How to Do Bar Dips: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Bar dip exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Bar Dips

Muscles worked in the bar dip exercise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Bar Dips

  1. Grip a dip station about shoulder-width apart, and climb or jump to get into the starting position.
  2. Lower yourself with control until your shoulder is below your elbow, or as deep as you comfortably can.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Bar Dip

The bar dip is a classic upper-body exercise, and for most people, heavy enough to give a good training effect with the body weight alone as resistance.

In a competitive event, the requirement for a successful repetition is often that your shoulder passes below your elbow joint, but in your own training, it is more important that you let your own capabilities determine how deep you go.

What Muscles Does the Bar Dip Work?

The bar dip primarily targets your chest and front delts, and secondary targets the triceps.

This is for the bar dip. In some dip variations, like the bench dip, you’ll primarily target the triceps, and secondary the chest and front delts.

A picture showing which muscles being worked in the bar dip exercise

Benefits of Bar Dips

  • Accessible. The only thing you need to get started is two parallel bars, which makes the bar dip a great choice for exercising your chest, shoulders, and triceps without needing a fully equipped gym.
  • Easy to adapt to your strength level. The bar dip is an exercise that could easily be made harder or easier with help of weight belts and resistance bands.
  • Improved upper body strength. The bar dip is a very effective exercise for gaining strength in your chest and shoulders and for building muscle mass.

Bar Dip: Proper Form & Technique

The bar dip is a pretty straightforward exercise once you get to know it, but there are a few things that are good to keep in mind.

Bar dip starting position
Bar dip bottom position

Grip and Hand Positioning

Make sure to find bars where you can grip about shoulder-width apart. If the bars are too far away from each other, you’ll end up with a weird movement for your shoulders, and it will be hard to maintain a proper form. If they are too close together, it will be hard to reach a good depth.

Core and Posture

When you’ve jumped/climbed up to the starting position, make sure to embrace your core and to have a good posture. Keep your shoulders down and back. If you don’t keep the tension in your core, the movement will be much more unstable and wobbly.


By crossing your ankles and having a slight bend in your knees, you’ll help to make the movement even more stable.


Make sure to do the entire movement with full control. Do not rush, and keep your form strict. Your elbows should go backward, not out, and your shoulders should stay down and back.

Adapt the Weight to Your Strength Level

If the bar dip is too heavy for you, you can adjust the weight by taking a resistance band and placing it around your wrists. Let the band hang between your arms, forming a U shape. Place your feet or knees on the band, which will help you on the way up.

Bar dip with band assistance starting position
Bar dip with band assistance starting position
Bar dip with band assistance bottom position
Bar dip with band assistance bottom position

If the exercise is too easy, you can add extra weight by getting a weight belt and attaching weight plates to it.

Common mistakes in Bar Dips

  • Not keeping your shoulders down. By letting your shoulders shrug up towards your ears, you’ll make the movement less efficient, increase the stress on the shoulder joint, and could cause discomfort in the neck and shoulder area rather than exercising the targeted muscles.
  • Half reps. Since the bar dip is quite a heavy exercise, it’s easy to start to cut off depth to be able to do more reps. Don’t do this. Focus instead on maintaining a full range of motion (in line with your mobility). If the movement is too heavy, add a resistance band to reduce some of the weight.
  • Not maintaining form. Using momentum, swinging the body to complete the movement, arching your lower back, and/or flaring your elbows out to the sides, rather than relying on controlled, targeted muscle activation, is a common mistake while doing bar dips.

Bar Dip Alternatives & Variations

Here is a variation of the bar dip, but also alternative exercises if you don’t want to do dips at all but still want to target the same muscles.

  1. Bench Dip
  2. Bench Press
  3. Close-Grip Push-Up

1. Bench Dip

The bench dip utilizes a bench instead of a dip station. This exercise puts more emphasis on your triceps than the bar dip does. Since you’re not lifting your entire body weight, this exercise could be a bit easier than the bar dip.

2. Bench Press

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in our app Strengthlog and targets the same muscles as the bar dip. If you’re having trouble performing bar dips without shoulder pain, maybe the bench press could be a good substitute.

3. Close-Grip Push-Up

Another good substitute if you don’t want to do dips is the close-grip push-up. By keeping your hands closer together than in regular push-ups, you’ll target the triceps more.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of the Bar Dip?

How many reps you should do of an exercise depends on your goal: do you mainly want to increase your strength or build muscle?

Generally, a lower rep range of about 1–5 reps per set is most effective for strength gains. If you want to be able to do one heavy single in weighted bar dips, this might be a good rep range to work within.

For muscle gains, a slightly higher rep range of about 8–15 reps per set is generally the most effective and practical. You can cycle in periods of working in this rep range, even if your goal is to get as strong as possible.

Of course, you will see an increase in both muscle and strength regardless of which rep range you choose, but you can emphasize one or the other slightly by working in the right number of reps.

If you are unaccustomed to dips, they might feel quite stressful on your shoulders and sternum, and in that case (and actually in almost all cases), it might be a good idea to increase the training volume very gradually.

Most people prefer to work in a higher rep range while doing the bar dip, especially when you’ve gotten a bit stronger so that you don’t need to add so much extra load apart from your body weight.

How many sets you do of an exercise depends on your training experience, how many times you work out in a week, and your other training. But around ten sets per week for a given muscle group is a good starting point, and you can go even higher when you are used to training or if you stop your sets short of failure. You can read more about training volume in our article: How Many Sets per Muscle Group per Week?

Bar Dip Workout

If you want to try a workout including the bar dip, StrengthLog’s Chest Workout might be something for you.

It’s available for free in our workout log app, but here’s a summary of the workout as well.

StrengthLog’s Chest Workout

  1. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 12 reps
  3. Bar Dip: 3 sets x 12 reps
  4. Standing Cable Chest Fly: 3 sets x 20 reps

By tracking your bar dip workouts in our app, you can easily see how many reps you did the last time you worked out, and try to improve in your next workout.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

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