Dips vs Push Ups

Dips vs Push Ups (Which Is Best For Muscle Growth)

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Bodyweight exercises are often a neglected form of training by many active gym goers. Unless you are limited by equipment or specifically train with calisthenics, bodyweight exercises will tend to take a back seat in your routine. 

This is arguably most true when it comes to chest development. As soon as you gain access to a bench press, the rest of your chest routine becomes secondary to this exercise, and the less stimulating exercises like the dip and push up become forgotten moves only being used as an occasional warm-up. 

Some people do however still see the benefit of these exercises, especially when it comes to improving strength and muscle growth. While one is good, you’ll rarely see someone perform both of these exercises. 

So if you are looking to add a bodyweight exercise to your chest/push day, I’ll see which exercise is best – dips vs push ups!

What Is a Dip

The dip is an upper body exercise that trains the chest, shoulders, and triceps. As this movement involves movement at both the shoulder joint and elbow joint, it is classed as a multi-joint movement when essentially makes the dip a compound movement. 

Other compound movements include bench press, squat, deadlift, lunge, overhead press, barbell row, and pull ups. These are all movements that significantly contribute to improvements in strength and muscle growth so if you’ve ever thought the dip is just another bodyweight exercise, you’d be mistaken! 

The main reason for this is that a multi-joint movement will also utilize multiple muscle groups. When more muscle groups are involved you can lift more weight and also have the potential to lift significantly more weight in the future. More weight (with correct form) = more muscle. 

That makes it sound more simple than it actually is but continual progressive overload over a long period of time is essentially the basics of building muscle mass. Someone that can squat 400lbs for 10 reps will typically have more muscle mass than someone squatting 225lbs for 5 reps. It’s a generalization lifting big is a precursor to growth. 

Therefore, the dip is a compound movement, and where people usually limit themselves to a bodyweight warmup, the real potential for growth is adding external weight to this movement which I’ll come on to shortly. 

What Is a Push Up

The push up is one of the most basic and common exercises on the planet. From gym floors, bedrooms, army boot camps, to prison cells, the push up is a key movement for anyone short on equipment and looking to train their upper body. 

Like the dip, the push up is a multi-joint movement that works the chest, shoulders (front deltoid), and triceps making it another compound movement. The only issue with the push up, however, is that it’s very difficult to progress in the push up the same way you can other exercises. 

Varying hand position, number of reps, and length of the rep/set can all help you to progress but the ability to add weight is very limited meaning once you get to a certain level of proficiency with a push up, your progress and potential for muscle growth become limited. 

This is the main reason why you will see the push up used as a warm up exercise to engage certain muscles before heavy pressing or as a finisher movement at the end of a routine.

Dips vs Push Ups

While the temptation is there to say both exercises are great and you should immediately add them both to your routine, the truth is that neither the dip nor push up is an essential exercise. They can each serve a purpose but if you can only pick one, a comparison is always useful. 

Personally, I’d categorize both movements separately and use the dip as a compound movement and exercise staple (meaning it should be a key exercise in your chest or push sessions) and use the push up as a volume-based exercise or finisher (one to fatigue the slow-twitch muscle fibers). 

Based on this categorization, the is no reason why you can’t use both exercises within the same session but as mentioned, it’s rarer to see people doing just one of them!

For comparative purposes, I think the dip is better than the push up due to the strength and growth potential that you can develop through dipping. Exercises are tools that you can use and I always try to refrain from saying that one is better than the other but for me, the dip is actually one of the best exercises you can do. 

Firstly, stop thinking about the dip as a pure bodyweight exercise and get yourself a good quality dip belt with a chain (check out the DMoose dip belt on Amazon with a 225lb weight capacity), I personally use a leather belt but these are significantly more expensive. 

Then, check out my article on how to properly use a dip belt. It may seem obvious but there are countless exercises you can do with a dip belt other than dips and some people even use the belt incorrectly for dips.   

