Dips vs. Bench Press

Fitness experts love to argue about the merits of different training methods. Many are convinced that they know the perfect way to achieve any fitness goal. Some even go so far as to completely dismiss some training methods or exercises, labeling them as inferior or even useless.

However, as compelling as such arguments can be, more often than not, they’re mostly pointless. That’s because what works great for one person may not work as well for another. For example, some people may lose fat faster with high-intensity interval training, while others get better results from steady-paced cardio. As the expression goes, it’s horses for courses.

You may have heard the same sort of discussion regarding strength training exercises. For example, are dumbbell curls better than barbell curls, or are conventional deadlifts better than sumo deadlifts? What about back squats vs. front squats?

In most cases, such similar exercises are interchangeable, and both can be productive. That said, it may be helpful to know how exercises differ so that you can start the process of identifying the one that’s best for you.

This article is all about dips vs. bench press. In it, we’re going to reveal the pros and cons of each one, so you can choose the best one for your wants and needs. However, it’s worth remembering that both these exercises can be effective, and you might get better results from doing both of them rather than choosing one over the other.

Dips vs. Bench Press

Dips Overview

Young man doing dips at the gym

Dips are a bodyweight exercise with their roots in gymnastics. Usually done using parallel bars, there are dip variations that use a bench or two chairs. There are also dip machines that allow you to adjust how much weight you lift.

Regular barbell dips involve lifting your entire body weight with just your arms, so they’re often considered to be an advanced exercise.

They’re certainly pretty challenging. That said, with practice and training, most exercisers should be able to work up to doing at least a few dips.

How to do Dips

Dips can be tough on your shoulders, so it’s important to do them properly if you want to keep your risk of injury to a minimum. Follow these steps to get the most from dips and make them as safe as possible.

  1. Grip your dipping bars with a neutral, palms-in grip. Step up and support your weight on straight arms. Make sure your wrists are straight. Push your shoulders down and back. Bend your legs and cross your ankles if preferred.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your chest down between your hands. Descend until your elbows are bent to around 90 degrees. Take care not to descend too far, as doing so could hurt your shoulders.
  3. Extend your arms and push yourself back up.
  4. Pause at the top for a second and then repeat.

Muscles Worked

Dips are a compound exercise which means they involve lots of muscles and joints moving and working together. In fact, dips work almost your entire upper body. The main muscles trained during dips are:

Pectoralis Major

Known as your pecs for short, these are your main chest muscles. Dips work your entire chest but place a noteworthy emphasis on the lower or costal portion of the pecs.

Triceps

As well as being a good chest exercise, dips also work your triceps, which are the muscles at the back of the upper arm. While some people do dips for their chests, many view them as a triceps exercise.

Deltoids

Known as the delts and basically your shoulder muscles, dips work your anterior or front deltoids. The anterior delts always work alongside the pecs.

Lower and Middle Trapezius

The trapezius is the large kite-shaped muscle on your lower back. It has three functions; elevation, retraction, and depression of your shoulder girdle. During dips, the lower traps keep your shoulders down while the middle traps pull them back and together.

Bench Press Overview

Young man getting ready to bench press

The bench press is arguably the most popular and well-known strength training exercise on the planet. Most gyms have at least one bench press station. Bench presses are done using a barbell and, like dips, work the chest.

Bench presses are used by bodybuilders to increase chest size and powerlifters and other athletes to build and test strength.

How to Bench Press

The bench press is a potentially dangerous exercise. If you are unable to complete your rep, you could find yourself pinned under a heavy barbell. Because of this, heavy bench presses should be done in a power rack or with a competent spotter on hand. Technique also plays a part in safe bench pressing, so follow these instructions.

  1. Lie on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Reach up and grip it with an overhand, slightly wider-than overhand shoulder-width grip. Put your feet flat on the floor with your shins vertical. Push your feet into the floor to stabilize your lower body. Pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Unrack the barbell and hold it over your chest. Bend your arms and smoothly lower the bar to lightly touch your sternum. Do NOT bounce the bar off your chest.
  3. Press the weight back up to arms’ length and repeat.

