March 06, 2022
The dip is often called the squat of the upper body. Depending on the variation (chest dip or tricep dip, which just involves altering your body positioning a bit), you can emphasize your pecs or triceps more - and with both, your front delts are also working. Compared to the push-up, you’re suspended for dips, and so the weight of your whole body is in play. In other words, there's more resistance so it hits the muscles harder. It's really one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do, and as with the pull up, it's a standard exercise for both weight training and calisthenic programs.
That said, the dip isn’t a good fit for every lifter. The dip puts the anterior shoulder in a comprising position because it is externally rotated and abducted from the torso. This can make the shoulder vulnerable to injury and pain. If you have a painful shoulder or a previous shoulder injury, you'll need to find some good alternatives to dips to work around it.
The dip alternatives in this post are not just for people who find dips hard on their shoulder, but also for those who simply don't have access to a parallel bar or dip machine AND for those who simply want to change things up in their routine.
Here we’ll go into what makes a good dip alternative, the benefits of training the chest and triceps as a unit, and 9 dip alternatives to build your chest, triceps, and anterior delts.
First, the dip alternative exercise needs to train similar muscles as a dip. And those are the triceps, chest, and shoulders. For the alternative option, two out of these three is good, three out of three is even better.
Second, the alternative exercise needs not bother the shoulder too much while still training it. Variations that involve close grip work well here.
When you’re performing dips, subtle changes in the way you angle your torso will change the focus of the exercise. A forward lean targets the chest and shoulders, and an upright posture will target your triceps more. So, effective alternatives consider the different types of dips (tricep-centric dip or chest-centric dip - we will provide alternatives for both).
When you cannot perform the dip exercise for whatever reason, it pays to program an alternative exercise that improves pressing ability and provides direct carryover to other powerlifting and weightlifting exercises.
Let’s face it, no one lifts to get smaller, and training the chest and triceps for size and strength is a worthwhile goal. But there are other important benefits of training these vanity muscles, such as:
Below are 9 of the best alternatives to dips. Like dips, these are very effective, strength and muscle building exercises. The best part is they should be good for mostly everyone as they can easily be progressed by adding greater load.
The close grip bench press has you lift with your hands shoulder-width apart. This hand position shifts the load more to your triceps and a bit less to your chest. This will affect the amount of weight you lift, but it will still be effective due to the shift in the muscle emphasis. On top of that, this grip position should cause less stress on your shoulder joint.
Overall, this is a great exercise to pack on muscle to the back of your arm and hit your inner chest and anterior delt. This will directly carry over to the lockout strength of your regular bench press too.
How to Do the Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press:
This can be trained for strength but it’s better to train this exercise as an accessory movement to your strength exercises. Training anywhere from 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps works well.
This is a popular bench press variation when there are no benches available and for lifters wanting to improve their lockout strength. When you’re pressing a barbell from the floor, you’re limiting your range of motion which takes pressure off the shoulder joint. You’ll be limiting shoulder external rotation where shoulder pain can happen.
How to Do the Floor Press:
The floor press can be trained for absolute strength, but it’s better done as an accessory exercise much like the dip to build pressing and lockout strength. 3-5 sets of between 8-15 reps is advisable.
Related: Best Chest Exercises Without A Bench
When JM Blakey was training at Westside Barbell and was crushing all the bench press records, his training buddies noticed he was doing this unusual accessory lift. It was a combination of a close grip bench press and a skull crusher. This was the birth of the JM Press. Because the chest is also trained, you’ll use more weight than a skull crusher. And with the close grip, it’s a real triceps builder. Here's how it's done...
How to Do the JM Press:
Like the close grip bench press, the JM Press is better trained as an accessory exercise for hypertrophy and for strengthening lockout. Performing 2-4 sets of between 6-12 reps works well. But this exercise is tough on the elbow so do this in four to six weeks and then move on to something else.
Related: Best Barbell Triceps Exercises
Not everybody can train the triceps, chest, and shoulders pain-free. This is when the unilateral landmine press is your best friend. The combination of unilateral, pressing and gripping the fat end of the barbell increases scapular stability and control. Because of the neutral grip and elbow being close to the body, you’ll train the chest, triceps, and shoulders while keeping the shoulder happy.
How to Do the Unilateral Landmine Press:
This is a great replacement exercise for dips and overhead presses which is better trained for muscle rather than strength. Perform after your big strength movement for the day for 2-4 sets for 6-12 reps.
Related: Best Landmine Exercises
Similar to the close-grip bench press, the diamond push-up's close hand placement creates more tension on the triceps (and actually the lateral head of your delts too). EMG studies show it actually has similar activation for the chest as a regular push up as well. Having a narrower base of support means increasing core stability while training the chest, shoulders, and triceps. You will not be able to do as many reps as your regular push-ups, but your triceps will thank you.
How to Do the Diamond Push Up:
This can either be regressed by doing it in an incline or progressed by performing it on a decline. Perform after your big strength movement for the day for anywhere between 2-3 sets of 10-25 reps.
The decline bench press is often neglected in favor of the flat or incline version which is a shame. The decline variation emphasizes the lower chest because the angle changes the pressing path. Plus, it trains the anterior deltoid and triceps from a different angle. The decline bench press has less shoulder stress than the flat and decline version, making it a great dip alternative.
How to Do the Barbell Decline Bench Press:
This is a great movement to train for strength and muscle building. For strength do 3-5 sets and between 3-6 reps and for hypertrophy, 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps work well.
The dumbbell bench press doesn’t allow you to go as heavy but what they do is allow you to change your grip to focus on your triceps more. Gripping the dumbbells in a neutral grip a little wider than shoulder-width is easier on the wrist, elbow, and shoulder while hammering the chest and triceps. If you have a weaker side, then the dumbbell's unilateral nature allows one side to catch up to the other.
How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press:
The dumbbell bench press is better suited to hypertrophy than absolute strength. Program as an accessory exercise after your big strength movement for the day for 3-4 sets of 6-15 reps.
Related: Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises
Ironically, the wimpiest-looking move on this list will have you feeling the burn in a good way. To avoid dropping two plates on your feet, you squeeze the weights together as hard as you can. This creates an intense contraction in your chest. Then, you’ll press your arms out and squeeze the chest together even more. Great for the chest and shoulders but the triceps get left a little bit with this variation. This is low impact compared to the other exercise on this list, but the intensity remains high.
You can also do the Svend press with a dumbbell as seen below...
How to Do the Svend Press:
This is not a move for strength but for hypertrophy. Keeping the intensity high making sure you keep the plates together do for higher reps (12-20) for 2-3 sets at the end of your training works well.
Resistance bands are a great tool to build the chest, triceps, and shoulders when dips are not an option. One great alternative is the Chaos push-up. This is performed by looping a heavy band around a squat rack and doing a push up with your hands on the band. The unstable resistance band fires up all your pressing muscles and the increased time under tension does wonder for building your chest and triceps. Plus, this instability is great for additional rotator cuff recruitment.
How to Do the Chaos Push Up:
See pic below...
This is a great move to do for higher reps as it is still a bodyweight exercise. Perform for 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.
You, of course, don't need to add all of these exercises to your program at once. Implement a few over the course of your training plan and continue to try the others over time to see which you feel hits the muscles the best. Also, it should be noted that some of these are synergistic with each other, meaning that it wouldn't be redundant to hit both each week. For example, you could have close grip bench and decline bench in the same plan as they work the muscles differently (close grip = more triceps / decline bench = lower chest) - this would be like having both chest dips and triceps dips being done at some point throughout the week.
Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions and we will answer as soon as we can.
Related: The Ultimate Chest & Triceps Workout
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