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Dips vs. Push Ups – Which Is Better?

When it comes to exercise, cardio is often thought of as king. That makes a certain amount of sense because cardio works your heart, lungs, and circulatory system, which are the very things pumping blood around your body to keep you alive.

Improved cardiovascular fitness is inextricably linked to improved cardiovascular health, so it’s clear that workouts like running, cycling, swimming, and group exercise classes are very valuable.

However, strength training is every bit as important as cardio – both for your health and appearance. Lifting weights stresses and strengthens your muscles and bones. Being stronger makes many everyday activities easier. Muscle and bone mass tend to decline with age, and strength training can help prevent this.

There are many different training methods and exercises to choose from, and a lot of people want to know the best way to reach their personal fitness goals. After all, time and energy are both valuable commodities, so it makes sense to try and get the best possible results from your workout time and effort.

For example, which is best – dips vs. push-ups.

In this article, we compare, contrast, analyze and assess both these popular exercises so that you can decide which is the right one for you.

Dips vs. Push-Ups

What Muscles Do Dips Work?Man doing dips outside

Dips are a compound upper body exercise. That means they involve two or more joints and lots of different muscles, all working together. The main muscles involved in dips are:

Pectoralis Major

Known as pecs for short, this is the fan-shaped muscle that makes up your chest. Its primary functions are horizontal flexion, adduction, and medial rotation of your shoulder joint.

Anterior Deltoid

The deltoids are your shoulder muscles, of which there are three: posterior (rear), medial (middle), and anterior (front). The anterior deltoids work with your pecs to flex your shoulder joints.

Triceps Brachii

Usually called triceps for short, this muscle is on the back of your arm and extends your elbow joint. Dips are as much a triceps exercise as they are a chest exercise.

Lower Trapezius

Also known as your traps, this large muscle covers a large proportion of your upper back. There are three groups of trapezius fibers; upper, middle, and lower. The lower fibers of the trapezius help hold your shoulders down and stable while you perform dips.

What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?Woman doing push ups

Push-ups work many of the same muscles as dips, including:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps brachii

However, unlike dips, push-ups do NOT really involve your lower traps. In contrast, push-ups work your core more than dips because you must use this group of muscles to keep your torso straight and rigid. Core is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, namely the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominus, and erector spinae.

Dips and Push-Ups: Similarities and Differences

Push-ups and dips are largely interchangeable as they work many of the main muscles. If you want to work your chest, shoulders, and triceps, both of these exercises will get the job done.

Also, because they’re both bodyweight exercises, dips and push-ups are straightforward and convenient to do. However, to do dips, you’ll need some suitable parallel bars.

Dips DO involve more lower trap activation, and push-ups involve more of your core, but these are small differences as neither the lower traps nor the core is why exercisers do dips or push-ups.

The main differences between these two exercises are:

The Angle of Your BodyWoman doing angled push ups on a chair

With push-ups, your body is parallel to the floor. With dips, your body is roughly perpendicular to the floor. Because of this, dips are more of a lower pec exercise, while push-ups are more a total pec exercise.

Range of Motion

Dips involve a larger range of motion than push-ups. With dips, you can lower your shoulders down below the level of your hands. When you do push-ups, the floor stops you from descending as far.

However, using raised handles mean you can use a bigger range of motions for push-ups if you wish.

Percentage of Body Weight Lifted

Dips involve lifting your entire body weight with just your arms. In contrast, doing push-ups means lifting closer to 60%. Because of this, you don’t have to be as strong to do push-ups, and you’ll probably be able to do more reps.

Best Dip Variations to Try

There aren’t many dip variations, but there are still a few that you can use to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.

Parallel Bar Dips

This is the standard way to do dips. You support your weight on your arms with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Bending your arms and descending until your arms are bent to 90 degrees. Push yourself back up and repeat. Simple, challenging, and effective!

Wide-Grip Dips

The wider your hands, the more chest-centric dips become. However, a wide grip can also cause shoulder joint pain.

Assisted DipsWoman doing assisted machine dips

Done on a counterbalanced machine, this variation makes dips more accessible for beginners and overweight exercisers. The machine offsets some of your weight. It’s like doing dips on the moon with less gravity to overcome!

Bench Dips

For this version, you place your hands on a bench instead of dipping bars. Your feet rest on the floor. This significantly reduces the amount of weight on your arms. Also, because you don’t need parallel bars, you can do this exercise anywhere you can find a suitable bench, e.g., the park.

Weighted DipsMan doing dips with heavy chains

If you are strong enough to do ten or more dips with your body weight, you are probably ready for a new challenge. With weighted dips, you wear a weighted vest, a dipping belt, or hold a dumbbell between your legs to make yourself heavier.

Start off with about ten percent of your body weight to avoid overloading your muscles and joints too much too soon.

