Ahh the tricep dip... it's an exercise you either love or love to hate. But the truth is, tricep dips are an important part of any workout routine. Plus, when done with proper form, dips work both your chest and triceps.
But what if you don't have a dip bar? Or perhaps your shoulder joint is uncomfortable or even painful when doing a parallel bar dip?
Well, that's where this article comes in, isn't it? Read on for the best alternative exercises to work those pesky little chest and tricep muscles.
What Makes An Exercise a Good Tricep Dip Alternative?
Basically, the best exercises should work the same muscles as a dip exercise. That means your:
- Pectoralis Major
- Anterior Deltoid
... all need to be working at least some of the time. This is where good form and a strong focus on upper body strength is key. You can do all the triceps dips alternatives you want but if your form is sloppy or you're not targeting the same muscle groups, it's not going to be as effective.
What Muscles Are Used in Dips?
Speaking of the muscles used, I listed them above, but let's dig deeper.
Pectoral muscles is another name for your chest muscles. Your pectoralis major, specifically, is the muscle in your upper chest. These muscles connect from your upper chest out to your deltoids. Speaking of deltoids...
Your anterior deltoids are one of the three major muscle groups in your shoulders. These are located at the front of your shoulders, just above where your pecs connect.
Last but not least, of course tricep dips use, well, your triceps (also known as your triceps brachii). These are the long, thin muscles running along the backs of your upper arms (opposite your biceps).
Tricep Dips vs. Chest Dips — What's the Difference?
The difference is small but mighty — it's all in how you lean.
If you lean forward during your dips, your target muscles are your pecs. Thus, it's a chest dip. If you stay upright or lean back more, your target muscles are your triceps. Thus, it's a tricep dip.
Otherwise, the movement is largely the same. You're still beginning in a lifted position, elbows locked, weight held by your arms. You still slowly lower yourself down until your upper arm is roughly parallel with the bars. You still push yourself back up.
But whether you lean forward or backward will determine which muscle group you use.
The 13 Best Tricep Dip Alternatives
Alright, now we get to the meat of things. Whether you need an alternative to dips because your shoulder muscles aren't strong enough or you experience pain, or you're just looking to shake up your upper body workout, here we go.
1. Diamond Push Ups
Talk about a body weight exercise that kills like a chest dip. A diamond push up will really challenge your chest muscles.
These push ups are the same as regular ones, except your hands are close together with your fingers touching in a diamond shape.
It's important to note if you still can't do regular push ups, you need to build up the strength to do those before attempting diamonds. Diamonds focus even more on your chest and triceps, so keep doing standard push ups first if you need to build the strength.
These are a bodyweight exercise guaranteed to help you strengthen your arms and chest.
- Start on your hands and knees. Now, instead of placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, bring them together directly under your chest. Your pointer fingers and thumbs should touch in the diamond shape.
- Extend your legs straight back into a plank position. Keep your core engaged, your entire body tight, and your spine neutral.
- Breathe in as you lower yourself toward the floor. Keep your elbows tucked so they don't flare.
- Breathe out as you push back up. Move your entire body as a unit and keep all your muscles engaged throughout.
2. Close Grip Push Ups
These are also known as tricep push ups, and for good reason — they zero in almost exclusively on your triceps. You're getting chest work here, too, but if you want to fire up those triceps muscles, these push ups are for you. They're yet another one of my favorite bodyweight exercises that require no equipment yet still provide a challenge.
- Follow the standard push up set up (on hands and knees, legs back in a tight plank, etc.)
- Instead of placing your hands wider than shoulder width, to really target that triceps muscle, place your hands directly beneath your shoulders.
- As you lower yourself toward the floor, keep your elbows glued to your torso. You should almost feel your upper arm grazing your sides as you lower and lift. Inhale on the lowering.
- Exhale as you press back to starting position.
3. Close Grip Bench Press
Everyone knows bench presses are stellar chest exercises. But by bringing your hands in closer, your bench press gains an element of triceps work.
Another fantastic part of the bench press is how versatile it is. With an incline bench, you can target your upper chest. Or do a decline bench press, but that targets your lower chest muscles (more on this later).
- Lay back on a flat bench with the bar positioned above you. Grip the bar with your hands directly above your shoulders (not wider, not too close).
- Keep your feet flat on the ground. Brace through your core and engage your legs.
- Lift the bar off the hooks. Inhale as you slowly lower the bar toward your chest, keeping your elbows slightly tucked.
- Exhale as you press the bar back overhead.
4. Triceps Pushdown
This exercise requires a cable machine, so if you don't have access to a gym, it might be a bit tricky for you. You can also try it with a sturdy resistance band attached to a door or high pole, but a cable machine will be slightly more effective.
This move, when done with good form, focuses completely on your triceps, making it a stellar tricep dip alternative.
- Stand a few feet in front of a cable machine (or your resistance band attached to a door or other sturdy object).
- Pull your shoulders back and down, engaging your lats and core to avoid hunching forward. Pull the bar down so your upper arms are a little bit higher than parallel and your hands are at about chest height.
- Keeping your posture tall, exhale and pull down on the bar or resistance band until your hands are at about your thighs. Squeeze your triceps.
- Inhale as you slowly lift the bar back into starting position. Don't just let the bar or resistance band fly back up on its own. Fight the weight to get the most out of this alternative to dips.
5. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
If you don't have access to a gym or resistance bands, dumbbells make an excellent choice for working those triceps. When doing dumbbell tricep kickbacks, start with a lighter weight than you think you can lift. If you're throwing the weight around or relying on momentum, you're cheating yourself out of the exercise.
