In this week’s episode of the VERSUS SERIES we’re going to be comparing the CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS VS WEIGHTED DIPS!
Now when it comes to showing off BIG ARMS most people instinctively go for a double bicep flex and while big biceps are very impressive, to have truly massive arms you need to pay a bit more attention to your triceps. This is because the triceps make up the majority of your arms and if you’re looking to fill out the sleeves in your t-shirt, training your triceps is what’s going to do it!
But before we get started, if you missed the my last versus series article where we compared the Dumbbell Shoulder Press VS the Barbell Shoulder Press to find out which exercise is best for building BIGGER BOULDER SHOULDERS, be sure to check it out HERE!
ANATOMY OF THE TRICEPS
The first thing I want to discuss before we dive into our comparison is a quick breakdown of the triceps. The triceps contain the prefex “tri” because they are made up of three muscles, the lateral head, medial head and long head and to get the most growth out of these muscles you need to be incorporating exercises in your workout that target all three heads. For those of you who don’t know, most isolation movements like pushdowns, pulldowns, kickbacks and overhead extensions usually place more emphasis on one or two of the triceps heads. In fact, most people who have under developed triceps is usually because they ONLY use isolation exercises and this is mainly because they are easier to set-up and less taxing on the rest of the body. That is why they’re called “isolation” movements, because the majority of the work is being done by the triceps.
Now, as we know in order to build muscle we need to be able to continuously place larger loads on the muscles we’re trying to grow and that’s where compound movements like the Close-Grip Bench Press and Weighted Dips come in!
CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS
Let’s first take a look at the close-grip bench press. Now this is a compound movement that will target all three heads of the triceps, but ONLY if you’re set-up correctly. Too many people in the gym grab the barbell SUPER CLOSE and end of placing a lot of unwanted pressure in their wrists and elbows.
The name of the exercise is the “close-grip” bench press, not the “hands together” bench press. All you need to do for your grip width is grab the barbell just wide enough so that when you lower the barbell your forearms are as close as they can be to your torso.
To perform this movement, you’re going to lay down on a bench just like you would for a normal bench press. However, if you want to isolate your triceps as much as possible I want you to perform the movement with your legs in the air. This will take the stability your lower body provides out of the exercise making sure your upper body is doing all the work.
Remember, we’re performing this movement for TRICEP GROWTH, not to see who can close-grip bench the most weight with bad form. What I mean by this is that with your feet on the ground you will be able to lift more weight because you’re pushing through your feet, glutes and core and in most cases, especially when fatigued, 99% of you will start to flare your elbows and bring more chest into the movement. This defeats the entire purpose of this exercise being a TRICEP BUILDER. However, if you’re an experienced lifter and know your limits and how to train heavy with proper form, then you can definitely close-grip bench press with your feet on the ground. But if you’re a beginner or new to the exercise, keep your feet in the air for now to help you increase your mind-muscle connection during the movement.
So, first things first, let’s lay down on the bench grabbing the barbell shoulder width apart. Once in place you’re going to lower the barbell to your TORSO, not your chest, and this is the BIGGEST mistake people make with this movement. You need to visualize creating 90 degree angles with your elbows when at the bottom of the movement. This is the best way to fully engage your triceps. Also, make sure you CONTROL the reps. Don’t just drop the barbell on the way down. You need to feel your muscles contracting as you control the negative portion of the movement. Then, while keeping your wrists straight, press the barbell back up over your torso and repeat for reps.
If you don’t pay attention and bring the barbell to the bottom of your chest, which most people do, you’ll instantly feel a difference in that you’ll get less triceps activation and more chest activation during your reps. Now, you may be able to lift more this way, but at the end of the day who really cares about how much weight you can lift if your triceps are not growing to their maximum potential? It’s all about FORM guys.
Next up is weighted dips which are often referred to as the upper body squat because of how effective they are with building muscle. Like the close-grip bench press, dips are also a compound movement that targets all three heads of the triceps and also like the close-grip bench press, if not perform correctly, can involve more chest activation than triceps. In fact, most people, without realizing it, are training more chest than triceps with dips because it’s the easier way to perform this exercise.