Muscles Worked

Like dips, the bench press is also a compound exercise that works a whole lot of muscles, most of which are also involved in dips. The main muscles trained during bench presses are:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoids

Differences Between Dips and Bench Press

Equipment

Both exercises involve equipment. Dips need parallel bars, while the bench press needs a bench, barbell, and weight plates. However, dips are arguably the more Spartan exercise, as the equipment requirements are lower. You can also do dips between chairs or using an exercise bench. This means dips may be more accessible for some people, and especially for home workouts.

Range of Motion

When you do bench presses, you can only lower the weights until the bar touches your chest. With dips, you can descend lower as there is no such obstruction. This means dips provide your chest with a deeper stretch, which may lead to increased muscle activation. On the downside, this increased range of motion could also increase shoulder joint strain.

Target Muscles

Dips and bench presses work the chest. However, where bench presses are more of a general pec exercise, dips involve more lower pec work. Doing nothing but dips for your chest could result in overdeveloped lower pecs. However, for triceps size and strength, dips are arguably the better of the two.

Scalability

To do dips, you need to be strong enough to lift your weight using just your arms. However, with bench presses, you can adjust the weight, so you lift much less. Also, making bench presses harder means just putting more weight on the bar.

For dips, you’ve either got to do more reps or wear a weighted vest or dipping belt. As such, bench presses can cater to beginners, intermediate, and advanced exercisers, while dips are not really suitable for beginners.

Safety

There are risks to dips and bench presses. Training to failure with dips is not really an issue, but they can be tough on your shoulders, especially if you descend too far. Bench presses can also take their toll on your joints, and a missed rep could cause serious injuries. Dips are safer for solo trainers. Bench presses are best done with a spotter.

Variations

There aren’t too many variations of either of these exercises. You can do dips with a very upright posture to emphasize your triceps or lean forward more to work your chest, but that’s really it.

Bench presses can be done using a wide or narrow grip, and you can also lower the bar to your neck instead of your chest, which is an exercise called the guillotine press. Most bench press variations involve using incline or decline benches or making the switch to dumbbells.

Ease of Learning

The bench press is one of the first exercises that most exercisers learn. It’s relatively straightforward, and you can do it with light weights to make it even more accessible. With dips, the movement is similar, but the starting weight is heavier, so most beginners will need a few months of training before attempting them.

Dips vs. Bench Press: Which Is Better for You?

Young man benching

While dips and bench presses share some similarities, they’re different enough that you may find that one exercise is better for you than the other.

If you are a novice, the bench press is arguably the best choice as you can do it with light weights. Dips may be too challenging for you right now.

The bench press is also potentially better for muscle building, as it works your whole chest relatively equally. Dips tend to emphasize your lower chest.

In contrast, dips are more accessible for some exercisers, as you don’t need much equipment to do them. They’re also safer for solo trainers, as there is no barbell to crush your chest if you can’t complete a rep. Dips are potentially the better triceps builder. However, because of the weight involved, dips are usually best left to intermediate and advanced exercisers.

Use this information to decide between dips and bench presses. If you can do them both, why not include dips and bench presses in your workouts and enjoy all the benefits these great exercises have to offer?

Bottom Line

Bench presses and dips are great chest exercises. Dips are also effective triceps builders, which is an effect you can mirror with narrow grip bench presses. Both exercises will build muscle size and strength, and they’re similar enough that you could use either one to sculpt the upper body of your dreams.

That said, dips and bench presses are sufficiently different that one may be better for your goals than the other.

For example, lifting all your body weight with just your arms may be too much for some beginners, which means bench presses are probably the best exercise for novices.

However, if you work out at home and don’t have space for a full-sized barbell and bench press set up, dips could be your best choice. After all, using something like a power tower, you can do dips, pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, and hanging knee and leg raises, training your entire upper body in very little space.

So, which is best?

That’s hard to say because it very much depends on your training goals, where you work out, and your current strength. For some, dips are the clear winner, while the bench press comes out on top for others. If you can, why not do bench presses and dips, and enjoy the benefits of both of these exercises. But, if you must choose between them, use the one that will give you the best results.


References

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