One great thing about kickbacks is you can do them in two ways: standing up or leaning on a flat bench. The video below demonstrates how to do kickbacks with a bench. If you're standing, you can use two dumbbells instead of one and work both triceps at the same time.
Oh, and if you're a beginner and dumbbells are too heavy for you, feel free to start with bodyweight tricep extensions first.
- Choose a light set of dumbbells. If you're standing, bend at the waist, keeping your spine neutral and core engaged. Lift your arms so your upper arms are at your sides — they shouldn't move throughout the entirety of the exercise.
- Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Exhale and kick the dumbbells back and up behind you. Squeeze your triceps at the top.
- Inhale as you return the dumbbells to starting position.
6. Skull Crushers
What a badass name for an exercise, right? This move gets its name because you're lifting a weight over your skull, and you better be careful not to drop it or... well, you can probably piece it together.
You can do this move with two dumbbells, one in each hand, or with a single dumbbell while you hold the ends. You can also use a barbell. It's up to you.
- Lie back on a flat bench or on the floor. Begin with your arms straight up at a 90º angle to your body.
- Keep your core tight. Exhale as you let your arms fall back toward your head. You can stop at 90º or go farther, whichever gets you feeling the stretch in your triceps more.
- Inhale as you lift the bells back to starting position.
7. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
This move uses a decline bench but otherwise is similar to the close grip bench. The main difference is your hands will be in a normal grip (rather than close). This move targets your lower chest more than a regular bench press, so while it's not a direct alternative to dips, it still works your upper body and is a great option if you can't do chest dips.
- Hook your feet under the end of a decline bench. Holding your dumbbells, lie back on the bench. Raise the bells into pressing position (palms facing away from you, hands in line with your shoulders).
- Inhale as you lower the weights until your elbow is about a 90º angle. Your forearms should always be perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale and press the bells back up to starting position, using your chest muscles.
8. Cable Chest Flys
The cable machine is back again! A cable chest fly is a great alternative to chest dips. When you do this exercise properly, it works your upper and lower pecs.
- Place your pulley about chest level. Grasp each handle and step forward, staying in a straight line in front of the machine.
- Maintain a small bend forward at the waist and bring the pulleys out in front of you. This is your starting position.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, breathe in and extend your arms backward until you feel a stretch in your chest.
- Exhale as you press the pulleys forward, back to the start.
9. Cable Press
A cable press is exactly like a bench press, except standing at the machine. It's also very similar to the cable chest fly, except instead of keeping the slight bend in your elbows, you're going to bend them a lot more, to basically 90º.
You set up a straps chest press exactly like a chest fly, again, except for how much you bend your elbows.
10. Dumbbell Bench Press
A dumbbell press is a classic alternative to chest dips. It's one of the most effective exercises for building your chest up. You can do this move on a bench or on the floor, though a bench will get you slightly more range of motion.
- Lay back on a bench or on the ground. Depending on how heavy your weights are, you might need to kick them up into place using your thighs.
- Begin with your arms inline with your body, forearms perpendicular to the floor. Brace your legs on the ground and keep your core tight.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbells up. Don't lock your elbows at the top.
- Inhale as you lower the bells back to start.
11. Band Chest Press
A banded chest press is an excellent option if you're avoiding chest dips but don't have access to a lot of equipment. All you need is a band and something sturdy to attach it to. It's also a great exercise because it's effective while being gentle on your shoulder joint.
- Attach your band to something sturdy, about chest height. Take a handle in each hand and step forward until there's mild tension in the band.
- Begin with your elbows at 90º, palms facing the floor (like a bench press but upright). Brace your core, keeping your ribs down and your pelvis in alignment. Some people use a split stance, with one leg in front of the other.
- Exhale as you press the band out in front of you. Bring your hands together but not quite touching.
- Inhale as you slowly let the bands back to start. Don't just let it fly back, fight the resistance to get the most out of this workout.
12. Dumbbell Flys
Here we have yet another excellent alternative to push ups. You get in the same position as a bench press, except you keep your arms slightly bent like you did during a cable chest fly.
- Follow the same steps to set up as a dumbbell press.
- As you inhale to lower the weights out, make sure your elbow stays at about a 10º bend. Extend until you feel a gentle stretch through your chest.
- Inhale as you bring the bells back together above you.
13. Plate Pinch Push
Another alternative to dips is the plate pinch push. The key to making the most of this movement is to maintain proper form and push as hard as you can on the weight plate as you hold it between your hands. But done right, this move is practically guaranteed to get you a bigger chest, plus work your triceps in the bargain.
- Sit down on a bench with a weight plate. Press the plate between your hands, not using your fingers to grip it. Roll backward onto the bench until you're lying down, starting with the plate resting on your chest.
- Keep your elbows slightly tucked and your feet firmly on the ground. Brace your core.
- Exhale as you press the plate up. Start with a lighter weight than you think you can move, because, remember, you're not gripping at all. You're pressing with your palms.
- Inhale as you lower the plate back to your chest.
14. JM Press
This press is sort of like a bench, except most of the movement is in your elbows so you really target your triceps. You're going to use a close, overhand grip and keep your elbows above your torso throughout the movement.
- Lay back on a bench with the barbell above you. Grip the bar in a close position, with one or two fingers on the smooth part. Keep your elbows at about 45º.
- Inhale as you lower the bar. The bar will remain over your chin and not reach your chest. Think more about bending your elbows and less about stretching through your chest.
- Exhale as you press, flexing your triceps to extend the bar back to start.
To Sum Up
Whether you use body weight moves, dumbbells, resistance bands, or barbells, there are tons of ways to train your chest and triceps that make a great alternative to the traditional chest dip. So grab your straight bar, watch your range of motion in each movement, and get to work!