To target your triceps, you need to be as vertical as possible on the way down and up. As soon as you start to lean forward you’ll start to bring more chest into the exercise. Now, if you guys want a full breakdown of how to target your chest or triceps with dips, I’ll link you to a video on YouTube I created HERE. I would also like to mention that you should always perform a shoulder warm-up before dips, or any exercise that involved the shoulder joint, and to ensure you avoid a future injury please take a moment and watch my shoulder warm-up video on YouTube before performing these exercises by clicking HERE.
To perform a weighted dip all you need is a weight belt or dumbbell and a set of parallel bars. However, if your gym has a bar that extends out like a V, just make sure that you grab the bar more toward the close end so that when you perform the movement your arms are close to your body and your palms are facing each other. Next, put on the weight belt with weight you can handle on the chain or if using a dumbbell, place it between your quads and hold it in place by bending your knees and crossing your legs.
Once in place, grab the parallel bars and jump up so that both arms are fully extended. Next, with your chest up, begin to lower yourself as far as you can and keep your body as vertical as possible and your arms close to your body. Your elbows should be rubbing against your torso and you should be able to lower yourself to the point to where your biceps touch your forearms. If you can’t do this, then you either need to lower the weight or work on your shoulder mobility.
As soon as you fully descend, return back to the starting position with your arms fully extended and repeat for reps. Also, make sure that when you’re at the top of the movement that you’re also contracting your triceps as hard as you can. Don’t just fully extended your arms, you want to actually FEEL the muscles contracting.
Now I know there’re going to be comments from people saying that stopping half-way keeps more tension on the muscle and this is just wrong. There is a reason why it is harder to perform a dip with FULL RANGE OF MOTION and that’s because at the very bottom of the movement the triceps are in the fully stretched position. In order to get the most growth out of a muscle you need to fully STRETCH and CONTRACT it. We talked about this when we compared the Dumbbell Bench Press VS Barbell Bench Press. So if you can’t go all the way down, then that’s a good indication that you need some serious shoulder mobility work or you need to lose the ego and lower the weight.
WHICH IS BETTER?
Now that you understand proper form with both movements, which is better for building bigger triceps? Well, let’s take a look at some advantages and disadvantages of both exercises beginning with the close-grip bench press.
CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS: ADVANTAGES
Because the form is similar to the bench press, performing this movement correctly will be easy for most people and will help strengthen your bench press as well as strengthen your shoulders.
Another great advantage to this exercise is that because you’re laying down, the bench will provide support for your upper body and shoulders allowing you to place much heavier loads on your triceps.
And lastly, if you’re an experienced lifter you can choose to place your feet on the ground for more stability to lift more weight and place a heavier load on your triceps.
CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS: DISADVANTAGES
The biggest disadvantage with this movement is failure to have proper form. For example, if your hands are too close together you will place excessive pressure in your wrists and elbows which can lead to an injury. Also, if you’re bringing the barbell to your chest instead of your torso, you will be engaging more chest than triceps to perform the movement.
Another disadvantage is that some of you may have a hard time unracking the barbell and if you fail on your reps, you will need a spotter or else you will be stuck under the barbell.
And lastly, if you’re training chest and triceps together and your chest is already fried from your workout, you’ll not be able to effectively train your triceps with this exercise under a heavy load. Because the chest is working as a synergistic muscle group during the movement, with your chest already broken down you won’t be able to load as much weight to effectively train your triceps.
WEIGHTED DIPS: ADVANTAGES
The main benefit you'll get from dips is that aside from targeting all three heads of your triceps, you will also target your chest and shoulder muscles as well helping to strengthen them.
Another advantage is that you can do them pretty much anywhere as you only need to find a set of bars to hang from and adding weight is as simple as placing a dumbbell between your legs.
Also, the dip has real world application and can develop supportive, natural strength to assist bench work and joint stability. In fact, I just ran a Spartan Race this weekend and noticed most people had an extremely hard time getting up and over walls. If they did more dips, once they got to the top of a wall, pushing themselves UP would have been much easier!
