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Dip Tips for Building Your Chest and Triceps

First, an indisputable fact. The dip is one of the toughest and most productive upper body exercises you can do. Done using just your bodyweight, this basic, compound movement can produce significant gains in muscle size and marked gains in strength in your upper body, with the weighted version taking those benefits even further.

Now for the dispute: is the dip a chest exercise or a triceps exercise? The answer is a head-scratching "both."

Many lifters who go to the trouble of building the dip into their weekly routine will put in on chest day or triceps day - or on both. The problem is that they may be inadvertently - and incorrectly - targeting one or the other, depending on how they perform the dip. As it turns out, not all dips are created equal.

Because of how challenging of an exercise it can be, most guys are happy to get up there, rep out and be done with it. If they've gone from bottom to near lockout up top, that's enough of a victory and, they rationalize, enough to instigate growth. But subtle variations in hand, elbow and foot placement are crucial in determining which muscles are working hardest with each rep.

Your time and sweat are precious. In order to keep your training focused and on point - such is the life of a physique-minded trainer - it helps to understand exactly how your body is affected by your chosen version of the dip.

Triceps dip. This is the version that most gym rats default to. In the triceps dip, your body is rigid and very vertical, with your elbows pinned closely to your sides. This diverts the stress away from the pecs and anterior (front) delts, while placing the lion's share of the load on your triceps, particularly the lateral (outer) head which is most responsible for that sought-after horseshoe appearance.

Chest dip. To target your pecs, maintain a forward lean by keeping your feet behind you. Allow your elbows to flare out a bit to de-emphasize the triceps. You can augment this effect by grabbing the dip bars at the widest point, which in some cases is still only a few inches outside of hip-width. Because of the greater stress placed on the chest in this position, you don't need to go down as far - getting your upper arms parallel to the floor is more than sufficient - so long as you squeeze your pecs hard at the top.

To get the most out of the dip, become a skilled practitioner of both versions and employ it in both your chest and triceps workouts, making the aforementioned adjustments to shift the emphasis accordingly. To augment the effects of either, try using a weight belt, always aiming for a weight that allows you to complete no more than 8-12 reps. Higher-rep sets can also be employed using body weight or gravity-assisted machines, but only after your heavier work has been completed.

Though primarily a body weight move, the dip is every bit as valuable of an exercise as the bench press for sculpting a cover model-worthy upper body. But when you consider the benefits of its subtle variations, it becomes even more valuable.