When it comes to increasing pressing ability or chest development, the dip and the decline bench press are exercises that I implement regularly into my programming.
So, between dips vs decline bench, which is better? If you are training to build tricep size then dips will be the superior exercise. However, if your main goal is to improve overall pressing ability then the decline bench is best since you can use heavier weights in a safer fashion when compared with dips.
In this article, I will…
- Discuss the differences between dips vs decline bench
- Explain when you should do the dip over decline bench, and vice versa
- Detail the fundamentals of each of these exercises, including how-to do them, common mistakes, and their pros and cons.
The Differences Between A Dip and A Decline Bench
So, what is the difference between dips vs decline bench press?
The dip targets the front delts to a greater extent compared with the decline bench, and can be used as either a body-weight or weighted exercise. The decline bench targets the lower pecs more compared with the dip, and is an advanced exercise that should only be used after learning how to dip properly.
Depending on your goals, we would implement each of these exercises differently.
If you are trying to build size, then the dip would be a valuable option to incorporate into your training protocol.
If you are looking to load up the bar for strength, then the decline bench press is the best option for you.
Let’s discuss the 4 main differences between the dip and decline bench in greater detail:
- Weight Used
- Muscles Worked
During the dip, your body is supported by two side rails and can be loaded up via a weight dip belt. These two rails can either be wide apart to target the chest, or closer together to prioritize the targeting of the triceps.
You can access one of these by purchasing a dip bar set up off of amazon or a rogue dip attachment for your home gym. You can also produce a makeshift dip set up by finding a bench or chair to mimic the equipment itself.
Unlike the dip, which is minimal in design, the decline bench press can be done in a weight rack with a movable adjustable bench, or can be done in a fixed 15 to 30 degree decline bench set up.
Looking for a dip machine set up, check out our reviews:
- 7 Best Wall Mounted Dip Bars
- 3 Best Doorway Dip Bars
- 10 Best Portable Dip Bars For At Home Workouts
- 5 Best Cheap Dip Bars (Under $75)
The vertical position of the dip allows for one to lift less weight. If there is too much of a load when doing weighted dips, excessive stress can be placed on the shoulder joint. However, the load is underneath rather than directly on you, which makes this exercise much less fatiguing.
As they are non-fatiguing, this allows you to do greater tempo variations, higher volume, and plate loading. This can be very beneficial if you are trying to gain size in the chest and triceps.
The horizontal position of the decline bench press, allows you to lift more weight. There is more room to load plates onto a barbell, in addition to this, you can protect your shoulders and build an arch to allow your body to lift more weight.
If your aim is to build strength, you can implement a decline bench to improve technique and load up the chest and triceps.
Check out my article on the 9 Decline Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
3. Weight Used
When doing dips, you are limited by your body weight and the amount you can load on the weight belt. For this reason, you are not in an advantageous position to move a whole lot of weight.
Opposite to strength, dips are non fatiguing, which allow you to bang out a whole lot of reps
The decline bench however, allows you to load up the barbell to a much larger degree than dips. This is because you can leverage a great deal more from a horizontal position than the vertical position of the dip exercise.
4. Muscles Worked
Dips and decline bench press primarily target the pecs and the triceps but puts different emphasis on each of these.
While doing dips, your body is in a more vertical position placing a greater demand on your triceps. As you descend into the bottom of the dips your pecs will support the weight of your body, in sequence the triceps will be used to push the body back towards the apex of the exercise.
The horizontal position of the decline bench press puts more of a demand on chest muscles to support the weight of the bar. The decline bench press allows for you to protect your shoulders, while greater emphasis is placed on activating the muscles of the chest.
Curious to learn more about the muscles used in different bench press variations? Check out my article on What Muscles Are Used In The Bench Press.
Dips: How-To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros & Cons
Dips can be done with body weight alone to effectively target the chest and triceps, while allowing for great versatility for loading and reps.
How To Do The Dip Exercise
- For the dip exercise, you will need a set of rails that are parallel to each other.
- To make this exercise harder, you can wear a loaded weight belt just above the hips.
- Place the base of each hand and on the handles.
- Press the weight of your body up until elbows are at complete extension and your entire body is suspended in the air.
- Control the weight of your body into the descent of this exercise until elbows are at 90 degrees.
- Then you will drive the weight of your body up until your elbows are at complete extension.
Tips For Performing The Dip
Here are some technical tips to help with the dip exercise.
- A tempo variation can make this exercise more effective. When performing a tempo dip, you would control the eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement with a count of 4-5 seconds. Tempo variations are beneficial because they can build stability, increase your awareness of your body position within the movement, and increase muscle hypertrophy (muscle mass).
- Do you want to target your chest or triceps more? Depending on the width of your set up, you can effectively prioritize the chest or the triceps. If you have a wider grip you can then target pecs to a greater degree, while a closer grip can prioritize the triceps. Furthermore, a more upright position will place more stress on your triceps, while a forward lean will target the chest.
