What Muscles do Dips Work? Parallel vs Bench Dips

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What muscles do dips work? In case you didn’t know it yet, dips, particularly the regular technique using parallel bars, is probably the ultimate compound exercise for your upper body. It is the definitive counterpart of squats, which is the paragon of lower body workout. 

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If your idea of dips comes with a bag of chips, then let me introduce to you its namesake in the fitness circle. It does the exact opposite of what the quintessential TV snack does to your body.  Dips, the exercise, simultaneously works major muscles in your chest, arms, shoulders, and back. To be more specific, or perhaps, to make me sound a bit smarter, let me enumerate said muscles as popularly called in the gym (with quotation mark) and as we all learned from biology class:

In the chest: “Pecs” or  Pectoralis (both Major & Minor)

In the arms: Triceps Brachii 

In the shoulders: “Delts” or Deltoid (Anterior)

In the upper back: “Traps” or Trapezius, “Lats” or Latissimus Dorsi, and Rhomboids 


Kinds of Dips

The 2 most common variants of dips are salsa and guacamole, oops sorry, I mean Parallel Bar Dips and Bench Dips. As the names suggest, the former is done using two parallel bars that are supported by a sturdy stand or stands, while the latter is performed with the aid of a bench or benches.  Here we’ll see how these vary from which muscles these dips target. 

Dips is basically a “bodyweight” exercise. Meaning the force of resistance needed to work out targeted muscles comes from a part or entire heaviness of your own body. However, when you reach the point that heavier resistance is required to sustain your bodybuilding progress, weight plates may be used. They may be attached to your body with the use of a “dips belt” when you are working out with parallel bars, or placed on your lap when training with two benches. 

The Basics of Parallel Bar Dips

It doesn’t matter whether you are using state-of-the-art gym equipment or a portable dips stand, the mechanics are practically the same. 

what muscles do dips work

How to perform this exercise:

  • Grab the two parallel bars with a hand on each one, and push your entire body up and off the floor with your stretched arms. Depending on how high the bars are, you can either keep your legs straight or bent at the knee. 
  •  Lower your body as low as you can by bending your arms at the elbow without any part of your legs touching the floor in the process. Lift your body up again by re-stretching your arms and pushing down on the bars. 
  • Repeat the whole sequence until you reach 10 – 12 counts to make one complete set. Do at least 3 sets in one workout session. 


  • Parallel bar dips enable you to utilize your entire body weight, thus providing higher resistance and a better workout.
  • This method gives you the flexibility to zero-in on either your chest or triceps muscles just by positioning your body accordingly. See the latter section “Difference Between Chest Dips and Tricep Dips” for more information.

The Basics of Bench Dips

This exercise is usually performed using just one bench or wide sturdy chair. However, if you want to increase the resistance and difficulty level, you can use another bench or chair to raise your legs as shown in the photo below.

what muscles do dips work

How to perform this exercise:

  • Start by sitting on the bench and grabbing the edge near your pelvis with both hands. Straighten your legs and move your body forward and off the bench until your entire torso is just supported by your arms and the heels of your feet that are resting on the floor or on top of another bench or chair.
  • Lower your body as far as you can go by bending your arms. Hold for 2 seconds then push your body back up by re-straightening your arms. Repeat the whole sequence 15 times to make one complete set. Do at least 2 to 3 sets per workout.


  • This exercise gives your triceps as well as your legs and the rest of the muscles mentioned above a good workout.
  • You can do bench dips almost anywhere there is a bench, a wide sturdy chair, a low flight of stairs, or any platform or railing that is almost the same height as a regular bench. You can do this workout in the gym, park, airport or any transport station, your own home or office, and many other places. 

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Difference Between Chest Dips and Triceps Dips

If you are still wondering what muscles dips work primarily, there are two that get top billing: the chest and the triceps. 

How you position your body vertically when doing parallel bar dips can either place emphasis on working out your pecs or your triceps. To focus more on your chest muscles, you have to lean your torso slightly forward while doing the set. To target your triceps, on the other hand, you have to keep your body vertically straight throughout the whole sequence. 

The beauty of dips is that whichever of the two said muscles you focus on, the other one still gets a good workout as an ancillary muscle. What’s more, all the other aforementioned muscles on your shoulders and upper back are also simultaneously activated as synergists and stabilizers.

Final Words

There are other variations of dips such as Ring Dips and Straight Bar Dips that we were not able to discuss here. The main point is that whatever technique or version of dips you practice, you can still build and strengthen your triceps, chest, shoulders, and upper back. I strongly suggest that you incorporate dips in a well-rounded training program that gives equal attention to every part of your physique. Thanks for reading!

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