pullups and dips

What I’ve Learned From Doing Only Dips and Pull Ups (Updated)

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.

The Fit RebelWhat I’ve Learned From Doing Only Dips and Pull Ups (Updated)

Comments

  1. Jarrett

    I’ve been weight training for 15 yrs and after suffering a minor back injury decided to come back doing only dips and pull ups to start. It’s been 5 months and I start every work out with dips and pull ups and I’ve never been stronger in my other exercises. It works and builds everything. Unbelievable!(withe the proper technique of course)

  2. Michael

    I have spent the last couple of months doing nothing but chin ups, pull ups and dips and have just come across your site. I have been progressing well and have increased my number of reps in every exercise. However, I am relatively new to the gym world and was wondering what you do in your workouts, such as amount of sets etc. I tend to do 5 sets of one of the pulls and then 5 sets of dips and have been doing it 5 times a week. Just wondered what you did so I could compare. Thanks.

    1. Author
      admin

      My workouts are about the same deal actually. I usually have a 3 day split between pushing/ pulling and leg exercises. Very body builder style. I don’t really keep track of how many sets I do. I base that more on energy levels and time but I would say it averages around 3-5 sets per exercise.

      If you’re making progress, then I would just stay the course for sure. Sound like you’re rock’n pretty strong.

  3. Joe G

    Hey there just wanted to say thanks for the great site. I have been on a program the past couple of years of just dips and pullups and love it. Had always enjoyed them back in competitive gymnastics but got burned out on the indoor gym monotony. Started going to an outdoor set of parallel and high bars here in LA and absolutely love it. Being outdoors, getting some sun, and perhaps talking to complete strangers from all walks of life make it even more enriching.
    And, these exercises do so much in such a compact movement. The demand on your coordination, your athleticism and then your muscle fibers make it so nutrient rich.
    Was wandering if I was crazy to do this, but came by your site and I am glad to know I am not.

    Best,
    Joe

    1. Author
      admin

      Rock on there Joe. Major props for sticking to your program for so long.

  4. James

    Over a year ago I bought a dip/pull stand and ever since that’s been the focus of my strength training. I feel amazingly strong and have receive numerous complements regarding my physical appearance and shape.

    1. Author
      admin

      Rock on James sounds like you’ve made a great investment there with the stand. Wish I bought one years ago.

  5. Jeremiah

    I have one day a week of my training that is dips (2 sets narrow, 2 sets wide) and pull ups (2 sets shoulder wide palms facing forward, 2 sets shoulder wide palms facing my ears) with some core (abs and lower back) sprinkled in between sets. I love it and it’s my favorite day of the week at the gym. Stumbled across this site seeing if anyone else was doing the same thing. Go for it people, you’ll love it!!!

  6. Joe

    Dips and Pull-ups – I thought I was the only one around TOWN that made these the focal point of my workouts. I visit the gym 5 days a week for NO longer that 1 hour. I spend the last 30 min’s on one of the many different cardio machines. The first 30 min’s is either Dip’s one day, or Pull-ups (I never do them both on the same day). The third day I might just focus on arm exercises using dumbells – maybe throw some push-ups in there. Doing this has helped me stay trim, AND strong – quiet strong pound for pound. I highly recommend your article to anyone that doesn’t want to live at the gym, but wants to do enough to stay trim, but also, STRONG – pound for pound. Great article.

    1. Author
      admin

      Thanks Joe! If you’re looking for some fun arm training check out some of the curl and tricep ext. exercises you can do on suspension straps. Those sucker’s will jack up your arms like crazy!

  7. sean

    I been working out for im kinda buff. But I wanted to Try new workout so if I just do dips and pull ups can keep my size

    1. Author
      admin

      Sure man, just make sure the intensity is high enough to keep challenging your strength.

  8. joel

    but may I get mass withh doing pull ups, push ups and dips? a personal trainer told me all these are olny to get ripped..is that true or what? i have been workingout in the gym around 2 years.

    1. Author
      admin

      There’s no such thing as an exercise that can shape or grow your muscles differently. It’s how the exercises are applied that makes the difference and even then the differences are slight to negligible.

  9. troy

    Yes u can get buff or ripped just from dips and pull ups. Its the same thinking as if u were using weights. More reps to rip. If u find it too easy add on weight for resistance. Its just about rest and food intake.

  10. Tony McGurk

    Quote: “Have you ever seen a fish flopping at the end of a fishing line as it’s pulled from the water?”

