What are Tricep Dips? (A bodybuilders guide to building bigger triceps)

Tricep dips on the parallel bar

What are tricep dips?

Tricep dips are a muscle and strength building exercise that targets the triceps and chest. By changing to a narrow grip and reducing elbow flare, you can shift the focus away from the chest and on to the triceps. There are a variety of tricep dip methods that all have their own advantages. 

In this article, we will explore the muscles targeted by dips, the different ways to perform dips, and the advantages of adding tricep dips to your routine.

Which muscles are worked with tricep dips?

Muscles worked with dips

The primary muscles targeted are the triceps at the back of your upper arm. A well-developed tricep will make your biceps appear larger, add definition to your outer shoulders, and give you extra strength for pressing exercises.  Other muscles are activated depending on the type of dip performed. 

The majority of dip exercises will bring in the chest and shoulder muscles as secondary targets and often back muscles as stabilisers. 

Triceps used for dips

The tricep muscle is made up of three heads, the long head, medial head and lateral head. You can shift the tension onto different heads of the tricep by changing hand position and technique with dip exercises. Adding variation and working all of the heads will lead to a full and well-developed tricep.

What are tricep dip exercise options?

Parallel bar dips.

Equipment required. 

To perform parallel bar dips you will need a set of parallel bars. Other options are to use a dip machine without the platform or dip attachments to a power rack. This is a bodyweight exercise so no weights are required. Once you can perform multiple reps with ease, you can add a dip belt with extra weights attached for more resistance. 

How do I perform dips on parallel bars?

Tricep dips on parallel bars

The parallel bar tricep dips are simple in theory but difficult to perform when you first start. At first, you may struggle to perform even one dip, but regular practice will see quick results. 

  1. Lift yourself onto the bars with your arms locked in a straight position, elbows tucked in and palms facing towards each other. If you are using a machine, you will need to make sure that the handles are flipped into the narrow grip position. Using a wide grip will target your chest muscles and for this exercise, we want to hit the triceps.
  2. Lean slightly forward and bend your arms until your shoulders are lower than your elbows. This is your starting position.
  3. Take a deep breath and upon exhaling, straighten your arms. Keep your elbows tucked in and your body leaning slightly forward. 
  4. Try not to lock out your arms at the top of each movement. Keeping the elbow slightly bent will take pressure off the elbow joints and keep your triceps under constant tension.
  5. Repeat the process for the required number of reps and sets. 

Assisted dip machine.

Equipment required for assisted tricep dips.

To perform assisted dips you will need access to an assisted dip machine. These are present in most commercial gyms and are a great way to start with dips. They are similar to parallel dip bars, but they have a platform that you can place your knees on. 

You can then add a counter-weight so that you are not dipping with your entire body weight. The knee platform also gives you stability and takes some of the strain away from your shoulders. 

How do I use an assisted dip machine?

Dips demo
Assisted dips are performed in the same movement as parallel bar dips. Before you start, select a weight and place the pin into the stack. Step up onto the machine and place your knees on the pad. Make sure that your knees are placed far back enough to allow you to lean forward. 
The handles on these machines are often adjustable so you need to make sure that they are flipped into the narrow grip position. From this point, just follow the steps listed above for the parallel bar dips.

Seated tricep dip machine.

Equipment required for seated tricep dips.

To perform assisted seated trice dips, you will need access to a seated tricep dip machine. These machines are simple to use and fairly self-explanatory. Not all commercial gyms have these, as the assisted dip machine mentioned above has the option to adjust for pull-ups and chest dips. 

The seated machine can not be used for anything but training the triceps. 

How do I use a seated tricep dip machine?

Seated tricep dips machine

Before you start, you will need to select your weight and enter the pin into the stack. The next step is to adjust the seat height so that in the neutral position, your elbows are tucked in behind your chest and your palms are facing towards each other in line with your body. 

From this position, take a deep breath, as you exhale, push the bars down. Once fully extended, slowly let the bar raise before repeating the movement for the required number of reps and sets. 

Bench dips.

Equipment required for bench dips.

Bench dips are another bodyweight exercise that only requires a dumbbell bench or any other stable platform that is just above knee height. 

This exercise pushes your arms higher behind your back, giving you a bigger range of motion. It is great for tricep development and is often used as a finisher after a tricep workout.

How do I perform a tricep bench dip?

How do I do bench dips?

Tricep bench dips need at least one bench. If you want to add a second bench to rest your feet on, that is also an option. Having your feet elevated will allow for the extra stretch of the tricep and a wider range of motion. 

Firstly, you will need to move a flat dumbbell bench into an area with enough space to perform the exercise. Turn the bench sideways on and add another bench for your feet if required. Place your hands on the bench behind you with your palms facing backwards and about shoulder-width apart. 

Straighten your arm and place your heels either on the opposite bench or on the floor in front of you. Keeping your back as straight as possible and your elbows tucked in, lower your body by flexing your arms at the elbow. When your tricep is fully stretched, you are in the starting position.

From this starting position, take a deep breath in, upon exhaling, extend your arms, being sure to keep your back straight and elbows tucked in. Try not to lock out your arm at the top of the movement. Keeping a slight bend in the arm will take pressure off the elbow joint and give the tricep more time under tension. 

This will make the exercise harder but also more effective. Repeat this process for the required amount of reps and sets.

Gymnastic ring dips.

Equipment required for gymnastic ring dips.

The only equipment required for gymnastic ring dips is a pair of gymnastic rings. Commercial gyms rarely have these so it will not be an option for most, but if you are lucky enough, it is a great compound exercise for developing triceps and stabilising muscles. 

How do I perform gymnastic ring dips?

Ring dips

Gymnastic ring dips are incredibly hard as they require great upper body strength. They are performed in the same way as parallel bar dips, but with the added challenge of trying to stop the rings from flaring out. 

If you are looking to isolate the triceps you should probably skip this one as it activates your chest, back and shoulder muscles as stabilisers as well as being stressful to the forearms. This exercise has become popular within the Crossfit community due to its difficulty and the strength gains that can be achieved.

Alternative to tricep dips.

Tricep pushdown

Close grip press

Skull crushers

Dumbbell kickbacks

Overhead tricep extension

We hope that you have found this article informative. 


Gymenix offers a selection of free training programs to suit all abilities and goals. Click on the links below for FREE access. 

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