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How Women Can Master the Seated Dip

Updated on July 6, 2019
Lorra Garrick profile image

Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men & women for fat loss, muscle building, more strength and more fitness.

Women who don’t feel strong enough to do bench dips with their feet propped on a second bench will sometimes go halfway there by extending their legs straight -- and placing their heels on the floor – a midway point.

Arm Position

The arms should not bend more than 90 or so degrees. It’s fairly easy to always make sure that your dipping station is located near a mirror, where you can readily monitor reflection.

If arms go down too far, shoulder strain may result for de-conditioned women, and plus, it’s not necessary to go past 90 degrees to get desired results: the back of the upper arms being tighter, firmer and toned.

Torso Position

Torso should be vertical throughout the repetitions. This means that your back should be very close to the bench that the hands are on, as you push up and down in a vertical fashion.

Women should get in the habit of viewing their reflection in a mirror to ensure there isn’t much space between their back and the bench. However, do not rub your back along the bench; this is cheating.

If you’re sticking your chest out too far, creating a lot of space between your back and the bench, this diverts recruitment from the triceps and puts undue strain on shoulder joints. And despite that strain, this, too, is cheating.

Very beginner positioning. Her back should be closer to the chair.
Very beginner positioning. Her back should be closer to the chair.
Extended legs add resistance. The goal is to be able to perform dips with one's legs extended -- and feet (heels) on a second bench or stool.
Extended legs add resistance. The goal is to be able to perform dips with one's legs extended -- and feet (heels) on a second bench or stool.

Elbow Position

Elbow joints should not lock completely out at the top of the movement, but rather, come just short of that. A lock-out is a cheat move, because it provides a momentary rest at the top of the movement.

For best results, the triceps should be under continuous tension throughout the entire set. This can be achieved by rising up just short of a lock-out.

Hand Position

Generally, hands should be placed 8-16 inches apart (depending on a woman’s height; hand width is relative), with the measurement being from thumb to thumb. If hands are too far apart, you’ll de-emphasize the triceps, plus increase risk of shoulder strain. The closer the hands are to each other, the more triceps recruitment.

How a Woman Can Increase Strength for Bench to Bench Dips

Women sometimes push right back up only milliseconds after lowering into the dip position. Try something different next time: Hold the dip position for a 2-count: “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand.”

Adjust body position so that achieving 8 repetitions is very difficult. I often see women going through light motions, and their last rep looks as easy as the first. They have not adjusted their body to achieve a demanding set.

Men, too, sometimes just bounce up and down without any demanding resistance; for some women and men, seated dips are often a warmup or warm-down, rather than a chief triceps exercise. But seated dips make a GREAT primary triceps exercise!

Figure out how you must position your body in order to make 8 reps a struggle. The first rep should be challenging. As you continue, you’ll be forced to pay very close attention to breathing and overall body stability.

Bouncing through the reps should not be possible. You should begin feeling that after you lower, you won’t be able to push back up. But you can, but with a lot of effort. The last rep should barely be squeezed out.

How do you adjust body position, then?

The easiest way for novice women to do seated dips is to place the hands on a platform that isn’t that far off the floor, such as an elevated aerobics-stepper platform. And then, feet are placed on the floor, legs almost straight.

However, a beginner can do dips off of a standard weightlifting bench, with bent legs. Experiment with your legs, because leg positioning determines resistance load. Straighter legs increase load. Elevated feet increase load.

If you cannot achieve an 8-rep max with your feet on the floor (i.e., too easy), it’s time to get that second bench (or stool) upon which to prop your feet.

Do not lock out the knees if the legs are straight. Feet can be pointed a little out to the sides, to prevent knees from locking. But if your toes are pointed towards the ceiling, make sure legs are almost straight, but not locked out.

Seated Dip Set Guidelines for Women

  • Do three to four sets of 8-10 rep maxes.
  • If you can only get out six reps, that’s fine; keep training and you’ll eventually be able to do eight.
  • If you can go past 10 reps, you’re ready to do seated dips with a 10-pound plate on your lap.

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