The reason I like dips so much is because of the strength and growth potential. When dipping with just your bodyweight, you are still lifting a good amount of weight and even your accessory muscle groups like the triceps will get more stimulation from dipping your bodyweight of 180 – 225lbs (as an average) than they will from the 45lb tricep rope extensions. 

Of course, isolation exercises are important for growth but once you start to add external weight to a dip, your bodyweight in addition to an extra 25 – 225lbs is going to drastically start developing your physique. 

This progression is not possible with a push up and this is the primary reason why I feel dips are superior or better utilized in your routine. 

Dips vs Push Ups: Muscles Worked

As mentioned earlier, the dip and push up work similar muscles in that they mainly work the chest, shoulders (front deltoid), and triceps but it’s worth noting that both movements can be modified to place more emphasis on a certain muscle group. 

To emphasize the chest, a regular or incline push up (with feet raised) whilst maintaining a shoulder-width to wide hand position will minimize tricep engagement. To emphasize the chest on a dip, take a wide grip, lean forward and also bring your legs forwards so that all of your bodyweight is front-loaded. 

To emphasize the triceps, use a narrow or diamond hand position during push ups and keep your elbows tucked close to your body. During a dip, position your torso in an upright position, take a narrow grip with arms towards the back of your torso. This will keep your bodyweight rear-loaded and make the triceps do more of the work. 

The shoulders in both movements will never be fully shortened or contracted (with maybe the exception of a very steep incline for a push up) and therefore it will always act as a secondary muscle for both movements. 

It’s also worth pointing out that you shouldn’t try to focus either exercise on working the shoulders as they are placed in a weak position on both movements so an over-emphasis while trying to target them could lead to injury. 

Why Are Dips Harder Than Push Ups

Dips are typically harder than push ups for a few reasons. Firstly, the range of motion is much greater and muscle groups become more stretched. With a push up, you can only lower yourself so far before you make contact with the floor. 

This means you can never stretch the muscle past a certain point and train it in its fully stretched but also weakened position. With a dip, however, you can stretch both the pec and front deltoid muscle to a greatly lengthened position. 

This can actually be a major disadvantage with the dip as people will overstretch the muscle and place it into a very weakened position where smaller stabilizing muscles will begin to take most of the weight. 

This has a double effect of potentially tearing a smaller stabilizing muscle or damaging a larger muscle through loading it too much in a weakened position. 

Secondly, the dip is an exercise that places all of your body weight on the active muscles doing the movement. With a push up, your upper body acts as the weight being moved but a large portion of your lower body is either inactive or helping to support the weight. 

Therefore, even though both exercises are upper body focused and train the same muscle groups, the dip will involve lifting more weight so will naturally feel more difficult. 

Advantages of Dips and Push Ups

Below are some of the advantage that you’ll find with both the dip and push up in an effort to show you how you can better include them in your routine. 

Advantages of a Dip

  • Requires minimal equipment.
  • Can be modified through body position and grip width to either primarily target the chest or the triceps.
  • Allows for maximal loading by holding a dumbbell between your legs or through using a dip belt.

Advantages of a Push Up

  • Can be done anywhere, no equipment required. 
  • They are beginner friendly. 
  • Works the smaller stabilizing muscle groups of the upper body and core.
  • Easily add volume to your sets and hit the slow-twitch muscle fibers. As an example, do max a set of max reps with a weight plate on your back, upon failure, drop the weight and do bodyweight reps to failure. This can even be done one extreme further by then dropping to your knees and continuing until failure. 

Final Thoughts

The dip and push up are popular exercises but more so with those training at home than with access to the gym. There is, however, no reason why you can’t include both of these exercises in your regular gym routine and the dip, in particular, is an exercise I feel is underutilized. 

Moving your body through physical space (rather than moving an object while you remain stationary) challenges your body and muscle groups in a different way. A different stimulus is always essential for muscle growth so look for ways that you can add one, or both exercises into your routine. 

Use the dip as a compound exercise that you look to get stronger in and use the push up to increase training volume and fatigue the slow-twitch muscle fibers and see how this will change your chest and push sessions dramatically.

What Next

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