Dips are a versatile exercise that tone and strengthen your triceps. If you’re at the gym, claim a weight bench; if you’re at home, a stable chair or bench.
Triceps muscles are notorious for losing their tone, especially in women. Dips can bring that tone back, and they can be endlessly modified to accommodate virtually any fitness level.
Our bodies were designed to do things that, for the most part, we just don’t do much anymore. Humans evolved physically in ways that enable a wide range of movements, but, as we all know, most of us just don’t move as much as we should. Often this means that whole muscle groups go long periods with little, if any, activity. This in turn results in muscle laxity — commonly known as flab. The triceps frequently fall victim to this fate.
What are triceps?
The triceps brachii is a “three headed” muscle on the back of your arm. It’s what makes it possible to straighten your elbow and push your rolling chair away from your desk. Your triceps act in opposition to your biceps. Unfortunately, if you’re the average person, there isn’t much in your daily routine that causes you to tax that muscle.
Fortunately, dips are a simple, effective exercise that can be done virtually anywhere and with no equipment.
How to do a dip
If you’re at the gym, claim a weight bench for this exercise. If you’re at home, a stable chair or bench, even the edge of a firm couch will work. Sit on the edge of the chair or bench and place your hands shoulder width apart, fingers forward. Extend your legs in front of you with your feet flat on the floor.
Engage your triceps by straightening your arms (but don’t lock your elbows) while lifting your torso and sliding your butt forward off the seat. Adjust your legs so they are comfortable and support you as necessary.
If you’re new to this exercise and need more support, keep your legs bent at 90 degrees so your feet can help support your weight. If you don’t need that much support, straighten your legs more so your arms and shoulders are supporting more of your weight.
Avoid letting your shoulders hunch up around your ears.
Bend your elbows, allowing your seat to drop toward the floor. Engage your core and keep your back straight and close to the seat. At the bottom of the movement, your arms should be at about 90 degrees. Return to the starting position by pushing back up with your triceps. Do 10 to 15 reps, and shoot for two to three sets. If these aren’t challenging enough, you can raise your feet onto an adjacent bench or chair, or hold a weight in your lap while doing your reps. This is how to do bench dips.
Floor dips. If bench dips are too difficult, or you don’t have a suitable piece of furniture handy, you can do dips on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you. Lean back and with your arms bent slightly place your hands two or three inches behind you, shoulder width apart, fingers forward.
Bend your knees to about 90 degrees. Engage your triceps by straightening your arms and pushing into your heels to lift your butt off the ground. Keeping your lower body still, bend and straighten your elbows, lowering your seat to the floor and pushing back up again. Adjust the angle of your legs to make the movement easier or more challenging.
This version doesn’t provide a full range of motion, but it’s a good alternative. You can also use a couple of dumbbells, a small stool or box, or anything that allows you to increase the distance between you and the floor.
Bar dips. Traditionally, dips were done on parallel bars or rings. You may have dip bars at your gym, and there are a variety of machines that simulate the motion and can even assist if you aren’t able to support your own weight. Alternatively, you may find parallel bars at your local playground.
Triceps are still the focus of bar dips, but the mechanics are slightly different. Grasp a bar in each hand. Fully extend your arms without locking your elbows. Keep your shoulders down and tighten your core. Cross your ankles and bend your knees to keep your feet from hitting the floor. Slowly bend your elbows to about 90 degrees. Your chest will naturally come forward, but don’t allow yourself to collapse. Push yourself back up to the starting position by strongly contracting your triceps and lifting your chest. Think of the motion of your torso as making a slight bow and then standing back up.
A word of caution
Dips from bars with your feet unsupported are significantly more challenging than bench dips and introduce more opportunity for injury. Before you try this type of dip, make sure you can do several pushups and have good strength and range of motion in your chest and shoulders.
You can do assisted bar dips using a spotter to hold your feet or by placing your feet on boxes or crates for support. Initially it’s a good idea to make sure you can support yourself on the bar without shaking. If you’re unable to, practice just holding that position until you can do it comfortably before moving on to a full dip.
By incorporating exercises that work this little used muscle into your exercise routine, you’ll be well on your way to strong, toned arms.
May 10, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN