Dips are a challenging upper body bodyweight exercise that targets the chest and triceps. However, they’re not for everybody. If you find the exercise too challenging or just don’t have the coordination to do the exercise properly, then this article’s for you. If you don’t have access to a dip bar, you’ll also want to keep reading.
Here are 10 exercises that will target your chest and triceps just as effectively as dips.
- Alternatives to the Triceps Dip
- Can You Isolate the Triceps Heads?
- Alternatives to the Chest Dip
- Dips Benefits and Drawbacks
Alternatives to the Triceps Dip
Because the dip is usually done specifically as a chest or a triceps exercise, depending on the positioning of the upper body, we’ll separate our dip alternatives accordingly. Here are 5 great dip alternatives for the triceps.
1. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension
The lying dumbbell extension is commonly known as the Skullcrusher. Doing the exercise with dumbbells rather than a barbell allows you to bring the weights down lower and isolate each of your triceps muscles.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie face down on a flat bench.
- Hold the dumbbells above your upper chest at arm’s length.
- Bend at the elbows to bring the dumbbells down to the sides of your head. In the bottom position they should be alongside your ears. Keep your upper arms vertical throughout.
- Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Do not allow your elbows to flare out.
2. Triceps Pushdown
The standard triceps pushdown is an excellent movement to target all three heads of the triceps. If you have access to a machine that allows you to perform the exercise while you are facing away from the cable machine, you will put more emphasis on the triceps and less on the posterior deltoids.
- Stand facing a high pulley machine and put either a rope or short bar handle on the cable. Set the handle height at mid chest level.
- Grab the handles with an overhand grip so that your thumbs are about six inches apart.
- Keeping your elbows in at your sides, extend your arms down. Stop a little short of full extension.
- Reverse the movement to return to the start position.
3. Close Grip Push Up
The close grip push up is an effective body weight chest developer that can be done at home with no equipment. This exercise is a lot harder than standard push ups because it effectively takes the primary emphasis off the chest and onto the much smaller triceps. As the exercise becomes easier, start moving your hands closer together. This will place even more stress on the triceps.
- Get down in a push up position, with your feet together and your body forming a straight line from head to toe.
- Place your hands about 12 inches apart.
- From the top starting position, lower your body down toward the floor until your chest is about six inches off the ground.
- Push through the triceps to return to the start position.
Read also: 13 Next Level Push-Up Variations
4. Banded One Arm Tricep Extension
Here is a resistance band exercise that you can do at home for your triceps. All you need is a simple resistance loop band and you will be able to work each arm individually.
- Stand with a resistance band looped under your left rear foot. Hold the other end of the band in your left hand, knuckles facing forward.
- Lift the arm to shoulder level. Now extend your arm to full extension.
- Keeping your arm in at the side of your head, bend at the elbow to bring your hand down behind your head.
- Extend your arm back up to the start position, squeezing the triceps tightly in the fully extended position.
5. Overhead Band Triceps Extension
This overhead triceps extension variation allows you to simulate a gym overhead cable movement with nothing but a secure upright and a resistance band.
- Attach a resistance band to a secure upright at waist level.
- Stand about four feet in front of the upright, facing away from it with the band held overhead in both hands.
- Keeping your elbows at the sides of your head, bend at the elbows to lower your hands behind your head.
- Push through the triceps to return to the start position.
Can You Isolate the Triceps Heads?
Before we move on to the best alternatives to the chest dip, let’s address the issue of whether you can do exercise to target each of the triceps heads. Many people think you can. As a result, they do all sorts of tricep exercises variations in order to target either the inner, outer or medial head. But can you really?
The short answer is no. Even though there are three heads to the triceps, they all have the same origin and insertion points, those being the humerus and the elbow. That means when the elbow is extended, all three triceps heads are activated. There is no way to isolate the three triceps heads.
This is different to the deltoid muscles which are directly above the triceps. The deltoids also have three heads. The key difference is that the anterior, posterior and medial deltoid heads all have different origins and insertion points to their muscle fibers. As a result, you need to do different exercises to target each of those muscles. That is not the case with the triceps.
Alternatives to the Chest Dip
6. Decline Dumbbell Press
The dumbbell press is a superior chest exercise because it allows you to follow the directions of the muscle fibers from out wide to in close. Perform the exercise on a 30 degree decline bench and you will fully activate all of the muscle fibers of the chest.
- Set an adjustable bench to a 30 degree decline angle. Position a flat bench horizontally in front of the decline bench.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and place them on the flat bench.
- Position yourself on the decline bench and grab the dumbbells.
- Roll back onto the bench and lift the dumbbells up to arms length with their ends touching.
- Extend your arms down and out to the sides until your upper arms are in line with your torso.
- Push the weights back up to the start position, with the dumbbells touching.
