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Chest dip vs tricep dip: What’s the difference, and which is best?

Discover the major muscle-building differences between chest dips and tricep tips.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man doing a chest dip vs tricep dip comparison to explain the differences

In this detailed chest dip vs tricep dip comparison, you’ll learn the key differences between these two bodyweight mass builders in terms of form, muscles worked, and exercise safety.

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What is the difference between chest dips and tricep dips?

A man demonstrating the difference between chest dips and tricep dips

So, what is the difference between chest dips and tricep dips? The main difference between these two exercises is that tricep dips are typically performed with a narrower grip and a more upright torso, whereas chest dips are usually performed with a wider hand position and a more forward torso lean.

Another difference between a chest dip and a tricep dip is that you’ll be able to go a bit deeper during chest dips because the forward torso lean really allows your pecs to stretch. With tricep dips, on the other hand, the more upright torso position means that you need to use a slightly shorter range of motion in order to keep the tension on your triceps and the strain off your shoulders.

Additionally, your feet will be directly under your body during tricep dips, whereas they’ll be flared out behind you during chest dips due to the forward torso lean.

Finally, chest dips always refer to dips performed on a set of dipping bars, whereas tricep dips can refer to narrow grip dips as well as bench dips. I’ll compare chest dips to bench dips later on in this article.

How to do dips for chest vs triceps

A man doing a chest dips vs triceps dips comparison to show the differences

When it comes to performing dips for chest vs triceps, there are a couple of crucial form modifications that you need to make. The first is that, in order to really stretch your pecs, you need to lean forward during the dip.

Although you need to lean quite far forward to make the most of the movement, there’s no need to turn the exercise into a strange sort of vertical push-up. Just lean forward enough to where you feel a pleasantly intense stretch in your pecs as you lower your body down.

To emphasize your chest even more in the dip, you’ll want to use a medium or wide grip on the bars. Of course, many dipping bars are fixed, so you might just have to make do with what you’ve got. Still, your grip width is less important than your torso lean when it comes to targeting your chest vs your triceps in the dip.

The wider that you are, the wider the grip that you’ll need to take on the dip. Conversely, the more narrow you are, the closer to grip you’ll need to take on the dip. That said, there’s no one magic grip that gets the best results. As long as you feel your chest working and as long as your shoulders are pain-free, then you’re doing a proper chest dip.

To do a tricep dip, you’ll want to stay fairly upright and use a narrow hand position if possible. Staying completely upright on a parallel bar dip can put pressure on your shoulders, so you may want to employ a slightly forward torso lean even when performing a tricep dip.

Chest dip vs tricep dip for strength

A man doing a head-to-head chest dips vs tricep dips comparison

Next up in our chest dips vs triceps dips comparison is strength: Which exercise will give your muscles more power?

Strength, as you probably know, is exercise specific. But if we’re talking about bench press strength, then chest dips are definitely the better strength-building exercise because they put way more tension on your pecs.

For the close grip bench press, on the other hand, tricep dips are superior because, although they still work the chest and front delts, they put the vast majority of the tension on your triceps—just like the close grip bench press.

For the same reason, tricep dips will also have greater carryover to other tricep calisthenics exercises.

For general pressing power, chest dips are the better choice because they are essentially like doing a bodyweight decline press in that they absolutely hammer the pecs, train the anterior deltoids well, and still put some tension on your triceps. In other words, the chest dip is a more well-rounded exercise than the tricep dip.

Chest dips vs tricep dips for muscle growth

A muscular man doing dips

When you’re comparing close grip vs wide grip dips in terms of hypertrophy potential, it’s important to know which muscle or group of muscles you want to target.

Wide grip dips, also called chest dips, are far better for growing the pecs because they put your lower chest under a deeper stretch than just about any other exercise. This is noteworthy because the chest loves a big weighted stretch that tears down the pectoral muscle fibers.

