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11 Amazing Alternatives to Dips

If you want to build a bigger, more muscular upper body, dips are one of the best exercises you can do. Like push-ups, dips are a bodyweight exercise. However, with dips, you have to lift your entire body using just your arms, whereas, with push-ups, it’s about 60%. Needless to say, this is what makes dips such an effective exercise.

However, as good as dips are, they’re not always possible or practical, and some people find that they cause shoulder pain too.

If you can’t do dips, there is no need to worry because there are lots of exercises you can do instead, all of which are valuable alternatives to dips.

In this guide, we reveal eleven of the best exercises you can do if dips aren’t possible. Maybe you have no dipping bars or find that dips leave you with an unpleasant ache in your shoulders? Either way, we’ve got the moves you can use to train the same muscles.

Do these exercises instead of or as well as dips to build an upper body you can be proud of. While dips ARE a great exercise, there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat! Use these alternatives to keep your workouts fresh, enjoyable, and productive.

11 Amazing Alternatives to Dips

What Is A Dip?

Dips are a bodyweight or calisthenic exercise. They’re usually done using parallel bars, but there are also dip machines. Dips originated in gymnastics but have since become a very popular strength training exercise.

The muscles involved in dips include:

Pectoralis Major

Known as the pecs for short, these are the muscles on the front of your chest. Their functions are flexion, horizontal flexion, adduction, and medial rotation of your shoulder joint.

Deltoids

Another name for your shoulders, there are three deltoid muscles; anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (rear). Dips mainly work your anterior deltoids.

Triceps

The large muscle on the back of your upper arm, the triceps extend your elbows. Dips are a very effective triceps builder.

Lower Trapezius

One of your upper back muscles, the lower traps work to stop your shoulders from rising up while you are doing dips. They do this by contacting isometrically or statically.

11 Alternatives to Dips

Can’t dip, won’t dip?! Here are 11 alternatives that work the same muscles using different equipment or different movements.

1. Decline Push-ups

Decline push ups

Decline push-ups are very similar to dips. However, with less weight on your arms, they’re considerably easier. Best of all, you can do decline push-ups at home, and all you need is a step or chair for your feet.

How to do it:

  1. Get down into the push-up position with your feet on a knee-high chair or bench. Your body should be straight, and your hands should be directly under your shoulders. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your chest down toward the floor.
  3. Extend your arms and push yourself back up.
  4. Make this exercise easier by using a lower step for your feet or skipping it entirely.

2. Atlas Push-ups

Atlas push-ups are named after Charles Atlas, once known as the world’s most perfectly developed man. Atlas was known for his mail-order training programs, most of which featured something called dynamic tension. However, he also liked to promote this exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Place three chairs in a T shape. Put your hands on two of them and your feet on the other. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your chest down between your hands. Get a good stretch.
  3. Push yourself back up again and repeat.
  4. Make Atlas push-ups easier by omitting one chair and placing your feet on the floor.

3. Barbell Decline Bench Press

Decline bench press

Barbell decline bench presses use many of the same muscles as dips. In fact, these exercises are largely interchangeable.

The main advantage of bench presses is that you can adjust the weight to match your current level of strength.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the bench with your eyes directly beneath the barbell. Reach up and grab it using an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Unrack the bar and hold it over your chest.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the bar down to lightly touch your sternum.
  3. Push it back up and repeat.
  4. For safety, do this exercise with a spotter who can help you if you cannot complete your rep. Getting crushed by a heavy barbell can cause serious injury.

4. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

If the barbell bench press has a disadvantage, it is that you can only lower the weight until the bar touches your chest. With dips, you can use a larger range of motion. Switching to dumbbells means you can lower the weights further, getting a better chest stretch and potentially increasing muscle activation.

How to do it:

  1. Set your bench to a 15 to 20-degree decline. Lie on the bench with your head lowermost and a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights at arms’ length, palms facing toward your legs.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the weights down to your shoulders. Get a good stretch in your chest.
  3. Push the weights back up and repeat.

5. Chest Press Machine

Chest press machine

Freeweight exercises like barbell and dumbbell bench presses can be risky if you work out alone. Machines are often safer for solo trainers and mean you can work out to failure with no danger of getting crushed by a heavy weight.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust the seat so that, when you sit on it, the handles are level with your sternum. Sit on the machine and grab the handles. Put your feet on the floor or the footrests as preferred.
  2. Press the handles out and away from you until your arms are straight but not locked.
  3. Bend your arms and lower the weights back down, but do not let them touch.
  4. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.

