Parallel Bar Dips are one of the best chest exercises around for building mass from all angles, and it is also one of the least used. Look around any gym on any given day and most guys are pounding away at variations of the bench press – whether it is a flat bench press, incline press, decline press, or all of the above with a barbell or dumbbells. Women tend to spend less time on basic chest pressing movements in favor of pec flyes or the pec deck, generally out of their unfounded fear of getting “big” so the dips are one of the least used chest exercises for women.
Over at the dipping station the activity is usually not so fast paced. In fact, most parallel bar areas are used more as s the station for performing lower abdominal leg raises. This alone gives an idea as to how little the parallel bars are being used for chest dips, at least in my gym that is the case.
Chest dips using parallel bars is a great push/press chest exercise, much like traditional pressing exercises, and they are also a compound exercise because the shoulders and triceps are also used in the movement. The key to a good chest dip is to lean forward with the bars about shoulder width apart. Leaning forward takes the triceps away from focus and puts the greatest stress on the pectoralis major and minor. It is a movement that also brings the anterior deltoid of the shoulder into play and the triceps are utilized more as a stabilizer. The difference between a dip for the chest from a dip for the triceps is all about leaning forward during the movement and having the elbows a little out. If your body is straight and elbows in the triceps will be the main focus of the exercise, leaning forward brings the chest-shoulder tie-in area under fantastic stress.
To perform a strong chest dip simply grasp the two parallel bars approximately shoulder width apart and push to raise yourself up so that your arms are straight, bend your legs slightly and cross them behind you for support and stability, then lean forward lowering yourself to a point where your elbows are bent and shoulders and chest stretched out. If you require a box in order to get up into the starting position that is fine of course. Your elbows should not flare out but rather be in line with your wrists. At the bottom of the movement your arms should be just above parallel to the floor, but not below that point in order to keep stress off the shoulders. From the bottom push through your chest, maintaining the forward lean, until arriving at the starting position. The ‘lean’ should be a consistent comfortable position and not one where you feel like you might tip forward. I find it is helpful to keep my head up, shoulders back, and imagine the chest muscles working as I move through each repetition. A cadence of 2-1-2-1 (2 seconds lowering, 1 second pause, 2 up, 1 pause) is perfect to feel the stress of this movement. I feel that your breathing pattern is very important in this exercise because trying to push your body up from the bottom position when your lungs are not full of air is futile. Breathe in as you descend while performing this chest exercise so that at the bottom point you are full of hot air, then slowly exhale as you push your body upwards.
If you are not strong enough to perform the chest dip with proper form to start off, you can use a dip/chin-up station that allows you to take bodyweight off and gradually work towards your own body weight with good form. When you get to the point where you need to add more weight, a dipping belt allows you to attach a weighted plate to a belt that is secured around your waist – I have found that a dumbbell between the knees where you cross your legs will work in absence of a dipping belt.
Start adding chest dips at the end of your regular chest exercise routine and once you are able to go heavy under a controlled tempo, you will begin to develop thickness and mass through your chest.