If you’ve never been able to do one, an unassisted dip might seem like it will take forever to do one – if you even get there. Well I’m going to make that far off goal a little more approachable through the magic of progression.
Not to be confused with the awesome song by Freak Nasty, the dip is a great indicator of upper body strength. Targeting the shoulders, chest and triceps I would consider it one of the big lifts, along with squats, deadlifts, pullups and shoulder press. Argue if you want, but it takes a strong mofo to dip with more than bodyweight.
The dip is useful to improve any pushing movement like the shoulder press and bench press by increasing shoulder stability and triceps strength. It’s also a good alternative for the decline bench to target the outside and lower portions of the chesticles.
But I understand the trepidation. Hanging yourself over two parallel bars with nothing supporting you is a little nerve racking – especially if you have never done it.
Rather than throwing you in the deep end to learn how to swim, let’s tackle the shallow end first. Doing an unassisted dip is easy once you build a foundation of strength which in turn will give you the confidence to strap 125lbs of additional weight to your dip.
In this in-depth guide I’m going to show you how to progress from 0 lifetime dips to building strength with seemingly stupid and sometimes non-related exercises. I guarantee if you follow this to the T, you’ll be teabagging that assist pad in no time.
BACKGROUND MUSIC: CLOSE GRIP BENCH PRESS
This is the non-related exercise I was talking about. The close grip bench press is more or less the same movement as the dip just in a different playing field. Sort of like the difference between ice hockey and street hockey.
I call the close grip bench press background music because it can help if you combine it with the dip progression but it’s not necessary. If you want to speed up results, do these in the background once a week.
1 time per week add in 3 sets of 4-8 reps on your chest or arm day. Once you can hit 8 reps on all three sets, add 10lbs and repeat.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Start with the bar with no added weight unless you’ve done these before. These are a lot different than the regular bench press
- Grip the bar with a shoulder width grip on a flat bench press…bench
- Keep your elbows tucked in close to your sides as you raise and lower the weight. This will emphasize the triceps
- Lower the weight to mid-chest (slightly higher than your nipples)
- Don’t flare out your elbows. This puts more emphasis on the chest instead of the triceps where we want it. If you find your elbows flaring out, lighten the weight
For all levels of dips from here on out perform 3 sets of 4-8 reps 1-2 times per week with at least 1-2 days in between. A Monday – Wednesday would be fine. Add them into an arm day or a day you are working chest. Once you can get all 8 reps on all three sets move to the next level.
LEVEL 1: KNEES BENT BENCH DIP
If you’ve never done a dip, then this is where you should start. Likewise, if you have the upper body strength of an 8-year-old girl or are an 8-year-old girl.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Position your hands about 1 inch wider than shoulder width on the edge of the bench
- With all dip variations, keep the forearm vertical throughout the whole movement
- Have a slight forward lean in your torso and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Any lower puts the shoulders at risk of injury if you have limited shoulder mobility
- Pause for 1 sec at the bottom
- Keep your weight on your hands and use your feet as support
- Keep your elbows in tight and don’t allow them to flare out to the sides
LEVEL 2: LEGS STRAIGHT BENCH DIP
HOW TO DO IT:
- Keep your hands in the same position as in Level 1 but this time put your legs straight out and pivot on your heels
- Nothing else changes from Level 1
LEVEL 3: LEGS ELEVATED BENCH DIP
HOW TO DO IT:
- Keep the same position as Level 2 but put your feet on a bench about equal in height to the bench your hands are on
- Nothing else changes from Level 2
LEVEL 4: ASSISTED DIPS
We’ve now hit the big time…almost. There are a few ways to skin the assisted dip cat and one way to not do it. The assisted dip machine is the od man out. Here is why:
The assisted dip machine, at least the ones that I’ve seen, take the core completed out of the movement so you can’t practice the movement correctly. You can rest your body on the pad so when you go to do a real dip you’re swinging on the parallel bars like a monkey. Swinging is bad.
There are 2 better ways to get the practice in that will increase your progression quicker. Banded dips and placing your feet on a bench behind you. Both will require you to brace your core and prevent you from swinging once you go unassisted.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Grip the parallel bars so your palms are facing each other. Seems obvious but I don’t want to leave anything to chance
- Your thumb should be on the opposite side from the rest of your fingers. This is a safety measure in case of sweaty palms
- In the case the bars you are using aren’t parallel, position your hands slightly (no more than an inch) wider than shoulder width
- Keep your forearm completely vertical
- Keep your torso almost completely vertical (slight bend forward ~15-30 degrees)
- Cross your lower legs and place them in the band or on the bench behind you. Make sure to keep your thighs in a vertical position
- Squeeze your cheeks and lower back to keep your legs behind you
- Slowly lower your body down until your upper arms are parallel to the bar
- Now engaging your triceps and chest, push back up
- Rinse, lather and repeat
LEVEL 5: GO RAW DOG
This is it. The moment you’ve been waiting for and never thought would happen. The infamous unassisted dip.
By this time, you’ve built up enough strength to support your weight through the close grip bench press and the different dip levels you’ve conquered. It’s time to man (or woman) up and go raw dog.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Approach the bars exactly how you did in Level 4
- Instead of putting your feet on a bench behind you or in a band, you can either bend them or leave them dangling like two salamis. Either way doesn’t matter
- Slowly lower yourself and give those bars hell
Let me be the first to congratulate you on your first unassisted dip. You are among a select few who can perform a perfect bodyweight dip.
SO WHAT NEXT?
So now that you’ve mastered the bodyweight dip, here is how to make it 17% more awesome 53% of the time.
After you’ve mastered the skill of the perfect dip, we need to up the ante a little with some added weight. There are a couple ways to do this with only one being correct.
PUTTING A DUMBBELL BETWEEN YOUR LEGS
You could shove a dumbbell between your feet by position the dumbbell vertical and gripping the handle with your feet like some kind of orangutan.
Another, and disgusting, way is to grip the dumbbell with your thighs. Ever so gently rubbing against your genitals.
I’ll let you decide if this is how you want to live your life.
GETTING A WEIGHT BELT
For $30 on Amazon (Affiliate Link) you can invest in a weight belt.
- Put the chain through the center of the weight and clip it to the other side of the belt.
- Step into the belt and shimmy the belt to just above your butt. This will prevent it from sliding off.
- Step up to the bars and grind out some weighted dips.
HOW TO HIT THE CHEST
I mentioned earlier that the dip works the shoulders, triceps and chest. But the way I’ve instructed you hits the chest in a very limited fashion. Sorry. The work is mostly being done by the other two.
In order to hit the chest with a vengeance, you need to alter your position slightly. And by slightly I mean almost completely. Switching up the position like I’m going to show you will develop your breasts into a chest.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Grip the bars with a wider grip than you were using for the dips above. Go 2 inches wider than your shoulders
- Slightly bend your torso forward about 45 degrees
- Bring your legs forward and brace your abs. You should form a lazy L
- Slowly lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the floor and push up
- Get ready to do a pec dance
What exercise have you always wanted to do but don’t know how to get there? Let me know below.
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