Body weight exercises are perhaps some of the best exercises you can include in your routine and two of the best when it comes to building not only strength but also muscle size for the upper body is the dip and pull up.
Both are compound exercises in their own right as they work multiple muscle groups and involve movement at multiple muscle joints and while that is not the technical definition of a compound exercise it is the basic definition.
The only issue however, is that once you can comfortably perform 8-12 reps (which may take a while for a lot of beginners) you quickly run out of routes for progression. The most basic and effective form of progression is of course increasing the weight/load of an exercise and therefore with the dip and pull up you’d need to gain actual body weight in order to progress.
This is where the dip belt comes in, a very simple piece of equipment with a very specific purpose of being able to load body weight exercises.
What is a Dip Belt
A dip belt (or dipping belt), is a modified, heavy duty belt with a chain attached that allows you to add external weight in the form of weight plates or dumbbells to progressively load traditional body weight exercises like the dip and pull up. [Source]
Dipping belts have two D-rings either side that get locked in by looping the chain through both ends and then attaching the carabiner like in the diagram below.
Mastering body weight exercises is the first step towards building a strong and muscular physique. Before you push your body through workouts that use an external load you first need to learn to contract and work your muscle groups against gravity.
As a beginner you will likely notice that a lat pulldown machine is significantly easier to use than performing a strict pull up (it’s likely that you might not even be able to perform a pull up unless you are naturally athletic or strong!).
If you can’t contract your muscles against your own bodyweight and gravity then you have no reason to start using an external load that also requires the use of stabilizing muscles.
Even if your starting body weight is quite high, it’s still a good idea to work towards losing body fat and mastering body weight than it is to just straight into the weight room.
Once you get strong in body weight exercises then you’ll soon find that progression on them becomes very difficult and this is where a dipping belt comes in handy.
A dipping belt is roughly £25/$30 for a well made heavy duty belt and are an excellent accessory for adding weight to your dips and pull up. Getting strong in body weight exercises is great for increasing your base level of strength however getting strong with weighted body weight exercises is how you can take your physique to the next level and really create some muscle hypertrophy.
How to Use a Dip Belt
If you want to know how to use a dip belt properly then I highly recommend checking out the video at the start of this article. Getting a solid idea on how to put on a dip bet correctly Is crucial when it comes to optimally and safely loading the dip or pull up.
The most common mistake that people make when using a dip belt is dropping the chain through the weight plate and then attaching the carabiner to the other loop.
Connecting a dip belt this way will mean that the chain will not tighten around your hips/waist and therefore you risk the belt falling off during the exercise, particularly when using heavier weight!
The diagram below shows the incorrect way to attach a carabiner and weight plate to a dip belt followed by the correct way.
As you can see, the second example clearly locks the chain and ultimately the belt around your waist creating a stable position when attaching weights.
When looking at the first example however, you can clearly see that the belt is just resting on my hips and when doing dips or pull ups with external weight the last thing you want to be focusing on is making sure the belt stays around your hips.
A weight belt can be looping through a plate in the center hole (or around the edges if you are using a tri grip plate), looped through a kettlebell handle or even wrapped around a dumbbell handle meaning your progression options are only limited by the equipment at your disposal.
How to Do Weighted Dips Without a Belt
To do weighted dips or pull ups without a dip becomes significantly more difficult and awkward. The most popular substitute to use is a weighted vest.
A weighted vest allows you to add small plates or custom designed weight blocks to the vest meaning you can increase the weight in small increments. This issue with a weight vest however is the total weight that you can use is severely limited and to be able to use more weight will require you purchasing a significantly more costly vest.
A weight vest is therefore not worth it in my opinion and therefore your only other option is to hold a dumbbell between your ankles or thighs. This is easy to do when you are using less than 20kg/45lbs however the heavier the dumbbell you work up to the more awkward it becomes to hold this between your legs.
The size of the dumbbell and also the ease at which you can hold it will now become a limiting factor, heavier dumbbells get significantly larger in size and therefore you’ll not only need to waste energy stabilizing the weight but you’ll also detract from your dip or pull up.
