Assisted Pull-Ups and Dips

Proper form is key to building upper body strength

Doing pull-ups or dips can be a real challenge if you have poor upper body strength or too much lower body weight. This doesn't mean that you should avoid either of these exercises.

Pull-ups great at working all of the "pull" muscles in your body, including your back, biceps, and forearms. Dips work in direct opposition to the pull-up by engaging the muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Together, the exercises are strong indicators of your overall fitness level.

How Assisted Machines Work

If you find either of these exercises difficult, there are gym machines designed to help. Most of the assisted machines are equipped with weights and cables that allow you to select how much upward assistance you need to complete the exercise. By selecting a 50-pound plate, for example, you lightened the load by 50 pounds; it's a simple as that.

Depending on the model of machine used, you would either stand or kneel on a levered platform which is connected to the weight plate by pulleys. Some machines are designed for both pull-ups and dips; others do just one or the other.

If new to this type of workout, it's always a good idea to speak with a member of the gym staff to ensure you use the equipment correctly. With time and perseverance, you should soon be able to do dips and pull-ups with little, if any, assistance.

1
Assisted Pull-Ups

Pull up
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A pull-up (or chin-up) is an exercise designed to work your biceps and the latissimus dorsi muscles of your back. Pull-ups require you to lift your body weight from an extended arm position to one in which your chin is level with the bar.

The assisted pull-up involves a specialized machine which provides a counterweight to reduce the upward pressure of the lift.

To do an assisted pull-up:

  1. Before adding any weight, stand or kneel on the levered platform, grasping the angled handles overhead.
  2. Without jerking or arching your back, see how far you can lift yourself. If you're able to do so comfortably, see how many you can complete. This is your baseline.
  3. Now move the pin to the weight plate you think you need, and try again. If you select the right weight, you should be able to lift yourself smoothly but begin to struggle as you reach the final repetition ("rep").
  4. Start by doing at least 8 reps, lifting and spreading your chest as you reach the top. If you feel any pain in your shoulder joints, stop and lower the weight.
  5. After completing the first set of 8 reps, rest for 60 seconds before starting the next set and the set after that. If needed, lower the weight with each set to maintain proper form (often referred to as a reverse pyramid set.)

As you get stronger over time, gradually decrease the weight until you can eventually do 8 or more pull-ups without assistance.

2
Assisted Dips

dips exercise machine

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Dips are used to strengthen the triceps muscles at the back of the upper arms as well as the deltoid muscles of the shoulders and the upper pectoralis muscles of the chest. The movements are called dips because you literally dip your body between the handles of the machine as you bend your elbows 90 degrees.

Assisted dips typically use the same machine as assisted pull-ups but with different hand positions.

To do an assisted dip:

  1. Before adding any weight, stand or kneel on the levered platform, grasping the handles of the machine with straight elbows.
  2. Without arching your back, see how far you can lower yourself without assistance. If you're able to bend your arms 90 degrees and push yourself back to a straight arm position, see how many more you can do. This is your baseline.
  3. Now move the pin to the weight plate you think you need, and try again. If you select the right weight, you should be able to lower yourself smoothly and return to the starting position with moderate effort.
  4. Start by doing at least 8 to 10 reps, keeping your body centered and your core muscles taut. If you feel any pain in your shoulders or elbows, stop and lower the weight.
  5. As you lower your body, try not to scrunch your shoulders around the ears. If you find that happening, try to straighten your upper spine as you enter the dip. That will keep your shoulders centered rather than allowing them to roll back. 
  6. After completing the first set of 8 to 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds before starting the next set and the set after that. If needed, lower the weight with each set to maintain proper form.

As you get stronger, gradually decrease the upward support until you can do 8 to 12 dips unassisted.

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