delts. 

There are a number of variations to the traditional dip, which may be better suited to you depending on your training history and goals.

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Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.

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Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.