What are dips good for?

Now every pull-up and dip can be a breeze for you

What would I do without her? No idea.

Dips and pull-ups have a permanent place in my training plan.

And they also have a regular place in my heart -when you've done pull-ups with a view of the Hamburg Outer Alster, you'll understand me.

I've already received a few emails from those who stay tuned, still wanting to learn their first dip and pull-up. The time is right ... now has come.

In this guest post, Philipp Lehmann, author of the weight training beginner's book "Project Body - with a new body into a new life" and blogger at simply-progress.de shows you a simple way of doing your first dip and pull-up. Have fun reading and implementing!

Why pull-ups and dips training?

Pull-ups and dips are among the absolute basic exercises in strength training. They are essential for proper upper body muscle growth.

Almost every beginner in training wants to do a clean pull-up. The moment when the time has finally come is an unforgettable milestone in your training career.

The dip, on the other hand, is not very well known or popular because most athletes tend to strive to increase their weights on the bench press. But as I will explain below, the dip is no less important than the pull-up and is just as demanding in terms of coordination.

You can learn both exercises at the same time because they use different muscle groups and thus ensure a balanced, symmetrical development of the upper body muscles.

Many beginners do not yet manage to do a clean pull-up or dip. If you feel the same way, you will now find out how you can learn and master both exercises.

Let's take a closer look at the two exercises, including the correct technique, before we turn to them.

The pull-up

When doing a pull-up, you pull your body up on a horizontal bar and then lower yourself back down. The term chin-up comes from climb, so "climb".

Why you should do pull-ups

As the descendants of the monkeys, there is hardly a more natural movement for us humans than the pull-up. The back muscles are designed for this movement pattern. That is why there is hardly any other exercise that can stimulate the growth of the back muscles as much as this exercise.

Pull-ups are definitely part of every back exercise.

What variations are there with the pull-up?

There are different options. First of all, a distinction is made between overhand grip, underhand grip and neutral grip. In the overhand grip, the palms point away from the body, in the underhand grip towards the body and in the neutral grip (also called hammer grip) towards each other.

These handles can be varied even further by setting the handle width. The hands can be placed close, shoulder-width or wide.

Depending on which grip width and type is selected, different muscles are mainly stressed.

Which muscles does the pull-up train?

In general, pull-ups train all of your back muscles, shoulders, biceps, and forearms, as well as core stabilizing muscles.

  • The wider the grip, the more the back width, i.e. the latissimus dorsi (= broad back muscle), is trained.
  • The tighter the grip, the more stress is placed on the biceps and the depth of the back, i.e. the middle back muscles.
  • The overhand grip also focuses on the back muscles, the underhand grip on the biceps and the hammer grip can be understood as a mixture of both.

This results in the following picture:

  • A pull-up in the wideInstep grip (also called over grip) specifically trains the width of the back,
  • a pull-up in the tightComb grip (also called under grip) the depth of the back and the biceps and
  • a pull-up roughly shoulder widths Hammergrip trains both.

In principle, however, all corresponding muscles are loaded in each embodiment, only that the focus can be varied.

The best exercise for a wide back is the pull-up in the wide instep grip. The best exercise for large biceps is the chin-up with a shoulder-width or tight comb grip - yes, much more effective than barbell curls. This is mainly due to the fact that several muscles play together when doing a pull-up and therefore significantly larger weights can be moved.

Compound exercises that target several muscle groups at the same time are clearly superior to isolation exercises that only train a single muscle group in terms of stimulating growth. Therefore, all athletes who want bigger biceps should devote themselves to the pull-up.

The correct pull-up technique

The technique itself is not too complicated and can be explained quickly: Pull yourself up with your chest. That's the core of it all.

Pull-up Technique # 1 - The Right Movement

The following video illustrates the movement in different grip methods:

Pull-up Technique # 2 - The Right Range of Motion

Many people often compensate for strength and coordination deficits when doing pull-ups by compensating for the range of motion. What I see in the studio are often quarter pull-ups at best.

A clean pull-up, on the other hand, ends as high as possible, at least until the chin comes over the bar. In the lower position, however, you should not fully straighten your arms. Because the tension in the arms is lost and a renewed pulling up requires a lot more strength. If, on the other hand, you keep your arms slightly tensioned - so you don't let yourself be completely unhooked - the next repetition is much easier. So here it makes sense if you have the range of motion minimal shortened.

