The bench press activates the pectoral muscle more effectively than weighted dips, making it a better strict chest exercise. However, the bench press is a common source of lifting injuries and has been shown to reduce shoulder mobility and flexibility. In comparison, dips target the chest less directly, placing more load on the triceps, encouraging shoulder flexibility and increased range of motion. If you are training for a bigger chest, choose bench press. If you wish to build shoulder mobility and maintain long-term strength, incorporate weighted dips into your training program.
Bench Press: Pros and Cons
The bench press is a staple for building upper body strength, but is it truly worthy of its status? For some, the flat bench is a source of a potential shoulder injury, leading them to consider removing the bench press from their workout plan in favor of weighted dips. Is this a good idea? Let’s dig in.
Bench Press: Pros
A university graduate study determined that the barbell bench press drives better pectoral muscle engagement than alternative exercises. In fact, of the 9 exercises studied, dips came in 6th for pectoral activation, with only 69% of pectoral activation of the bench press. The bench press allows you to activate your chest more fully than other exercises, partially because it allows you to move heavier weights. This provides more challenge for your muscles and allows you to progress further with the bench than dips.
- Best pectoral muscle activation of any chest workout.
- Allows you to put more load on your muscles, which drives muscle growth.
- Most lifters can tolerate more bench press sets without fatigue when compared to dips.
- Builds chest mass and thickness.
The bench press, when properly performed, is a compound movement that recruits the back, shoulders, core, and legs. Because of this, you’re much less likely to get fatigued and fail your bench press compared to dips. You are less likely to plateau. This means you will be able to build a bigger, thicker chest through the bench press.
Bench Press: Cons
The bench press is not a perfect exercise. If strict attention isn’t paid to form or attempt to progress too quickly, there is a chance to suffer a shoulder injury during the bench press. An exacerbating factor of this is that the bench press decreases shoulder mobility and flexibility. The less mobile your shoulders become, the greater the chance you’ll injure them while lifting.
- Shoulder injury risk.
- Inhibits shoulder flexibility.
- Focuses on front deltoid muscle.
One limiting factor of the bench is that it puts a lot of strain on the front deltoid muscle that makes up the front of your shoulder. This muscle is typically weaker than your pectoral muscles, so your shoulder muscles may fail before your chest, leading you to get less of a chest workout from the flat bench than you otherwise would.
Weighted Dips: Pros and Cons
If you want to build better chest muscles, you’ve probably at least considered dips. By adding extra weight to this exercise, you can increase the intensity and build a bigger chest. But is it really better than the bench press?
Weighted Dips: Pros
If you are an experienced lifter with strong shoulder muscles, weighted dips often carry a decreased risk of shoulder injury versus the bench press. This is because the weighted dip shifts the focus from the deltoids to the triceps.
- Can have less injury risk than bench press.
- Increases shoulder flexibility and mobility.
- Builds stabilizer muscles for a well-developed chest.
Perhaps the biggest win for weighted dips is that they actively increase shoulder flexibility and mobility. The range of motion required for weighted dips stretches your shoulder muscles. That stretching action can undo the negative impacts of the bench press on your shoulder joint. By building flexibility and working key stabilizer muscles, weighted dips contribute to healthy chest muscle development.
Weighted Dips: Cons
The weighted dip utilizes fewer muscles than the bench press. This means that attempting to perform large volumes of dips can lead to muscle fatigue. You won’t be able to load as much weight on your dips as consistently as you can with the bench. This is important because forcing your muscles to move heavy weight plays a large factor in building muscle.
- Can be difficult to perform at high volume.
- Primary focus on the triceps.
Another drawback of weighted dips is the focus on the triceps. In fact, some professionals even classify the triceps as the main muscle targeted by dips. While this can certainly be compensated for by performing dips with a form that targets the chest, dips will always rely on your triceps. This is perhaps a reason why dips don’t recruit the chest muscles as well as the bench press.
Are Dips a Good Substitute for Bench Press?
Don’t drop bench press from your routine in favor of weighted dips. Instead, start your chest workout with bench press because:
- Bench press activates the pectoral muscle more completely than weighted dips.
- The compound movement of the bench press enables you to move more weight. This enables progressive overload, raising your ceiling for strength and muscle gains.
After you’ve performed your bench press, move on to weighted dips later in the workout because:
- Dips are a great accessory exercise to build portions of the chest that bench press ignores
- Dips help increase shoulder mobility and flexibility, balancing out the shoulder tightness bench press encourages.
If you had to choose one chest workout, the bench press is more valuable for targeting your pectorals than dips, but the exercises work best hand-in-hand. The bench press drives the best chest muscle growth, while dips encourage overall shoulder health. Perform both to get the most out of your workout.