Both are viable options at a light weight however once you start to get stronger and can add >100lbs to your dips then a dip belt is the only logical piece of equipment to use in order to continue to advance.
When Should You Start Using a Dip Belt
A dip belt should only be used once you can perform 8 – 12 reps (12 reps to be conservative) with strict form on the dip and pull up. For many the dip will be easier than the pull up due to the shorter range of motion so you might find that you can start to progress with weighted dips first.
Strict form will constitute a 1 second concentric following a steady movement path (no body kipping, leg drive or momentum) and a 1-2 second controlled eccentric. This is crucial to master before progression because you will now be adding an external load that will be held by a chain rather than your grip.
The reason this is important is really from a male specific angle and that is because you will now have a weight plate hanging between your legs and close to your groin. If you don’t have control over the concentric and eccentric portion of the movement the swinging of the weight plate could result in injury, in particular a sensitive male area!
You should also start to use a dip belt when you need a new stimulus for a different exercise. While I’ve only mentioned the dip and pull up so far the dip belt can actually be used for a number of other exercises to create a different form of resistance and progression path.
Best Exercises for a Dip Belt
The dip belt takes its name from the fact that this belt was designed specifically for adding weight to a dip exercise. Much like an arm blaster is designed for a specific bicep exercise there is a key difference with the dip belt and that is the ability to use it for a range of other muscle groups and exercises.
Why would you want to do that? Well, providing a different exercise stimulus and form of progression is key to long term muscle growth and strength progressions.
Training plateaus are most common when focusing on one exercise (the bench press comes to mind) and it becomes increasingly easier for your body to adapt whilst also becoming more difficult to add weight to the bar.
Therefore mixing up exercises over time is a great way to vary the training stimulus and ensure that you can progress over a number of years and the dip belt is surprisingly a great piece of equipment to assist you with this.
Dips are of course the number one exercise when it comes to the dip belt, it is in the name after all!
The dip belt allows you to comfortably add a load to the dip that doesn’t interfere with your balance or center of gravity meaning your form can stay identical from one rep to the next (this isn’t the case when having to hold a dumbbell between your legs).
To make the most of the dip you should grasp the plates between your thighs and bring your knees (and the plates) slightly in front of you whilst also leaning your upper body slightly forward. Imagine you are creating a ‘C’ shape with your body because this is great for really targeting your chest.
Alternatively you can keep your body upright, chest held high and bring your legs (and the weights) slightly behind you in order to place more emphasis on the triceps.
Like the dip, the pull up is a great upper body builder however it’s difficult to get increasingly stronger with it over time. The dip belt offers the exact same benefits as the dip meaning you can comfortably add external weight without it interfering with the mechanics or positioning of the exercise.
Unfortunately I don’t have any additional training cues on how you can adjust your body to target different muscle groups and to be honest it’s a very simple movement that produces great results over time.
If you can get stronger in your weighted pull ups then this will have significant carry over to your rows, curls, grip strength and deadlifts (upper back and lat strength is crucial for maintaining a neutral spine and creating pulling power).
Donkey Calf Raises
The donkey calf raise is an old school bodybuilding exercise that you’ll see in black and white pictures featuring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbo.
While you might find some donkey calf raise machines in some hardcore or old school bodybuilding gyms you’ll find it’s a rare piece of equipment to come across.
The reason the donkey calf raise is such a good calf builder is because your body positioning with this exercise places the calves under a greater stretch and a muscle that is more stretched will mean you are working it through a greater range of motion and recruiting more muscle fibres.
The outcome of that is more muscle growth.
A traditional calf raise will see you get under a smith machine or custom built machine where the pads rest across your shoulders and you have a platform to stand on and stretch the calves. With the donkey calf raise however, you bend at the hips and the weight rests on your lower hip/glutes.
The importance of this isn’t where the weight rests but rather the bending at the hips, this additional movement creates a greater stretch of the hamstrings and also the calves as both need to stretch to support your upper body weight being further away from your centre of gravity.