Pull-up Technique # 3 - Be careful with pull-ups in the neck

It should be noted that pull-ups too in the neck can be completed. Instead of pulling your chest, you pull your neck towards the bar. However, this embodiment places a high load on the shoulder joints, so that it is avoided by many athletes. I still use them myself to train the back and shoulder muscles more comprehensively and to tighten the shoulder joints strengthen. However, this requires a very prudent approach and some training experience, so that beginners are not advised to do so at first.

Pull-ups - Summary

  • Basic exercise for the back, shoulder, biceps, forearms and core muscles.
  • The bar can be gripped tightly, shoulder-wide or wide in the upper, lower and hammer grip.
  • The tighter the grip, the more stress is placed on the biceps and middle back muscles.
  • The wider the grip, the more the broad back muscle (latissimus dorsi) is stressed.
  • The upper grip focuses on the load on the back.
  • The underhand grip focuses on the stress on the biceps.
  • The hammer handle is a balanced mixture of both.
  • Pull-ups should go up until your chin comes over the bar.
  • In the lowest position of the pull-up, the arms should still be slightly under tension - just before they are unhooked.

The dip (bar support)

During dips training, you push your body up between two bars. The term “dip” comes from English and has prevailed over the German term “bar support”.

Why you should work out dips

There is no way around dips to build an athletic, well-balanced, muscular and strong upper body.

Even if the bench press is a popular and quite effective exercise, the movement of the dip is much more natural and therefore more functional. The bench press movement - you lie with your back fixed and push a heavy weight upwards - does not normally occur in nature. Now imagine how you push yourself up with your arms when you get up from an armchair. The movement pattern is very similar to that of the dip.

Dips work the chest (specifically the lower pectorals), shoulders (specifically the front deltoid), and triceps. For building a large upper arm as well as a broad chest, the focus of the push training should be on the dip.

Many athletes only use dips as a triceps exercise, but overlook the fact that this is also a great chest move. This is mainly due to inadequate technology.

The correct dip technique

Dips are usually performed on bars (or gymnastic rings).

Dips Workout # 1 - The Right Focus

Since bars usually have a fixed position, there is not much to experiment with with the reach. It is different with gymnastic rings: If the grip is very wide, the chest and especially the shoulders are more stressed.

However, you should avoid a grip that is too wide because you risk shoulder injuries. The optimal reach for a balanced load on the chest, shoulders and triceps is a little wider than shoulder width.

By tilting the body and the direction of the elbows, you can focus more on the chest or triceps:

  • Focus on chest: Tilt your upper body slightly forward and make sure that your elbows point slightly outwards.
  • Focus on triceps: Keep your upper body as upright as possible and your elbows close to your body.

Dips Training # 2 - The Right Range of Motion

There is often a dispute about the correct range of motion during dips training, but this aspect is extremely important.

Many claim that one should not walk more than 90 ° between the upper and lower arms, otherwise shoulder injuries could ensue. It is also claimed that you should not fully push your arms through at the top to protect your elbow joints. But that's the wrong way!

A clean dip involves the greatest possible range of motion!

Sustainable training develops the muscles as well as the passive musculoskeletal system, i.e. tendons, ligaments, joints, etc. Those who do not get their joints used to this stress inevitably create weak points.

So if you want to stay injury-free in the long term, you should also train your joints. This means that you go over the full range of motion with each exercise (attention: the pull-up is an exception here!). This goes for deep squats as well as deep dips.

Dips Workout # 3 - Proper Exercise

A correct dip goes so deep that the shoulders are fully under the elbows - only then does the chest experience a correct stretch and the full growth potential of the exercise is used.

Then the body weight is pressed into the upright position with all muscles under full tension. At the top, the arms are stretched and the shoulders are deliberately pulled forward and down - this includes the small pectoral and sawtooth muscles and promotes the stability of the shoulder joints.

The following video illustrates the correct technique of the dip:

Dips Training # 4 - How to Avoid Injuries

For many athletes, full range of motion will be new and should be approached slowly. If you've been training with a shortened range of motion for a long time, you probably have imbalances between your muscles and your joints. If you then train from now on with a high training volume and high intensity over the full range, you risk an injury. This is probably how the warning about deep dips came about.

If, on the other hand, you train in a controlled manner over the full range of motion from the start and continuously improve, your joints will stay healthy and become more and more resistant. For beginners, the following applies: Train cleanly from the beginning and over the full range of motion.

Dips Training Summary

  • Basic exercise for chest, shoulder and triceps.
  • The optimal reach is a little wider than shoulder width.
  • The more upright the upper body, the more stress is placed on the triceps.
  • The further the upper body is leaned forward, the more stress is placed on the chest.
  • Close-fitting elbows focus on the triceps.
  • Elbows protruding to the side focus on the chest.