    All I could think as I read this was Crossfit Kipping Pullups. I just had to say it…

  11. Ugi

    Really interested in doing dips and pull ups. I do dips on Mon, Wed and Fri and pull ups on Tue, Thu and Sat. Rest on sunday. And again. Is it ok? Or there should be one day off?. Please give me suggestion. Thanks.

    1. Author
      admin

      Sounds good to me there Ugi. Just make sure to keep a log and keep your workouts progressive. Keep me posted on your progress!

  12. Heraclius

    I’ve been doing only push ups, pull ups and dips for a couple of years with great results.

    Sometimes, I do supersets: each series consists on 10 pull ups, 15 dips and 20 push ups (only a few seconds of rest between each exercise), and I do this 9-10 times.

    It’s starting to get less challenging. What would you suggest to make it more challenging?

    1. Author
      admin

      There are loads of ways you can make any of these moves harder. Pull ups and dip can have added weight through a dip belt, you can pull your elbows in tighter to your ribs, try going for a bigger range of motion at the top and bottom of each movement. Also put a pause at the bottom and top of the same movement as well. You can also progress the push up and pull up by shifting more weight onto one side of you body so one arm is working harder while the other is an assist.

      Search for my post on “how to progress calisthenics” for more!

  13. Noah

    Can I do pull up-dips-push up 6 days a week rest Sunday?Just started working out, and I’m 6foot5 and 195 pounds.

    1. Author
      admin

      Sure thing, but I would alternate which exercises you do on different days. That way you get some rest and recovery.

  14. Paul

    I’ve done pull ups and dips for years and other than cycling is all I do to train. You should mix up some super sets! Pull ups to dips and vice versa. Good cardio! Pyramids are good as well…… A lot you can do with just 2 exercises!!

    1. Author
      admin

      So right you are there Paul. It’s much more effective to do a few select moves in a variety of ways than to do a variety of moves the same way over and over.

  15. marvin

    how did you do this? i mean, how many reps per set, sets per dips/pullups? also, did you do this everyday or every other day? im just curious

    1. Author
      admin

      It’s all spelled out in the Triad Muscle revolution program that’s free for all subscribers to the R.D.P Digest. My program has changed over the years but the basic remain the same. Usually 3-5 sets and reps from 8-15.

  16. Jonas Koch

    Hey! A question..

    Can I train Monday and Wednesday Dips; and Tuesday and Thursday Pull Ups?
    Would that be too much? Do dips and pull ups work completely different muscles?

    Thanks!

    1. Author
      admin

      There is some cross over between the dip and pull up. Mostly the back muscles which are involved in both dips and pull ups.

      But I like the idea of doing them on different days. It’s a good way to become more focused on each move.

  17. Rick

    Great website.

    So is your workout still mostly dips/pullups and lunges?

    Do you do any deadlifts or kettlebell work?

    Thanks

    1. Author
      admin

      Yep, those moves are still the meat and potatoes of my program. I also do some bridges push ups and little things like strap curls here and there but those things make up a small portion of my workout.

  18. Anton Schoeman

    HI there.
    I’m working out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a weight pack. I increase the weight pack every 2nd or 3rd week. Im using a 15kg pack now. I do 4 sets of 8 reps weighted pull ups, 4 sets of 8 reps weighted dips, 4 sets of 10 reps push ups. 4 sets of 8 reps weigted chin ups. I do this routine 3 times a week. I rest 1 min between exercises and 2-3 min between complete sets. Im defintely ripped and getting very strong but struggling to put on muscle mass. Does sleep have a big influence? I go sleep late and get up early mostly so i dont have much rest. I do have a good protein-filled eating plan. Thanks.

    1. Author
      admin

      Yes! Sleep my man! Sleep is so key that I would even say it’s more important than diet when it comes to building muscle. Seriously, I would take a modest diet with lots of sleep over a stellar diet and poor sleep any day.

  19. george

    Hey !
    I’ve been doing calisthentics – dips, pull ups, push ups – for about an year now but the resulta are coming slow. I’m skinny and ectomorph, but I hate the gym, if I continue doing dips + pull ups (without extra weight) will I build mass ?
    Thanks !

    1. Author
      admin

      I applaud you for keeping up with your routine there George! Rule #1 is always maintain consistency.
      So then you must ask rule #2, are you placing a high emphasis on progression?
      Remember, hard work never did anyone any good unless it was progressive. So are you keeping a log and striving to place more tension on those muscles with each workout?

