Dips are a staple compound exercise and one of the best (if not underutilized) exercises when it comes to building total upper body mass and strength.
As is the case with all home workouts, it’s always best practice to do your research on how to avoid injury, and get the most out of your workouts in the safest way possible. In the case of tricep dips, you’re going to be putting pretty much your entire body weight onto your shoulders, arms, and wrists, so it is crucial to make sure your grip isn’t too wide so, how wide should dip bars be apart?
For free-standing dip bars, the width should be set at 18 – 24 inches wide. This will depend on the muscle groups you intend to train and your body shape/size. To train the triceps you should use a narrow width closer to 18 inches and to train the chest, you should use a width closer to 24 inches.
They are one of the best pushing exercises to build upper body strength, incredibly efficient for tricep growth as they implement all 3 tricep muscles, and even incorporate the delts, lats, and traps. Best of all though, is that they can be done from the comfort of your own home with minimal equipment.
Having said that, few people know how to position themselves optimally for a dip, and when training at home, it can be even more confusing when you are looking to set the width/height for your dip bars. Therefore, in this article, I’ll cover how to correctly set up your dip bars and also how to vary it depending on the type of dip you’ll be doing.
How Wide Should Dip Bars Be Apart
The suggested width to set your dip bars up is 18-24 inches, however, it is imperative that you don’t take this as a must-follow guideline.
Firstly, this is just an average measurement. Even more importantly, because dips are a bodyweight exercise the width at which you should be performing the exercise will vary from person to person. So how do you know how wide your grip should be when doing dips at home?
You’re going to want to gauge the distance using your own body, and honestly, it really is as simple as it sounds. Although your grip will vary depending on the equipment you’re using, or even if you’re not using any equipment at all, follow these basics and you can’t go wrong:
- For a basic tricep dip, your hands should be shoulder-width apart from the bars or surface you’re gripping – remember to keep your arms straight.
- As mentioned earlier, wide dips when done safely can be beneficial in your workout. If you spread your arms out, use the position of your elbows as a marker for how wide your grip can be. Please note that this is the absolute maximum width you should attempt for a wide dip.
For narrow grip dips targeting the triceps primarily, you’ll want to use a shoulder-width grip but not place a focus on going too narrow. For a narrow grip dip, you want your torso to be more upright during the movement and if you place your grip too narrow, you’ll place the shoulder in a more compromised position risking injury.
For wide grip dips, you are not looking to overextend and therefore a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip will be ideal. The emphasis to target the chest should be done by leaning forward and also tucking your legs forward. This places your bodyweight and center of gravity forward which places more emphasis on the chest.
You don’t need to make it too complicated and that’s why you only really need to ever set your dip bars to two different widths which, on average, can range from 18 – 24 inches (though this can be more or less depending on each individual).
How High Should My Dip Bars Be
Just like how broad your shoulders are will determine how wide your dip grip should be, how tall you are will determine the answer to this question. Dip bars can be set at a height of anywhere between 3 and 6 feet, but as long as you are able to extend yourself through the full range of motion you will be fine.
Bear in mind that with proper form, your legs should be bent at the knee as you perform the exercise, which should make up for the distance you lower yourself as you dip.
Wide Dips – Good or Bad?
The short answer here is that wide dips are beneficial but it depends on your training intent.
Although it is a fairly common misconception that wide dips are bad for the shoulders, I assure you that this is simply not true. Like every exercise, when proper form is utilized wide dips are completely safe, and actually, just make use of a different group of muscles.
Wide grips dips should only be avoided if you have any existing shoulder or mobility issues that would cause impingement and pain during the dip. The issue most people have is that they set the dip bars too far apart when performing dips and this places a lot of tension on the shoulder joint rather than the chest and front delt muscles.
If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a hundred times: form is key, especially with bodyweight exercises like dips. In this case, poor form is almost definitely why wide dips have a reputation for being unsafe. Below are the basic things to look out for when adding wide dips into your upper body or chest workouts:
- As you lower yourself, don’t worry when your elbows point outwards – squeezing them in when using a wide grip may damage your shoulders, remember that the chest is what you’re working out here
- Once your upper arms are parallel with the floor, push yourself back up – anything past this range of motion won’t do much for your chest and is only going to risk unnecessary damage to your shoulders
- Don’t try to lock out the elbows at the top of the movement. The focus should be on keeping the active muscles under tension, and while an Olympic Gymnast will lock-out on the dip, this wouldn’t be advised for beginners performing the dip at home.
I’ve also added this tutorial video below where Jim Stoppani walks you through the correct form, hand positioning, and exercise cues to utilize when performing dips.
What Equipment Can I Use for Dips at Home
The true beauty of dips and other bodyweight exercises is that they require little to no equipment to get a solid workout anywhere in your house. Below are just a few examples of home setups available to you:
- Standard dip bars – these bars are a very portable, lightweight, and budget-friendly piece of gear that will help you to perform the perfect dips at home. Although not as versatile as other options, some models can be used for raised push-ups and other such exercises
- Free-standing power towers – these titans of the home gym can really turn your bodyweight exercises into a full-blown workout. Although not as portable or budget-friendly, these towers are a solid investment and have a range of grip positions for both narrow and wide grip dips
- Chairs, stairs, etc – there are countless dip stations available to you in your own home if you’re looking for the most budget-friendly options. As long as you’re able to put your weight on the surface and get a solid, safe grip, you can perform a dip anywhere.
Setting up dip bars at the correct width is going to be the difference between effectively targeting your triceps, effectively targeting your chest, or targeting neither, and placing unnecessary strain on the shoulder joint risking injury. Therefore, it’s quite an important factor to set your dip bars to the correct width.
How wide should dip bars be? This will depend on the muscle you are trying to target but 18 – 24 inches is a good guideline to try and follow before making any adjustments as you become a more advanced lifter and learn the optimal width for your specific body shape and goals.
While fixed dipping bars are good for taking the thought out of dip width, the option of versatility that you’ll need when you become more advanced will come from free-standing dip bars which is why these would be a better option when building a home gym.