How Deep Should I Go on Dips? (Revealed!)

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When I talk of dips and how deep you should be going, I am specifically referring to parallel bar dips.

Therefore, the type of dips that are focused on working the main upper-body pushing muscles, i.e. chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Let’s face facts, you don’t want to be the person that everyone stares at in the gym, as you become known as the “half-dipper”.

Then again, you don’t want to dip too far, as you’ve heard that it can cause shoulder issues.

So, is there a perfect dip depth?

In this article, I’ll explain how deep you should go on dips, plus I’ll also reveal how to focus your dips more on your chest or your triceps.

You should dip until your upper and lower arms are approximately 90 degrees to each other. Some people will state that your dip depth should see your shoulders slightly below your elbows. This is fine as long as you don’t go past the 90 degree angle. If you go further you’ll take the stress of the actual working muscles, i.e. chest, shoulders, and triceps, and then your ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues will take over.

Should You Go All the Way Down on Dips?

Personally, I think most lifters, new or advanced, try to go too deep when performing dips.

There seems to be a school of thought that claims deeper is better.

However, there could be nothing further from the truth.

You should always dip until your upper arms and lower arms form a 90-degree angle.

A Woman Performing Dips on Rings

Now, you’ll often hear that you should dip until your shoulders go slightly past your elbows.

To be honest, this may be fine for some of you, but not for others.

In reality, this will largely depend on your body, biomechanics, as well as flexibility and mobility in the shoulder joint.

Therefore, some people could actually take their shoulder slightly past elbow level and not go past 90 degrees.

However, the main aim for everyone when they dip – do NOT go past 90 degrees.

Now, it may feel absolutely fine and as though you’re working with more intensity when you go past 90 degrees.

But, in truth, once you do dip too deep you’ll take the stress off the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

The strain is then taken up by your ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues.

Okay, I’m all for training these connective elements, but only in a safe and effective way.

Unfortunately, as soon as you go past 90 degrees, you’re putting way too much stress on the body. 

Maintain External Rotation in the Shoulder

A common cue for many exercises is to retract the shoulder blades.

I’m sure you’re aware that there are a vast array of exercises which require you to pull your shoulders back and down prior to performing them.

Just to name a few, bench press, pull ups, bicep curls, etc.

However, this is extremely important when you dip.

Basically, when you retract the shoulder blades you’ll be placing your shoulders in a much more stable position.

Not only will this help to perform certain exercises more effectively, it also ensures that you’re removing a lot of undue stress that can typically be placed on the shoulder joint.

So, prior to performing dips you should pull your shoulder blades back, towards each other, and down.

There’s a few different cues, but I liken it to either trying to hold an imaginary tennis ball between your shoulder blades, or trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pocket.

Plus, you’ll want to maintain this shoulder position throughout each rep and every set of dips.

Now, what typically happens when you dip too far is that your shoulders tend to come out of this position.

In fact, the deeper you go, the more your shoulders will start to internally rotate.

And this places your shoulders in a very precarious position, something that is likely to end in injury if you keep dipping that deep.

So, once more I’ll repeat, don’t go past 90 degrees with dips.

Plus, pay special attention to your shoulders, and ensure that they don’t go through internal rotation.

Perform Dips With a “Hinge”

I know many people are unsure of exactly how to perform dips.

What I mean by this is how they should hold their body, plus what actual muscles they want to work.

You’ll often hear that you should lean forward to work the chest or maintain an upright torso in order to target the triceps better.

However, in truth, I’ve always viewed dips as a fantastic compound exercise.

In other words, dips will always work a variety of muscles at the same time, and they always should.

And if I’m being completely honest I prefer dips over bench press as a main compound lift for the chest.

Therefore, I don’t think you should be changing things up simply to target a specific body part more.

In fact, I’m not a fan of the “straight torso dips for triceps”, and I feel this places a great deal of stress on various muscles that aren’t even involved in dips.

Plus, if your torso is too upright then your shoulders will automatically start to internally rotate.

The exact same can be said if you simply lean forward without paying attention to what your body is actually doing.

If you just slump forward then you’ll round and flex your spine, thus placing your spine in a very dangerous position.

Additionally, and yet again, your shoulders will internally rotate.

The aim here is to actually perform a hip hinge while suspended between the bars, which will ensure that you get that perfect 45-degree torso angle.

You should also really tighten and pull in your abs, which will also help to push your hips back into that perfect hinge position.

So, you’ll end up activating your abs, glutes, and hamstrings, which is ideal.

Even though dips are an upper body pushing exercise, you can perform them far more effectively by allowing your core and lower body to have a supporting role.

Furthermore, by adhering to the hip-hinge position you’ll be able to maintain a retracted shoulder blade position better, which is obviously great for your overall shoulder health.

