Q&A: Parallel Bar Dips

This is a response to a question about the best way to perform parallel dips in the comments section of the Ultimate Routine post. Since not everybody reads the comments section and I thought some people might find this helpful I decided to re-post it separately and expand on some of the points.

Mike Mentzer dipping

Mike Mentzer dipping

Parallel bar dips are like squats; people rarely do them correctly, either moving wrong, not going low enough, or going too low and bouncing at the bottom. Parallel bar dips should be performed with a parallel grip with palms facing inwards – while this might seem obvious there are still people following Vince Gironda’s recommendation to do them with palms facing out and the arms internally rotated in a way that puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joint.

When placing the hands on the bars the heels of the palms should be directly on top of the bars – not the center of the palm – so the wrists are directly over the bars and the bars, wrists and elbows line up in the same plane. The arms should be angled out slightly, around 45 degrees at most and not straight out to the sides.

Lean forward throughout the exercise; this increases the range of motion around both the elbows and shoulders and works the chest through a stronger part of it’s range of motion. The more upright the torso, the shorter the range of motion and the easier the exercise is due to better leverage which is the opposite of what you want, which is harder exercise.

Start in the top position. If the dip station you’re using doesn’t have steps get a stable bench or step stool to stand on – this ensures you are able to catch or spot yourself with your legs at any position over your range of motion if necessary.

Lower yourself slowly, keep the chest, shoulders and triceps tight, and turn around when you start to feel a stretch in your chest – do not try for a deep stretch. You should feel a stretch, but not a deep stretch, and any stretch should be felt in the muscles and not the shoulder joints. If you are feeling even a slight stretch in the muscles you are getting as much range of motion as you need or will benefit from – go further and you risk irritating or injuring the shoulders.

Start gradually, drive up in a controlled manner, and focus on contracting the chest, shoulders and triceps. Slow down as you approach lock out then immediately but slowly change direction while staying tight.

If you are strong enough to perform dips with more than your body weight I recommend getting a dipping belt. It is possible to hold a dumbbell between the feet but can be awkward with larger dumbbells and requires the parallel bars be low enough that you can reach the dumbbell with your feet after your hands are in position. Otherwise you will need someone to hand you the dumbbell once you are in position on the bars.

If the chain on the belt does not hang to at least slightly below your knees go to your local home improvement store and have them cut you one that will. If not, you’re going to be very uncomfortable if you try to put the belt on with one or more 45 pound plates on the chain.

A weighted vest is another option, however dipping belts tend to be far more reasonably priced and will hold much more weight.

One of the best options for weighted parallel bar dips, if you’re lucky enough to train in a gym that has one, is the Nautilus Omni Multi Exercise (OME) machine. Instead of weight plates the belt attaches to a lever which drives the weight stack via a negative cam and sprocket which increases the resistance from the bottom to the top of the movement. The OME also has built in steps and the height of the dipping and chinning bars is adjustable.

An even better option, if you have one, is the UXS-15 bodyweight station which has thick, angled dipping bars which provide better wrist position and a more comfortable grip at a height for easy entry and exit.

When performed correctly the parallel bar dip is one of the best exercises for chest, anterior delts and triceps. However, when performed incorrectly they can mess up your shoulders or elbows so be conservative with the resistance when starting out and focus on maintaining proper form.

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