How to do your first dip and pull-up

There are effective assistance exercises that pave the way for the first pull-up and dip. They help you to build the appropriate strength and coordination. In addition, you can train both exercises directly by doing simpler variants.

A mix of both is ideal - this is the quickest way to be able to do your first full pull-ups and dips.

In the following, you will first get to know the five best assistance exercises and a suitable training plan. Then you will get an overview of the direct training options.

5 assistance exercises: The 1st half of your first dip and pull-up

Assistance Exercise # 1 - Reverse Row

A great way to build strength in your back is to row in reverse with your own body weight.

The exercise looks like this:

Reverse rowing can be done with both overhand and underhand grip. As with the pull-up, the reach can also be varied here. For the beginning, a slightly wider grip than shoulder width is recommended. However, it can be changed from unit to unit purely intuitively.

The higher the bar, i.e. the more upright the upper body, the easier the exercise. If you want to make it heavier, you can lower the bar and position your legs higher - this increases the effective proportion of the body weight, i.e. the total load.

Assistant exercise # 2 - deadlift

The deadlift is one of the most important basic exercises. However, their effect on the back is often completely underestimated. Deadlifting is a great way to train both your upper and lower back.

In the deadlift, correct technique is essential.

Assistant Exercise # 3 - Classic Press

The classic overhead press is a very effective full-body exercise. Unfortunately, not many people have mastered the correct technique.

Using the right technique, all of the muscles from head to toe are under tension, creating the longest kinetic chain a human is capable of. When you press heavy weights over your head, you specifically train the shoulders, back and core muscles, as well as all other muscles.

Classical press is a great exercise for learning dips as well as pull-ups. You can even improve your bench press performance enormously by making progress in classic pressing. There is no other exercise that gives you more extensive shoulders, which are involved in all upper body exercises.

Here, too, the technology is relatively complex. However, any athlete who is serious about achieving upper body muscle building and shoulder stability should learn this technique. You can find out more about classic pressing on my blog.

Assistance Exercise # 3 - Pushups

The push-up is probably the most classic exercise of all. It's absolutely worthwhile for building strength in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Here, too, you can experiment with the position of the hands:

  • Focus on chest: The further apart the hands are, the more stress is placed on the chest.
  • Focus on triceps: The closer the hands are together, the more stress is placed on the triceps.

Normal push-ups are done with hand positions about shoulder width (or slightly wider). The palms of the hands are roughly level with the shoulders.

You go down as low as possible with a fully stretched body and then push yourself back into the top position - that is, until your arms are fully stretched.

As with the dip, you can vary the focus by positioning your elbows in relation to your body. If you primarily want to train the triceps, put your elbows close to your body. If the focus is to be on the chest, the elbows should be flared to the side. An optimal mix of both occurs when the elbows are at about 45 °.

[Note Mark: If you have shoulder problems, I recommend that you keep your elbows on your body when doing push-ups.]

A normal push-up looks like this:

If you don't know how to do clean push-ups, you can only do them on your knees at first or raise your hands - for example on a table. This reduces the proportion of effective body weight, i.e. the load.

Assistance exercises - your pull-up and dips training plan

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
Workout XBreakWorkout XBreakWorkout XBreakBreak

You can also postpone the training sessions as long as there is at least a 48-hour break between two workouts.

Workout X

exercisesentencesRepetitionsBreak
Deadlift38-1290 seconds
Classic pressing38-1290 seconds
Reverse rowing38-120
pushups38-1290 seconds

Reverse rowing and push-ups are done in the form of a superset. This means that you don't pause after a set of rows, but instead continue straight away with a set of push-ups. Only then do you take a 90-second break and then repeat the superset.

This form of exercise provides a bigger pump and bigger growth stimuli. The combination of rowing and push-ups is particularly useful because you don't need much space and you don't have to run from device to device.

Direct training options: The second half of your first dip and pull-up

Assistance exercises are only half the battle. Rowing and push-ups are nice, but they don't really help with learning pull-ups and dips - they just build the framework, i.e. a certain basic strength.

If you really want to learn pull-ups and dips, you have to train your strength and coordination in a targeted manner - that is, geared towards the corresponding forms of movement.

There are two main components to this: eccentric and assisted repetitions.

