Dipping For a Stronger Chest
The dip is an exercise that is traditionally associated with developing the triceps, however with the right modifications can be an effective exercise for the chest. It offers a great compliment to a pushup routine, and can target the pectorals in a unique way. The standard parallel bar dip(demonstrated below) only stimulates the pectorals to a small degree, however does serve as a starting point for training the chest with dip variations. Incorporating these exercises requires proficiency at the standard parallel bar dip so beginners are encouraged to focus on early pushup and dip exercises to develop greater strength before exploring the key factors to chest-centric variations, torso and hand positioning.
In the standard parallel bar dip, the hands are at one’s side, palm facing inward with the torso between the arms. This is a neutral position with the triceps, shoulders, chest, and lats engaged. It is common for the torso to have a slight lean forward to allow for the above muscle groups to compensate for insufficient tricep strength. By leaning farther forward, the centre of gravity shifts and greater emphasis is placed on the chest. Continuing to do so will increase difficulty for the above reason, but also because the core is forced to stabilize the body to a greater degree. At the extreme, the practitioner would be in a planche-like position above the dip bars(as demonstrated below). Fortunately, practitioners can explore different hand placement to increase difficulty without feeling limited by core strength.
Relative to the neutral position established above, wider placement of the hands when dipping will also put more emphasis on the chest. This is due to the elbows no longer being horizontally aligned with the shoulders so the chest is forced to compensate. It is important to note that the hands should not come closer than slightly beyond shoulder width or focus shifts back to the triceps. Progress can be made by inching the hands further out as strength is increased. For those unable to adjust the width of their parallel bars, it can be valuable to switch the grip to a palm-out variation which will force the elbows outward simulating a wider grip. This can feel unnatural for those new to the exercise so it may be valuable to build greater strength and flexibility in the wrists to prevent injury.
So far, we’ve discussed dip variations that keep the torso between the hands, but it is worth briefly exploring a movement that modifies both the torso and hand positioning, the horizontal bar dip. This is significant because the lats are least able to assist with the exercise, compared to the above movements, forcing the chest to compensate. With the variations previously discussed, parallel bars are used, however, the horizontal bar dip only requires a single bar, generally no lower than waist height. The beginning stages of the movement(pictured below) involve bringing the trunk above the bar with the arms extended. The arms are then bent at the elbow bringing the sternum to the bar, and then pressed back up to the starting position. For those new to the movement, the horizontal bar dip is a significant progression and can present challenges; necessary core strength, and balance chief among them. With persistence however, it will provide the foundation for advanced exercises such as the muscle-up that train the chest at an elite level.
The dip is a very versatile exercise that can offer a refreshing and effective way to train the chest. By applying the above principles of forward lean, wider grip, and the horizontal bar, to the dip, practitioners can train the chest in a unique way and reach new levels of strength.