Are dips for chest or triceps?

June 18, 2016

Q: I had a debate with my training partner the other day about whether dips are a chest or tricep exercise. I have often read articles and have seen pictures of Arnold doing dips as part of his chest routine. Can you give your opinion on this matter? Are dips really for the chest or triceps?

A: The answer is dips can be an excellent way to isolate the chest or the triceps; it just depends on form and how you perform the exercise. With a few changes in angles and arm position, you can alternate the focus between those body parts depending on your goals.  

What are dips?

Dips are compound movements where you bend your arms 90 degrees and then extend them back until lockout, lifting your weight with your upper body. There are many different types of dips to suit your strength levels, but the most difficult and challenging is done on two parallel bars or dip handles with your entire body weight as the resistance for each repetition. At this point, you can use this exercise to isolate your chest or triceps depending on how you set it up. Don’t limit yourself; give both types a try and you will be more than happy with the results.

Dips for triceps

To isolate the triceps with dips, suspend your body on two parallel bars with your arms locked out and your feet crossed behind your back. Turn your elbows in tight to your body, lean slightly forward to allow your legs to move away from the rest of your body and bend your arms until the top of your elbows and your forearms are at a 90-degree angle. Then flex the triceps and extend your arms back until they are locked out straight and the backs of your arms are feeling tight and fully contracted. Be sure to keep your elbows in during the entire range of motion. Repeat the exercise for the desired reps or until you get an intense burn in your triceps.

Dips for chest

Dips are also a great way to isolate the chest and build muscle quality and definition. To make the transition from the triceps, you must make a couple of important changes. Start in the same position with your arms extended supporting your weight on the dip bars, but instead of keeping your arms in tight, turn your elbows away from your body until they point at or toward the opposite walls. Also keep your feet folded behind your back, but allow the knees to point straight down instead of away from the body. Begin descending, lowering your body weight with your elbows out, stretching the chest until your upper arms and forearms reach 90 degrees. Then flex the chest and lift the body back to the starting position, but do not lock the elbows and arms out. With a little practice, you will feel an intense stretch in the chest as you lower your body and an intense contraction as you lift your body back to the top of the movement.

Both chest and tricep dips are excellent ways to get results, but it seems most people today forget that dips can be an excellent addition to your chest day. It’s a nice way to freshen up your routine with an old-school exercise that the early bodybuilders used as a regular part of their workouts.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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