Ring Dips vs Bar Dips. Which is the Best Exercise?
On the face of it the ring dip and the parallel bar dip may appear to very similar exercises but there are some fundamental distinctions between the two. The most prevalent difference is the instability offered by the rings compared with the relative stability of the fixed bar.
Because of this difference the ring dips are often far more difficult for beginners.
It can seem like there is little crossover strength or ability from the bars to the ring but it is the muscles used for balanced that become fatguied
They're benefits to both approaches so which one is best depends more one your training goals.
Ring dips or bar dips for building muscle mass?
Both ring dips and bar dips are a very effective way to target the chest and triceps and shoulders. When it comes to building muscle the more important factor is the amount of reps and sets you are doing rather then the particular exercise and both exercises are capable of building muscle.
If you can achieve 8-16 reps to failure for 3-5 sets then this puts your squarely in the ideal rep range for building muscle (hypertrophy).
So if you can do the appropriate amount of reps to fall into the hypertrophy rep range then exercise on both the rings and bars are suitable for building muscle.
However typically most people will more capable of reaching this rep range on parallel bars rather then rings. For a beginner using gymnastic rings, its usually the muscles used to stabilise yourself through the movement that fatigue first, rather then the primary movers that you are targeting i.e. the chest, shoulders and the triceps.
And generally it takes a considerable time to become accustomed to the rings so a beginner is unlikely to be able to do enough repetitions to fall into the rep range that is optimal for building muscle.
The contrast is in fact so stark between bars and rings that when I first attempted ring dips I could only achieve 4 or 5 very shaky repetitions whereas on the bars I could comfortable rep out 15 reps per set.
This highlights the difference between the two exercises and the surprising lack of transferable strength carried over initially between the two. Had I started training dips on the rings first however and then transferred to the bars I suspect I would have been able to reach a similar rep tally on either piece of equipment.
The in-stable nature of the rings is almost foreign to the body and is not experienced to such an extent in practically any other possible exercise. Because its so unusual it means the body has to take time to adapt to the new stimulus before you can execute ring dips for the optimal number of reps required to add mass.
Once you have adapted to the stimulus and can hit the magic 8-15 reps for 3-5 sets bench mark then dips one gymnastic rings becomes a great way to build strength.
The time under tension on the rings (essentially how long it takes you to do the exercise) is often longer on the rings as the during the exercise you have to control the rings and maintain balance throughout the movement. This by its very nature will force you to execute the reps slowing thus your muscle is being tested for a longer period. This is obviously beneficial for building muscle.
Even when you are at full extension at the top of the movement or at the very bottom, your shoulders are engaged keeping the body stable and stabilising the rings. Your muscles are constantly working. With the fixed bars its very easy to remain stable at both the top and bottom of the movement therefore you inherently spend less time under tension during the exercise.
The bars do however can exceed the rings in terms of building muscle if you are just looking to specifically target the chest and triceps. A set of fixed bars takes any stability challenges out of the equation and allows you to focus on the muscle growth of both the chest and triceps.
You can focus exclusively on finding the appropriate reps range and hammering out the exercise to the point where the chest and triceps are the first muscles to reach fatigue and not the stabilising muscles that may be hindering your progress.
Conclusion of rings vs bars for muscle building: Bars
Bars are better for targeting triceps and dips without being impeded by lack of stability
Bars are better for beginners as the challenge of the rings is often too difficult and can reduce the amount of reps you can complete, thereby hindering a mass building work out.
Easier to hit the 8-15 optimal rep range for hypertrophy for a number of sets.
Benefits of rings for building mass:
The instability of dip training on rings requires more control and coordination throughout the movement and therefore more time under tension- an essential component of muscle building.
The rings requires more muscle activation from the core and shoulders incorporating more muscle groups for a greater challenge and potentially more overall muscle gain.
The bars are best for beginners and those targeting chest and triceps growth. The rings unique challenge requires more time under tension and a great range of muscles therefore can offer hypertrophy benefits for more experienced athletes. Both offer different benefits so Ideally get to a stage where you can do both.
Rings vs bars, which is best for gaining strength?
Both bar and ring dips are great exercises, for gaining triceps, chest and shoulder strength.
However, in terms of gaining shoulder strength the ring dips hold a significant advantage over the bars. This is again primarily due to the instability of the rings. In order to successfully complete repetitions of ring dips then the rings must be under control. This requires coordination and strength principally form the shoulders but also the core.
It is the muscles around the shoulder joint that keep the body balanced and fight to keep the rings, which move independently from one another in the right place.
The muscles around the shoulder joints inevitably get stronger and more stable as they adapt to this new stimulus. This holds two key benefits:
Stronger stable shoulders directly benefit other lifts
Traditional lifts that target the shoulder are more focused on increasing strength used in pushing movements or to build the deltoid and trapezius for body building. None of these movements particularly specify or build shoulder stability.
Ring training and ring dips are fairly unique in that respect. Not only are the primary movers (the chest and arms) targeted but the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.
