Dips are a challenging-yet-effective exercise that can produce some serious upper body games. However, not everyone has the form and functionality they require to execute the exercise correctly. Equipment limitations also limit one’s ability to perform dips.
Fortunately, there are plenty of exercises to choose from when looking for an alternative to dips. Here are some movements to add to your workout routine and essential considerations for this exercise.
Chest Dips vs. Tricep Dips
Dips are an exercise that bodybuilders often use to build bigger triceps. However, a slight shift forward when completing this exercise shifts the target muscles to the chest. When you’re looking for an alternative exercise for dips, it’s essential to clarify what you’re trying to target.
1. Single-Arm Resistance Band Extensions
A resistance band is a must-have piece of equipment that you can use to do an upper body workout from anywhere. Resistance bands are versatile and powerful, offering a unique bell-shaped strength curve when used in resistance training.
Band extensions target the triceps muscle group, with an increased focus on the long head tricep muscle. As the long head tricep muscle makes up the bulk of the arm, targeting this area can effectively increase your arm mass.
- Stand in a staggered stance with feet at shoulder width. One foot should be slightly ahead of the other.
- Place the resistance band under the back foot, extending your arm upward until straight while holding the band.
- Keeping your arm extended and your core tight, slowly lower the band behind your head until your elbow reaches a 90-degree angle. Keep your upper arm and shoulder in a fixed position.
- Pause at the bottom then extend upward until your arm is fully erect.
Adjusting your footing on the resistance band can intensify or lessen the resistance.
2. Close Grip Push-Ups
Dips are a push exercise— a movement that causes muscular contraction when weight is pushed away from you. Push-ups, like dips, use this form of movement with your body weight and gravity. It’s this similar motion that makes push-ups such an effective substitute for dips.
Maintaining a close grip position ensures that the movement targets the triceps rather than shifting to the shoulder joint during this bodyweight exercise.
- Get in a plank position with your hands just outside of shoulder width, your toes stacked, and a strong core.
- Keeping your elbows tucked close to your side, lower yourself until you are about an inch from the floor, or your chest touches your thumbs. Allow your elbows to bend back to accommodate the movement— avoid flaring out to the side.
- Pause at the bottom, then push up forcefully until you’ve returned to the starting position.
Allowing the elbows to flare will shift some of the movement to the chest muscles. However, this can put undue stress on the shoulder muscles. It’s better to adjust your hand positioning rather than allowing your elbows to flare out of alignment.
3. Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press operates similarly to close grip push-ups. Tricep dips and bench pressing have a complementary relationship, each helping to strengthen the other in a training regimen.
Like the close grip push up and dips, the triceps muscle group is the main target of this movement.
- Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, and your scapular muscles tucked and engaged.
- Grab the bar with your hands at shoulder width and your wrists stacked under the bar.
- Brace your core and lower the bar in a slow and controlled motion, keeping your elbows tucked to your sides.
- When the bar touches your chest, push upward forcefully until your arms are extended. Beware of over-extending and pulling your shoulders out of engagement.
You must keep your elbows tucked, and wrists stacked to prevent injury when doing this dips replacement exercise. Start with a lighter weight than your usual bench press, as the close grip reduces shoulder and chest engagement.
4. Cable Machine Tricep Pushdowns
Cable machine tricep pushdowns are a beginner-friendly exercise. You can complete this exercise with either a rope or a straight bar on a cable machine. The straight bar targets the long head of the tricep muscles, while the rope hits the lateral head more effectively.
- Stand in front of the cable machine with your feet slightly apart. The rope or bar should be at about chest level— adjust as needed.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, placing your hands at shoulder width if you use the rope grip each side so that your palms are facing each other.
- Brace your core and push the bar or ropes downward toward your hips. Keep your elbows tucked and your upper arms in a fixed position.
- Pause when your arms are fully extended, ensuring your back is straight, and your chest is high. Allow the bar or ropes to come back up to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. That’s one rep.
You can use a resistance band to replicate this substitute for dips if you don’t have access to a cable machine.
5. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
This effective alternative to dips uses an extension motion to target the long head tricep. These are best performed on an incline bench to ensure proper stability while working through the complete range of motion. (check out our weight bench reviews here).
- Lay on an incline bench at a 45-degree angle with your feet firmly planted and your chest resting against the bench. Brace your core and ensure that your spine is straight and aligned.
- Holding two dumbbells, tuck your elbows with your wrists resting against your sides.