- Use the dip to perform ‘burnout sets’. Burnout sets are used to completely exhaust the muscle group at the end of a workout. Dips are a great burnout exercise since you can use either body-weight or lightweight and use high repetitions. As mentioned earlier, this exercise does not cause as much fatigue (total body tiredness), which allows you to push this exercise both in loading/volume, and still be able to recover before your next workout.
Common Mistakes When Doing the Dip
The most common blunders we see when doing the dip are:
- Descending too low. If one doesn’t have great shoulder mobility, then going too far into the bottom position can place a great deal of stress on their shoulders. This is one of the main reasons that the dip exercise is considered taboo for shoulder health.
- Going too fast. Proper execution and control go hand in hand. To get the full benefits of doing dips, slow down and make sure you feel it in your pecs and triceps. Forceful execution of this exercise can lead to injury and stress on the shoulder joint, and subsequently the pec muscles.
- Failing to lockout at the top. At the completion of a repetition, make sure that you lock your elbows out completely. This will protect your joints and promote optimal tricep activation.
Muscles Used: Dip
The muscles used when doing the dip are the:
- Anterior Deltoid
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Triceps Brachii
At the top of the dip, the anterior deltoids and triceps act as stabilizers to maintain the body in suspension. As you descend into the bottom of the dip, the pectoralis major and minor muscles stretch to support the load of your posture.
Towards the second half of a repetition, the triceps brachii will act to press the elbows back into extension. Meanwhile, the pectoralis major, minor, and anterior deltoid will shorten as well to stabilize the posture and shoulder joint.
Benefits Of The Dip
Some of the benefits of the dip are:
- Doing dips can build muscular endurance. Incorporating dips will build the ability of your pecs and triceps to sustain repeated contractions. The benefits of this will be better muscular health and improved recovery of the chest and triceps. You’ll notice after training the dip that other movements like push-ups and bench press will be stronger, and you’ll be able to do more reps with the same weights you were doing previously.
- Improving muscular size. Dips can be done for many repetitions and many sets as it isn’t as fatiguing as other compound movements. Since we are able to do more volume with the chest and triceps by using the dip,we’ll be able to have greater muscular breakdown without the costs to our recovery.
Cons Of The Dip
Here are some cons that are associated with the dip:
- Dips may compromise shoulder health. If you have a history of shoulder injuries or shoulder discomfort, the bottom of dips can place your shoulders in a poor position. You can manage this by simply not going as deep into the range of motion if you have prior shoulder issues.
- You cannot load as much weight while doing the dips. If your goal is to build strength, then maybe you would be better off doing a decline bench instead. I find that at high load, my shoulders and elbows start to hurt and any strength development comes at a cost.
Looking for an alternative to the dip? Check out my article on the 13 Best Dip Alternatives, which include barbell, dumbbell, machine, and band variations.
Programming Dips For Hypertrophy
Programming for hypertrophy is often associated with time under tension and high repetition count while doing the dips.
We can implement controlled eccentric dips to increase time under tension and muscular breakdown that occurs at the chest and triceps.
Due to the fact that this is less fatiguing on our training, we can incorporate very difficult variations of this exercise with minimal drawbacks and maximal returns.
Here are two examples of how we would program dips:
- Weighted 3 second eccentric dips: 3 sets x 5 reps @75% of 1RM. If you don’t know your 1 Rep Max for dips then just use a weight where you feel like you’re still leaving 1 or 2 reps left in the tank by the completion of the set.
- Dips: 4 sets x 12 reps @ bodyweight. If this is too easy, then you can do 4 sets of AMRAP (as many reps as possible), but stopping just shy of your fatigue limit. For example, leaving 1-2 reps left in the tank on every AMRAP set.
As you can see here, we can create challenges with this exercise in many different ways.
Check out my article on Can You Train Back And Chest Together?
Decline Bench Press: How-To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros & Cons
Decline bench press allows you to lift more weight via barbell, while technically protecting your shoulders to greatly target the chest and the triceps.
How To Do The Decline Bench Press
Here’s how to successfully execute the decline bench press.
- For this exercise, you will need a decline bench or a complete decline bench press set up.
- While laying at a 15 – 30 degree decline, you will then start with your shoulders directly under the bar.
- Place your legs firmly under the leg brace to maintain a secure position during the exercise.
- Drive the base of your hand through the bar, and then wrap your thumb around it.
- Use the weight of the bar to drive your shoulders back into the bench.
- Create additional tension by pulling your traps down and pushing your chest up.
- After you unrack the bar, bring the bar forward until it is in line with your lower chest/upper abdomen.
- Control the bar by rowing it down to your lower chest/upper abdomen.
- At the bottom, drive the weight of the bar away from your torso until elbows are at complete extension.
Tips For Performing The Decline Bench Press
Here are some key tips to help you increase your decline bench press:
- Different bench press grip types can either focus on the triceps or the chest. While a closer grip width will target the triceps, a wider grip will target the pecs to a greater degree.
