Updated: Feb 12, 2022
If you go to the gym regularly, chances are you've heard of the dip and the close grip bench press.
They're both great compound movements that target the triceps, chest and shoulders.
These are both staple exercises in our programs, and should be that way in the majority of strength training programs out there.
But which is better?
Does one lead to bigger triceps than the other?
We're here to tackle that question in this post, by comparing the advantages of each exercise, drawing a conclusion based off of that, then discuss how these exercises can be incorporated into your program, and finally we'll provide you with a couple of great sample 'push' workouts that you can try in your next few sessions.
Advantages of Dips
Minimal Equipment Required
When it comes to bodyweight training in general, very minimal equipment is needed. In this case, the dip easily wins over the close grip bench press.
Wherever you go, there are places where you can do dips.
You're quite likely to find parallel dip bars in parks, and you can even do them on any mid-height platform or bar, such as a handrail (make sure it's safe to do them!) or your kitchen corner countertop.
However with the close grip bench press, you'll need a rack, a bench, a barbell and weight plates.
Outside of the gym, you're extremely unlikely to come across the first three objects. But they're necessities to perform the exercise.
Now compare this with the dip, which only requires a pair of parallel bars, or really any mid-height platform and your own bodyweight.
Since they only require your own bodyweight, it's much cheaper to get set up doing dips if you're training at home than it would be if you were going to bench press a home. You'll only need a pair of parallel dip bars, which will cost around $50 on the cheaper end.
And it's probably safe to say that for the majority of the population, a set of 10-20 dips with controlled technique is enough to get close to or reach muscular failure. In order to bench press, you'd likely need to spend well over $300 to get a bench, rack, barbell and plates.
And in order to keep progressing, you'd need to keep spending or more and more weights.
Overall this is a great advantage of dips, with their versatility and simplicity to actually perform the exercise in terms of necessary equipment.
Better for Building Functional and Relative Strength
When it comes to building functional and real-world strength, the dip also wins here. It's a great way to assess your own strength-to-weight ratio, and will help you truly understand your own strength.
Whether you weigh 60kg or 120kg, taking a set of bodyweight dips to muscular failure would be a much better indicator of your functional strength than a set of close grip bench pressing would.
The strength you gain with dips can be much more applicable to real world activities than the strength gained from bench pressing.
More Stabilization Muscles Engaged
The upright torso and free movement of your body also calls for more engagement stabilization of the stabilization muscles during the dip.
You'll likely find that you finish each set of dips far more tired than you are after a set of close grip bench pressing, and that's because your shoulders, abs and spinal erectors are working very hard to keep your body stable during the movement, resulting in more overall muscle growth in the upper body.
This may mean that the dip is the better overall exercise if you want to build that well-rounded physique, as it engages more total muscle mass in the body.
It might mean that if you were to only do one of these exercises, and you were dedicated to bodybuilding, then the dip would be the better option.
However this extra muscle engagement does come at a cost. You'll find that your energy depletes much quicker, and that dips tax the central nervous system (CNS) much more heavily than the close grip bench press does.
To combat this, you'll likely have to factor in the extra recovery demands into your program, especially if you're running a high-frequency split such as upper/lower 3 times a week, or full body workouts 5 times a week.
So when it comes to overall muscle engagement, the dip does beat the close grip bench.
No Spotter Needed
The last advantage of the dip would be the lack of a need for a spotter. Now this doesn't really affect your training, but it's definitely something that you have to factor in when you're bench pressing heavy.
And sometimes, there aren't any people around us available to spot us. When that is the case and we want to bench heavy, we'll often have to simply cut our sets one or two reps shy of what we thought we could do, just to be safe.
Otherwise we could face serious injury.
However with the dip, there's no need for a spotter. You can have the confidence to push yourself closer to failure, knowing that if you fail, you can simply drop back down onto the ground and be completely safe. Plus, it's just less hassle for the people around us, and it's more efficient for everybody in that sense.
Advantages of The Close Grip Bench press
Easier To Progressively Overload
To continue building muscle over any extended period of time, it's common knowledge that you have to progressively overload the stress we're placing on our muscles.
It's no use doing the same weight for the same amount of reps over and over again, without changing anything meaningful.
You won't build any more muscle. And as with any barbell exercise, it's very straightforward to do this. Simply add a 1.25kg or 2.5lb plate on each side every week or two. The close grip bench press is no different.
To keep progressing in weights, you simply have to add a tiny amount of weight each week, increase reps, or do something long those lines. However with dips, progressing is not always as straightforward.
If you're a stronger trainee who can do a set of 20 bodyweight dips without too much of a struggle, then the bodyweight dip no longer serves as a strength and optimal muscle building exercise to you.
It effectively becomes a muscular endurance exercise. Now you'll still build muscle, but it won't be at the rate that you could be growing at if you were lifting heavier loads.
You'd probably need to invest in a dip belt, or find some other way to make the exercise more difficult.
Both of these methods will work, but they are certainly not as straightforward as slapping more weight onto the bar. To get yourself a high-quality dip belt, you'd likely need to spend over $60, probably more.
And to make the exercise harder, you could try things like doing them on rings to decrease stability, or possibly slow down the eccentric portion of each rep for more time under tension.
Like we mentioned earlier, the close grip bench press involves none of that extra hassle. Simply adding a small 'baby' plate on each end every couple of weeks will help keep you progressing as effectively as possible.
Better Application to the Bench Press
The strength gained from close grip bench pressing will also roll over very effectively into your actual bench pressing.
This makes the close grip bench a much better exercise than the dip if you're a trained or aspiring powerlifter. It'll closely resemble the movement pattern of your comp bench, and further improve your strength in that position.