6. Bench Dips

Bench dips

Bench dips are a whole lot easier than parallel bar dips. With your feet on the floor, you don’t have to lift anywhere near as much weight. This a good option if you aren’t strong enough to do full dips just yet.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on your bench and place your hands next to your hips, fingers pointing forward. Place your feet flat on the floor in front of you.
  2. Lift your hips up, moving your butt forward, so it’s clear of the bench.
  3. Bend your arms and lower yourself down toward the floor until your elbows are bent to about 90 degrees.
  4. Push back up and repeat.
  5. Take care not to descend too far as you could hurt your shoulders if you do.
  6. Move your feet further forward to put more weight on your arms and make this exercise harder.

7. Decline Dumbbell Fly

Dips are a compound exercise, which means that they involve your shoulders and elbows working together. Decline dumbbell flyes only involve your shoulders, so they don’t work your triceps. That said, they’re still a valuable alternative to dips.

How to do it:

  1. Set your bench to a 15 to 20-degree decline. Lie on the bench with your head lowermost and a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights at arms’ length, palms facing inward.
  2. Lower the weights out and down to form a T-shape with your arms.
  3. Squeeze the weights up and together over your chest.
  4. That’s one rep; keep going!

8. Cable Crossover

Cable crossovers

The cable crossover is very similar to dumbbell flyes, but it uses a cable machine instead. Using cables will keep your muscles under constant tension, which may increase muscle activation and produce better results.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine. Hold a handle in each hand. Adopt a staggered stance for balance and lean forward very slightly. Brace your abs.
  2. Flex your shoulders and, without bending your arms, bring the handles forward and down to meet in front of your waist.
  3. Open your arms and repeat.

9. Band-assisted Dips

If you want to do dips but aren’t quite strong enough to do them yet, this could be the exercise for you. Using a band, this variation provides a little bit of assistance, so you don’t have to lift your entire body weight.

How to do it:

  1. Put a resistance band between the dipping handles and then, holding the handles with your hands, kneel on the band so that it supports some of your body weight.
  2. Bend your arms and lower yourself down until your elbows are bent to around 90-degrees.
  3. Push yourself back up and repeat.
  4. Use a weaker resistance band as you get stronger, eventually weaning yourself off the band altogether when you’re strong enough to do them unaided.

10. Medicine Ball Push-Ups

medicine ball press up

Medicine ball push-ups are MUCH more challenging than regular push-ups, which means they’re almost as effective as dips for working your chest and arms. They’re a useful dip alternative when you don’t have access to parallel bars.

How to do it:

  1. Place a medicine ball on the floor and put your hands on it, either side of the apex. Walk your feet out and back into the push-up position.
  2. Brace your abs, bend your arms, and lower your chest to the ball.
  3. Push yourself back up and repeat.

11. Chair Back Dips

If you want to do dips at home but don’t have parallel bars, this is the way to do it. All you need is two strong, highbacked chairs.

How to do it:

  1. Take two chairs and place them back to back about 24-36 inches apart. Weigh them down if necessary.
  2. Stand between the chairs and place your hands on the backs, with your palms facing inward.
  3. Bend your legs and lift your feet off the floor, so your weight is supported on your arms only.
  4. Bend your arms and lower your body down until your elbows are bent to around 90-degrees.
  5. Push yourself back up and repeat.
  6. Needless to say, this exercise should be done using strong and stable chairs.

Is It Wrong to Do Dips Every Day?

Dips are a very effective strength training exercise and, if you’ve got easy access to parallel bars, you may be tempted to do them every day. However, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should!

Exercises like dips cause muscle breakdown, and you only get bigger and stronger when you rest. It takes about 48-72 hours for your muscles to recover from a workout, and that means you should only do dips 2-3 times a week, e.g., Monday and Thursday, or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Doing dips every day won’t produce better results. In fact, you may find that you make slower progress if you do them too often.

Make sure you give your body plenty of time to rest and grow by doing dips just 2-3 times per week. More than that, and you also run the risk of injury and joint pain.

Bottom Line

Gymnasts are amazing athletes with very impressive physiques. And yet, they do very little and even no strength training. They don’t use barbells, dumbbells, or machines to sculpt their muscles. Instead, they do lots (and LOTS!) of push-ups, pull-ups, and dips. After all, dips and pull-ups originated in gymnastics.

You can build a very strong, muscular upper body using these straightforward upper body exercises, including bigger pecs, lats, and arms. These exercises might be basic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work!

However, to do dips and pull-ups, you need to be strong enough to lift your entire body weight using just your arms, and that’s no easy feat.

The good news is that there are plenty of easier exercises you can do to build your strength so you can work up to doing dips correctly.

Use these 11 dip alternatives to target your chest, shoulders, and triceps in preparation for your first dip workout. In time, and with a bit of dedication, you’ll soon be banging out dips like a boss!

Low-tech exercises like dips and push-ups might seem too simple to work, but the opposite is true. You don’t need to do complicated exercises to build an impressive upper body. Not convinced? Just check out those gymnasts! 

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References

  1. Fitness Volt, https://fitnessvolt.com/

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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