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5 Exercises Alternative to Dips at Home

Dips are an interesting exercise… they’re both an effective chest/shoulder and tricep building exercise and (in my view), a useful movement for opening up our internally-rotated shoulders. This combination helps to improve shoulder joint health and provides a unique challenge to the pectoral muscles.

To perform a full dip you really need a stable set of dip bars, but if these aren’t available, what are your options? You can’t simply rely on standard pressing chest exercises, because they don’t offer the additional benefits of improving shoulder joint health. 

In this article, I’m going to show you a few different exercises that are a great alternative to dips. 

Dips with the bars and rings form a big part of the programming I use at my own gym…

Strong Home Gym dip bars and gymnastics rings

We’re going to run through a couple of variations on dips, then we’ll look at exercises that mimic the effects of the exercise. It won’t merely be a list of chest and tricep exercises – you can get those anywhere!

By the end of the article you’ll have an understanding of how to replicate dips and you’ll also learn exercises that offer the alternative joint health benefits of the movement too. 

Why are dips helpful for shoulder health?

A combination of poor posture (a lot of us drive and work at a desk all day), even worse exercise selection (too much bench press and bicep curls) and not enough stretching means that most of us have ‘internally rotated’ shoulders.

This can cause a tight chest and a weaker upper back forces the shoulders to ‘round’ inwards.

Posture Strong Home Gym

A dip performed with a full range of motion can help to counterbalance this because it ‘opens’ up the chest, stretching the muscles under load.

This stretching pattern is especially effective because it’s the exact opposite of internal rotation. If internally-rotated shoulders aren’t dealt with effectively, they cause shoulder pain, upper back pain, neck pain, headaches and they compromise the flexibility and movement of the entire shoulder girdle. 

If you work at a desk or drive for long periods, dips aren’t only a great way to build your upper body strength, they’re also a preventative measure for a swathe of avoidable injuries. Research shows that stretching the pectorals and strengthening the muscles that surround the shoulder joint can help with shoulder stabilization and prevent injury. 

Alternative to dips – what are the options?

When programming alternatives to dips, what we’re looking for is an alternative to dipping with the dip bars. The movement itself can be replicated in other ways, most of which are both cheap and very effective.

1. Ring Dips

The ring dip is a much more challenging exercise than the standard bar dip, because it adds an element of instability to the exercise that makes it much tougher. There’s a need for the muscles to control the movement, providing an interesting challenge to the body. The core also has to remain engaged throughout.

The ring dip is much more equipment-light in the sense that all you need is a couple of straps and rings, which can be hung from a squat rack, a tree – even a pull up bar! Just make sure wherever you hang your straps from is strong enough to cope with the weight. Test it before training too.

Equipment needed for ring dips:

How to do ring dips:

  1. Position the rings high enough off the floor that you can achieve a full range of movement with the dip
  2. Start with your arms at full extension (straight), feet off the floor
  3. Lower yourself to 90 degrees elbow flexion, keeping your feet off the floor the entire time
  4. Push back up until your arms are straight
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Ring dip muscles worked:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)
  • Core

2. Barbell Dips

Barbell dips are a perfect alternative to normal dips because they’re both challenging and easy to set up with most home gym equipment. They offer a lot of the benefits that normal dips do, but with the added benefit of really testing the core.

Normal dips are easier from a balance point of view because your weight is distributed between two fixed points at either side of you. With the barbell dips you have to use your core to control your movement and balance. That’s a much tougher proposition!

Equipment needed for barbell dips:

How to do barbell dips:

  1. Secure the bar on the squat rack, high enough so that you can be off the floor fully
  2. Holding the bar with an overhand grip, jump off the floor and keep your arms rigid
  3. Lean slightly forward, keeping your core tight and strong
  4. Lower yourself to 90 degrees elbow flexion, keeping your feet off the floor the entire time. The torso remains over the bar throughout.
  5. Push back up until your arms are straight
  6. Repeat as many times as required

Barbell dip muscles worked:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)
  • Core muscles

3. Bench Dips

Bench dips are the classic movement people think of when they think of dips at home. They’re a good beginner dip and allow the chest to really open up, which is the perfect counterbalance to the internal rotation we suffer across our chests and shoulders. 

Bench dips can be adjusted to make them easier or harder. You do this by extending the gap between the anchor point (your feet) and the bench. The further away your feet are from the bench, the harder it is. This ease of adjustability means that the bench dip is a great exercise for beginners. It’s also a perfect high-rep or prehab exercise.