7. Standing Decline Cable Press
The standing decline dumbbell press provides a very similar range of motion to the decline dumbbell press. As well as allowing the arms to move out wide to in close, it also keeps a constant tension on the pectorals throughout the entire movement.
- Set up the pulleys on a dual cable machine at their highest setting.
- Stand about 2 feet in front of the machine, facing away from it, grabbing the handles with an overhand, palms down grip.
- Extend the arms out to the sides of your with the elbows bent at a 45 degree angles.
- Push your arms down and together so that your hands meet at waist level. Squeeze the chest tightly in this position.
- Reverse the motion to return to the start position.
8. Push Ups
The push up remains one of the best bodyweight upper body exercises and the most effective to specifically target the chest. Rather than pumping out sloppy reps where you’re only going halfway down, concentrate on good form where you go all the way up and all the way on each and every rep.
To make your push up workout more challenging, perform a ladder style workout. This is where you start with a designated number of reps, according to your ability. Let’s say you start with 10 reps. You then rest for 30 seconds before doing 11 reps. After another 30 second rest, you knock out 12 reps. Go up to 13 reps and then go back down the ladder until you are back at 10 reps. You’ll end up doing 80 reps in just a few minutes.
- Get down on all fours on an exercise mat. Your points of contact with the floor should be your palms and your knees, with your crossed feet in the air.
- Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Perform a push up by bringing your chest down to the floor. Push through the chest to return to the start position.
9. Band Chest Fly
Here is a resistance band exercise that you can do at home. This exercise simulates the standard dumbbell flye, allowing you to get a full stretch on the pectorals (something you do not get with the chest dip).
- Position a resistance band around a secure upright at waist level.
- Stand about a foot in front of the upright, facing away from it, holding the bands in your hands out to your sides.
- Bring your hands together in front of your chest, keeping your arms slightly bent but locked in position, so the only movement is through the shoulder joint.
- Extend your arms back out to return to the start position.
10. Isolated Band Chest Press
Here is another resistance band exercise that very effectively targets the chest. This is one of those rare exercises that allows you to target each side of the chest individually. This provides the benefit of iso tension and unilateral training.
- Attach a resistance band to a secure upright at waist level.
- Hold the band in your right hand at shoulder level about four feet from the upright, facing away from it.
- Extend your arm to full extension, feeling for a squeeze in your pectoral muscles as you do so.
- Lower and repeat. Perform the designated reps on one side before repeating on the other side.
Dips Benefits and Drawbacks
Before we get to the best dip alternatives, let’s take a closer look at what muscles the dip works, why it’s good and why it’s not so good. Then, we’ll be in a much better position to identify the best exercises to replace it.
There are two versions of the dip. When you position your body straight up and down and move through that plane, you will be mainly working the triceps. The movement you will be doing is very similar to what you do on a seated tricep machine, except that, instead of moving your arms, you are moving your body.
If you do the dip with your upper body leaning forward, you place more emphasis on the chest muscles and less on the triceps. Both versions of the dip will place secondary emphasis on the front deltoids.
The dip exercise will also work your abdominals, so long as you keep your core tight and your stomach pulled in.
There are some potential drawbacks to the dip exercise that may make the alternatives we’re about to detail more appealing to some people.
The dip compromises the shoulder joint. That’s because when you are in the bottom dip position, you have gone well beyond the shoulder joint’s normal and safe range of motion. This places a lot of stress on the shoulder capsule which may cause the ligaments to become lax. This, in turn, makes you more prone to shoulder injury.
Let’s now consider how effective the dip is as a chest exercise. For an exercise to be effective, its movement range should occur parallel to the direction of the muscle fibers. The pectoral muscles run from the sternum out. That means that an effective chest exercise has to come from the outside of the body and in toward the center. But the dip doesn’t do that. It moves the arm up and down in a fixed straight line.
The up and down movement of the dip does extend and contract the pectoral fibers. But the inability to adduct the arms means that the last 30 percent of the range of motion is missing. The dip is still a good chest movement but an exercise that allows you to bring your hands together in the extended position could be better for maximum activation of the chest fibers.
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The most effective alternatives to the tricep version of the dip are:
- Lying dumbbell tricep extension
- Tricep Pushdown
- Close Grip Push Up
- Tricep Isolated with Band
- Overhead Band Triceps Extension
Here are the best exercise to do instead of the chest dip:
- Decline dumbbell press
- Standing decline cable press
- Push Ups
- Band chest flye
- Isolated band chest press
If you’re not keen on doing dips for any reason or simply don’t have access to a dip bar, you can get a great chest and triceps workout using our dip alternatives. If you’re in the gym, make use of dumbbells and the cable machine and then finish off with a set or two of push ups. At home, use a set of bands to simulate cable gym movements and then do a burn out set of pushups to failure. Your chest and triceps will be pumped and ready to grow!