When gym-goers attempt to increase chest size and improve chest muscle definition, most default to the bench press because of its popularity and ability to display exceptional strength. However, dips are also known to target the chest region; hence, there is controversy regarding which exercise is better than the other.
The main difference between the dips and the bench press is that the bench press requires a barbell or dumbbell and a bench, while the dips are considered a bodyweight exercise that may be modified by adding extra weight. Performing dips allows more chest recruitment, but the bench press is able to provide more significant strength enhancement.
Although both workouts can improve the size and definition of the chest, there are several key variations between them that may place one exercise at an advantage over the other depending on the individual’s goal.
What are Dips?
Dips are upper-body strength compound exercises that make use of one’s own body weight for resistance. It is an exercise that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles and may be performed on parallel bars or on a pull-up and dip bar. The form, arm position, and angle of a dip may be altered in a number of different ways, allowing the focus to be shifted from one muscle group to another, depending on which muscles the exercise is intended to work.
Chest Dips vs Triceps Dips
The triceps dip and the chest dip are the two primary versions of the dip that focus on the triceps and pectoral muscles, respectively, more than the other muscle groups. The triceps dip and the chest dip are similar in that they are both performed with the use of a dip bar and the individual’s own body weight.
When doing a chest dip, the bar is placed vertically in the palm of the hand with the forearm nearly perpendicular to the bar. On the other hand, when performing a triceps dip, the bar is held at an angle. Each dip has a unique form due to the different hand positions required.
As the body is lowered into the chest dip, the elbows should be flared to the sides, and the trunk should bend forward as far as possible. During the exercise, the bend should be maintained in both the knees and the hips. Because more of the pectoral muscles are being worked with this exercise, the chest is getting stronger and larger as a result.
The triceps dip requires the upper arms to be kept in a position that is somewhat near to the torso. As the individual lowers themselves into the dip position, they should keep their torsos erect and just allow their elbows to bend backward. As opposed to the chest dip, which keeps the lower extremities in a flexed posture, this form of the dip keeps the lower extremities in a more extended position.
What is a Bench Press?
A bench press is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscles of the upper body. It is an excellent strength training workout to improve the pecs, arms, and shoulder performance. Depending on the goals, there are different variations of the bench press that can be done that will allow the activation of slightly different muscles.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Performing the dumbbell bench press exercises is a highly effective way to increase the strength and muscle mass of the upper body that works for aesthetic and performance purposes. This movement includes working on the triceps, pecs, and anterior deltoid muscles.
To perform, sit on a flat bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand and placing it on top of the thighs. Then lie down on the bench with the thighs helping to push the dumbbells back and positioning both weights directly on top of the shoulders with the arms extended but the elbows not locked. Then finally place the feet firmly on the ground, and this will be the starting position.
From the starting position, lower the dumbbells until the elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. Make sure that the elbows are aligned with the center of the chest in the bent position. Then push the dumbbells straight back up to return to the starting position. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.
Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is very similar to the dumbbell bench press, as it is also a compound exercise that targets the strengthening of the upper body. The main difference between the two is that the barbell bench press allows for a greater weight to be lifted, which results in greater strength gains as opposed to the dumbbell bench press which focuses on increasing muscle mass and size.
To perform, lie down on a bench with a barbell rack attached to the sides of it and position the body so that the chin is directly under the bar of the barbell. Grab the bar with a grip slightly outside shoulder-width apart. Unrack the barbell from the hooks and move it slightly forward making sure that the forearms are aligned vertically with the shoulders.
Keep the hips firmly placed on the bench with a slight arch on the lower back and the feet secured on the ground. Lock the shoulders down and squeeze the shoulder blades together, then lower the bar until it touches the chest area, making sure that the elbows and upper arm are at a 45-degree angle to the torso. Push the bar upward again to complete a single rep, then repeat the same motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.
Key Differences Between Bench Press and Dips
The bench press is a popular exercise for the chest muscles because of its exceptional ability to increase muscle mass, thereby improving overall strength. The problem with this, however, lies in the activation of both the anterior deltoid and pectoralis muscles.
When performing a bench press, the anterior deltoid muscle is recruited at the same intensity as the pectoralis muscles. This becomes an issue because the anterior delts are smaller and hence will fail earlier than the larger pectoralis major muscles. Because the exercise is limited by the strength of the front delts, the pectoral muscles will not be able to reach their maximum potential.
Dips, on the other hand, recruit the chest muscles more than the shoulder muscles. As the body moves down during the execution of the exercise, the pectoral muscles are predominantly recruited, hence its use as a chest isolation exercise.
Effect on Muscle Size
Dips as well as the bench press contribute to larger chest muscles. However, the bench press is largely responsible for increasing muscular thickness; as a result, other workouts, such as flys, are necessary to aid in expanding the width of the chest muscles.
An increase in thickness and width of the chest muscles is evident as a result of doing dips. During the portion of the action in which the elbows are brought in toward the sides of the body, there is an increase in the thickness of the muscle, while there is an increase in the width of the muscle owing to the opening of the elbows to the sides.
Effect on Shoulder Flexibility
Performing the bench press is said to limit shoulder flexibility. According to a 2019 study, the bench press leads to stiffness around the shoulder joint due to muscular tightness in the area. This may lead to injuries and a limitation in performing certain movements important in daily life.
Dips, however, allow strengthening and stretching of the shoulders at the bottom of the movement. Because stretching improves flexibility, this makes the workout more functional and beneficial for everyday activities that involve shoulder motion.
Which One is Better?
Between dips and bench presses, dips work best for increasing functional strength and may be more beneficial in the performance of activities of daily living. Dips are a great exercise for anyone who wants to bulk up, get stronger, and enhance the range of motion in their upper body.
Furthermore, because of the degree of muscle recruitment, even as a compound exercise, dips develop the chest muscles faster in terms of size as compared to bench presses. However, dips engage the lower chest muscles more, unlike bench presses that recruit the upper, middle, and lower chest muscles equally.
On the other hand, the bench press is a good exercise for anyone looking to build upper body strength and develop their chest, shoulders, and triceps, and is the superior alternative in this case.
Overall, both exercises have advantages that outweigh those of the other. Doing dips offers a better range of motion, functional strength, and chest isolation training. While on the other hand, the bench press is a better workout for developing the strength of the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
It is good to first acknowledge what is aimed for and which exercise is better to choose, but generally, the best thing to do is to incorporate both exercises into the workout routine to maximize the benefits that they offer.