  20. Chris

    If I want to start doing dips and pull ups to build muscle what kind of schedule should I keep? I’m strong enough to do the exercises but have never been on any kind of formal program.

  21. Michael

    I’ve recently been looking into a dip station that comes with straps for doing push-ups. However I already have a doorway pull-up bar. I’m wondering if doing the strap-dips and even strap-push-ups from the bar will be as effective? In other words do you think I can drop the dip cage altogether and just use the straps to add dips and push-ups using my chin-up bar as effectively?

    1. Author
      admin

      Yep, you can hang straps from the doorway pull up bar, just make sure that pull up bar will hold your weight. Over all, I think the strap dips are more effective than doing dips off of a stable dip stand or similar set up.

  22. anonymous

    Too many people think this is all you need and call it strength training. Pull ups and dips are def the best exercises in their class but do not do everything. In fact the pullup utilizes the least of the lat functionality. Also, people say they are getting really strong from these exercises, but getting more reps in these movements does not mean you are developing your bodies overall strength. How much can you squat? How much can you deadlift? Clean? i dont mean to rant but it is extremely small minded to only do these 2 exercises

    1. Author
      admin

      You’re right about being limited, but it’s important to keep in mind that strength is always specific to the activity. There is no such thing as an exercise that makes someone simply strong for anything and everything. All exercises have limited functional carry over which is why it’s important to be selective towards what sort of strength you need. But you’re right that some moves have more over all carry over than others which tend to be the basics.

      I do have to disagree with the lat activation. Like all muscle activation it’s not so much about the exercise but rather the activation skill of the exerciser. I used to have minimal lat activation in the pull ups, but it wasn’t because of the exercise but rather my own ability to engage those muscles. Now I can use them much more and it’s not about using a different grip or angle but just how well I can engage a muscle. Lastly these moves (especialy the pull up) can be progressed and regressed just like any other strength move for more or less resistance to pursue any strength or fitness goal.

  23. Joe

    I’ve been into fitness and weight training for 22 years. I’m now 42 and need a new shoulder and knee, so for the past 3 years necessity and injury has forced me to drop the bench press, squat and dead lifts in lieu of pullups, dips, and push ups; weighted and unweighted. My joints really thank me for it and my physique and strength have not waned. Of course, I work in core and minimal leg work considering the knee issue, but I’ve seen great results. Sometimes, I’ll work out at lunch, right in the office. 300 pushups and 100-120 pullups. Takes 20-30 minutes, depending how spry I’m feeling. I’ve got a 20 lb weight vest I stow at work, too, and break that out on Friday lunches, usually hitting 175 incline weighted pushups with 60-75 weighted pullups. On other days, I work out at home, loading up the dips for 5 sets with 55lbs for 12-15 reps and 5 sets of pullups with the 55lbs for 5-7 reps. I alternate between the push and pull. I’ll then hit 2-3 burn out sets alternating between 20-25 unweighted dips and 12-15 unweighted pull ups. It works.

  24. Keith

    Hi, great article! im a firm believer in bodyweight training.. i do a 3 day split- pulling day, pushing day, legs day, repeat, rest saturday.

    my question is- on pushing day, should my push up workout come first? Or should I do all my dips, then start on the pushups?

    or would it be better to alternate the exercise on each pushing day- for example- only pushups on one push day, and only dips on the next push day? ..or should I just keep both exercises together on each push day??

    1. Author
      The Fit Rebel

      Good questions there Keith. The dip and push up are actually more similar than most people think. Technically the dip is a push up, it’s just a little more downward but the muscles you use are almost the same.

      So with that in mind, I would say just mix and match your dips and push ups around as you like. I like your idea of alternating the dip and push up back and forth throughout the week as that will give you plenty of focus on one of the moves at a time. I definitely find that if i do dips then my push ups are pretty shot afterward. If i do push ups then my dips are sub-par. I would have the two together if you’re working on something that’s tricky ot learn like a new advanced push up. In that case you’ll get used to the move a lot faster if you do it twice a week rather than once.

      I hope that helps.

  25. Mike

    This is great!
    I’m currently training 5 times a week and daily doing pull ups, press ups and dips.
    Is it best if I do dips one day and pull ups a different day? Or keep on same day ?
    Many thanks

    1. Author
      The Fit Rebel

      You can do it either way, it’s not going to matter that much. Although your shoulders might like doing it one way or another if the dips are hard on your shoulders. Just be sure to keep the work load the same for both.

      Keep me up to date on your progress!

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