do dips work the upper or lower chest

Do Dips Work The Upper Or Lower Chest More? (What You Need To Know To Grow Your Pecs)

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How effectively do dips work the chest? And which regions of the chest do they engage? If this is something you would like to find out, then keep reading! Because today, I’ll be exploring if dips work the upper or lower chest more.

Chest dips will work all the muscles in your chest, including the lower, mid, and upper-pectorals. However, EMG studies have shown that the lower pecs undergo the highest degree of activation during the dip. This makes chest dips ideal for building chest volume and defining the lower pectorals.

I remember my early training days were surrounded by conflict regarding the dip. Is it a good exercise? What muscles does it train exactly? Is it even worth doing?!

That’s why I have decided to share my research and personal experience today!

So let’s DIP our toes into the waters, shall we? (Ok first and last bad joke of the post, I promise!)

my personal muscle gain transformation where I used dips to get a bigger upper and lower chest
Chest dips helped me get a bigger chest and triceps! Download my free blueprint at the end to find out exactly how I did it!

Which Muscles Do Dips Work?

dips work the upper chest, lower chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps

The dip is a famous exercise commonly mistaken for a tricep-builder.

But this is far from the truth.

The dip is a compound exercise, engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These include:

  • Upper and lower pectorals- activated through shoulder adduction.
  • Anterior deltoids and upper pectorals- activated through shoulder flexion.
  • Triceps- activated through elbow flexion.

In fact, the movement of the dip is not too dissimilar to the classic flat bench press. You can think of the dip as a floating bench press).

And the dip may just be as effective as the bench press for building an overall bigger chest (more on that later!).

The dip is a compound exercise which revolves around the shoulder and elbow joints. It works the upper pectorals, lower pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps as the primary movers. This makes the dip a great exercise for building larger chest muscles and upper body development.

Read my other article for more information on the compound exercises!

Do Dips Work The Upper Or Lower Chest More?

does the dip work the upper or lower chest more?

If you decide to include the dip in your chest workout, then you may be wondering:

Does the dip activate the upper or lower chest more?

The answer lies in this 2010 Study by Bret Contreras, where study participants were hooked to an EMG as they performed a variety of chest exercises.

And this allowed muscle activity in the upper-pecs, mid-pecs, lower-pecs, and triceps to be recorded.

Here are the results:

ExerciseUpper-Pec EMG ActivationMid-Pec EMG ActivationLower-Pec EMG ActivationTricep EMG Activation
Weighted Dip232332418217
Data derived from Contreras et al. 2010.

As you can see, the dip activates the ENTIRE pectoral muscle.

But of particular interest, the lower chest saw an EMG activation that was almost 200% greater than that in the upper chest and triceps.

In other words, the dip activated the lower chest almost twice as much as the upper chest!

So despite the dip working the entire chest, evidence suggests that it works the lower chest MORE so than it does the upper chest.

Although the dip works the entire chest, the different regions of the pectorals receive different degrees of activation. The lower-chest is worked almost twice as much as the upper-chest. And the mid-chest sees activation levels in between that of the lower and upper-chest.

Learn about dumbbell pec training in my other article!

Do Dips Work The Chest More Than The Bench Press?

does the dip or bench press activate the pectorals more?

The bench press is commonly regarded as the king of the chest exercises, working the lower, mid, and upper chest. So the next question is:

Does the dip activate the chest more than the bench press?

Take a look at these results:

ExerciseUpper-Pec EMG ActivationMid-Pec EMG ActivationLower-Pec EMG ActivationTricep EMG Activation
Incline Bench Press22237424984
Data derived from Contreras et al. 2010.

As you can see, the dip activates both the upper AND lower chest to a greater degree, compared to the incline bench press.

ExerciseUpper-Pec EMG ActivationMid-Pec EMG ActivationLower-Pec EMG ActivationTricep EMG Activation
Flat Bench Press230408347109
Data derived from Contreras et al. 2010.

Additionally, the dip also activates the lower pec more than the flat bench press. In contrast, the flat bench press activates the mid-pec more than the dip. And upper chest activation remains similar between both exercises.

Therefore the dip can work the chest muscles to greater degrees, depending on which bench press angle you are comparing it with.

The dip will work the upper and lower-chest to a greater degree than incline bench press. The dip will also work the lower chest more than the flat bench press. But the flat bench press will work the mid-chest more than the dip.

How To Practice Dips At Home For Stronger Pecs

I use and recommend the Sports Royal Tower (you can find the customer reviews here).

Having researched almost 10 different models, I found this dip station to offer the greatest value for money.

It’s affordable, sturdy, doesn’t require much space, and can be delivered super fast from Amazon.

You can also use it for pull-ups.

And trust me, dips and pull-ups are two of the best exercises you can do to build a powerful V-shape body.

Adding dumbbells between your legs will supercharge your results!

These Yes4all iron spinlock dumbbells are cheap but durable. They also have the perfect shape to be clasped between your thighs for weighted dips.

A single 50lb dumbbell should take most beginners to the intermediate stages of weighted dips.

You can check out my other article to find out how much weight you should add to your dips.

Performing The Dip For Maximal Chest Activation.

Are You Doing Dips Properly? (AVOID MISTAKES!)

So the dip is great for activating the upper and lower chest (more so the lower chest).

But how do you MAXIMISE chest activation?

This 2015 study suggests that performing the dip with a wide grip will increase pectoral activation. Furthermore, many trainers also suggest you lean the torso forwards whilst performing the dip, essentially turning it into a decline press movement.

