alternative to dips
Fitness

15 Exercises That Are A Great Alternative to Dips

When it comes to blasting your triceps and pectoral muscles, there is arguably no more popular exercise than dips. By performing a controlled movement with your body weight being lowered between two bars, dips can be a terrific addition to your workout routine. 

Though it can be considered a fairly basic exercise, it does require a lot of upper body strength and control to move your entire body weight, meaning it isn’t a viable option for some people.

So, if you’re looking for an alternative to dips, these alternative exercises will help you work the same muscles and build strength in your arms and chest.

1. Push Ups 

via Gfycat

How To:

  • With the shoulders, elbows and wrists all aligned, place your hands flat on the floor, arms straight. 
  • Your legs should be straight out behind you with your toes on the floor. You can also perform this exercise with your knees on the ground, to make it easier.
  • Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor but don’t touch it down.
  • Push through your hands to straighten your arms and return to the starting position.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • None.

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

When performed correctly, this is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do. It works your chest and arms, just like dips, but is easier to perform and can be easily adapted.

Pro Tip: 

Avoid flaring your elbows out as you lower down; the tighter they are to your body, the more challenging the push ups are.

2. Bench Press

How To:

  • Place a weight bench underneath a barbell that’s loaded into a rack. Lie down on a flat bench, facing up, ensuring that the bar is in line with your eyes while it’s racked.
  • Extend your arms up and unrack the bar using an overhand grip. Once it’s off the rack, the bar should be in line with your chest.
  • With a controlled motion, lower the weight down to your chest.
  • Engage your chest muscles to extend your arms and push the bar back up to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Bench
  • Squat rack/bench press rack

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The benefits of this exercise on your upper body strength are difficult to overstate; it is such an effective exercise for working a range of muscles and building the foundations for other exercises.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your back flat against the bench; don’t allow it to arch.

3. Dumbbell Flys

How To:

  • Lie back on a bench, or an incline bench, and hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and palms facing each other. The two dumbbells should be almost touching.
  • Open up your chest and lower your arms to your side, keeping the weights in line with your chest and a slight bend in your elbows. Hold for a moment.
  • Lift the weights back up and bring your arms together in the starting position. Repeat.
  • 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is a solid alternative exercise for dips as your chest muscles are under tension for the whole movement, though your shoulder joint is also opening up on either side. This is also a beginner-friendly exercise.

Pro Tip: 

Don’t lower the weights down too far, just in line with your torso, and once you feel a stretch across your chest muscles.

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4. Tricep Dips

via Gfycat

How To:

  • Sit on a bench, box or chair with your hands pressed down on it next you and your feet on the ground.
  • Take your weight off the bench and move forward so only your hands are touching it, and straighten your legs so the backs of your heels are touching the floor.
  • Bend at the elbows to lower your buttocks down toward the floor until your arms reach a 90-degree angle.
  • Push back up through your hands until your arms are straight again and repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench/box/chair/table

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This can be done pretty much anywhere provided you’ve got a stable platform at the right height. This might seem like a bit of a cheat as these are technically dips, but they’re easier to perform as your feet are on the floor, plus they’re exclusively targeting your triceps.

Pro Tip: 

You can bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor to make the movement easier.

5. Cable Crossovers

How to:

  • Set the pulleys of a cable machine to their highest point and hold each handle with an overhand grip. Have your feet in a split stance, your arms held out at your sides while you hold the handles and a small bend in your elbows.
  • Lean forward slightly and pull the handles down and in front of you so your hands cross over each other slightly. 
  • Allow the weights of the machine to pull your arms back to your sides and in line with your shoulders, but keep this motion under control. Repeat.
  • 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Cable pulley machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This machine-based exercise works your upper body through a movement pattern that targets the majority of your chest muscles and makes a great part of any upper body workout.

Pro Tip: 

Squeeze your chest muscles as you bring the handles down and in front of you.

6. Close Grip Bench Press

How To:

  • Lie on a bench and grip a barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands close together, inside the width of your shoulders.
  • Lower the bar to your chest with your elbows bent, then explosively push it upward until your arms are extended.
  • Bring the bar back down to your chest and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Bench

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This functional exercise is seriously good for adding upper body size as it recruits your triceps as well as your chest muscles, making it a perfect alternative exercise for chest dips.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your wrists strong and in line with your forearms.

7. Pec Deck Machine

How to:

  • Sit in the seat of the machine with your back flat and take hold of the handles on either side, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Pull the handles together so they meet out in front of your chest.
  • With a controlled motion, return your arms and the handles to the starting position and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Pec deck

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

It’s called the pec deck for a reason; you need to recruit the major muscles in your chest to bring the handles together and lift the weight. The machine also ensures you’re moving through the correct range of motion.

Pro Tip: 

Make sure you set the handles to an appropriate angle. You don’t want them too far back or too far forward.

