The dip is one of the most underrated upper-body strength exercises.
Whilst most guys are focusing on curls, tricep pushdowns and skull crushers to make their arms bigger, the people who build serious mass on their arms are guys that can dip, and do it correctly.
They’re a huge benchmark of brute strength, humbling the biggest of guys, and it goes without saying that they look impressive, which is why they’re often seen (with push-ups) to display and/or measure athletic ability.
After all, they require you to lift a large portion of your bodyweight without using much assistance.
Dips are effective at helping you build more strength and mass because:
Now let’s explore why all of the above is good for you...
You might have heard of dips before, but what you might not know is why they're so effective, and how with some simple tweaks you can add muscle to not only your arms (triceps), but to your chest too.
The biggest reasons dips are so great is due to the fact that they’re a compound exercise, which means they ask more of your joints (and muscles) to help assist with movement.
Although some promote single-joint exercises due to the fact that they can be easier to learn as a beginner (study) and rely on neural factors less (the body needing to adapt to them), multi-joint exercises are better for muscle growth.
So as you can see, multi-joint movements have a tonne of benefits and this isn’t all of them.
The dip is one of the few tricep movements that is a multi-joint movement. This means it's perfect for your goals if you want to lift heavy amounts of weight and add noticeable mass to your arms in no time.
Here’s the 3 heads of the tricep broken down:
A study done by ACE showed that the tricep dip is effective at engaging muscle activation in the tricep and is in the top 3 movements for building tricep mass (study).
As mentioned, the dip doesn’t only target the tricep; because it’s a multi-joint movement, it means we’re using several muscles.
It also works the Anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders), rhomboids, trapezius and core to stabilise and assist the movement.
As far as equipment goes, dips are almost as basic as it gets (next to push-ups, and body weight squats). That’s one of the reasons why I love them.
They're as minimal as it comes, with variations helping you when you’re limited to location, or stuck with very little equipment (like a hotel room).
For the full version, all you need is two parallel bars.
If your gym doesn't have parallel bars or a tricep dip station, then you can use an assisted chin up and tricep dip machine (placing a weight on it to hold it down - more on this in the video below) or a power tower.
A popular alternative for when you don’t have any of this equipment is to do a bench, or chair dip, which is a great tricep movement.
There are a few things to take notice of:
However, if you have never done any kind of dip before, you might be wondering…
Although dips have a bunch of variations (we’ll walk through two in particular in a second) they all have a few things in common.
This video that walks you step-by-step through how to do the initial set-up of the dip and the two variations (I’ve also gone ahead and written these up for you too).
The 2 main dips
As I mentioned, there’s typically 2 types of dips.
Although both target the upper body and work the same areas, by changing our position slightly we can change the emphasis on different parts of the upper body, switching between targeting more of the back of the tricep, and targeting the lower chest.
Now let's check them both out…
The Tricep Dip
This is the classic dip, and it’s what is commonly referred to as a “tricep dip”. This is often done on parallel bars (a dipping station) and is the one that bench dips resemble the most.
The main difference between this movement and others is the placement of the arms and elbows.
Due to the fact that you keep your elbows are kept close to the body, it minimises the tilt and allows your triceps to take on the bulk of the work, especially at the last few inches of the lockout where it matters the most.
Here’s how to do them:
The CHest Dip
As far as chest movements go, this is pretty underrated.
Although most only think of just the triceps, due to it’s stabilising function, this is super-effective at causing muscle damage to the chest. More specifically, the lower chest.
Muscle damage largely happens when a muscle is stretched and long.
So things like flyes, cable flyes, dips, pec-dec seem to cause this pretty well. Other ways you can damage the muscle is by doing slow lowering (eccentrics) moves.
Mix slowly lowering with the chest dip and you’ve got one badass way to grow a bigger chest.
So, you’re probably wondering how to actually do them...
Here's how to do the chest dip, step-by-step:
If you’re reading this, then you might want to be using dips in as part of a body-weight program.