This is called a chest dip.

Taken together, here is how you should perform the chest dip to maximize pectoral activation:

  1. Set the dip bar to slightly wider than shoulder-width apart (applicable to some dip bars).
  2. Grab the dip bar, jump up, and stabilise your body with the elbows fully extended.
  3. Flare your elbows slightly outwards.
  4. Lean the torso forward by about 20°.
  5. Cross your feet and curl them behind the torso to act as a counter-balance.
  6. Retract your scapulae and keep them in this position for the entire movement.
  7. Lower yourself slowly by flexing the elbows. Go slow to prevent the body going below your ideal range of comfort.
  8. Stop when the upper arms are parallel to the ground (or until the movement is uncomfortable).
  9. Imagine squeezing the dip handles together to maximise mind-chest contraction.

And that’s the perfect way to perform the dip to work your chest! You can also go to my other article to find out how much weight you should be lifting on the weighted chest dip.

To maximise chest activation from a weighted dip, you should perform a chest dip. This involves holding the dip bar with a wider than shoulder-width grip, flaring your elbows outwards, and leaning forwards by about 20°. This will isolate the contraction onto your pectorals.

How To Do The Dip When You Can’t Do One?

The dip is a great exercise to work the upper and lower chest simultaneously (with more emphasis on the lower chest).

But not everyone has the strength to perform the dip.

Beginners in particular also often find the dip to be uncomfortable, and can even experience shoulder pain in the lower portion of the movement.

So here are some tips on how to the dip when you currently cannot do one:

  • Decrease the range of motion.

Decreasing the range of motion in a dip simply means don’t lower yourself completely! Instead, you can do half-dips. You will find these to be much easier, and you will still be able to work the chest!

  • Perform negative work.

Focus on training the eccentric phase of the dip by slowly lowering your body from the starting position. Instead of pushing yourself back up, jump up and stabilize yourself. Then repeat the process. This 2009 study showed that eccentric training is an effective way to develop strength in the upper and lower chest!

  • Train your isometric contractions.

Train your upper and lower chest isometrically by lowering yourself into the bottom position and hold it as long as you can. This 2019 review shows that isometric contractions are an effective way to build strength in disadvantaged joints!

  • Use a machine assist.

Don’t be afraid of using the dip assist machine at the gym! But try to progress into un-assisted dips ASAP. Decrease the assistance with each workout and you can go un-assisted in around a month (depending on individuals). You can also tie a resistance band to the dip bars and rest your knees on the bands for makeshift assisted dips. I would recommend using a high-quality band like the Undersun’s though (I’ve had 2 sets of cheap brands snap on me in the past).

Performing a dip when you cannot currently do one requires you to slowly increase the strength of the shoulder joint, upper and lower pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps. This can be done by decreasing the range of motion, performing negative work, training isometric contractions, and using machine assists.

Overloading Your Dips For A Bigger Chest.

As soon as you have mastered the bodyweight chest dip, you should begin to overload (increase difficulty).

Overloading your dips will ensure your upper and lower chest continues to grow.

Here’s how you can overload your chest dips:

  • Hold a dumbbell in between your legs.

Light dumbbells are ideal for beginners to overload. As you progress, you can use heavier dumbbells to really see gains in the upper and lower chest (and arms!). I use Powerblock Elites (you can find the cheapest price here). But they’re pricey for doing just weighted dips with (the Yes4Alls mentioned previously will do this job perfectly well). I use the Powerblocks as a general dumbbell as well as for dips.

  • Use a loading belt.

Loading belts like this DMoose Amazon allow you to attach a weight plate or dumbbell to your waist. I personally find these awkward as they can throw your balance off. But they’re cheap and many people like using them to do weighted dips.

  • Wear a weighted backpack.

Weighted backpacks are ideal for chest dips at home. Just fill a rugged backpack with whatever weight you can find- Milk cartons, bricks, water bottles, anything with weight!

  • Wear a training chain.

Training chains like this Ropefit from Amazon are an excellent alternative to the loading belt. They drape over your neck as you perform a chest dip. I love these since the weight of the chain helps your body to lean forward, maximizing chest activation!

  • Increase range of motion.

Try to go as low as you can at the bottom phase. This will increase the deficit put on your upper body and make the chest dip harder to perform.

  • Improve your form.

Slow down your chest dip to induce time under tension training. I like to count for 3 seconds on the way up and 3 on the way down. By holding the contraction, you force your upper and lower chest to adapt and get bigger!

Progressive overloading on chest dips requires you to increase the exercise intensity. This can be achieved by holding a dumbbell between your legs, using a loading belt, wearing a weighted backpack, draping a training chain over the neck, increasing the range of motion, or improving your form.

Find out your ideal lifting weight in my other article!

Conclusion

There we have it!

Today, I have revealed whether dips work the upper or lower chest more.

Chest dips will work in all regions of the pectoral muscles. But EMG studies have shown that emphasis is placed on the lower chest, compared to the upper chest. In fact, chest dips have been shown to elicit lower chest activation even greater than the bench press!

So if you want to voluptuous chest, with well-defined lower pecs, make sure you start doing chest dips!

Have you got any more chest dip tips?

Let me know in the comments below! Alternatively, download the FREE Kalibre Muscle Blueprint to find out exactly HOW I GREW MY CHEST!

kalibre skinny to muscle transformation blueprint

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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