If you’re looking for a step-up from tricep dips, then the parallel bar dip is an excellent exercise that works on your upper body strength. Made up of three “heads” (long, lateral, and medial head) the triceps account for two-thirds of your arm muscles, and with the parallel bar dip, your chest, shoulders, and core would greatly benefit from this valuable exercise too.

Because the exercise puts more weight on the shoulder joint, it’s crucial to perform parallel bar dips with proper form to be effective and prevent injury. And although, the movement is very accessible as it can be performed anywhere, mastering the exercise isn’t just about grabbing two bars and pressing against the gravity. 

Instead, the exercise focuses on placing your muscles in tension and making the most out of it. This guide will get you dipping with the optimal benefits you can achieve. Let’s get dipping.

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Do Parallel Bar Dips
  • Parallel Bar Dips Benefits
  • Common Parallel Bar Dip Mistakes to Avoid
  • Parallel Bar Dip Muscles Worked
  • Parallel Bar Dips vs Straight Bar Dips
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and programs
  • Parallel Bar Dip Variations
  • Parallel Bar Dip Alternative Exercises
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Parallel Dips

How To Do Parallel Bar Dips

What You’ll Need:

Alternative Equipment:

  • Sturdy chairs
  • Playground bars 

Step 1: Get into starting position

Align your body between the two parallel bars or a Dip station. If you need assistance, the assisted knee pad must be in an upright position with the knees on top of it. When it lowers to starting position with your arms straight, begin to tighten the muscles in your body, holding onto the bars while holding your body at arm’s length. Keep your arms and elbows straight and locked with your head in line with your trunk and wrists in line with your forearms. 

For Chest Dips

Keep the torso upright with your feet below the body, and the elbows are flexed out more to emphasize the tension on your triceps. Your hand grips need to be a little wider with your arms coming from the outside to the midline of the body.

For Tricep Dips

The tricep dip requires a close grip. Lean your torso forward, with your elbows slightly flared. Your feet must be positioned slightly behind the body. 

Step 2: Lower your body

Inhale as you begin to slowly lower your body, letting your torso move a bit forward and elbows flaring out alongside the path of travel. Hold this position for a few seconds.

Step 3: Push back up

Once you feel your chest stretch and your elbows reach a 90-degree angle or less, exhale and begin to slowly push yourself back up to starting position. As you lower and head back up, you should be squeezing your triceps hard. This is one rep.

Coach’s Tip: the lower your dip is, the more straining it is on your shoulder. To prevent shoulder injury, focus the tension on your chest or triceps muscles as you complete the movement.

5 Parallel Bar Dips Benefits

1. Scalable with Many Variations

Dips are a great exercise to improve your upper body strength and muscle mass. If you’re a beginner, it can be a bit challenging performing some dip exercises, though there are numerous variations you can do to meet your specific skill level. 

Once you get accustomed to the right form and you get strong enough to do high reps, you can diversify from narrow or wide grip dips on the dip bar, and use a weighted belt for added resistance.

2. Build Strength

Performing dips regularly is a valuable asset to workout programs, resulting in great muscle gains. Parallel dips are a multi-joint exercise using a lot of muscle mass. We can see dips as a full-body workout because not only does it work your triceps, but your back, chest, and even your core! 

3. Build Muscle Mass

This is a benefit you’ll reap, especially when you add more weight to the exercise. As you progressively overload your muscles with more weight, you gain dip strength and get those muscles bigger along the way.

4. Do It Wherever

You will need more equipment compared to any other bodyweight exercise, though parallel dips are relatively easy to do anywhere. If you have parallel bars and some space, you can efficiently perform the exercise. You can also perform other variations that use household furniture like chairs or one that doesn’t use any equipment at all.

5. Improve Athletic Performance

If you’re a weightlifter, you can benefit from parallel bar dips as it works your triceps. This muscle is involved in elbow extension, the final phase of lifting movements like the jerk, overhead press, bench press, and more. 

Furthermore, you can also improve your overhead stability, which is essential for weightlifters during the top position of snatches or clean and jerks.

Common Parallel Bar Dip Mistakes to Avoid

Incomplete Range of Motion

Just like other exercises, you’ll build muscle even better when you go through the entire range of motion. You must maintain proper form to achieve the complete range of motion, and that’s where you can really grow muscle mass. 

You Go Too Quickly

You risk injuring your rotator cuffs and robbing yourself of gains if you go too fast. You want controlled movement maximizing the strain, not ultra-speed. You’ll be more prone to injury going too fast and make even more form errors, lessening any chance of significant muscle growth.

You Use Momentum

This is a common mistake in any dip exercise because when our muscles tire out, our body compensates with other muscles. You shouldn’t do this, though, or you won’t reap the full benefits of parallel dips! Go slow and steady, focusing more on the quality of your reps over quantity.

Incorrect Grip Width

Your parallel bars must be shoulder-width apart or just a bit wider than that for the perfect amount of control. If you have the incorrect grip width, it can lead to shoulder strain or injuries. The shoulders shouldn’t be carrying all the tension.

