As I noted when I did the triceps extension challenge, these muscles are naturally bigger than the biceps, so if you want to build up your arms, you need to work both sides of the upper arm. This move, also known as the bench dip, is among the best and most precise exercises for targeting the triceps and improving overall arm strength. And it offers a few welcome surprises, too.
The triceps dip is a no-nonsense body-weight exercise. As the name suggests, it primarily targets your triceps, but it will also work your pectoral (chest) muscles and the front part of your shoulders — your anterior deltoids. It’s a popular move, not only because it’s fairly straightforward in terms of form, but also because it can be done on a park bench or, really, any suitably raised surface.
For this challenge, I used a kitchen bench. I’ve seen people do the move using a chair, but I can’t help imagining it either shooting back at an alarming speed or suddenly tilting forward on the two front legs, so I stick to benches. There are variations to the move that will keep things interesting as you become stronger.
How to do a triceps dip
Ready to get started? Here's how to do a triceps dip with perfect form:
- Begin by sitting on a sturdy bench with your hands close to your hips. With your arms straight, grip the edge of the bench. Some trainers will recommend that you face your hands away from you, fingers pointing to either end of the bench. I find this makes it more difficult to drive my arms back, rather than out to the sides, but see what works for you.
- Walk your feet out so your backside just clears the bench. If you are new to this move, keep your feet flat and knees bent. If you have done it before and feel confident about increasing the difficulty, you can extend your legs straight and rest on your heels.
- Push up off the bench with your palms and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Engage your core.
- Lower your body until your arms form a 90-degree angle. If you cannot go down this low, don’t worry about it. Ensure your elbows never come up above your shoulders — if you go too low you risk straining your shoulder. Maintain a straight back throughout, look forward, and stay close to the bench.
- Push back up through your palms to straighten your arms and squeeze your triceps at the end of the move. Don’t lock your elbows. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of 10 to begin with.
Here’s what happened when I did triceps dips for a week
I’ve done this move before, but usually with bent legs, so I started off with straight legs. I tend to race through this one, as it’s not a move that requires a great deal of thought when it comes to maintaining decent form. However, as usual, when I slowed down I realized that, while I have not been doing the move incorrectly, I found I could do it better, and get more from it.
On day one, I did three sets of 20 and, because I was concentrating on the movement, felt a greater stretch across my chest than usual. Keep a (metaphorical) eye on your elbows, as they may decide to shoot out to the sides rather than back. They should remain tucked close to your sides.
When I do these challenges I take notes after each day to record my improved form. With this move, I found there was little to differentiate one day from the next in that respect, so the goal became to see what kind of progress I could make over the seven days in terms of reps. By day three, I was up to three sets of 30, with a rest of a minute between each set.
As I added reps, I noticed that I was giving my upper back’s rhomboid muscles a bit of a workout. This made sense, as these muscles move the shoulder blades, which were being drawn together during the move. Strong rhomboids are important for good posture — sit in a straight-backed chair and draw your shoulder blades together and you’ll immediately be sitting taller. I also noticed that if I pulled my toes back toward my shin, the move threw in a useful calf and hamstring stretch. I was reminded once again that even a targeted exercise such as this one offers more benefits than you might think.
On day five, I did three sets of 35 reps and by the end I had decided I’d reached my upper rep limit for the week. On days six and seven, I tried the cross-bench variation, which involves resting your heels on a chair rather than the floor. This, of course, is considerably harder, so only attempt this when you are comfortable with the straight-leg version. I was careful to do no more than three sets of 20 reps.
Summing up this move is easy: it’s technically straightforward, it’s a superb way to build strength and size in your triceps, and you can do it almost anywhere.