You'll see many professional powerlifters utilizing this exercise very often to build up their weak points, and also to keep improving overall pressing strength without taxing the central nervous system as much.
It's great for increasing overall volume, without causing your other lifts to suffer too much.
This may make the close grip bench the better overall exercise if you have goals to increase your bench press strength, due it so closely matching the movement pattern of the flat bench press.
This makes the close grip bench press a great option for building up the triceps.
More Suitable for Beginners
Dips are quite a tough exercise to most people, and you do need a considerable amount of upper body strength to perform them, no matter your weight.
This means for beginners out there, it's often quite hard for them to get started into bodyweight training such as pull ups and dips.
The only real way to get started are to use a resistance band, or an assisted dip if you're lucky enough to have one in your gym.
Now if you don't have access to either of those pieces of equipment, you simply cannot perform the exercise. However with the close grip bench press, beginners can start with just the 20kg barbell, and no weight on it.
And if that is too difficult, they can grab some lighter preset barbells, which most gyms will have. They usually start at 10kg, and are a great way for beginners to get straight into the full range of motion, quickly progress to higher weights, and eventually start doing them with the actual barbell.
Beginners could also start with a pair of light dumbbells, bringing the bar for entry even lower, and making it suitable for absolutely anyone. Even the small dumbbells such as the 4kg or 10lb ones are a good place to start.
They can learn very similar technique, and quickly build up the strength to progress onto any sort of a bar.
The close grip bench press has a much lower bar of entry, and it therefore more suitable for absolute beginners who may struggle to perform bodyweight dips with proper form. You can get straight into it on day one, learn the correct technique, and progress from a solid starting base.
Potentially Heavier Loading
Another advantage of the close grip bench press would be the higher potential for heavy loading, due to the lesser need for stabilization. Since you're resting on a flat bench, your core and stabilizing muscles won't have to work as hard to keep the weight of the barbell in steady and in control.
As there's less energy and output being put into the stabilizing muscles simply trying to keep the weight steady, you might find that you can lift more weight on the close grip bench press than you can on the tricep dip.
This would mean more mechanical tension on the muscle, which is a prime driver of muscle hypertrophy according to science.
Less Mobility Demands
The close grip bench press also requires significantly less mobility and flexibility in the shoulder joint, when compared to the dip.
This is another major determining factor that goes into picking between the close grip bench and the dip for the triceps.
Many people find that they experience pretty bad shoulder pain during their dips when they try to get down to a proper depth at the bottom. And while this may be due to using too much weight, it's also quite likely that just don't have sufficient flexibility in the shoulders.
It's also quite easy to go way past parallel, placing far too much stress on the shoulders, unless you're a trained lifter with loads of specific mobility work under your belt.
The dip requires a lot of mobility in the shoulder, and could lead to serious injuries if you try to perform them without the proper experience and stretching prior to doing this exercise. Especially if you've had shoulder injuries in the past.
However with the close grip bench press, much less stress is placed on the shoulder joints throughout the movement.
It's much safer as you're less likely to bring the weight too far down, and place too much stress on the shoulders.
The bar would stop at your chest, and you wouldn't be able to accidentally bring it any further.
However if you've had a history of shoulder injuries or impingements, then we'd recommend seeing a health professional before attempting any dips, and before attempting to go heavy on the close grip bench.
So Which Is Better?
Both exercises are great. But if we had to pick just one, we'd say that the close grip bench press is the better exercise. It's got a potential for more loading, which we know is directly correlated with building more muscle.
Plus it's much more straightforward to apply progressive overload on this exercise than it is on the dip, and it's got better applications to the flat barbell bench press, as well as a much lower bar for entry to get started.
So unless you're a functional athlete or training for a specific sport or purpose such as calisthenics or something like an extreme obstacle course, the close grip bench press would be the better exercise out of the two for you.
However we do recommend including both exercises into your program, as they do offer their own advantages and benefits, and you can get the best of both worlds by doing so.
Incorporating Them Into Your Program
When you do come to incorporate these exercises into your routine, you could either do them both on the same 'push' day, or alternate them, as you do usually train each muscle group twice a week.
Both exercises should be done with relatively heavy loads, with the close grip bench coming first if you're a powerlifter, otherwise it doesn't really matter which order you do them in.
You should look to do both exercises in the 6-10 rep range, for 3-4 sets. We want to take advantages of the heavy loading potential that these exercises offer on our triceps, that the usual isolation exercises such as pushdowns don't allow for.
Remember to always try to get a spotter with you when you do come to close grip bench press, as we certainly don't want you stuck under the bar without anyone to help you!
Sample 'Push' Workouts
5-10 Minute Warmup
Incline Barbell Bench Press - 4 x 10
Close Grip Bench Press - 3 x 8
Smith Machine Shoulder Press - 3 x 8-12
Cable Flyes - 3 x 10-12
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Tricep Pushdowns - 2 x 12-15
Stretching and Foam Rolling
5-10 Minute Warmup
Barbell Bench Press - 4 x 6
Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press - 3 x 8
Bodyweight/Weighted Dips - 3 x 6-10
Low to High Cable Flyes - 3 x 10-12
Seated Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extensions - 3 x 8-10
Cable Lean-Away Lateral Raises - 3 x 12-15
Stretching and Foam Rolling
Wrapping It Up
Thanks so much for reading through this post!
We hope you've enjoyed learning about the differences between the dip and the close grip bench press, and have found the article to of some use to your fitness journey.
Like we said, both are great exercises, and it's up to you to give each one a shot and see the one that works better for you!
Whether you choose both or just one of them, we trust you'll crush the next workout you do them in!
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