Key Learning Points

  • The “ideal” dip depth will involve your upper arms and lower arms forming a 90-degree angle.
  • If you dip deeper than 90 degrees you’ll remove the stress from the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while placing it onto the ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues.
  • A great form cue for dips (and many other upper body pushing and pulling exercises) is to ensure that you rotate your shoulder blades back and down.
  • If you dip too deep it’s likely that you shoulders will internally rotate which is extremely damgerous for your overall shoulder health.
  • Don’t perform dips with a straight torso, often used to target the triceps more, however, this can cause the shoulders to internally rotate.
  • You should perform dips while in the “hip-hinge position”. So, your torso will be slightly angled forwards, although you should be bending at the hips and not the waist.
  • Ensure you activate your abs, glutes, and hamstrings when you dip to provide a solid base.

Frequently Asked Questions

What follows are some of the more frequently asked questions about performing dips.

Will Dips Build a Bigger Chest?

Dips are actually a greater chest builder than most people give them credit for.

Firstly, dips will target the outer chest, which isn’t always the case with many pec-related exercises.

And by targeting the outer chest you will make your chest look bigger, wider, and fuller.

That being said, there is evidence which shows that bodyweight dips tend to activate the lower chest most.

However, as soon as you add a load and perform weighted dips you’ll activate the upper pecs more.

In fact, it is said that weighted dips will typically activate the upper chest to a greater extent than the incline bench press.

Therefore, you could say that bodyweight dips and weighted dips will hit the entire pec region, thus meaning that dips are great for both size and strength development of the chest.

Do Dips Give You Big Shoulders?

Performing dips will hit the chest, shoulders, and triceps, although they are primarily viewed as a chest and tricep exercise.

However, when it comes to developing the pressing muscles it’s the shoulders that are least activated during dips.

Realistically, dips will hit the anterior delts, so the front of the shoulders.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much lateral or posterior delt activation.

It is when the lateral delts (side delts) are trained that you can produce a wider set of shoulders.

Therefore, exercises like lateral raises are great for achieving this.

Furthermore, dips won’t hit the posterior (rear) delts, which is what gives your shoulders (and traps) a more fuller looking appearance.

The rear delts are best trained with exercises like upright rows and face pulls.

Finally, to get that big boulder shape to your shoulders you would be better off pressing overhead.

So, exercises like overhead press, military press (yes, there is a difference between the exercises), and Arnie presses will help to develop big, strong and muscular shoulders.

In other words, while dips will activate the shoulders you shouldn’t expect massive shoulder growth from dips alone.

How Many Reps Should You Perform For Dips?

Dips can actually be performed for strength, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance.

Therefore, there is no ideal number of reps to perform per set, but rather which training protocol you wish to focus on.

Then again, this also largely depends on an individual’s ability to perform dips.

Personally, I would say that if you’re currently unable to perform at least 5 strict bodyweight dips then you’d be better off building up strength first with other exercises.

You can of course perform assisted dips, whether using the assisted dip machine or resistance bands.

Furthermore, exercises like push ups and incline dumbbell bench press will help to build up the dip target muscles.

Once you’re able to perform 5 strict bodyweight dips you can start to train for strength.

This can involve performing 5 sets of 5 reps.

Once you’re able to do this all 5 sets with just your body weight you can add weight, even if this is as little as 2.5lbs – progression is progression.

Then continue to build your strength up by either adding an additional 2.5lbs per week or adding an extra rep to each set.

That being said, my preferred way to perform dips is in the higher rep ranges, typically 12-20 reps.

However, I have been performing dips for many years and prefer them for hypertrophy and muscular endurance purposes.

For me, adding weight to your dips is crucial and will actually produce some astonishing results when compared to using your body weight alone.

So, you may find that your rep range is limited by how much additional weight you can add.

But, the overall goal should be to progress on a regular basis with both weight added and reps.

How Do You Maximize Chest Development With Dips?

You’ll typically hear that to maximize chest development with dips you should have a slight forward lean, whereas a straight torso will hit the triceps better.

I disagree, you’re going to hit the pecs and triceps anyway when you perform dips.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned above, I’m really not a fan of straight torso dips as they can cause the shoulders to internally rotate, which can lead to injury.

Therefore, irrespective of which pushing muscles you wish to primarily target you should always have a slight forward lean, which is accomplished from hinging at the hips.

In terms of getting the greatest pec workout from dips I would suggest performing dip variations.

You’re always going to hit the outer pecs anyway, but as mentioned, bodyweight dips will target the lower pecs better, whereas weighted dips will target the upper chest better.

You can also look to perform dips with a wider grip simply to hit the chest from another angle.

There is also the opportunity to perform dips with a narrower grip, but this is something I tend to avoid.

Once again, narrow-grip dips may lead to the shoulders becoming internally rotated.

That’s pretty much everything when it comes to the depth of your dips, now take this opportunity to learn more about how wide you should be performing dips.

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