Now that I’ve talked up the importance of a donkey calf raise it’s finally time to mention the dip belts importance to this exercise. As the availability of equipment for a donkey calf raise is limited a dip belt provides a surprisingly convenient alternative.
As the weight for a dip belt is around your hip it perfectly imitates the traditional donkey calf raise, the only difference being the weight hangs under your hip rather than resting on top of it.
Therefore you simply need a small platform, ledge, block or step in order to allow for your ankle to flex and stretch and you simply lean forward at the hips. This will add a new exercise to you calf routine that will be challenging due to the increased stretch and allow you to load it over time with minimal equipment needs.
Hip Belt Squats
The squat is one of the most functional and fundamental movements that you can have when it comes to training and the barbell back squat and barbell front squat are the key lifts under this category.
These two lifts are great for building strength and muscle and as an exercise, I’d say the barbell squat is only matched by the deadlift in terms of being a complete full body exercise.
With that being said I’d always keep one or both as a staple lower body exercise however another squat variation could always be useful as an accessory movement or temporary alternative if you can’t do a barbell variation (injury, lower back pain etc..)
The hip belt squat therefore offers a low impact option that reduces the loading on the lower back and spine which is a common problem for many people when it comes to traditional barbell variations.
The dip belt will actually allow for a range of squat variations to be used depending on your availability of equipment or training level.
Standing Hip Belt Squats
A standing hip belt squat will resemble a standard body weight or barbell back squat. For this exercise the only technical point you need to be aware of is that you’ll need to use smaller plates, the larger 45lb plates will end up resting on the floor in the bottom position and therefore a smaller plate will allow you to maintain tension.
Raised Hip Belt Squats
A raised hip belt squat is identical to a standing hip belt squat however you will use a raised platform in order to increase the range of motion.
Some smaller step up boxes, plyo boxes or even two benches will do the job. With these you’ll set them apart at shoulder width distance and the gap in the middle will allow you to space for the weight plate to travel through increasing the range of motion.
This will allow you to use the heavier weight plates which a standing hip belt squat restricts though the only point to note with this exercise is that the platform you use needs to be sturdy and stable. Two chairs for example will not offer a stable base of support and therefore you can risk injury if you don’t use something that won’t move around during the exercise.
Landmine Hip Belt Squats
A landmine hip belt squat is the final squat variation that you can use with a dip belt and is perhaps my favorite because it offers the most potential for loading the bar. With this you’ll need to use a landmine attachment (or lean a bar into the corner of a wall to act as a pivot point) and you’ll wrap the chain of the dip belt around the other end of the bar.
As the belt is now connected to the bar instead of the individual plates you can load it up as heavier as you can and the number of plates used won’t have any impact on the width of your stance.
The reason this is a great variation is because you can work up to a heavy squat with minimal loading of the spine or lower back making it a powerhouse of a lower body exercise. There are specialty made hip belt machines that are designed for this reason however the landmine squat is a great way to make use of the dip belt and provides a cheap and easy alternative to this specialist piece of equipment.
Hanging Leg Raises
The final exercise that makes use of a dip belt in an unconventional way is the hanging leg raise.
Hanging leg raises offer a great lower ab exercise however they are again limited in terms of progression to body weight only. The use of a dip belt again changes the progression path for this exercise and allows you to easily load the exercise making it a great ab builder.
With your legs closed the dip belt will allow you to rest a weight plate flat against your thighs and perform leg raises comfortably with the addition of an external load.
This isn’t something you’ll be able to load up with multiple plates however the addition of any weight will allow you to have a new path for progression which as mentioned earlier will allow for a new training stimulus and muscle growth opportunity.
The dip belt is an excellent accessory for lifters of any training level and experience, while the name suggests that it has only one purpose: you can in fact modify it to progress on a number of other lifts, particularly those that were limited to body weight only.
With this in mind a dip belt is cheap enough to easily add to your gym bag and if you take away anything from this article it’s that you should loop the chain through the opposite D-ring before attaching it.
This is the most common mistake lifters make by just attaching it to the opposite D-ring meaning there is no active tension or tightness and this is what is key to safely and effectively using a dip belt.
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