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I’ve been incorporating dips in to my workouts consistently for around 6 months as an assistance movement for bench press, and for a little extra tricep hypertrophy! In that time I’ve experimented with various dip stations and dip widths – here’s what I’ve learned so far.
At a glance…
- Dip bars should be approximately shoulder width apart (45cm – 60cm on average)
- You can measure this on the fly by using the distance from your elbow to the tip of your fingers to set the bars
- Tapering your dip bars lets you experiment with different grip widths easily during a session, and are more useful for multi-user gyms where not one size fits all
- If your dip bars are set too wide you are more likely to experience discomfort AND less likely to hit a long range of motion
- Dip bars should be around a meter (100cm) high for most dippers!
So… How far apart should dip bars be?
Your dip bars should be around shoulder width apart. This can be quickly approximated in any gym by using the distance from your finger to to your elbow as a proxy, and is typically between 45cm – 60cm for most people.
Within this range the closer to your body the bars are the MORE tricep involvement there is, while the FURTHER apart they are the more CHEST activation.
Dip bar hack: Taper them!
If you want to vary your dip form to emphasise triceps or chest on a whim, or simply want to accommodate lifters with differing proportions, then tapering your dip bars (making one end closer than the other) means you can take up a grip width to suit your body and goals by moving yourself along the bars.
Bonus tip: Lean FORWARD for more chest
As a sneaky extra tip – if trying to target your chest when dipping try and lean FORWARDS. This puts more focus on the chest and front deltoids compared to a more upright, tricep heavy dip.
Can dip bars be set too wide?
When dipping a wider grip targets the CHEST more which can be awesome, but can you go TOO WIDE? Yes, absolutely.
Having the bars too far apart can cause a few issues:
- Injury risk – reduced ability to keep body under control throughout the range of motion with the risk that your body drops suddenly or accidentally causing an injury
- Increased shoulder stress – the wider grip applies more pressure to the shoulder which, per above point, can lead to injury
- Reduced stability – as the bars are set wider there is an increased lateral force on the bars them as your hands push down, but also OUT. If you have free standing bars (or parallettes) this can make them wobble or topple if not weighted down with ballast.
- Reduced range of motion – the wider the grip the less vertical distance you can travel during each rep (top to bottom) meaning the some of the muscles are covering less ground
You can (and should) experiment with grip width to see what works for your body ergonomics and your goals. It is even easier to do this with your dip bars TAPERED – so one end closer than the other in a V-shape. This allows you to try different widths quickly during a workout to see which you like the most!
Overall there are several negatives to going too wide so I would suggest at least STARTING with a narrower dip bar width until you can be sure you can tolerate the wider grip.
What about the distance between parallel bars when dipping?
Parallel bars are commonly used in gymnastics and are a GREAT place to do dips. Given their length you could have a crowd of people ALL dipping at once!
OK maybe that is a bit extreme… But parallel bars are great for dipping. The optimum distance between parallel bars specifically for dips will follow the same guidance for dip bars: Around shoulder width, typically 45cm – 60cm apart.
Parallel bars have the benefit of being great to GRIP – they are often made of high quality wood and are usually pretty thick. As a result they are comfortable to use for extended sets, but the downside is that they are a pretty rare find in commercial gyms and – as the name suggests – they are parallel so not suitable for tapering if you want to vary grip width or style frequently.
How HIGH should dip bars be?
The minimum height of your dip bars will depend on your height and dip style. The taller you are or if you prefer to dip with your legs extended then the HIGHER you will want your bars. Conversely shorter trainees and those who bend their legs will be able to user shorter dip bars.
As a relatively short lifter (around 5’7”) who tucks my legs in when dipping I can use a set of 80cm high parallettes. This is the minimum height I would be comfortable using, therefore MOST people will be looking for dip bars that are AT LEAST 80cm – 100cm tall.
Dipping has been an awesome addition to my workouts – I love the extra volume on chest and triceps, and I seem to be able to recover from them quickly so they make an excellent finisher movement! Almost all my shoulder and comfort issues with dips evaporated when I experimented with grip width and style – my advice? Play around with the angle and distance between your bars. Use the above as a guide on what has worked for me – and let us know how you get on!
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