Although body-weight programs aren’t optimal for skinny guys trying to build muscle, they can be tailored to fit your situation. Maybe you’re a beginner, or someone who has only minimal equipment around right now. Heck, maybe you’re even travelling for work and just need something to keep you sane.
If the above sounds familiar, I’ve got some options for you...
As mentioned earlier, the bench dip variation would be the bench/chair dip. However, for the biomechanics and safety reasons mentioned before, it’s not the one I like the most for replacing the usual tricep and chest dip.
Instead, I prefer this alternative, which target the chest and triceps in a similar fashion:
This is similar to a traditional push-up, with a slight variation: a grip that is shoulder width, or slightly narrower.
Keep the body in a straight line throughout the exercise and do not allow the hips to sag. Lower your body until the chest hits the floor.
Look down during the set and make sure the elbows are in line with the wrists. Keep your body locked into a powerful position, ensuring that you’re working the core during the movement (similar to the stabilising of the dip).
The diamond triceps push-up is more challenging due to its narrower position. Because of this, it targets the triceps to a greater degree.
This variation is performed with the hands touching each other and forming a diamond shape with the thumbs and index fingers.
WEIGHTS AND BODYWEIGHT VERSION
Although this is an article about dips, you should be thinking outside of the dips box when working out.
After all, if you want a body with a dense chest, a wide back, broad shoulders, and legs that look athletic, I’ve got some news for you:
Dips aren’t what’s going to get you there.
Instead, you’ll want to incorporate dips into a program surrounded by smart weight programming.
Because of this, the workout I’m giving you here isn’t purely a “dips” workout. Just like a push-up challenge, that would be pretty ineffective at building a stronger, better-looking body.
I’ve decided to go a step further and give you both the bodyweight version and the weightlifting version.
That way, if you’re stuck somewhere in a blizzard and still need to get a workout in, you’re more than covered.
The following is a day from both the weight version of the workout and a day from the bodyweight version.
Let’s get into the example workout program. I’ve provided a weights version (preferably) and a bodyweight version.
The choice is yours...
|Water jug Squat||3||8|
|Decline Push-up or Chest Dip||3||12|
|Tote bag single-arm row||3||12|
|Standing Shoulder Press Reach||2||12|
|Superman Plan||2||8 breaths each side|
|Seated 1-Arm Shoulder Press||3||12|
|Body weight Glute-bridge||2||12|
Something to note.
The chest dip is typically found with an opposing movement that targets the opposite plane of movement.
For example a row, or shoulder press. This allows you to target a different body part, whilst you let the chest rest, meaning you maximise efficiency.
The same goes with the tricep version. It’s found with a different movement (such as a bicep, back or leg/hip movement)
It’s all about cutting downtime in the gym, whilst maximising your potential for growth.
Oh my. Troubles...
Great question. Although I gave you alternatives to the dip that you can do at home, what about ones for the gym?
Although there’s a few out there, only a few come close in my opinion.
If you’re just starting out, then you might struggle with doing the full range dip.
If this is the case then a great alternative would be the assisted machine dip, or a negative dip.
I typically prefer the negative dip over the assisted, due to the muscle damage that happens dur
As mentioned, few movements come close to allowing as much weight to be lifted, and targeting the triceps.
Most movements out there are single joint movements, like tricep extensions and kickbacks.
The close-grip bench press is the exception and is my favourite alternative to the tricep dip.
When you’re doing it, just make sure to keep your elbows from flaring and very narrow, otherwise the shoulders and chest take too much of the workload (and we don’t want that).
As you’ve hopefully gleaned, dips are more than what most gym-goers think they are.
They can add some serious mass, and help improve technique in other movements too.
Just remember to not view them in a vacuum, and do more.
Anyhoo, that’s all for today.
Do the workout above, and not only will you be enjoying dips, but you’ll have a bigger upper body too.
In this article I'm going to give you 12 push-up variations you can add to your workout.
