Push ups and dips are two exercises that can help lifters grow their chest and triceps. I regularly include both movements in my own programming and use them both for my clients as well.
However, each has their strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into consideration when determining which one will help you make more progress towards your goals.
So, are dips or push ups better? Push ups are better for increasing size and strength in the chest. However, loading them with heavy weights can be difficult if you’re an advanced athlete. Dips are better for targeting the triceps. It’s easier to load dips by using a dip belt and plates, but you may not be able to use a lot of weight.
Another factor to consider when deciding whether dips or push ups are better for you is your injury history, as dips may also not be suitable for those with shoulder issues.
In this article I will cover:
- The differences between dips and push ups
- How to perform each, along with tips and common mistakes
- The muscles used in each exercise
- The pros and cons of each exercise
- Programming considerations for dips and push ups
The Differences Between Dips and Push Ups
The differences between dips and push ups can be split into four key points.
- Muscles Used
- Weight Used
The push up requires no equipment at all. While elevating the hands on handles or blocks can be useful, it is not necessary.
If you need to add weights, then you will need access to plates to do this. They can simply be placed on your back and require no further equipment.
Dips require access to a dipping bar, or at the very least two parallel bars. However, if your gym has adip bar with angled handles, I recommend using this so you can trial varying grip widths.
To add load, you will need a dip belt and weight plates.
The push up requires you to be in a horizontal position and maintain more points of contact with the floor. This makes it an easier movement to learn and perform correctly as you are in a more stable position.
The vertical position of the dip is not comparable to any other exercise and is less stable compared to a push up. The dip also puts more stress through the shoulders than a push up.
However, dips can allow you to get more out of purely bodyweight training as they are more challenging.
Curious about how push ups can help with your bench press? Check out Do Push-Ups Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How).
3. Muscles Used
Both push ups and dips train the pecs and triceps. However, each movement targets these muscles differently.
Push ups, along with other horizontal pressing movements, target the chest most throughout the entire range of motion. The triceps work alongside the pecs, but to a lesser degree. They help to extend the elbow joint.
The vertical position of dips directs the loading primarily through the triceps, with the chest providing support as a secondary muscle. The more vertical you keep your body, the more demand on the triceps. By leaning forward, you can target the chest more.
Looking for more information on which muscles are used in horizontal pressing movements like the bench press? Check out Muscles Used In Bench Press (A Complete Guide).
4. Weight Used
Due to the horizontal angle of push ups, most lifters can typically do push ups with a lot of weight or perform more reps with just their bodyweight.
The vertical nature of dips puts you in a compromised position for excessive loading, especially when maintaining a vertical body position to keep loading through the triceps. Therefore, most lifters will use less weight with dips compared to push ups.
However, both the push up and dip are somewhat limited on loading by how much you can stack on your back or hang on a weight belt. But I typically recommend these exercises for higher repetition sets so this should not be an issue for most.
Dips: How To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros And Cons
How To Do Dips
- You will need a dip bar or set of parallel bars. If you need to add load you will also need a loaded weight belt.
- Place your hands on the bars as if it was a dumbbell or barbell. Hold them in your lower palms with your thumbs wrapped around the bars and your palms facing each other.
- Press yourself up so that your elbows are fully extended and your body is suspended above the ground.
- Lower yourself down by bending your elbows towards the wall behind you. Keep your elbows close to your sides and your torso angle consistent throughout the range of motion.
- When your elbows reach 90 degrees, press yourself back up to the start position to complete the rep.
Tips For Performing Dips
Here are my 3 tips for performing dips:
- Use pauses or tempos rather than load. Pauses and tempos are a great way to add intensity to an exercise without having to add load. I find the weight belt pulls me more and makes me more unstable while also adding stress to my shoulders. Adding a pause or tempo allows you to keep control throughout the entire movement and can help you focus on keeping the load through the target muscles.
- Keep your torso angle consistent and your body under control. Changing the torso angle rep to rep will change how each rep feels and which muscles are targeted more. And allowing your body to swing around will only reduce the stability at your shoulders and compromise your ability to perform high quality reps.
