Tricep Dips to Build Arm Strength and Size

Tricep Dips
Tricep Dips on Bench

Tricep dips are one of the best exercises to increase your arm strength, and also build lean muscle in your upper arms.  They will work all 3 tricep muscles, and simply must be part of any effective tricep workout.

They are also a bodyweight exercise, which means you don’t need gym equipment, dumbbells, etc to perform the exercise.  You can really do them just about anywhere, anytime.

The tricep muscle makes up 2/3 of your upper arm, so if you want to build muscular, defined arms, and have your guns look like guns, then you have to give your tricep workout proper attention.  I would recommend giving 50/50 focus to your biceps and your triceps.  This will give you a good, balanced look.

The triceps are a 3-headed muscle on the rear of the upper arm.  Click here for more on the anatomy of the triceps.

Two Forms of Tricep Dips

There are two forms of this exercise, and both are key to your overall workout routine:

  1. Tricep dips on a bench (Bench dips)
  2. Tricep dips on parallel bars

Both are really great exercises for your arm strength, but the bench dips are a more targeted exercise for your triceps (based on my humble experience).

#1 Bench Dips

Bench dips are simple to perform.  All you need is a bench, chair, low table, etc. (anchor point).  They can be done in the gym, or at your home or office.

I like to use bench dips in bi-sets, where I first do rope pulldowns or overhead tricep extensions, and then followed immediately with bench dips…really awesome tricep workout.  You will almost certainly feel it the next day, even if you’re a “gym rat.”

Muscles worked:

  • Primary – Triceps
  • Secondary – Shoulders, Chest

Performing Bench Dips:

  1. Set your body with your feet facing away from your anchor point (bench, chair, couch).  You will bend 90 degrees at the waist, so your upper body will be vertical.
  2. Extend your feet away from the bench so your knees are slightly bent (feet on the ground or elevated on a bench).  Make sure you have a solid grip on the bench, approximately shoulder width apart.  Arms slightly bent in the start position.  Your anchor point should be about 18″ off the floor.
  3. Lower your body down in a controlled movement until your elbows are bent 90 degrees.  Your upper arms should be close to parallel to the floor.  Inhale on the way down.
  4. Hold this position at the bottom for 1 second, then push up on your hands returning to the start position.
  5. Push your upper body up to the start position to complete the rep.  Exhale going up.

Variation: To increase the resistance, set your feet on a parallel bench instead of on the floor (image below).  So your legs will now be parallel to the floor.  Perform the motion the same.  For further increased resistance, put a flat plates (weights) on your lap.

Tricep Dips

cautionCaution:  This exercise will put stress on your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.  Make sure you do a good warm-up first, and ensure your joints are loose and warm.

#2 Tricep Dips (on parallel bars)

You probably don’t have parallel bars in your home unless you’re a hardcore gymnast, so this one is probably for your local gym.  You can try this at home with either 1) perfectly spaced kitchen counters or 2) kitchen chairs backed up to each other.  Be very careful with both…they are usually good candidates for YouTube highlight films (not the good kind!).

Muscles worked:

  • Primary – Triceps
  • Secondary – Shoulders, Chest

Performing Tricep Dips (parallel bars)

  1. Mount the parallel bars, with your arms fully extended and nearly locked out.  Your legs will be slightly bent at the knees.
  2. Slowly lower your body down until your arms are bent at a 90 deg angle.  Keep your back straight on the way down, and inhale going down.  Keep your elbows close to your body to engage the triceps.
  3. Push your body up to return to the start position.  Exhale on the way up.


  • Less resistance: Machine-assisted dips (gym equipment)
  • More resistance: Add a weight belt to your routine

Avoiding Injury

Tricep dips will strain your arm and shoulder joints.  Make sure you properly warm-up prior to your resistance workout:

  • A few minutes of light cardio (jog in place, jumping jacks, combination)
  • A few minutes of dynamic stretching
  • Do some light wrist stretches for your wrists and also tendons around your elbows
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