- Emphasize the rowing motion towards your upper abdominal region. Controlling the descent of this exercise will engage the stabilizers to a greater degree, which will allow the prime movers (chest and triceps) to do their job on the pressing phase of the bench press.
- Focus on proper breathing. By taking in a big breath prior to each rep, you build intra-abdominal pressure or a “brace” which maintains the stabilization of the assistance muscles, while promoting focus of the prime movers (triceps and pecs) on proper execution of the exercise.
Common Mistakes When Doing the Decline Bench Press
Here are the common mistakes of the decline bench press:
- Forward shoulder travel on the unrack. Prior to unracking the weight, pinning the shoulders into the bench will promote proper tension and stability during the decline bench press.
- Torso shifting around during the execution of the press. During the decline bench press, proper execution will include 3 points of contact which are the head, shoulders, and hips. The torso and hips should remain intact and rigid on the bench to promote a stable pressing movement.
- Elbows flaring out when pressing back up. Proper tension in the back and control of the barbell will prevent elbows from flaring. To build tension, act as though you are breaking the bar in half while maintaining your chest up.
Can’t do the decline bench press? Check out my article on the 9 Best Decline Bench Press Alternatives.
Muscles Used: Decline Bench Press
The muscles used when doing the decline bench press are the:
- Anterior Deltoid
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Triceps Brachii
The decline bench press will change the angle in which you press a loaded barbell.
By placing you higher up on your traps, the touch point will shift towards a lower point on the upper abdomen, rather than your lower chest.
For this reason, this exercise will protect your shoulders to a greater degree, while targeting your lower chest and triceps.
Want more variations that target your triceps? Check out my article on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises That Will Increase Your Bench Press.
Benefits Of The Decline Bench Press
Some of the benefits of the decline bench press are:
- The decline bench allows you to load up the chest and triceps. Due to the angle of this exercise, you will be able to lift more than the regular bench press. This can produce greater overload of the chest and tricep muscles.
- This exercise can simulate the arched position of a regular bench. For this reason, the decline bench press is exceptional at protecting the shoulders and targeting the pecs in isolation. In addition to this, the decline bench can strengthen similar muscles of an arched bench press.
Cons Of The Decline Bench Press
Here are some cons that are associated with the decline bench press:
- You might need a lift off. Depending on the design of the decline bench, you might not be in an advantageous position to self-unrack, which makes it hard to incorporate when you’re training alone. In the past, this has inhibited my ability to produce proper tension while being so far in front of the bar.
- There is no leg drive in the decline bench press. Since you fasten your legs into the decline bench, you get a lot of assistance from the equipment itself. There is no necessity for leg drive, which is a big component of flat or conventional bench press.
Programming Decline Bench Press for Strength or Hypertrophy
Implementing a decline bench to increase general strength can appear in different ways. Greater practice is one way that allows us to get stronger. This can appear in any repetition count variation, whether its many sets of 3 or sets of 8.
Aside from practice alone, a byproduct of doing sets of 8 would be greater muscular fatigue which leads to building muscle. Contrary to this, producing overload with heavy sets of 3 will create a neural response which will improve our strength.
Here is how one would program decline bench for strength:
- 4 sets of 3 @80% of 1RM
Here is how one would program decline bench for hypertrophy:
- 3 sets of 8 @65% of 1RM
Take a look at this article I wrote on DUP for Powerlifting: What is it? Does It Work? Should you do it?. It will explain some basic programming concepts everyone should know.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions for the dips and the decline bench press:
Is The Decline Bench Dangerous?
The angle of the decline bench press can actually make it a pretty dangerous exercise. If the bar slips out of your hand or falls it can crush your ribs and cause asphyxiation. Make sure you have a spotter if you are going heavy, otherwise proper technique and unracks are extremely important for proper execution of this exercise.
Can Dips Alone Build Chest?
The dips alone cannot build the muscles of the chest. Exercises such as dumbbell press and flat bench press allow you to lift more weight to produce greater overload. This overload is necessary in building and strengthening the muscles of the chest and triceps.
Is The Decline Bench Press Harder Than Flat?
The angle of the decline bench press makes it easier by allowing you to lift more weight. Additionally, you can secure your legs into the leg lock to assist with stability and tension on the bench. However, for the flat bench press, you need to maintain tension five points of contact: left foot, right foot, hips, shoulders, and head. This makes the flat bench press a more challenging exercise.
Read about this in greater detail in my article on Which Type Of Bench Press Harder?
Whether you choose to do dips or the decline bench press, keep in mind that they are fundamentally different exercises.
Dips will be extremely beneficial for those who want to sprinkle in some more hypertrophy (bodybuilding) work into the end of their workout. While a decline bench might be a strong variation to regular bench press.
Personally, I would incorporate both, because I love doing dips year round and decline bench press allows me to focus on my chest when benching.
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.