- Determine whether you want to target the chest or triceps. To target the chest, you want to take a slightly wider grip and lean forward into the dip more, whereas to target the triceps you want to keep a closer grip and a more upright torso angle.
Common Mistakes With Dips
The 2 most common mistakes I see with dips are:
- Using the incorrect range of motion. Going too low puts unnecessary stress through your shoulders without adding any extra benefit. Stopping too high simply limits how effective each rep is.
- Not keeping a stable body position. Allowing your body to rock back and forth or using it to create momentum to cheat reps will make dips far less effective than if you perform them in a controlled manner.
Muscles Used During Dips
The muscles used when doing dips are:
- Pectoralis Major (the largest muscles of the chest)
- Pectoralis Minor (a smaller muscle group that lies beneath the pectoralis major)
- Triceps Brachii (the muscles at the back of the arms)
- Anterior Deltoid (the muscles at the front of the shoulders)
The prime movers are the pecs and triceps, while the deltoids act as a stabilizer.
To target your pecs more, you need to take a slightly wider grip and lean forward into the movement more. You should feel a deeper stretch and increased loading through your pecs, which work to support your posture as you move into the bottom of the dip.
As you push yourself back up from the bottom position, the triceps work to extend the elbow. To target them more, you want to take a narrower grip that allows your elbows to track by your sides and keep a more vertical body position. You should feel more of the load going through your elbows and triceps rather than your shoulders and chest.
Benefits Of The Dip
There are the two key benefits to the dip:
- They offer an alternative to horizontal pressing movements. A large portion of chest exercises are horizontal presses. Dips offer an alternative that trains the pecs and triceps in a different position, which can be beneficial not only for strength and hypertrophy but also training novelty and enjoyment.
- They require minimal equipment. Dips simply need parallel bars or a dip bar mount for a rack or wall. This means they are a viable exercise for those training in gyms without an extensive range of equipment, in a home gym, or even in park gyms.
Considering buying a dip bar? Read our article 7 Best Wall Mounted Dip Bars In 2022 to find the best one for you.
Cons Of The Dip
There are two cons that arise when performing dips:
- Many lifters complain about shoulder pain. While dips do not inherently cause shoulder pain, they can certainly aggravate shoulder issues. Performing dips too deep or without keeping stable can increase the stress put through the shoulders, which may cause issues to some lifters.
- You cannot load much weight. The weight used during dips is often limited by the stability of the movement itself rather than the strength of the muscles involved. Hanging the load off a belt between your legs makes it far harder to perform the movement as intended and train the target muscles.
Read our article 13 Highly Effective Dip Alternatives (With Pictures) to find similar exercises you can do if dips are too uncomfortable.
Programming Considerations for Dips
Lifters often use dips for either hypertrophy (muscle size) or strength. How you program them will change depending on your goals.
Those with strength-related goals will want to use lower reps and higher loads and create more time under tension in the eccentric (lowering) phase. For example:
- Weighted 3-second eccentric dips: 3 sets of 5 reps leaving 1-2 reps in reserve. Aim to progress load over time by adding 5lbs as is feasible.
Those with size-related goals will want to use dips to build more overall time under tension and volume (number of reps). For example:
- Bodyweight dips: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Push close to failure, and aim to progress rep and set count before adding extra load.
Related Article: 12 Best Bodyweight Tricep Exercises (At Home & No Equipment)
Push Ups: How To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros And Cons
How To Do Push Ups
- Start by kneeling on the floor. Place your hands on the floor out in front of you just outside shoulder-width apart.
- Move your feet back and straighten your arms and legs – your torso and legs should be in a straight line with your shoulders above your arms.
- Lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest/face nearly touches the floor.
- Press yourself back up to the start position by extending your arms.
Read our article Is It Better To Do Push-Ups Fast Or Slow? to find out how quickly you should perform your push ups.
Tips For Performing Push Ups
Here are my 3 tips for performing push ups:
- Use pauses or tempos rather than load. Use pauses to increase the difficulty of push ups. There is only so much load you can add onto your back, so this will give you more room to progress your push ups safely and effectively.
- Keep your torso and legs aligned. Maintaining this position ensures that you are keeping load consistently through your chest and triceps rather than shifting more load to your shoulders.
