The dip machine; you’ve seen them at your local gym, and maybe you’ve even purchased a power tower for your home gym, but how can you ever learn to do dips? Dips are a highly challenging body weight movement, but you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete or have five percent body fat to master the dip. By following a steady progression of exercises, you’ll find yourself up on your dip machine, performing stellar dips in no time. Learning to do dips is worth the effort. Dips are an excellent exercise that can help you excel at many other movements, including functional movements that can improve your overall quality of life.
What Is a Dip?
Just in case you are staring at your power tower or dip machine in utter puzzlement, it helps to understand what a dip is and what muscles this movement strengthens. A standard dip starts with you gripping the dip handlebars and holding your body up. Your arms should be straight (do not completely lock out your shoulders), and your feet should be off the ground. To perform the dip, bend your arms until your elbows are at roughly 90 degrees (your chest should just about be in line with your hands). Then, push yourself back up into a straight-armed position.
The dip may look like a simple movement to the outside observer, but it requires extremely strong triceps and chest muscles. The dip also utilizes the front muscles of your shoulders, called your anterior deltoids, and your upper back muscles called your rhomboids. Dips even activate your core, helping you tone your abs with each movement.
Why Learn the Dip?
Learning to do a dip can be frustrating. You will need to slowly build up to the dip by strengthening your triceps, chest, and shoulders and by working your way through easier modifications of the movement.
Is all this trouble worth the effort? Absolutely!
The dip movement teaches you how to effectively move your body through space, which is an important component of functional fitness. Imagine if you fell and needed to get up. Pushing yourself upright requires you to use your chest, shoulders, back, and triceps, just like a dip. The dip also teaches you to safely lower your body down, which can come in handy in numerous ways.
If you want to progress as an athlete, performing dips can help you do more pushups, improve your bench press, and increase your shoulder press maximum weight.
If you’re on board with learning how to do dips, this article will show you how to work up to this exercise through a progression of training movements. However, it’s important to note that dips are not an ideal exercise for everyone. The motion puts stress on your pectorals, shoulders, wrists, and elbows. If you have injuries to any of those areas, dips are probably not a good idea for you until your injury is entirely healed.
Otherwise, let’s learn how to do some dips!
Progression One – Bench Dips
If you are entirely new to dips, congratulations! You are about to learn a really cool exercise as long as you bring patience, determination, and consistent practice to the process. The easiest modification of the standard dip is a “bench dip.” All you need is a workout bench or even a chair.
To perform the movement, place your hands behind you and grip the side of the bench or edge of the chair. Your palms should be down, your fingers toward your body. Lean back so that your arms are supporting your upper body. Stretch out your legs with your heels on the floor and your toes pointed up. Make sure your shoulders are aligned under your ears. It’s easy to position your shoulders too far back behind you, which will add unnecessary strain on your shoulder joints.
When you’re in position, slowly lower yourself down to a 90-degree angle and then straighten your arms back up. Try not to get lower than 90 degrees as this can also strain your shoulders. Keep the movement steady, two seconds to go down, two seconds to come up.
If the movement is difficult, bring your feet in closer to your body or even bend your knees. If the movement feels too easy, stretch your feet out farther or cross one ankle over the other.
When you can perform three sets of ten bench dips, it will be time to move onto the next progression.
Progression Two – Box Dips
Now it’s time to put your dip machine to work. Find a small or medium-sized box in your home and place it under the dip machine. You should be able to stand on the box and be at the top of the dip or slightly below the top of the dip. If standing on the box means your hands dangle above the dip bars, then the box is too tall.
The idea with this progression is that you will perform the motion of the dip but use the box to take some of your bodyweight. If you visit a gym, you may see an assisted dip machine, which includes a pad connected to a weight stack that gives you boost with each dip. This box dip follows that same concept.
At the top of the dip, rest your feet lightly on the box. Perform the dip but keep your legs loose so that you are moving at least some of your body weight. It can take a bit of practice for this modification to really click, so keep practicing until the dips feel challenging. As you improve, using a lower box will also increase the challenge, as it will force you to complete the dip using your full weight.
As you get more comfortable with this modification, use your legs less and less so that you are taking on more and more of your body’s weight. When you can perform three sets of ten box dips, it’s time for the third and final progression.
Progression Three – Double Bench Dips
You are almost ready to tackle standard dips, but in order to set yourself up for success, try one more progression. You’ll need two benches or a bench and a chair. Using the first bench, position yourself as if you were going to perform the bench dip we explained in the first progression. Now, prop your feet on the second bench or chair so that you are now suspended above the ground. It is important that the second chair or bench is either identical in height to the first bench or slightly lower.
Now, perform your dips. Make sure your heels are the only thing on the second bench. You’ll notice that this movement is much more difficult than the single bench dips. That’s the point! Make this movement easier by bringing your feet closer to your body or by putting them on a lower chair or bench. Make the movement harder by moving your feet farther away.
If you can perform three sets of ten of these movements, then you are ready for standard dips!
Performing Standard Dips
When it comes time to jump up on your dip machine to try out standard dips, keep your expectations reasonable. Start with low-numbered sets, like three sets of three dips or even five sets of two dips. Focus on performing quality dips instead of a higher overall number of reps in each set. That means lowering yourself smoothly and trying to hit that 90-degree angle with each dip.
When you start doing standard dips, you may want to mix in the previous progressions. For example, perform two sets of three standard dips followed by three sets of five double bench dips. As your muscles get stronger, increase the number of dips you do in each set.
Advanced Progression – Weighted Dips
It may not seem possible now, but one day you may find that even standard bodyweight dips feel easy – or at least not so hard. When this happens, that doesn’t mean you should just keep doing standard dips forever. Fitness is all about continual progression. Consider trying weighted dips to add difficulty to the movement.
There are numerous ways to set up a weighted dip. You can hold a dumbbell between your feet, strap on a weight vest, or use a special belt that allows you to attach weight plates. Start with a light weight and perform three sets of five dips. If that was easy, increase the weight. Continue increasing the weight over time to make sure your dips are always a challenge!
And there you have it, a tried-and-true progression to mastering the dip machine. Even if dips seem impossible right now, you will be able to do them if you follow this plan. Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up! Stay with each progression until you can meet the target.
When you’re ready to perform standard dips, consider investing in a power tower with dip station from Marcy. We offer a variety of power towers at different price points to fit your budget and your vision for your home gym.