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Dips vs tricep extension: Which is better for building your triceps?

Learn whether you should do dips or tricep extensions for maximum mass gain and strength development.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 11th October 2021
A man doing a dips vs tricep extension comparison to show the differences

In this dips vs tricep extension comparison, you’ll learn how dips stack up against extensions in terms of building the tricep muscles and developing strength.

We’ll then discuss whether it’s necessary to do both exercises and, if so, which one you should do first in your workout routine.

But before we get into the meat of this tricep dips vs tricep extensions comparison, it’s important to define what we mean by dips.

Dips can mean bench dips where the triceps are pretty much working by themselves.

Dips, in the context of triceps training, can also mean upright dips on a set of dipping handles, which is the type of dip that we’ll be pitting against tricep extensions today.

If you want to see how extensions compare to tricep bench dips, then check out our skull crushers vs dips comparison as well.

Summary of the differences

  1. Tricep extensions train the long head optimally, whereas dips don’t.
  2. Dips are a multi-joint exercise and can thus replace compound free-weight presses.
  3. Dips put more pressure on the shoulders than lying extensions and likely still a bit more than overhead extensions as well.
  4. Tricep extensions, as a single joint exercise, put more torque through the elbows than dips.
  5. You can lift more total resistance during dips (including that of your body weight), but that doesn’t mean that your triceps are receiving more tension.
  6. Dips require more core strength than tricep extensions.

Dips vs lying tricep extensions

A man at the gym doing a dips vs lying tricep extensions comparison

Both dips and the lying extension exercise train all three heads of the triceps with substantial amounts of resistance.

However, since dips don’t put your shoulders into flexion, they’re suboptimal for working the long head of the triceps, which is the biggest head of the triceps and the only one that acts on the shoulder joint.

Lying tricep extensions, on the other hand, place the long head of the triceps under a tremendous eccentric stretch and thus promote more mass gain than dips (the long head, after all, is bigger than the medial and lateral heads combined).

In terms of gaining strength, dips and tricep extensions are relatively equal. You can add small or fractional plates to the bar for tricep extensions, which enables you to gain strength at a faster rate, and you can microload in the same manner with dips via a dipping belt.

As for which is more comfortable to perform, it depends on the joint. Tricep extensions are a pure elbow extension exercise and, as such, place more torque through the elbows. This is why it’s recommended to bring the bar behind your head instead of lowering it to your face.

Dips—while generally safe when performed correctly—put significantly more stress on the shoulders than extensions and also place more pressure on your sternum.

Dips vs overhead extensions

A man doing a dips vs overhead extensions comparison at the gym

As with lying extensions, the DB overhead extension is better for training the long head of the triceps than dips. This is because overhead extensions place your shoulders into a highly flexed position, which, since only the long head crosses the shoulder joint, means that the long head has to do most of the lifting.

Like dips, however, overhead extensions are known to put a lot of pressure on the rotator cuffs, some of which you can mitigate by using the proper form.

Since dips are a multi-joint exercise, they don’t put as much pressure on your elbows as overhead extensions, which is actually a strong indication that dips don’t isolate the triceps as well as extensions.

Although you’ll be applying more total resistance to your muscles during dips, that extra tension is getting distributed to your shoulders and chest as well, so it’s doubtful that dips are better than overhead extensions for optimizing triceps development.

See also: Tricep pushdowns vs overhead extensions

Is it necessary to do both exercises?

A man performing a dips vs triceps extensions comparison

While doing both dips and tricep extensions is by no means necessary (not even for maximum muscle growth), it’s still a good idea to perform both movements in certain scenarios.

For example, heavy presses, as you probably know, are exceptional exercises for building triceps mass because they enable you to overload your triceps with massive amounts of resistance. Well, if you prefer bodyweight drills to barbell presses, then it makes sense to do dips as well as extensions.

If, on the other hand, you already do plenty of heavy presses, then there’s little point doing dips as well unless you just need to perform extra training volume (if you have good bodyweight strength, then high rep dips are actually an excellent finishing exercise for your chest and triceps as well.)

Performing some kind of tricep extension where your shoulders are flexed is, on the other hand, necessary for maximum triceps hypertrophy. This is because the largest head of the triceps (the long head) acts on the shoulder joint; thus, your shoulders need to be in flexion in order to put the long head under a proper eccentric stretch.

Should you do dips or tricep extensions first?

A man showing the differences between an overhead tricep extension and dips

Deciding whether to do dips or tricep extensions first ultimately comes down to your training goals.

If you want to maximize your bodyweight strength development, start with dips, they’re a great alternative to the dumbbell tricep extension.

If you want to prioritize the development of the long head of your triceps, do extensions first and then hip rep dips after.

On the other hand, if you’re doing weighted dips (or even just bodyweight dips) as a replacement for compound presses and are thus performing lower reps, then it makes sense to start with dips and do extensions afterward.

Read More: Skull crushers vs tricep extensions

Dips vs triceps extensions: The verdict

As noted throughout our tricep dips vs extensions comparison, it’s perfectly fine to do both exercises.

Yet, at the same time, dips, because they don’t train the long head optimally, aren’t necessary for maximum triceps development, whereas some kind of tricep extension is.

The exercise order, as mentioned, depends on your goals. Do dips first if you’re using them as a replacement for compound presses and if you want to maximize your bodyweight strength.

On the other hand, you can also do high rep dips as a burnout exercise and perform your extensions for moderate reps (8-12) earlier on in the workout.

I hope that you enjoyed our dips vs tricep extension comparison. While both exercises definitely have their place, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Identify your training goals and start with the exercise that best aligns with your weight lifting ambitions.

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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