Choosing the right arm exercises can be tricky. If you do the wrong ones, you can end up with a different level of muscle volume and definition than you imagined. However, there are a number of exercises that can help you achieve sculpted arms without too much bulk. Tricep dips are one of the most efficient and effective exercises to help strengthen and define your upper arms. We asked three trainers for their insights—keep reading to learn what tricep dips are, how to perform them, and everything else you need to know.
What Are Tricep Dips?
Trainer Kristen Contos explains that tricep dips are an upper-body strength movement that can help tone the muscles that run along the backs of the upper arms. “The triceps muscle, known as the triceps brachii, consists of three parts: the medial, lateral, and long head,” she explains. The move can be done on a bench or bar. “As a compound exercise, it requires the combined effort of various other muscle groups, such as the pectoral muscles, shoulders, core, and back,” she says.
Benefits of Tricep Dips
- Can help improve sports performance: Trainer Korey Rowe explains that tricep dips are a great exercise that can help improve your all-around sports performance. “Your body relies on your triceps and chest whenever there’s a push movement, and almost every sport has some pushing component,” he says.
- Improve everyday upper arm function: Tricep dips are also an effective functional exercise. “They target the backs of the upper arms, which control everyday movements, like lifting your grocery bags or reaching for things overhead, such as hopefully getting your luggage down from the overhead bin,” says trainer Nancy Feinstein.
- Work several areas at once: Contos explains that triceps dips are a simple, effective, and efficient movement utilized to activate and sculpt multiple parts of the body at once.
- Easy to do anywhere: Tricep dips are also extremely convenient, Contos points out: “The exercise is versatile because it can be progressed using only body weight and performed at home, while traveling, or outside, using common objects such as chairs, benches, and even coffee tables.”
Proper Tricep Dips Form
Rowe explains that proper tricep dips form is important for a number of reasons: It can help prevent injury, increase performance, prevent muscle imbalance, increase the rate of muscle development, and enhance stability and longevity.
Here’s how to do a tricep dip step-by-step, according to Rowe.
- Grip the front edges of a chair or bench with your hand.
- Hover your butt just off and in front of the seat, with feet flat and legs bent so thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Straighten your arms. This is your start position.
- Lower your body toward the floor until your arms form 90-degree angles.
- Then, engage your triceps to press back to start.
How to Modify Tricep Dips
It’s possible to modify tricep dips in several ways to adjust the intensity, Rowe tells us. To make them easier, try switching up the height of the surface your hands are on—trying something lower or higher so that your legs bend at a 90 degree angle when seated will get you off to a solid start. You also may want to switch to a more stable surface if you find yours moves around or isn’t supportive enough.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, there are several ways to make tricep dips harder. Try doing the movement with one or both legs elevated or extending your legs out straight. You also may want to switch to a less stable surface, such as a Bosu Ball, to work more muscles and increase the focus on form. If you have enough upper body strength, performing the movement one arm at a time could be another way to challenge yourself.
Tricep Dips vs. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
Dumbbell tricep kickbacks are similar to tricep dips. “Both the dumbbell triceps extension and triceps dips target the triceps,” Rowe explains. The dumbbell kickback doubles as a suitable modification for anyone who is unable to support their body weight in the tricep dip position or has a shoulder injury that prevents them from weight-bearing.
Anyone with shoulder instability, prior dislocations, or even a minor rotator cuff injury should avoid tricep dips. “There is a chance of too much shoulder rotation with even the beginner modification of this exercise,” Feinstein explains.
There are a few common mistakes leading to injuries, Feinstein tells us. Not keeping your neck in the neutral position during the move is one of them. Others include rounding your shoulders instead of keeping them retracted, dipping too low for your mobility (“form is everything,” she says), elbows going out (“they need to stay tucked into your body”), and moving too fast.
Tricep Dips Variations
If you’re looking to switch up your routine, tricep dips have a number of variation options. Below, Contos outlines a few of the best.
- Elevated Tricep Dips: Raise your feet up off the floor with another elevated surface, such as a chair or ottoman. Pay attention to the strain on your shoulders, and adjust the height of the second surface if necessary.
- Weighted Tricep Dips: Place a dumbbell, plate, or barbell on your lap to increase the load. This can also add a stability element as you try to balance the weight on your lap and challenge your core.
- Tempo Tricep Dips: Perform the same movement but in slow motion. Add the reduced tempo when lowering down, pressing up, or both. By increasing the muscle’s time under tension, you can build strength without needing any additional weight.
- Suspended Tricep Dips: Remove all support by suspending yourself from two surfaces slightly wider than your hips, such as bars, rings, countertops, or a TRX suspension trainer. In this version, you’ll be lifting the entire weight of your body. Combine dips with leg raises to fire up your core even more and maximize the efficiency of your workout.
The Final Takeaway
Tricep dips are an efficient and effective upper arm exercise to build lean muscle. However, form is crucial to avoid injury. If you do experience any discomfort or pain while doing tricep dips, it may be because your form is incorrect.
Additionally, if you suffer from joint pain or have shoulder, elbow, or wrist problems, you might want to stay away from them. It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor prior to trying new exercises, especially if you suffer from any pain or injuries, to avoid doing any further damage.