Best Push-Ups Variations to Try

Push-ups are one of the most widely performed bodyweight exercises on the planet. Everyone from athletes to soldiers to kids does push-ups. There are lots of different push-up variations to try, including:

Basic Push-Ups

Make sure you can do basic push-ups before trying any of the other variations outlined below. Squat down and place your hands on the floor, fingers pointing forward and about shoulder-width apart.

Walk your feet out and back, so your legs and body are straight. Brace your abs. Bend your arms and lower your chest to about one inch above the floor. Push back up and repeat.

Three-Quarter Push-Ups

If you can’t do full push-ups, give this variation a try. It takes weight off your arms to make them more manageable. Simply bend your legs and rest on your knees instead of your toes. The closer your knees are to your hands, the easier your push-ups will be.

Incline Push-Upswoman doing incline push ups

Place your hands on a raised surface such as a bench, table, or metal guard rail for an easier workout. Put your hands on a wall for the most accessible push-up variation.

Clap Push-Ups

Bend your arms as usual and then extend them so fast that your hands leave the floor. Clap your hands in mid-air, land, and then do another rep. Clap push-ups increase muscle power.

Wide-Arm Push-Ups

Increase pec activation by placing your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.

Decline Push-UpWoman doing decline push ups on a tree

This push-up variation puts more weight on your arms to make them harder. Rest your feet on a bench or chair. The higher your feet are, the harder your push-ups become.

Deficit Push-Ups

Work through a larger range of motion and make your push-ups more challenging by placing your hands on yoga blocks, bricks or by using push-up handles. Lower your chest down between your hands.

Spider-Man Push-Ups

Do your basic push-up as normal but, as you bend your arms, left and bend one leg, pulling your knee up to touch your elbow. Extend your arms and leg, and then swap sides. This variation increases core activation.

One-Arm Push-UpsMan doing one arm push ups

This variation takes strength and practice but, if you can do them, they look very impressive!

Hold one hand behind your back, move your supporting hand, so it’s under the middle of your chest, and then lower your shoulder down to your hand. And yes, one-arm push-ups are much harder than regular push-ups.

Handstand Push-Ups

Place your hands next to a wall and then kick up into a handstand. Bending your arms and lowering your head down to the floor. Push yourself back up and repeat. This tough-as-nails variation works your shoulders and triceps.

Dips

Consider the following advantages and drawbacks when deciding if dips are the right exercise for you:

Pros

  • An excellent way to build more muscular pecs and triceps
  • A good exercise for building strength
  • Most gyms have parallel bars
  • Ideal for more advanced exercisers
  • It’s easy to add weight to make them more demanding

Cons

  • Dips can be hard on your shoulder joints
  • It’s not always possible to make dips easier
  • No bars? No dips!

Push Up

Like dips, push-ups have both pros and cons. The main advantages and drawbacks of this popular exercise are:

Pros

  • They’re a comprehensive upper body exercise
  • You can do push-ups anywhere
  • They are easy to learn
  • There are lots of variations
  • They involve your entire body

Cons

  • Overload is mainly limited to your body weight
  • You may end up doing lots of reps to challenge your muscles

Which Is Better For You?

In the battle of dips vs. push-ups, there is no clear winner. Both exercises are useful and effective. Dips are arguably better for stronger lifters as they involve your entire bodyweight. They’re also the better exercise for building strength and muscle size.

However, there aren’t many variations to try, and dips are notorious for causing shoulder pain, especially if you descend too deep. You also need access to dipping bars.

Healthy group of people doing push ups

In contrast, push-ups are easier than dips, and there are lots more variations to try. However, unlike dips, you don’t need any equipment to do push-ups, so they’re usually a more accessible exercise.

On the downside, while push-ups are great for general fitness and muscular endurance, the limited amount of weight means they’re not as helpful for building strength and muscle size.

Ultimately, the right exercise for you is the one that best matches your needs. Better still, include both in your workouts and enjoy all the benefits these exercises have to offer.

Bottom Line

Squats vs. lunges, pull-ups vs. pulldowns, dumbbell curls vs. barbell curls, running vs. swimming – the fitness industry has a long history of pitting exercises and training methods against each other. In many cases, these face-offs happen because a well-known coach or fitness celebrity has a workout they love and tell anyone that will listen that their method is the best.

The reality is that your body has a hard time differentiating between similar exercises and will adapt to almost any type of training, providing it’s intense enough, and you work out frequently.

Ultimately, the best exercise for you is the one you enjoy, can do without joint pain, and are able to do regularly so that it provides you with the results you want.

Even the best exercise won’t work if you don’t do it regularly and will start to lose its potency if you do it all the time. You may even find that some exercises that used to kick your butt and provide a good workout lose their effectiveness simply because you get fitter.

Dips and push-ups are excellent chest, triceps, and anterior deltoid exercises. Dips involve lifting more weight, but push-ups are usually more convenient. Which one is best? That answer depends on you, and maybe you should just do them both!

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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