How to Do Assisted Dips

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Machine dip

Targets: Triceps, deltoids, pectorals

Equipment Needed: Assisted dip machine

Level: Beginner

Assisted dips are a bodyweight exercise for the triceps and the muscles of the chest and shoulders. The movements are called dips because you literally dip your body between parallel bars as you bend your elbows 90 degrees. Doing dips can be a real challenge if you have poor upper body strength or too much lower body weight. Assisted gym 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 lighten the load by 50 pounds.

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 pullups and dips; others do just one or the other. With time and perseverance, you should soon be able to do dips with little, if any, assistance.

Benefits

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 triceps are used for pushing, and you will engage them in any daily activities that require pushing. As well, you want to keep your body in balance. If you participate in sports that use a lot of pulling action, you want to maintain strength in your triceps.

Step-by-Step Instructions

dips exercise machine
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If new to this type of workout, it's always a good idea to read the posted instructions and to speak with a member of the gym staff to ensure you use the equipment correctly.

  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 eight to 10 reps, keeping your body centered and your core muscles taut.
  5. 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.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and to avoid strain or injury.

Arching Back

Your back should be in neutral position. Ensure you have a straight line as you begin and then maintain it as you lower and raise yourself.

Scrunching Shoulders

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. 

Dipping Too Low

Pay attention to the strain on your shoulders. Don't go any lower if you begin to feel a heavy strain. Otherwise, you risk a possible shoulder injury.

Locking Elbows

Don't lock your elbows at the top of the movement. Keeping them slightly soft maintains tension on the triceps.

Leaning Forward

If you lean forward, you will be exercising your chest rather than your triceps. Maintain a straight line without any forward lean if you want to work your triceps.

Modifications and Variations

Using the assisted dip machine, you can modify this exercise to meet your fitness level. As well, you can progress to unassisted dips.

Need a Modification?

There are two ways you can make the assisted dip easier as you build your strength. First, add more assisted weight. The heavier the weight, the less body weight you will be dipping. Each pound added for assist is one less pound.

You also make the exercise easier by reducing the range of motion and not raising and lowering yourself fully. However, it is best to do a full range of motion with the amount of assist needed to do so. That will give you the best results and build strength in your muscles.

Up for a Challenge?

As you are able to do dips with good form, you can decrease the amount of assisted weight. Once you have zero assist you can simply use a bench to do the exercise. Or, for a more intense version, use parallel bars or rings.

If your goal is to build your pectorals, you can lean forward while doing dips and this will target that muscle to a greater degree. Be sure to maintain a straight back.

If your dip machine is also a pullup machine, be sure to take advantage of it to exercise the opposite muscles. The pullup or chin-up works your biceps and the latissimus dorsi muscles of your back. Pullups require you to lift your body weight from an extended arm position to one in which your chin is level with the bar.

Safety and Precautions

If you have shoulder problems, you may want to avoid this exercise. The exercise can stress the elbows and shoulders, so if you have any joint pain, you may want to use the pushup exercise to build strength in the triceps and shoulder. Use more weight assistance if you find any discomfort during the exercise. Stop if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources

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  1. Tiwana MS, Bordoni B. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.

  2. American Council on Exercise. Follow-up Q and A: Dangerous Dips.