Direct Training Opportunities # 1 - Eccentric Reps

A repetition consists of two phases, the positive (concentric) and the negative (eccentric) phase. The eccentric phase is the part of the movement where the weight is lowered.

Eccentric repetitions, used on pull-ups and dips, mean that you just let yourself drop from the top position. In doing so, you should move yourself to the upper position without loss of strength, so that the concentric part, i.e. pushing or pulling upwards, is omitted.

The eccentric phase is easier than the concentric, so eccentric reps are a great way to learn pull-ups and dips.

Specifically, this means:

  • Get into the top position, for example by jumping on the bar or using a chair or bench to help you do a chin-up.
  • Lower yourself back down as slowly and in a controlled manner as possible.
  • Over time you will be able to lower yourself more slowly and in a more controlled manner and thereby build up more strength.

Direct Training Opportunities # 2 - Assisted Reps

As the name suggests, you get help from outside. In the gym you will often find pull-up and dip machines that you can use counterweights to reduce the difficulty of the exercise.

If you do not have such a device in the studio or if you train at home, you can use the support of strength bands:

  • You attach these to the dip bars or the pull-up bar and stretch them under your legs.
  • Simply place your legs (ideally bent) on the belt.
  • The band now tries to pull the body upwards and thus counteracts the force of gravity - the exercise becomes easier.

[Note Mark: This article provides instructions on how to do an assisted pull-up.]

In the beginning, you may need to use strong strength bands to do pull-ups and dips. Over time, you can gradually use weaker bands and gradually increase the resistance. This way you get closer and closer to the free pull-up or dip.

Why daily pull-ups and dips help

Strength and coordination are primarily regulated by the central nervous system. You already have the muscle mass necessary to be able to do pull-ups and dips properly. However, your body does not “know” how to coordinate the individual muscle fibers and activate the greatest possible number of muscles. Most people probably only use 20-25% of their muscle mass. It is therefore important to condition the central nervous system accordingly in order to be able to better utilize your body's potential.

One thing is especially important for this: Exercise as often as possible!

The Russian strength and kettlebell expert Pavel Tsatsouline has the "Greasing the groove“Training system established. The same movement is performed several times a day in order to condition the central nervous system accordingly and to learn to control the movement better.

It is important here to never even come close to "muscle failure".

Ideally, you do a few eccentric and assisted pull-ups and dips several times a day, always keeping a few repetitions in backhand.

It shouldn't be strenuous or overwhelming. It's just a matter of doing the movement as often as possible in order to refine its sequence and achieve appropriate coordination. This is the best way to learn pull-ups and dips quickly.

Of course, it is particularly useful to have pull-up and dip bars at home. Whenever you run past them, you can do a few assisted or eccentric reps.

Summary - Your way to the first pull-up and dip

  • Perform the assistance workout 3 times a week with a break of at least 48 hours between the units
  • Practice eccentric and assisted pull-ups and dips every day, independently of the assistance workout, without exhausting yourself or getting close to failure
  • Spread the eccentric and assisted repetitions as best you can over the whole day (if you have to work, you can only spread it over the morning and evening)

Conclusion: practice makes perfect

The way to the first pull-up or dip is not that complicated, but anything but easy. It takes some effort, like anything of value. Only the way makes it valuable. If you could learn pull-ups or dips easily, it would be nothing special.

Nevertheless, they are not inhumane achievements either. If you exercise regularly and eat healthily, you will master both exercises in no time. You can carry out the plan for pull-ups and dips training until you have done it. Depending on the individual situation, it can take 2, 4 or 8 weeks.

However, if you have a very high starting weight, you should first take care of fat loss. It should be clear that the difficulty of these exercises increases as your body weight increases.

You don't have to have a six-pack, but 20, 30 or even more kilograms of excess weight is a big obstacle that should be eliminated first.

After that, the only thing that matters is that you stay tuned during training. Stick to the bar, practice as often as possible every day, do the assistant workouts and you will be able to master pull-ups and dips in no time.

So stay tuned!

Philipp Lehmann is the owner of simply-progress.de and author of the fitness books “Project Body” and “Adonis Guide”.

Afterword by Mark: Have you already mastered the way to the first dip and / or pull-up? If so, how? If you are already training, what point are you at right now? Write a comment.

Photos in the article "Dips Training": MarathonFitness.de; A&A Photography Services, Amber Karnes (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr.

Category: Muscle buildingTags: chest muscles, chest muscles, fitness, fitness training, guest post, pull-ups, strength training, strength exercises, latissimus, muscle building training, back, back muscles, back muscles, shoulders, workout, training plan