If you’re a guy that’s ever been interested in working out, then it’s pretty safe to assume you’ve tried the push-up before.
It’s given to us in P.E at school, used as a way to show strength to others and even used in contests to win free pizza (which I may have taken part in).
However, there’s a difference between performing a push-up that’s simple and poorly done, and one that’s correct and effective at targeting the right muscles; helping you to get stronger and build a better upper body.
Talk to most guys, and they’ll seem fairly confident that they can perform push-ups pretty well.
But the reality is:
“Most guys perform shitty push-ups and get a false sense of confidence… If I ask a guy to drop and give me 10, I can bet at least 9 are gonna be horrible.”- Mike Mejia, Scrawny to Brawny
And I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re one of them.
That’s why we’re going to look at how to do a great push-up (not the ones you’re probably doing right now) and the variations of them to get you stronger and give you more spice going forward.
Although there are already articles out there that give you 60+ versions of the push-ups, this site is all about simplicity and effective training. That’s why I’ve broken down the ones that I consider to be the top 12, and I’ve organised them for you by body part.
Let’s dive in.
THE PERFECT PUSH-UP
The push-up, although a basic movement, has a lot going on.
You have to stabilise your body, control your breathing and have the upper body strength to push a large part of your weight up and down from the ground in a controlled manner. It also has similar muscle activation to the bench-press (study) making it the perfect strength and mass builder when including weight, and can help with testosterone production too (study).
Now only that put men who could do 40 or more push-ups have been shown to be 96% less risk of heart problems in the next 10 years than those who can do 10 or fewer (study).
However, to get these benefits you’ll want to make sure you’re actually doing them correctly.
There are typically 2 mistakes I see guys making with a push-up:
Moreover, it's critical that you learn the proper way to perform a push-up from the get-go because a vast majority of exercisers perform this movement incorrectly. I distinctly remember when I started performing push-ups. I was 15 years old and could barely manage three sets of six repetitions. I'm pretty sure my form wasn't up to par back then either. Fortunately, I stuck with it and didn't give up. Fast forward to today, I'm now able to perform 60 non-stop push-ups. A nice fringe benefit of push-up performance is the core stability that comes along with itBret Contreras, Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy
Core stability is something most people also miss out on because they make this mistake too:
Rolling the scapula back and forth, leading to a lack of stabilisation in the body.
Not to mention it also has a bunch of benefits for you such as strength and muscle increase in the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Improves scapular (shoulder) mobility, and core (stomach) stability.
They can also be done anywhere - the hotel, gym, airport bathroom (you odd person), you name it.
But how do you actually do them properly?
After all, if you want to build a bigger chest, isn’t the generic push-up good enough?
Well, it depends on your goal and where you are on the muscle growth (journey) spectrum.
Here are a few reasons why you might want, or need, to do different versions:
If any of the above sound familiar to you, then you'll definitely want to keep reading...
You most likely think of the chest when you do a push-up.
But depending on the style of push-up you do, depends on the focus of the muscle working.
Although the following push-ups don’t just target the chest (as they’re all multipoint movements) they have more of a focus on this area than other push-ups in the rest of the article.
I’ve also done the job of placing these in an order of easiest (1) to most difficult (5).
When doing push-ups as shown before, you’ll notice that they’re difficult to do, if they’re too difficult to do right now, then this push-up is a perfect transition to them.
The eccentric push-up is very similar to the negative pull-up in that it focuses on eccentric training to build your strength.
This is one you might have not seen before, but it’s a fantastic push-up to have in your arsenal for when you feel you need a bit more strictness to your routine.
I originally came across this through strength coach Christian Thibaudeau but apparently, it originates from a popularity in CrossFit.
“How do you judge push-up depth when dozens of reps are supposed to be done in 30 seconds? The answer was simple: have each push-up start with the body (chest, abdomen, and quads) resting on the floor, and the hands completely off it. This solved the range of motion issue.” - Christian Thibaudeau
However this isn’t just what the hand release push-up is, some tweaks it becomes an even better, stricter movement that will lead to more muscle growth.