WEIGHTED DIP: DISADVANTAGES
The biggest disadvantage to weighted dips is that they are a difficult exercise for the average lifer. You will need quite a bit of upper body strength to perform this movement even if only using bodyweight. So this means that if you have a weak upper body you will need more set-up time to find someone to spot you, set-up resistance bands for a self-spot or if you’re lucky your gym might have an assisted dip machine.
Another disadvantage is if you have shoulder pain, shoulder impingement and/or any elbow issues, weighted dips can aggravate or cause a bigger injury.
Also, because dips require you to keep your body upright the entire time, you will need more core strength for control and to keep your body vertical throughout all your reps.
And lastly, not every gym has parallel dipping bars, so if you don’t have bars to dip on, you simply cannot perform the movement.
Whether performing the close-grip bench press or weighted dips, at the end of the day you’ll be able to place a larger load on your triceps with these two compound movements when compared to any isolation movement for your triceps and in very simple terms, the more weight you use, the more muscle you will be able to build.
Both movements also target all three heads of the triceps which means you’ll maximize your overall growth for your triceps with both exercises.
But the biggest limitation between both exercises seems to be whether or not you can actually do weighted dips or dips in general. If I were to build a program right now for anyone watching this video, I know that every single one of you would be able to perform a close-grip bench press as long as you can handle, at minimum, the weight of the barbell. So with that being said the winner of this versus series is the CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS.
Also, if we take a look back at the advantages and disadvantages, weighted dips require much more flexibility and mobility throughout the shoulders to perform the movement correctly with FULL RANGE OF MOTION and if you have injury prone shoulders or poor mobility you’ll be wasting your time with half-reps on this exercise. But for the close-grip bench press, the only real limiting factor is whether or not you need a spotter if you fail on a rep and in most cases you can just do this exercise in a power rack and have an instant self-spotter.
With that being said, here are my final recommendations. On your next triceps workout I want you guys to start with 4 sets of 8 – 10 reps of the close-grip bench press. Really challenge yourself, focus on proper form and increase your weights 5 – 10 pounds each week.
Keep incorporating this exercise in your weekly routine to continue to build not only bigger triceps, but your upper body strength as well so eventually you WILL be able to perform weighted dips. This also means that you’ll need to be working on your shoulder mobility, so again if you missed it, start doing THESE WARM-UPS twice a day.
I don’t want you guys to think weighted dips are a bad exercise. In fact, I personally consider them to be EQUALLY as good, if not better, then the close-grip bench press. But I know that not everyone can do them so that is why we’re going to utilize the close-grip bench press to make you guys super strong to be able to eventually handle weighted dips.
Then, once you guys are strong enough to handle weighted dips or even regular dips I want you to incorporate this exercise into your weekly program as the first exercise completing 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps followed by the close-grip bench press for 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps and then finish up with 1 or 2 isolation movements of your choice for 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps each.
Then, switch it around for 4 – 6 weeks and perform the close-grip bench first followed by weighted dips. This way you’re maximizing the load on your triceps with both exercises.
ONE LAST THING
When performing weighted dips, there’s a chance you can pop or crack your sternum. Personally, this has never happened to me and I don’t really know anyone who has had this happen to them. But that doesn’t mean the risk isn’t real.
From what I’ve researched, the majority of people who’ve actually CRACKED their sternum was because they were lifting crazy stupid weight for like 3 – 4 reps. Guys, there is absolutely no need to train this heavy with weighted dips and for a few reasons. Number 1, because we’re bodybuilding and that means we need to work with more volume when training. So more sets and reps. And Number 2, there’s absolutely no need to set a personal record on this exercise. Nobody really cares and someone told me they can do weighted dips with FIVE 45s strapped to their waist, I already know 99.99% of the time these people are ego maniacs and DEFINTIELY didn’t perform full range of motion.
To maximize your results and to avoid injuries you need to train smart and if for some reason you feel a slight pop in your sternum, but no pain follows after, it could just mean that there was tightness in the area that was released or something shifted back into place. Kind of like when your elbow pops when benching. Just remember to always train hard, but train smart as well!
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