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Looking to stay fit without a gym membership or any expensive equipment? Bodyweight exercises, like chair dips, are simple, effective, and easy to incorporate into your routine.

Chair dips target the muscles on the back of the upper arms. While the biceps on the front get a lot of attention, you’ll want to focus on the entire arm for the best strength and overall tone.

Best of all? Most people can do chair dips safely at home. You can also up the challenge by trying different modifications.

Keep reading to learn how to do a chair dip, what muscles this exercise works, and other exercises you can do to work these same muscles.

Chair dips are also called tricep dips because they work the tricep muscles on the back of the upper arms. In fact, some experts explain that chair dips are the most effective workout for this muscle.

The triceps are important in everyday movement that involves extending the elbow and forearm. You use them when lifting things like grocery bags or when reaching for items overhead. This muscle also plays an important role in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

Chair dips also work the:

  • Pectoralis major. This is the main muscle on the upper chest and is often referred to simply as the “pecs.”
  • Trapezius. This triangular muscle extends from the neck to the shoulder to the middle back.
  • Serratus anterior. This muscle is on the surface of the upper eight or nine ribs.

To try this exercise at home, you first need to find a sturdy chair or bench. A staircase or other stable elevated surface may also work in a pinch.

  1. Sit on your chair or bench with your arms at your side and your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart.
  2. Position your hands so that your palms are down beside your hips. Your fingers should grip the front of the chair seat.
  3. Move your torso forward off the chair with your arms extended. Your buttocks should hover over the floor and your knees should be slightly bent. Your heels should touch the floor a few inches in front of your knees.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower your body, hinging at the elbows until each forms a 90-degree angle.
  5. Breathe out as you push up to your starting position with your arms fully extended.

Complete the exercise 10 to 15 times for your first set. Then complete another set. You may work your way up to doing more repetitions or sets of this exercise as you build strength.

Tips for proper form

  • Be sure to keep your elbows straight behind you versus splaying them outward.
  • Resist shrugging your shoulders — keep them neutral with your neck relaxed.
  • Increase the difficulty of this exercise by straightening your legs and placing only your heels on the floor instead of the whole foot.
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Modifications

For beginners

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If you’re a beginner, try this exercise in a chair that has arms. The difference is that your hands rest on the chair arms instead of the seat of the chair. This way, you won’t need quite as much range of motion to work the triceps.

More advanced

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More advanced exercisers may want to take the bench or chair out of the equation entirely. Tricep dips can be performed on parallel bars at your gym or even on a playground.

You hold your entire body weight up with your arms extended and feet hovering over the floor, ankles crossed. Lower your body until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle before returning to your starting position.

Bench dip

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Better yet, consider using two benches to do what’s called a bench dip. Begin by balancing your body on two benches with your feet on one and your hands on the other. Your buttocks will sink in the space between them.

Lower your body with your arms until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Push up to your starting position.

If you’re pregnant

If you’re pregnant, try doing tricep dips on the floor. Start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Move your hands to meet the floor behind you — fingertips pointing in toward your body — with your elbows pointing directly backward.

Push with your arms until your buttocks is off the floor. Then slowly lower all while keeping your buttocks just off the ground.

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Chair dips are safe for most people because they mimic everyday movement of these muscles. Speak with your doctor if you’ve had a previous shoulder injury, as this movement may place stress on the anterior shoulder.

People who don’t have flexibility in their shoulders may also want to be careful with this exercise.

Not sure if you have good shoulder flexibility? Try standing in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Raise your right arm over your head and bend the elbow to place your hand on your upper back — the right shoulder blade.

Move your left hand up your back toward your right shoulder blade. If your hands are more than a hand’s distance apart, you may not have optimal flexibility.

Read this article for ways to relieve shoulder tightness and increase flexibility.

Chair dips and their modifications aren’t the only exercises that target the upper arms. There are other moves you can try at home with little or no equipment necessary.

Triangle pushup

Begin in a plank position with your hands beneath you, your thumbs and index fingers forming a loose triangle. Inhale as you lower your body, moving your elbows out at about a 45-degree angle. Exhale to your starting position. Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

Dumbbell tricep kickbacks

Stand in a lunge position with your right foot forward and your spine neutral but nearly parallel to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand — your arm should be alongside your body.

Inhale as you slowly bend your arm at the elbow while keeping your upper arm stationary. Exhale as you push back to your starting position. Do 10 to 15 repetitions and then repeat on the other side.

Start with lighter weight and work your way up to doing more to avoid injury. You may even consider purchasing an adjustable dumbbell that allows you to change the weight easily as you progress.

Overhead triceps extension

Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Grab a dumbbell with both hands gripping the upper part of the weight from underneath. Bring the weight up over and slightly behind your head.

With a slight arch in your back and your knees bent, slowly lower the weight as you inhale. Stop when you reach a 90-degree angle with your elbow. Then exhale as you return to your starting position. Do 10 to 15 repetitions. Here’s a video of the move.

Check out eight more weight-free exercises to tone every muscle in your arms.

Don’t be discouraged if chair dips feel difficult at first. Consistency is key.

Experts suggest doing at least two sessions of moves like chair dips and other strength training each week. Otherwise, work to keep the rest of your body strong by getting in 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity.

Read more about finding the right balance between cardiovascular exercise and strength training here.