Note: This post has been updated after continuing this project for 3 years.
What started out as a simple project back in 2011 has continued to evolve over the years. At first I wanted to know if it was possible to build a lot of muscle and strength with just pull ups and dips, but now I’m continuing just how deep this rabbit hole will go. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way including some updated ones.
- The dip is one of the most underrated exercises in existence.
The push up usually gets the most props for the pushing calisthenic exercise of choice. In the world of free weights, the dip often plays second fiddle to the bench press or machine press.
I used to think that as well, but I now believe that the dip is, hands down, my favorite upper body pressing exercise. I wrote a post about it on why I love it so much, but for the time being I’ll take the dip over every other form of pressing exercise. It works things so well and to such a great effect. There is little to complain about this move. Once the technique is solid you can use the dip to build upper body strength and muscle that will rival any other exercise.
- Pay attention to your legs during pull ups.
Like many, I used to kick, kip and flail my legs while doing pull ups. This past month has taught me that correct pull up technique requires conscious use of the legs.
Have you ever seen a fish flopping at the end of a fishing line as it’s pulled from the water? The energy of the fish flows up the line to the rod and into the arms of the fisherman. The same thing happens when you move your legs while doing pull ups. As your legs move it changes how your upper body is working through the move. A good trick to use is to keep your hamstrings and glutes engaged through out the pull up sort of like at the top of a bridge or dead lift. This will remove a lot of lower body momentum and add extra workload to the upper body.
In some cases the use of the legs is done on purpose like with a kipping pull up. However, if you’re not kipping be sure to lock those gams in place and not let them move one tiny bit.
- Loaded dips and pull ups are only beneficial if they don’t compromise technique.
I used to do a lot of weighted dips and pull ups but now I practice them much less. I also use a fraction of the extra weight that I used to us. Back in 2011 I would do pull ups with an extra 35-40# but just the other day I did a workout with just an extra 10#. The key is to use weight to challenge your technique. If you add more weight, but you use less range of motion or move differently then you’re not really gaining much benefit. Remember, technique isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
- Forget the bars, dips on rings or straps rule!
Doing dips on unstable gymnastics rings or straps can bring much more quality to your workout than doing them on a set of parallel bars. The challenge to every muscle is so much greater, but you also have more freedom to move as your body wants to. The end result is you can dial in your technique much more ensuring greater safety, muscle activation and comfort.
- A small exercise selection can lead to over training a bit more easily.
Each workout would either be dip or pull up focused. I might throw in some leg or core work but for the most part each workout was 75% just dips or pull ups.
This made my workouts short and very efficient. It also caused me to really work myself into the ground and face more workload than I could handle.
If you’re focusing on just one move for a workout, don’t be afraid to end the workout after 15-20 minutes. If you’re focused on the exercise at hand you’ll have done more of that move in 10 minutes than most people do in a month!
- Focus on your rear delts to work your biceps harder.
The pull up is a great way to blast your biceps. I’ve even started to cut way back on the number of curls I do because I can hit them more with my pull ups.
The trick is to engage the rear deltoids more to pull the elbow back rather than just downwards. This will allow more tension to flow into the biceps muscle and will also keep stress off the elbow joint preventing tendinitis.
- Practice doing air dips and pull ups when warming up.
Before jumping onto the bar or straps go through 5-8 reps of doing the exercise with dynamic tension. You want to “mime” the exercise and pretend you’re doing it with all of the tension in the muscles you want to target.
This simple exercise will set up your nervous system to active your target muscles to a much higher degree once you do the actual move.
- You can get a complete and total workout with just dips an pull ups.
Yes Virginia, you can do nothing but dips and pull ups and get fantastic results. The two moves work every muscle in the upper body in an efficient and effective way. Of course it’s fun to do hand stands and rear flys on suspension straps, but knowing we don’t have to do them just makes them all the more fun.
It’s been 3 years since I started this project. Even though I’ve included progressive push ups and a few hand stand exercises the dip and pull up continue to dominate my upper body routine for the simple fact that I get so much more from these two moves than I have from any other exercise.