8. Overhead Tricep Extension

via Gfycat

How To:

  • Either standing or seated, hold a dumbbell behind your head with both hands so that it is positioned vertically, and your elbows are bent.
  • Straighten your arms to lift the weight above your head.
  • Lower the dumbbell to return to the starting position. Repeat
  • Reps: 12-15.
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Equipment Used:

  • Dip bars/handles

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is one of the most effective triceps exercises you can perform as the triceps muscle is doing all the work to control the weight.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your back straight and your core engaged.

9. Diamond Push Ups

via Gfycat

How To:

  • Lay your hands flat on the floor, angled toward each other when the tips of your index fingers and thumbs touching, creating a diamond shape between your hands. Have your arms straight and your legs straight out behind you, toes on the floor.
  • Keeping your hands in place, bend your arms to lower your chest toward the floor.
  • Hold for a second then push back up to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Just like having a closer grip on bench presses engages your triceps, so too does this variation of the press up. 

Pro Tip: 

Keep your elbows tucked in against your body so they don’t flare out too much.

10. Skull Crushers

How To:

  • Lay facing upward on a flat bench. Take a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms up so you’re holding the weights above your upper chest, palms facing each other.
  • Bend at the elbows to lower the weights down toward your face until you feel a stretch in your triceps.
  • Lift the weights back up by straightening your arms to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is a smart substitute for dips as it promotes strength in your triceps without putting any strain on your back. 

Pro Tip: 

Ensure that only your forearms are moving, don’t allow other muscles to do the work.

11. Decline Bench Press

How To:

  • Lie on a decline bench and secure your legs in the pads. Ensure the bar is in line with your upper chest/neck and that you’re able to reach it when your arms are extended.
  • Lift the bar off the rack and hold it above your shoulders, arms extended.
  • Lower the bar down to your chest, hold for a second, then push it back up to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Decline bench
  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

If you’re looking to recruit your lower chest muscles, this is one of the best exercises you can do. The declined angle puts emphasis on the lower portion of your chest, meaning it does most of the work.

Pro Tip: 

Don’t let your back arch while pushing the bar up; it should be flat against the bench.

12. Cable Rope Push Down

How To:

  • Stand facing the cable machine and set the handle so that the rope handles are level with your chest. Take hold of them with both hands, elbows bent and tight against your body.
  • Pull the handles down and straighten your arms, though not fully locked out. 
  • Allow the handles to rise back up, bending your arms with them to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Cable machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Pulling a weight down using just your triceps is a challenge, and the setup of this movement means – if performed correctly – your triceps really are doing all the work, giving them an excellent workout.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your elbows pinned to your sides throughout the movement and resist the urge to lean forward.

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13. Tricep Kickbacks

via Gfycat

How To:

  • Stand next to a flat bench and rest your left hand and left knee on it, so that you’re bent over with your back straight.
  • With your right hand, pull a dumbbell up to your midsection so that your arm is at a 90-degree angle. 
  • Move the weight backward by straightening your arm so that it runs parallel to your torso. 
  • Bend your arm to return the weight to the starting position. Repeat for reps, then switch arms.
  • Reps: 8-10 on each arm.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The support of the bench and your arm/knee means your body can remain stable throughout this movement, making it a very effective way to work your tricep muscles.

Pro Tip: 

Squeeze your tricep muscle when pulling the weight back.

14. Hex Dumbbell Press

How To:

  • Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold two dumbbells above you, pressed together, with your arms extended.
  • Keeping the weights pressed together, lower them to your chest, then push them back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

By squeezing the weights together, you’re activating your entire chest to not only move them up and down but also keep them steady and in place.

Pro Tip: 

Ideally, you should use hex dumbbells for this as they are easily held together due to their flat surfaces.

15. Incline Push Up

How To:

  • Place your hands on a flat bench and stick your legs out behind you so your toes are on the ground and your body is forming a straight line, with your arms extended.
  • Bend at the elbows and lower your torso down toward the bench, stopping just before you make contact.
  • Drive up through your hands and push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The raised angle means your upper chest is doing more work here, while your triceps will also be recruited, just like with dips.

Pro Tip: 

Keep the movement slow and controlled going down, then explode back upward.

Conclusion

If you want to target your chest and triceps but dips aren’t for you, then these alternatives will make a great fit in your workout routine. Some just require bodyweight, others some equipment, but all of them recruit the relevant muscle groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get strong enough to do dips?

To begin with, performing tricep dips on a chair, table, bench or box will help develop some of the muscles used for dips on parallel bars. You can also perform some of the exercises listed above as these will also help. The aim is to be able to move your body weight while suspended off the ground, so try to work up to that amount of weight.

Are dips bad for shoulders?

Not inherently, no. Your shoulders are working as stabilizers during the movement and aren’t actively recruited. They’re not moving through much of a range of motion, either. Of course, if you do feel discomfort in your shoulders while performing dips, then ensure your form is correct.

Will bodyweight dips build mass?

This depends on your body composition and the exercise you already do. Bodyweight exercises like dips are excellent for building initial levels of muscle and maintaining it, but after a certain point, you’ll need to add extra resistance to continue building mass.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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