Additionally, chest dips also lead to greater front delt hypertrophy than tricep dips. For this reason, chest dips are a better compound exercise and a better mass builder because they lead to better growth of two out of the three pushing muscles (chest and shoulders).

On the other hand, if you just want to work your triceps, then narrow dips are your best bet. By maintaining an upright torso, you’re mostly taking the chest out of the movement, meaning that your triceps have to do most of the work.

Chest dips vs bench dips

A weight lifter showing how to do dips for chest vs triceps

As noted above, chest dips are a great alternative to tricep dips because they build more overall mass. But how do chest dips compare to bench dips?

Chest dips are much harder than tricep dips performed on a bench because they use a higher percentage of your body weight as resistance. For this reason, upright dips can often be too challenging for novice lifters to perform properly.

Even though they’re an easier exercise, bench dips put more strain on your rotator cuffs than chest dips because your shoulders are behind your body.

Another difference is that chest dips train the pecs, shoulders, and triceps, whereas bench dips are a pure tricep exercise.

It’s also harder to load bench dips with external resistance because you’d need to get someone to put weight plates on your legs. With chest dips, on the other hand, you can easily add extra weight via a dipping belt.

Should you do chest dips and tricep dips?

A man doing a side by side tricep dips vs chest dips comparison to illustrate the differences

In the same workout? Probably not. Since they’re very similar exercises, there’s little point in doing chest dips and tricep dips in the same session.

The one exception to this is if you did, say, weighted chest dips at the start of your session, and then high-rep bodyweight tricep dips at the end of the workout. You could obviously reverse the exercise order and do heavy tricep dips followed by bodyweight chest dips.

On the other hand, you could do both exercises but on different days of the week. This is my preferred approach because then you can do each movement when you’re relatively fresh and haven’t accumulated as much dip fatigue.

Of course, if you prefer one exercise, then there’s no need to do the other. If you just want a good all-around compound movement that hammers the lower pecs, then chest dips are the way to go.

Which exercise is safer?

A man holding his elbow

Now for arguably the most critical part of my chest vs tricep dips comparison; exercise safety. Dips cause problems for many lifters, but they’re typically very safe when performed with the correct technique.

Tricep dips usually put a bit more strain on your shoulders than chest dips because they’re less of a compound movement (even though they’re still very much a compound exercise).

What I mean by this is that, during a tricep dip, the elbow joint handles most of the tension, and the chest does very little. But if you go too deep, you can hurt your rotator cuffs because, due to your upright torso position, your chest and front delts can’t contribute as much force in order to help your rotator cuffs out.

In a chest dip, on the other hand, the load is distributed more equally over your elbows and shoulders, which means that you can go deeper because you’re stretching your pecs and deltoids rather than your rotator cuffs.

That said, chest dips put more pressure on the sternum than tricep dips. Whether or not this leads to any problems is down to your individual anthropometry.

See Also: Tricep dip challenge

Tricep dips vs chest dips: The verdict

So, which exercise is better, chest dips or tricep dips? Like many questions in fitness, the answer depends.

If you want to train your pecs and shoulders while putting less pressure on your rotator cuffs, then chest dips are the best choice. Overall, I’d say that they’re a better mass builder for your pushing muscles than triceps dips (and chest dips definitely do work the triceps as well).

To keep the focus of the dip on your triceps and minimize the tension on your chest, tricep dips are the better choice. If staying too upright puts pressure on your shoulders, then you can employ a slight torso lean to bring your pecs and delts into the movement while still retaining the triceps emphasis of the exercise.

I hope that you enjoyed reading my chest dip vs tricep dip comparison. As you can see, both exercises have their place, but If I could only do one, it’d definitely be chest dips.

References

  1. Muscle & Strength. (2021, May 7). Chest Dip. https://www.muscleandstrength.com/exercises/chest-dip.html
  2. Thibaudeau, C. (2022, February 24). Tip: Master Dips for Chest & Triceps. T NATION. https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-master-dips-for-chest-triceps/
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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