Dips or Triceps Press Machine?

Portrait of two models showing off their muscles

Your triceps extend your elbow and add muscular girth to your upper arm. Working the biceps without attending to the triceps cheats you of strength and may also lead to injury due to muscle imbalances. Certain triceps exercises fail to offer the challenge and range of motion needed to hit all three heads of this muscle. Your goals and ability level influences whether you choose dips or the triceps press machine.


Dips are a body weight exercise done off a bench or, for more challenge, parallel bars. To do a dip, sit on a bench and place your hands under your shoulders -- fingers facing your buttocks. Slide your seat off the edge of the bench and bend and extend the elbows to lower your body down and up. You can walk your legs closer to the bench to make the move easier, or farther out for greater intensity. For dips off parallel bars, hold yourself above the bars by grasping the bars -- torso perpendicular to the floor. Keep your torso straight up as you bend your elbows and lower your body until the shoulders are below the elbows. Push back up to complete a repetition. You can cross your ankles to create stability. Avoid leaning forward, which emphasizes less of your triceps and more of your chest and shoulders as well as locking your elbows at the top of the movement.


Triceps press machines come in standing and seated variations. In the standing version, you place your body behind a cable machine with a high attachment of a rope or bar. Grasp the attachment with an overhand grip and glue the elbows to the sides of your body. Push down by extending and bending the elbows. Seated version of the machine usually feature levers at shoulder height that you grab and push down until your arms are fully extended.

Dips Advantages

Because they require you to stabilize your entire body and engage multiple muscle groups, dips are more effective in stimulating growth hormone which can help you build muscle mass and strength. Dips engage stabilizing muscles, particularly the anterior deltoids and the pectorals, which means you are doing more with every movement. In either variation of the dip, you are working against a much heavier load than you face while doing the triceps machine press. You can also cheat more easily when doing the machine, notes the American Council on Exercise, by using momentum.

Machine Potential

Don’t write off the triceps machine press altogether. For beginners, dips may be too challenging. The machine helps you learn proper form and build a baseline of strength. As you fatigue, the machine prevents form breaks – such as leaning forward – so you are certain that you are targeting the triceps during your entire session. Dips, especially those done off parallel bars, do come with some risk for injury. Go too fast or too deep and your risk tearing a pectoral muscle or straining your shoulder.