Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
When it comes to choosing exercises for a specific body part it’s important to choose wisely. Keeping your training effective and efficient is a tall order with the seemingly endless amount of moves available. Which are the very best for your goals?
This isn’t more prevalent than with triceps. Building big, ripped and developed triceps can fill out any t-shirt if built with the right exercises. You have read before about how multi-joint compound movements are best for packing on the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time. So, when it comes to triceps both the parallel dip and the close-grip bench press immediately jump out as the two big boys on the block for triceps mass.
But which is best? To answer, let’s break down what each is and sift through a few pros and cons.
Used as both a triceps and chest builder, the dip I will be referring to here will be for the triceps. Performed on a set of parallel bars, grasp the handles with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder width. Lower your body down with an upright torso and elbows close to your sides. When your elbow angle is near 90 degrees or less, (your comfort level will vary) press back up keeping the upright posture and flex your triceps. Repeat for reps.
Pros: As an excellent compound move the dip is an easy station to use. No setting up of benches or special bars or dumbbells. It’s also a great display of upper body strength and shows true control of body weight. The dip also has real world application and can develop supportive, natural strength to assist bench work and joint stability. Adding a weighted belt or fixing a dumbbell between your feet can increase resistance quickly and easily.
Cons: If you have shoulder pain or impingement and/or any elbow issues, dips can be a big no-no. Another commonly seen practice is strapping too much weight around your waist, compromising form and technique. This, of course, usually causes a shorter range of motion and fewer results. Lastly, since the triceps dip requires you to keep more of an upright posture, core strength is needed for stability and control. If you lack this important factor, it can be a difficult exercise to attempt correctly.
Close-grip bench presses
The close-grip bench press is another old-school triceps mass builder not only used by bodybuilders but other strength and sports athletes as well. Used for building mass and facilitating other lifts, the close-grip bench press is true a staple in any program. Lie down on a bench and grasp the bar with an overhand grip about one inch closer than your shoulders. Lift the bar and lower it down to your lower chest level keeping your elbows by your side. Once you have reached the bottom position press the bar back up making sure it travels at an angle toward your upper chest. Without locking your elbows flex your triceps hard and repeat for reps.
Pros: The ability to apply some serious weight to your triceps, the close-grip bench press is an excellent compound mass builder. Since it is a multi-joint move the benefits are two-fold. One, less elbow strain like that felt in a lying extension and two, it allows you to use more weight than if you were using an isolation exercise. More weight used, more muscle built.
Cons: If you hit the gym during busy times it can be difficult to secure a bench and a spotter is recommended especially when using heavier loads. Also, it is important to plan your training program accordingly when it comes to training overlap. For example, ideally you don’t want to perform close-grip bench presses the day after you benched and did a ton of chest work. Your strength will be compromised and you will lose some of the exercise’s benefits due to the involvement of your deltoids and chest.
So, which is the winner? Simply put - both. Depending on your potential for injuries, equipment availability and program set-up both the parallel dip and the close-grip bench press stress the bulk of the triceps using a greater amount of weight than that of an isolation move. Both are big, multi-joint movers that have practical application to the real world and help you to perform better on other exercises such as other bench work, shoulder pressing and shoulder stability for pull-ups and rowing.
Try alternating the two moves for your triceps workouts followed by a pressdown or lying extension. Soon you will be moving some bigger weight not to mention sporting bigger triceps.