Equipment needed for bench dips:

How to do bench dips:

  1. Place your hands on the edge of the bench, palms down.
  2. Extend your body so your feet are away from the bench. The further away from the bench your feet are, the harder the movement is.
  3. Lower yourself towards the floor until your elbows reach a 90 degree bend behind you
  4. When you feel the chest stretch, pause and hold the stretch
  5. Push back up until your arms are straight
  6. Repeat as many times as required

Bench dips muscles worked:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)

4. Behind the neck press

You may wonder why this is in a list of alternatives to dips exercises when it looks nothing like a dip. The answer is because although it looks different, it shares a lot of the movements and functionality of the exercise. 

The behind the neck press opens up the chest, just like dips. It also trains the shoulder and triceps, just like dips. There’s less of a stress on the lower chest, but that will be addressed in the next exercise. The behind the neck press though is a great dip alternative and provides a new variant of chest training.

Equipment needed for behind the neck press:

How to do behind the neck press:

  1. Hold the barbell with a wide overhand grip
  2. Keep your core tight and your chest up
  3. Press the bar overhead until your arms are straight
  4. Slowly lower the bar to the upper back
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Behind the neck press muscles worked:

  • Upper pectorals (upper chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)
  • Trapezius (upper back)

5. Deficit push ups

The deficit push up is the perfect complement to the behind-the-neck press in that it really forces a stretch across the chest. It also engages the pectoral muscles through a huge range of movement, making it a fantastic chest exercise. Add that to the chest-opening effects of the behind-the-neck press and it’s a combination that serves to prevent injury well.

Deficit push ups are very simple to set up in a home gym, take almost zero equipment and there’s very little technique to learn. It’s also an exercise that you can progress easily – just make the deficit bigger. The deficit can be created with dumbbells, plates, boxes etc.

Equipment needed for deficit push ups:

How to do deficit push ups:

  1. Set your deficit to an appropriate width and height. Wider and higher means more pectoral engagement.
  2. Start with arms fully extended and lower yourself down through the movement.
  3. Lower yourself until you’ve reached full depth. You’re looking for more than 90 degree elbow bend and a full stretch of the chest.
  4. Slowly press yourself back up to a straight arm position.
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Deficit push ups muscles worked:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)
  • Core

With the chest, think of anatomy and function…

There’s a tendency with chest training to rely on variations of a horizontal push… bench press and chest press. They’re both good exercises, but in order to maximize the effectiveness of a chest workout, we have to look beyond this movement pattern. The range of movement has to be tested, as does the direction of load.

Across the movements in this article, we look at vertical pressing. We look at ways of increasing the range of motion in both the horizontal and vertical planes.

We add core training and positional work into the chest training.

Whether you’re a bodybuilder, a CrossFit athlete, or a general fitness enthusiast, you’ve got to look at full and functional movement, plus stressing and testing muscles in new ways.

These are exercises you may not have done before but I’d urge you to try. 

The beauty of the exercises listed in this article is they’re all relatively easy to set up in a home gym. You’re almost certain to own a good barbell. You’ll also probably have a good squat rack. That’s most of the exercises covered, and the others you can do with weight plates and a bench.

The ring dips are the only item that needs additional equipment. 

Check out our in depth guide on how to build a home gym to get a quality workout for a fraction of the price here.

If you’ve spent your training life dismissing dips because you think of them as an easy bodyweight exercise, think again! You can also make dips much tougher by adding weight to the exercise – hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear a weighted vest for example.

Dip alternatives – the bottom line

Dips are an important chest exercise because they cross the line between form and function. Yes, they are an excellent muscle building exercise, but they’re also fantastic for postural and shoulder health.

The deep stretch of the chest and anterior delts afforded by the dips are the perfect antidote to our internal shoulder rotation. It’s a way of curing injuries and preventing future ones. 

The unique stresses put on the muscles are also very effective when it comes to muscle and strength building, so they’re not to be overlooked. If you’ve spent a lot of time focusing on pressing movements for the chest and neglecting dips, I’d urge you to swap that over and concentrate on dips for a while. You’ll improve your shoulder health and potentially prevent injuries. 

Check out our tricep pushdown alternatives here for more ways to bulk those triceps.

by Steve Hoyles
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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