As I have said instability in an exercise doesn't sound like a good thing but on the contrary it has tremendous benefits. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint meaning it rotate in any direction in order to facilitate the arms either pushing or pulling.
This freedom of movement is great however if the muscles around the joint are not strong or coordinated then this can lead to a shoulder injury when put under strain or its caught out of position.
Whilst some traditional shoulder exercises are good for strengthening the shoulder and to some extent the shoulder joint these exercises are not comprehensive enough to strengthen and stabilise the shoulder muscles.
This is because traditional pushing exercises that target the shoulder (such as the overhead press) condition the shoulder to be strong when pushing in specific directions.
When the have to push or pull out of that position this can lead to injury. In sports of course you are not going to be pushing on a very specific plane of motion and may have to push in many different directions.
There are many examples of pushing dynamically in different directions depending on what is required in the situation in sports such as amateur wrestling, american football, rugby etc.
If you shoulder joint isn't strong and stable and ready for these situations then there is a higher probability of getting injured.
As you shoulders strengthen with dip training one of the main payouts is stronger shoulders that are far less likely to be injured. Aside from the obvious athletic and health advantage to injury prevention this there is another tremendous advantage.
The Crossover strength of ring dips
The strength that you can gain in your shoulders from mastering rings dips crosses over into other exercises.
With an exercise like bench press the lifter has to balance and support the weight on their own before they can safely complete the repetition. With strong stable shoulders the you can be more confident when lifting a barbell as your balance and coordination is already at a higher level then the average lifter.
Therefore you can concentrate more on the primary movers of the exercise and focus on your strength gains and new personal bests.
After I incorporated ring training, particular dips into my routine it significantly improved my bench press as well as other lifts. The weight felt much more stable and easier to control and my balance was rock solid.
Ring dips is one of the best exercises for people to supplement with if they are looking to overcome a strength plateau in their bench press.
Advantages to parallel bar dips for strength training
Doing dips on fixed bars is, in my opinion one of the best ways to train for strength in the chest arms and shoulders. It is an exceptional compound move that incorporates many different muscle groups and joints.
One advantage it has over training on rings is (as mentioned in the training for mass section of the article) that it takes the balance and coordination required for the rings largely out of the equation and allows you to focus more on targeted areas of the body, such as gaining chest strength. Bar dips do put less emphasis on shoulder strength but this allows you to narrow your focus.
Bar dips have always being an effective go to exercise for breaking through bench press plateaus as you adjust to pushing from a different angle and adapt to a new stimulus.
However the biggest advantage of strength training on fixed bars is:
Bar dips are better for adding additional weight
This may be in the form of a weight belt or a weighted vest. Personally I always recommend the weight belt as its easier to adjust (you just add or take away plates to suit your ability) and the fact that I find them more comfortable. I think weight vests are a great option but I have noticed for personal experience that vests can:
chafe against the body during the exercise,
they make me sweat more as I have to wear something additional
they are less easy to adjust the weight.
All fairly minor grievances to be honest but for these reasons I slightly prefer the weight belt.
The reason that I recommend bars over rings for adding weight is ironically because of the instability of the rings. Whilst I have said that the instability is a benefit previously, in this particular case it serves as a disadvantage.
With a dip your arms are carrying your entire body weight, which is quite a considerable weight not matter how heavy you are. If you are going to add external weight then this can put the shoulders, arms and chest muscles under considerable tension. Not only that you will be putting the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons cartilage) under increased tension that it may not be used to.
The usually provide enough of a stimulus in their own right so if you were to quick to add weight then this could easily over load the muscles and lead to injury.
For the time being take the balance and coordination required from the rings out of the equation. Used the fixed dip bars which ensure stability.
When you are adding weights its sensible to go with a safety first approach. You wouldn't throw 200 kilos on a bar and attempt to lift it if you have never lifted that kind of weight before.
Start of slowly with only a 5 kilo weight plate (11 lbs) and do this for your dip workout. Only when you can consistently achieve 6-10 reps of this weight for 3 or more sets should you progress on to a heavier weight.
Only increase the weight in small increments and only a maximum of 5 KG at a time. Even if you think you can increase the weights by more then this weight I would encourage you to take the safety first approach.
You are not only conditioning the muscles to take on a higher work load but also the ligaments, joint and tendons. The connective tissue can take a longer time to adapt to and increased work demand from an unfamiliar exercise hence why you should preceded with caution.
If you take all the necessary steps and put in the ground work you should be fine and you don't have to fear injury anymore then any other lifting exercise.
Scope for strength gains with weighted dips on a fixed bar
Adding weight to dips offers a tremendous opportunity for scaling the exercise up and lifting heavier weights.
Weighted dips is not the most common strength building exercise so if you haven't trained the exercise before after 6 weeks of training you will see a satisfyingly large increase in strength.
One of the common critiques or perceptions of calisthenics is that the strength gains are limited as your body weight is the only resistance. By adding resistance in the form of weights you are combining the best of both worlds:
The functional strength and simplicity of calisthenics and the scalable increases in strength from adding weights.