- Take a grip that matches your goals. To target the chest, you want to take a slightly wider grip and flare the elbows outwards more. For triceps, take a slightly narrower grip and keep your elbows close to your side. If you are looking for carry over to your bench press, I recommend taking a grip similar to your bench press grip width.
Find out how push ups can benefit your bench press in Do Push Ups Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How).
Common Mistakes With Push Ups
The 2 most common mistakes I see with push ups are:
- Not progressing difficulty in any way. If you are simply repeating the same 3 sets of 10 reps week after week, you are not going to be making the progress you should be. Aim to add load, reps, tempo, pauses, or even shorter rest periods where possible.
- Not using a full range of motion. Half reps are a quick route to making half the progress. Aim to bring your chest to the floor with each rep and keep control of the movement throughout.
Check out the article Is It Better To Do Push Ups With Handles? (12 Things To Know) to find out if they are worth using.
Muscles Used During Push Ups
The muscles used when doing push ups are:
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Triceps Brachii
- Anterior Deltoid
The prime movers in a push up are the pecs and triceps. The deltoids act as a stabilizer.
To target your pecs more, you need to take a slightly wider grip and flare your elbows outwards more. You should feel a deeper stretch and increased loading through your pecs.
To target the triceps more, you want to take a narrower grip and keep your elbows tucked by your sides. You should feel more of the load going through your elbows and triceps, rather than your shoulders and chest.
Feeling push ups in your shoulders rather than your chest and triceps? Read my article Why Do I Feel Push Ups In My Shoulders? (4 Reasons) to find out why.
Benefits Of The Push Up
There are the two key benefits to the push up:
- They can be more comfortable for those with shoulder issues. Other horizontal presses have the shoulders in a fixed position against a bench. The push up allows for free movement of the shoulders and better stability for those that feel confined within other movements.
- They require no equipment. Push ups require no equipment at all, making them great for at home bodyweight training or those with garage gyms. This also means they are quick to do and can be added onto longer workouts without extending the session excessively.
Cons Of The Push Up
There is one key drawback of performing push ups:
- You cannot load much weight. There is only so much weight you can add for push ups, which can be a limiting factor for more experienced and stronger lifters. If this is the case, I recommend increasing tempos or including push ups as part of a superset.
Programming Considerations for Push Ups
Similar to dips, push ups can be used for size and strength. This again is reflected in how you may program them.
For those with strength-related goals, we would aim to use weighted variations. For example:
- Weighted Push Up: 3 sets of 6 reps leaving 1-2 reps in reserve. Aim to progress load over time by adding 5-10 pounds once you can do all of your prescribed reps at a certain weight with good form. Adding a pause at the bottom can also be useful for those with strength goals relating to the bench press.
For those with size related goals, I recommend variations with increased range of motion or overall time under tension. For example:
- Bodyweight push ups on handles: 4 sets of 10-15 reps. Push close to failure, and aim to progress rep and set count before adding extra load. Beginner lifters could also start without handles and look to progress to using them over time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Dips Harder Than Push Ups?
Many lifters will find dips harder than push ups. This is due to having to lift your entire body weight in the dip, whereas much of it is supported by the legs and core in the push up.
What Is the Difference Between Dips and Push Ups?
The main differences between dips and push ups are the primary muscle targeted. Dips train the triceps more, while push ups train the chest more. Lifters can typically add more load to push ups compared to dips as well.
Do Dips Translate To Push Ups?
While dips and push ups have their differences, they both train the chest and triceps, which means there will be some overlap and translation between them. However, improvements in one may not always mean improvements in the other.
Other Upper Body Exercise Comparisons
- Dips vs Decline Bench Press: Pros, Cons, Which Is Better?
- Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Bench Press vs Overhead Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- T-Bar Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Floor Press vs Bench Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Upright Row vs Lateral Raise: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs: Differences, Pros, Cons
While dips and push ups both train the chest and triceps, they are very different exercises.
Both are great options for those with limited equipment available but may not be suited to more advanced lifters due to their limited loading capacity.
I recommend dips for those looking to train their triceps more or incorporate pressing movements beyond horizontal presses. Push ups are more suited for those with shoulder issues or goals to increase strength and size in the chest.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.