With a regular push-up you lift about 70% off your own body weight.
When you place your feet on the floor in the incline push-up you actually lift much less of your own weight, which makes it a much easier movement.
And as you probably guessed, the higher your hands are, the easier it is to perform the Incline push-up.
For example, placing your hands against a wall and pushing yourself away is the easiest variation and the lower you get, the harder the movement will be to perform.
This is the one I like doing the most.
Not only does it look badass and like some Jean Claude van Damme shit…
But they help target the "fast-twitch" muscle fibres leading to greater growth in the pec muscles.
“The clap push-up is a unique exercise, challenging muscle fibres by requiring rapid, explosive contractions while fatigue builds during longer-rep sets. Pursuing this test will bust you through a training plateau, build power, and add muscle to your chest, triceps, and shoulders.” - Eric Bach
Plus they help build functional explosiveness in the upper body - leading to greater power and overall speed improvement in everyday life and obviously other movements in the gym
You’ll typically find this at the start of a workout program to activate the pecs.
Note: It’s common to feel a bit more soreness on the joints when you first start doing this movement. Don’t worry, most healthy individuals don’t have anything to worry about here.
Decline push-up works the upper chest (to a degree) more than the regular or incline push-up variation.
And it’s done in the exact opposite way to the incline push-up with your body close to the ground, feet up on a platform.
This means you actually push-up even more of your own weight, making this movement the hardest of the 3 typical push-ups (regular, incline and decline)
This is a simple one.
Add a weight to your back and go on to thank me for the mass you’ll add to your chest.
You can add resistance to this via bands or via a plate.
When guys get stronger they stop doing push-ups in their workout programs. This is a great way to bring them back in, with the added benefits.
This section is probably going to be different to what you’re expecting.
I don’t think push-ups should be used as a shoulder-building exercise. In fact, quite the opposite.
Certain push-ups can put stress on the shoulder, but fear not, I have a few push-up variations up my sleeve that - although not designed to build shoulder mass - are here to help with your shoulder mobility and overall health and posture with the upper body.
However, there are two exceptions...
The Pike Push-up is a great way to progress towards the Handstand Push-up.
It’s a great movement to target the core and shoulders. It’s also a variation above the decline push-up, making it even more challenging.
Without a doubt one of the best exercises you can do for the shoulders (and best of all, can be done at home).
However, with that comes to them being one of the most intimidating and difficult movements to get right from the get-go.
Here’s a progression that I recommend:
You most likely have shoulder issues.
It’s a ‘modern’ problem that most people who lift or sit in awkward ways often experience…
The scapula push-up is designed to help reduce this and correct certain issues
“Strengthening with serratus anterior exercises will keep your shoulders mobile and strong, helping you avoid injury and live your active life” - Eric Wong
The serratus anterior plays a huge role in how you move your shoulder and arm, so improving it is imperative to how well your upper body functions.
There’s a bunch of ways to do the scapula push-up…
Also known as the reverse push-up, this is a great movement for the back, and because of that, overall posture.
If you’re pushing (as you are in push-ups and most chest movements) you’ll want to almost always balance things out with a pull (back movement) of some kind.
The benefit to this vs rows is that it can be done anywhere.
If you want bigger arms (well, triceps) then here are some movements you’ll want to have in your toolbox.
I’d recommend always doing these towards the later side of your program...
Diamond push-ups are quite a leap from the regular push-up (in difficulty) so don’t be surprised if you fail after doing half as many diamond push-ups as you normally would.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite tricep burner movements that will pump up your triceps in no time.
The main thing to bear in mind with this is making sure you get your hands as close to your body as possible
If you’re after a great movement to have during your dynamic warm-up then this is a great place to start.
Since you are only supporting yourself on three points of contact when you move your leg forward you’re working your abdominals (and other core muscles) to work harder to maintain stability.
