Dips and their variations can be quite a difficult maneuver to master.
You’d most likely incorporate them into your routine after gaining a bit of strength in your chest and triceps as you are using your body weight for resistance in these movements.
Variations of these exercises can be considered to be more on the advanced side as primarily you’re stimulating 2/3 muscle groups as well as using a lot of stabilizer muscles, too.
We’re going to delve into the nuances between chest dips vs tricep dips and give you some information to help make the decision about which version will be the most beneficial to you.
What Are Chest Dips?
Chest dips are a great movement that stimulates the entirety of the chest in more of an unconventional way when compared to a bench press or a dumbbell fly.
No matter what variation of dips you perform on a dip bar; you’ll be stimulating the chest and the triceps – because of this, it can be considered to be a compound movement.
Related – Dips vs bench press
Just like with any other exercise, it’s important to perform slow and controlled reps as it can be very easy to add unnecessary stress to your anterior (front) deltoids as well as your elbows.
With a chest dip it’s important to be flaring out the elbows; which can be confusing to hear; as we often hear the advice to reduce the flaring of your elbows when performing pushing movements.
You’re also focusing on your feet being behind your body which subsequently pushes your torso forward as a slight counterbalance.
Which Muscles Do Chest Dips Train?
The clue is in the name with this one – chest dips primarily train the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles.
The pectoralis major is the large muscle belly that stretches from the shoulder joint to your sternum, whereas the pectoralis minor muscle lies underneath this and connects our shoulder to our chest.
There is secondary stimulation applied to the shoulders and triceps, too.
Due to the focus on leaning forward and keeping your feet behind your torso, you are adding greater stimulation to the chest and anterior deltoids whilst lightening the load on the triceps.
The triceps are stimulated but on a slightly lesser scale as the majority of the stress is targeted on your chest; they’re mainly being used to support pushing up and stabilizing your body as you move through the exercise – but you’ll still most likely feel a burn.
You also incorporate your abs back and glutes as these are used to stabilize your body when performing the movement. This is why it’s a lot more challenging to perform chest dips in comparison to tricep dips.
What Are Tricep Dips?
Tricep dips are usually performed on the edge of a bench – they’re a great introduction to the dip movement in itself and a great base to work with before progressing to a dip bar, it’s easy to manipulate the difficulty of this movement when we’re talking about the amount of resistance you want to apply to your triceps.
It all depends on how far or close you have your feet to the bench. The further your feet are away from the bench, the harder the exercise will be as your triceps have to support more of your body weight.
While chest dips focus on your elbows flaring out; with tricep dips you want to keep your elbows tucked into your torso – this ensures that more tension is on the triceps as well as reducing any potential stress that may be applied to the shoulders and elbows.
If this exercise is performed incorrectly, it can cause a lot of pain in your shoulders – so if you’re feeling pain when performing this movement then maybe a form check is in order.
What Muscles Do Tricep Dips Train?
Just like how chest dips primarily focus on the chest – tricep dips primarily focus on the triceps.
Whilst you’re still going to activate your chest and shoulders throughout this move, the stimulation to these muscle groups isn’t as much. Partly because of keeping your elbows tucked in.
This movement can often be overlooked when in reality it does a great job of hitting all 3 heads of the tricep.
You mainly stimulate the lateral and long head of the tricep and then when at the top of the movement the medial head kicks into gear. Most tricep exercises tend to focus on specific heads of the tricep whereas with dips you’re getting a good amount of stimulation to all 3 heads.
Chest Dips vs Tricep Dips: Compared
So we now know about the differences between both of these exercises. Which one is right for you?
Each variation of this movement can be beneficial to you but depending on your goals inside the gym could depend on which exercise would be best to pick.
If you’re aiming to get stronger in the bench press or overhead press; maybe tricep dips would be more up your street.
A strong set of triceps can provide a surprising amount of assistance to your pressing movements.
The triceps come into play in pressing movements as they work at extending your forearms toward the top of the movement once your arms have moved past 90 degrees.
You may have heard the phrase ‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link’ and this can be said for your triceps too. You’ll constantly struggle to progress in your pressing movements if you’re not giving enough attention to the supporting muscles also used in the movement.
If you were to use a chest dip to try and improve your pressing movements – whilst you’ll still likely make some progress, you’re still neglecting that crucial stimulation of your triceps whilst further fatiguing your chest more.
All you’d be doing is adding an additional pressing movement into your routine… to try and increase strength in pressing movements.
On the flip side though; if you’re already doing great with your pressing movements and are looking for an additional movement to increase the weekly volume added to your chest and shoulders, then the chest dip is the way to go.
The pectoralis minor muscle can be quite a tricky one to engage in many chest movements found inside a gym; this is where the chest dip prevails as you’ll get that added stimulation to those intercostal muscles which in turn can also help improve your bench press.
It’s also fairly easy to add weight to this movement once you’ve nailed bodyweight dips. A common method would be to use a dip belt fastened with a chain at the front for you to loop weight plates onto.
There are also the options of chains over the shoulder as well as weighted vests – or even holding a dumbbell between your legs if there is no additional equipment available.
Are Dips Better for Your Chest or Triceps
Finally, are dips better for your chest or triceps?
The age-old question. The answer lies within your goals as both are equally effective for their intended purpose. When it comes down to overall effectiveness; personally, I’d say the tricep dip takes the plate. There are few exercises out there for triceps that hit them as hard as tricep dips do.
They are essentially a compound exercise for the upper arms and pressing even just your bodyweight (at say 175lbs) will do significantly more for tricep growth and development than a 25lb tricep kickback!
Not only are you targeting all 3 heads of the tricep – you’re also using all of those stabilizer muscles to support your body weight too. The majority of tricep exercises do not require as much stabilization as you’re usually using resistance via a pulley system.
When it comes to chest dips; whilst they’re a good exercise to include, you can get enough stimulation of both the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor with dumbbell presses and other standard pressing movements.
If you’re adamant on only including one of the variations within your routine – you’ll get a lot more use out of tricep dips.
See also – Dip vs push-ups
The dip in general is a great exercise. It’s a compound movement that allows for great progression in terms of weight lifted and strength as well as having great carryover to other exercises like a bench press or military press.
While it’s good, people often struggle to decide between the chest dip or tricep dip.
When I first started training, I’d do both in a single workout and found it to be incredibly ineffective! Due to the demands of the exercise and the fact that it hits both the chest and tricep to some degree, the better option would be to pick one at a time.
Hopefully, this has cleared up the differences between these exercises and given you some key information to help make the decision about which dip is best for you.
If you’re still undecided, check out our roundup of the best tricep dip alternatives.
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