You Raise Your Shoulders

You need to pull your shoulder blades back and down, which is part of the dip exercise’s proper form. Doing that will prevent the shoulders from shrugging and swallowing the neck during your dip. If you raise your shoulders, you take the pressure off your chest and into the shoulders, which causes strain. The lower your dip is, the more taxing it is on your shoulders. Instead, focus the tension on your targeted muscles like the triceps or chest as you complete the movement.

Parallel Bar Dip Muscles Worked

Parallel bar dips work the following muscles:

  • Tricep Muscles
  • Pectoral Muscles
  • Deltoid Muscles
  • Back muscles

The tricep muscles are the primary movers of the parallel bar dip exercise because of the wide range of motion. Moreover, you will work the pectorals to a higher degree during the horizontal abduction, with the triceps working harder to compensate for the activation loss.

Your pectoral muscles work because of shoulder flexion. Even if the pectorals have a higher activation during the horizontal adduction, your pectoral muscles still work hard. However, some factors can give you more activation in these muscles, like your grip width or body posture. 

Like the pectoral muscles, you use the deltoid muscles for shoulder flexion. The humerus moves upwards and behind your body when your body goes down. The triceps will extend the elbow when coming back up while the deltoids flex the shoulder, driving the humerus down and forward. Moreover, dip exercises work on your back, targeting more of your upper back lat muscles.

Parallel Bar Dips vs Straight Bar Dips

When performing a parallel bar dip, you will dip in between bars. In straight bar dips, your body will move around the bar. When lowering yourself down, you must lean over the bar, reaching your legs out in front a little bit for balance. This is why straight bar dips will result in more abdominal activation. It is also more demanding on the shoulders and traps as it has a limited range of motion compared to parallel bars which allow for a neutral shoulder position. 

If you are looking to focus more on your chest muscles, the straight bar dip is ideal. Whereas, parallel bars tend to emphasize more your tricep muscles. The parallel bar will also allow you to dip more than 90-degrees which is quite the opposite of a straight bar.

Whether which of these bars are accessible to you, both versions can be used to focus on your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Muscle Building

You can start with 3-5 sets of 8-15 repetitions when building muscle. If you’re doing weighted dips with moderate to heavy loads, rest for 90-120 seconds per set.

For Strength Training

Gain strength with parallel bar dips by adding more weight through a dip belt. You’ll want to do 3-5 sets of 5-10 repetitions with 90-120 seconds of rest per set for this goal. 

For Muscle Endurance

It’s best to perform many reps with short rest periods. Perform 2-3 sets of 20-30 repetitions with 45-60 seconds of rest between.

Parallel Bar Dip Variations

Whether you are starting with dip exercises or want to progress from parallel dips, there are variations you can perform suited for your skill level.

Elevator Dips

Elevator dips help you develop strength and control at different stages throughout the range of motion. You can customize this exercise according to how you want to increase difficulty, muscle tension, and body control. 

Weighted Dips

This is similar to the bodyweight dip, this time with added weight. You can use a Dip Belt around the waist, a weighted vest, or hold a dumbbell or weighted plates between your thighs. 

Ring Dips

Ring dips are a more advanced variation of parallel bar dip since you perform this using gymnastic rings. This exercise requires more joint stabilization, strength, and muscle coordination. It will increase your range of motion, increase time under tension, and can be applied to movements like muscle-ups.

Bodyweight Tricep Dip

If you’re starting out or have no equipment around, you can use a chair and perform Bodyweight Dips. It’s easier than bar dips but still, work on all three heads of the triceps muscle.

Straight Bar Dips

Straight bar dips are similar to parallel bar dips, strengthening the chest, shoulders, and triceps. They are a more challenging variation worth trying after mastering parallel dips.

Parallel Bar Dip Alternative Exercises

If you want to incorporate more exercises for your chest day, vary your programming, want a challenge, or need something more suited for beginners, here are alternatives to try:

Close Grip Bench Press 

The close grip bench press helps build strength and muscle mass in the tricep and chest muscles. For this exercise, you will need a barbell, which increases the load but lessens that strain on your anterior shoulder. 

Close Grip Push-Up

Besides the close grip bench press, you can also try performing the close-grip push-up, which also works your triceps and chest. This compound movement works for more than one muscle group while burning more calories in a shorter period, elevating your heart rate. 

Handstand Push-Up

This is a body weight exercise targeting your triceps and shoulders, increasing strength in those areas. You can work on the triceps more by ensuring the elbows are almost parallel to each other during the exercise. 

Floor Press

The Floor Press targets the triceps and chest, like the dip. The angles between these two exercises differ, with the floor press helping you develop muscle hypertrophy and strength without much of the shoulder discomfort dips may cause. 

Dumbbell Tricep Kickback

Tricep Kickback is another effective dip alternative that uses an extension motion to work the long head triceps. However, it focuses more on the triceps muscle than the chest and shoulders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Parallel bars work on the following muscles: Front deltoids, anterior deltoid, pectoral muscles, triceps muscles, core, and upper and lower back.

Yes, parallel bars can build muscle as long as you perform these tricep exercises correctly and with the recommended sets and reps. This exercise will especially build your triceps muscle! 

It’s said that dip exercises are one of the best upper body pushing movements, even better than push-ups. However, it depends on your goal. If you want to maximize muscle gains and build a strong lower chest, dips are for you. But if you want to improve your endurance and overall fitness, push-ups are beneficial.

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