Moving your legs forward and back also helps to work your lower abs since it mimics the movement used in many abdominal exercises.
To make this even harder on the triceps, opt for a closer grip.
Push ups are a staple move that you’ll come back to again and again (if you’re like me).
Having several push-ups in your toolbox will always come in handy, if you’re training at home or needing to build a stronger, more functional body at home.
I’d recommend sticking with one type of push-up for a certain set and rep scheme and then progressing to the next, more difficult variation
Now it’s over to you.
Keep pushing (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
The Lab’s Quick Summary
1. Chin-ups and pull-ups are one of the best mass builders for the back and overall upper body strength.
2. Most beginners struggle with neuromuscular problems in the early stages (meaning they lack the strength, muscle mind connection and overall coordination), meaning they struggle to do enough chin-ups to progress with strength and the muscle gains they want.
3. The negative chin-up combats this and allows you to still target the muscle and gain strength (leading to progression week-to-week). After doing this, it's easier to then do the harder and fuller movements.
4. After you've performed the negative pull-ups and can comfortably perform 8 of them, we recommend moving on to the chin-up and pull variations shown later in this article.
Look at a muscular physique and you have no doubt that they'd be able to perform chin-ups without effort ...
Yet, why do very few actually do them correctly?
The truth is:
They're known to humble the strongest of guys, and if you're a skinny guy that's tried doing them before, then you most likely know how difficult they can be to perform (correctly) especially when starting out.
So why can they be so difficult?
Although most think the chin-up just needs back (and arm) strength to be done well, there are many areas of the body that work in order to get your chin-up to the bar.
That's why I recommend starting with the negative chin-up ...
Although some strength coaches like to categorise the chin-up and pull-up as being varied, the negative pull-up and chin-up are actually extremely similar.
The main difference between the two is whether your hands are facing towards or away from you:
Pull-ups are performed with both hands facing away from you in an overhand (pronated grip) with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Chin-ups are performed with both hands facing towards you (supinated grip) with your arms shoulder width or just inside of shoulder width apart from each other.
All movements typically have 3 areas of contractions – concentric, meaning the lifting portion of a movement, isometric, which is the holding part, and eccentric, which is the way down (the reverse of the concentric).
A typical chin/pull-up normally has all 3 of these ...
We've got the concentric part where you bring your body up to the bar, the isometric part where you hold your body at the top position and then the eccentric where you lower your body into a hanging position, and start the movement over again ...
The negative chin-up is similar to a typical chin-up in many ways, but with a major difference:
1. It's easier to perform, as it eliminates the concentric part of a movement (the bringing yourself up to the bar).
2. It focuses on the downward (eccentric) portion of the chin-up, which when done correctly, has a tonne of benefits...
"Strength gains after eccentric training appeared more specific in terms of velocity and mode of contraction. Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle mass measured as muscle girth."- Roig M, study
The lat pulldown is a fantastic back building exercise.
And if you can't do negative chin-ups at all, then it's a great replacement ...
"For lat-pull down exercise, BB and LD were greater than PM, TB, and ES during the concentric phase, whereas LD was greater than PM, TB, and BB during the eccentric phase (p < 0.05). Subsequently, chin-ups appears to be a more functional exercise."- Doma K, study
It's one of the primary movements used in my flagship program course for skinny dudes because it works so well and in the early stages, when your strength might be low, it can help bump it up.
Essentially, by doing the chin-up/pull-up, you'll be way better off when it comes to strength transferring into real life, and, of course, that's the same for the negative version too.
Let's take a look at how it's performed...
01: Stand on a bench/box so your body is in the top position of a pull-up.
02: To provide stability, before each rep, take a deep breath in through your stomach, brace your core, gently tuck your ribs towards the hips so your body is in a slight hollow body position, and squeeze your glutes and cross your legs.