Calisthenics exercises are almost always compound movements so offer huge potentially for strength gains. This potential is not realised if you do not incorporate weight calisthenics into your training.
As long as you apply the progressive overload principle to your training and apply it to the most appropriate rep range for strength gains (6-8 reps for approximately 3 sets) then you will see results with both body weight dips and weighted dips.
The argument for strength gains with ring dips
Ring dips puts more of an emphasis on shoulder strength
The shoulder strength gained has benefits for both:
Crossover stability for other exercises and sports
The rings allow a deep full range of motion to really target the chest
Rings offer a new and unique challenge that is not replicated in other lifts.
Rings makes the shoulder stronger trough a greater range of motion for dynamic movement.
The argument for fixed bar dips
The fixed bars are more stable and better for beginners
The bars take balance and coordination out of the equation and allow you to specifically target the chest and arms
The more solid fixed bar dips lend themselves better to adding weight
When you can add weight to dips there is more potential to increase strength and more progressions in the exercise.
Both the rings and the bars have different benefits. If you want to start adding weight to your dips bars are the best way to go. However if your goal is injury prevention I would favour the rings as they can make your shoulder far less susceptible to injury.
Also if you are looking for a way to break through plateaus with traditional power lifts, such as the bench press, then incorporating gymnastic ring training can stabilise and strengthen your shoulder and carry over to increase lifts in different exercises.
Ideally have the best of both worlds and do dips on both rings are bars as the both have considerable benefits then put more of an emphasis on which ever exercise serves your goals best.
Bar vs ring dips, whats more favourable to the wrists, elbows and shoulders?
Whilst I have covered at length ring dips benefits for the shoulder stability, there is another benefit that goes overlooked; that is the fact that the width of how far the rings are set apart is easily adjustable.
If you hang your rings over a pull up bar like me, or perhaps over a tree branch or garage beams then all you have to do is slide the straps along so that the rings hang shoulder width apart. Any wider and this can lead to pressure on your joints, particularly the elbows. If the rings are too close then the straps will get in the way of your exercises and impede your movement.
The adjustment is easy and only takes a few seconds to align the rings correctly. This may not necessarily be the case for fixed bar dips. If your gym only has a generic dip station then they work on the antiquated principle of one size fits all.
Obviously this is not the case. Someone who is has narrow shoulders is going to need the bars ideally set at a different width to someone with broad shoulders.
If you are dipping on a set of bars which is not the right width for you then this inevitably leads to excessive strain on the elbows, wrists and shoulders and ultimately will lead to injury. The width of the bars is therefore very important and I would advise someone who only has access to bars too wide or too narrow for them to avoid dipping altogether. This would be a great shame as dips have so many benefits.
This problem can be overcome with paralettes. Single adjustable bars that can be moved easily. A decent pair of paralettes fortunately don't cost too much and you can use them at home. You can obviously move them closer together or far enough apart to suit your frame.
Another potential benefit of the rings is that they are able to rotate rather then stay in a static position. This allows them to move with the body's natural plane of motion. The wrists and elbow joints in particular naturally prefer to be able to move more during the movement then to be fixed in one position.
Static fixed dipping bars don not allow for this rotation. The joints have to follow a predetermined plane of motion set by the bars. This can lead to strain on the joints and the connective tissue.
As long as the bars are spaced shoulder width apart most people will not have a problem with most strains, however if you are doing a high work load of dips (lets say 60+ reps per week) Then you might start to develop some discomfort in the joints.
My advice would be to either do less dips or try supplementing with ring dips. Spend one dipping workout on the bars and next week on the rings. This should avoid discomfort and help you reap the benefits of both exercises.
Wrist and hand placement
If you do feel a level of discomfort dipping on the bars in your wrists then transferring to the rings may help. The is because there is more freedom to place your hands where you want on the rings. There is only one way to grip the bar, however you can grip the rings in different ways and a subtly different angles.
Sometimes a flat grip can be uncomfortable so with the rings you can position your hands in a way that is more favourable to your wrists. If you place your hands higher on the rings then this will lead to less extension in the wrist and lead to a range of motion that your wrist will be more comfortable.
Both the rings and fixed bar dips are highly functional, highly effective compound exercises. They both lend themselves well to gaining strength and building muscle, as well as having considerable athletic cross over.
Which one is best is up to personal preference and goals. For weighted calisthenics I would recommend the fixed bar dip. The bars also have many benefits for gaining endurance strength and building muscle as well as isolating the chest.
The rings dips on the other hand have broad athletic benefits and injury prevention qualities. The stabilisation of the shoulder joint that results from ring dip training is not to be under estimated or under appreciated.
The benefits of strong, stable and injury free shoulders are obvious. And the crossover strength that can be carried over to athletic endeavours is also a great advantage.
Both exercises build muscle and strength so the most sensible approach is of course to train both styles. Both have their own unique advantages which compliment one another. Don't try to train one style exclusively but reap the benefits and cross train in both exercises. This way you will ensure you can become the most well rounded athlete that you can possibly be.
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