- Extend and straighten your arms until they are parallel with your body. Pause at the top of the movement.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled motion. Your upper arms should remain in a fixed position throughout the movement.
Use a lighter dumbbell to get used to this movement, as good form is paramount for getting the best possible results.
6. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The decline dumbbell bench press is a fantastic alternative to chest dips. This beginner-friendly exercise is easily scalable with limited equipment. The decline position puts the focus on the lower chest muscles, engaging the pectorals as you push the weight.
- Position a bench so that it’s at a slight incline. If you have a fixed bench, putting a plate or bumper underneath will be sufficient.
- Lay on your back on the bench with your head at the lower side. Rest your feet over the high end of the bench.
- Pick up your dumbbells with an overhand grip, positioning them just above your chest with your elbows tucked at your side.
- Push up, extending your arms until your elbows are locked out.
- Lower the dumbbells in a slow and controlled motion until back in the starting position. That’s one rep.
Don’t let the dumbbells connect at the top of the movement, as the momentum can impact your shoulder joint. Instead, keep them at least an inch apart at the top of the movement, squeezing tightly to keep your shoulders engaged.
7. Dumbbell Hex Press
The hex press is a fantastic alternative to weighted chest dip exercises. This often-overlooked accessory movement targets the pectorals, as well as engaging the delts and triceps. The extended range of motion throughout this exercise makes it an effective warm-up with lighter weights as well.
- Lie on your back on a flat bench and grab two dumbbells with an overhand grip.
- Press the dumbbells together with your palms facing each other, holding them about an inch above your chest.
- Squeeze tightly and push the dumbbells together, extending your arms upward until they are locked out. The dumbbells should remain firmly pressed together.
- Lower the weights in a slow and controlled motion, maintaining contact between the dumbbells. Pause just above your chest before moving into the next rep.
This chest dip substitution is best performed with hexagonal dumbbells, hence the name. If using round dumbbells, be mindful of bumping throughout the movement.
8. Pec Deck Fly
As the name implies, the pec deck fly targets the pectoral chest muscles. This machine-based exercise is a beginner-friendly alternative to full dips. While the machine takes the onus off of form, maintaining slow, continuous motion is essential to get the most out of this workout.
- Adjust the machine height so that the bottom of the armrests are at chest height.
- When the positioning is right, sit on the seat and place your arms in the armrest apparatus. You can let your arms press against the pads or grip the handles above.
- Bracing your core and maintaining a strong back, bring your arms forward in a slow and controlled motion until the two armrests are almost touching.
- Squeeze your chest muscles then reverse the movement, keeping a consistent speed until you’re back at the starting position. That’s one rep.
Don’t allow the two arms to touch when you bring them together. Focus on keeping a straight spine and engaged core without leaning into the movement.
9. Standing Dumbbell Chest Fly
The standing dumbbell chest fly is another alternative to dips that replicates the pec deck machine while targeting the upper pectorals. This is a useful alternative for at-home workouts or when limited equipment is available.
- Stand with your feet at shoulder width with a dumbbell in each hand, using an underhand grip.
- Keeping a slight bend in your elbow, raise the dumbbells upward and toward the center, stopping at chest height with the weights nearly touching.
- Pause and squeeze your chest muscles before slowly lowering back to the starting position.
Be sure to avoid swinging motions when doing this alternative exercise for chest dips. Keep your core engaged and your eyes looking forward.
10. Ring or Straps Chest Press
Rings and straps are another versatile piece of equipment that bodybuilders can use to train anywhere. Not only rings are an effective alternative for a parallel bar dip, but they also open the door to other chest-focused dip alternatives.
- Grab your rings or strap handles in an overhand grip, holding them away from your body.
- Lean into the straps, keeping straight arms and stacked wrists to support your weight. Maintain a strong core and straight back.
- Keeping your shoulders back, slowly lower yourself toward the rings or handles.
- Once you’ve reached the limits of your range of motion— ideally with your chest level with the rings— pause and push yourself back up to starting position.
As you’re targeting the chest for this movement, allow your elbows to come away from the body. The strap length will ultimately determine the intensity of this exercise. The longer the straps, the harder the upper body workout.
When looking for an alternative to dips, remember to identify whether you’re targeting the chest, triceps, or both. Many of these exercises can be tweaked to target the other area by tucking or untucking the elbows. Practice proper form to ensure you don’t cause any injuries to the shoulder joint when doing these exercises— slow and controlled movement is the key to success.