03: Extend your hands above your head, and grab on to the bar, setting your hands so they are approximately shoulder width apart, and your palms are facing you (for a chin-up) or away from you (for a pull-up).
04: Jump and pull your body up to the top position, and perform the eccentric, lowering part by slowly lowering yourself down in a controlled manner by using the muscles in your mid and upper back, and scapula stabilisers.
05. Repeat the movement, either jumping or using the box to get up and then continuing in the same fashion.
Some extra notes you might wanna be aware of:
Keep your back and shoulder blades engaged throughout the entire movement.
Maintain proper alignment the entire time. Your spine should remain in neutral alignment, your ribs should remain down and your pelvis and torso should not rotate.
You can either bend your knees, or keep your legs straight, but it is important that you squeeze your glutes and muscles in your legs as a rigid body will be easier to control.
Now although this movement seems pretty simple, it helps massively with strength and muscle growth in several areas ...
The pull-up's main target muscle is the lats (latissimus dorsi) followed by the biceps as the secondary muscle – this helps with giving you a much wider appearance (with some guns too).
The biggest difference between the chin-up and pull-up is the activation upon the bicep.
"Biceps brachii had significantly higher EMG activation during the chin-up than during the pull-up."Youdas JW, Study
However, both do an amazing job at placing a lot of weight and stress on the biceps.
This exercise also strengthens the shoulders, the anterior core and the forearms (through using your grip to hold on to the bar).
Damn good question, my friend.
As you're here, I think it's safe to say you're a skinny dude, which typically means you're going to struggle more than most when it comes to strength in the early stages (you'll soon be a back machine).
Through training guys inside The Skinny To Superhero Formula, we've noticed that most are able to hit 8 negative reps within the first 5 weeks and then progress into doing 5 chin-ups.
Once you've mastered the negative pull-ups and you're repping out a solid amount of regular pull-ups, you'll want to progress on to these variations ...
After doing negative chin-ups, you'll want to move on to a series of different pull-up bar exercises ...
Right now, I'm going to walk you through the pull-up (and chin-up) progressions that I recommend the most (that are within reach within 12 months of training).
The chin-up uses an underhand grip. Because of this, it allows your biceps to activate fully, which in turn allows you to lift heavier.
It also allows you to use a larger range of motion, activating even more muscle fibres (including the ones in your upper pecs). These two factors make the chin-up perhaps the best muscle-building exercise for your entire upper body.
This is great for people with shoulder injuries, or if there's a large gap between your performance in chin-ups and pull-ups (think of it as the middle sibling).
If you're great at chin-ups, but are struggling to do pull-ups, then it might be because your biceps are strong, giving your back muscles a lot of help on chin-ups.
What does this mean?
Well, with the neutral grip, you have help from your elbow flexors, which helps other muscles catch up, to help with progressing to the normal pull-up.
This is similar to the chin-up, with your palms facing away from you. It also limits the amount of muscles you can use to pull yourself up and allows
you to hit the lower traps a bit harder.
You'll typically see more bodybuilders using this to bring up a specific weak area of the back, and for skinny dudes, it's recommended secondarily to chin-ups.
This is the same as the pull-up, the main difference is the placement of your hands. You'll want to take a wider than shoulder width apart grip.
This movement limits the amounts of muscles lifting you. In fact, most people will see a large decrease in the amount they can perform these vs. regular chin-up/pull-ups.
A chin-up, neutral grip and pull-up are all made difficult by adding weight (using a weight belt – if you don't have one, hang a dumbbell between your feet, although it's no way near as nice).
At this stage, you should be able to pick which you prefer, and go for personal preference. Your strength differences between the chin-up, neutral chin-up and pull-up shouldn't be vastly different from one another.
So there you have it –that's all about the negative pull-up, and what you can do after you've mastered them to build a stronger and more muscular back.
Wondering where this would go in a programme?
I'm excited to see how you use the negative chin-up in your own workout programs.
The chin-up is one of the best moves you can do.
This will getting you doing them properly in no time.