Pull Ups And Dips Only

Pull ups and Dips Only – Can you build total upper body size and strength with just 2 exercises?

This question gets asked a lot! And the short answer is YES and NO at the same time.

YES, you can absolutely build an impressive upper body with pull ups and dips only.

And NO, because when it comes to complete upper body strength, the story is quite different.

This is because of the nature of these two exercises.

The pull up is a vertical overhead pulling movement. While the dip can be termed as a horizontal pushing movement. These 2 exercises have tremendous carryover to other pushing and pulling movements. But, they do not provide complete strength carryover to other planes of motion.

So, let’s discuss the pro’s and con’s of using pull ups and dips only to build your upper body. As well as which exercises you could add in order to build a well rounded physique.

Advantages Of Pull Ups And Dips Only

Pull ups and dips are like deadlifts and squats for the upper body

Notice the use of the term “upper body”. This is because both these exercises involve only the muscles of the upper body. 

The dip is like a squat because you are pushing your entire body through space. When performing a dip, you are pushing your entire body through space. The only difference being; you’re using your hands. 

As the name suggests, the pull up is a pulling exercise. The pull ups works close to 90 percent of the muscles in your upper body, through this pulling movement. While the deadlift works 90% of the muscles in the upper body and is also considered a pulling movement.

In fact, pull ups also resemble deadlifts in the fact that they move the body through space. 

Also, moving your body through space recruits several stabilizer muscles that provide for additional growth opportunities in the body. These stabilizers are responsible for building solid core strength in the squat and the deadlift. 

The pull up and the dip also require the involvement of several stabilizers throughout the upper body and the core. 

This leads to fewer weak links in the kinetic chain as the body stabilizes itself as it moves through space. 

Thus building a rock solid core in the process.

Pull ups and dips build real world strength and have excellent carryover into real life events

Another benefit of the pull up and the dip is the fact that they are highly functional movements. 

These two movements can be used to move the body through space in real world environments. 

They are great for rock climbers and practitioners of parkour and just about anybody else. 

Scaling walls and climbing rocks use movement patterns that are similar to the pull up and dip. 

Hence training these movements with weights will give you more real world strength.

Pull ups and dips build exceptional grip strength

The pull up and dip also builds tremendous grip strength. 

The pull up can build finger strength, pinching strength as well as crushing strength based on the grip being used. 

You can also train the pull up with fat grips or on gymnastic rings. Pull ups can also build the size of your forearms. 

The dip on the other hand uses the wrist as a stabilizer, especially when performed on gymnastic rings. 

This will help build the muscles and help condition tendons in the wrist.

Pull ups and dips save a lot of time by hitting multiple muscle groups at the same time

The pull up and the dip are compound exercises that hit multiple muscle groups at the same time. 

This reduces the need to isolate certain muscle groups which in turn means fewer exercises per workout. Which leads to greater growth stimulation in less time. 

The pull ups work the traps, the lats, the abs, the rear delts and the biceps. 

Dips also work the abs, the triceps, the traps (to a certain extent), the chest and the front deltoid. 

Granted, you might have to bring up certain lagging body parts like the side delts and the upper traps. 

But these are minor gripes when looking at the overall development of a physique while spending the least amount of time in the gym.

Pull ups and dips are an excellent core exercise

The pull up and the dip work the abdominal muscles to a great extent. 

This is especially true performing the chin up with a hollow body hold. In fact, a heavy loaded pull up or chin up works the core as much as any direct abdominal work. 

This negates the need for any direct abdominal training. Or at the very least, it reduces the volume required to stimulate growth in the abdominal muscles. 

Heavy loaded dips recruit the abdominal muscles just as well. 

Thus, the overlap between these two exercises will build a strong core. The need for no additional ab-work, further reduces the amount of time spent you need to spend in the gym.

Minimalist Training makes you a specialist

Keeping with the theme of minimalist training, these lifts allow you to specialize. This means that you can build tremendous strength in these two movements. This ties in directly with specificity of training. Which means that you can reach elite levels of strength in these chosen lifts.

In fact, the underhand pull up (aka the chin up) has tremendous carryover to one arm pull up training. 

The one arm pull ups is another elite lift that not a lot of strength athletes can perform. It requires you to possess an incredible strength to weight ratio. 

Lifting heavier loads on these 2 exercises means the stabilizer muscles involved get stimulated a lot more. 

This is because, when lifting heavy loads through these two movements, the stabilizers get developed to a greater extent. Thus building a stronger core and overall musculature as well.

The Only Piece Of Equipment Required To Perform Pull Ups And Dips

You can perform an incredible upper body workout with pull ups and dips only. 

All you need in terms of equipment is a set of gymnastic rings. Gymnastic rings are an excellent piece of upper body calisthenics equipment that complements this type of minimalist training very well. 

When performing pull ups on gymnastic rings it is possible to implement all 3 grips variations during every repetition. This will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of muscle recruitment in the pull up.

When it come to performing dips, the biggest problem that arises is performing dips safely when under load. 

If the load being carried is too heavy you could end up failing at the bottom of the dip. Thus placing your shoulder at risk of injury. 

Gymnastic rings negate this risk by virtue of being adjustable. This allows you to place the rings at a height that will enable you to fail safely at the bottom. 

All you have to do is; adjust the rings in such that you can firmly place your feet on the floor. In case of failure all you have to do is to simply place your feet firmly on the ground. This transfers the load off your shoulders and onto your legs.

This is why I highly recommend getting a pair of robust gymnastic rings. You simply cannot ask for more in terms of a complete portable gym.

The best gymnastic rings that I recommend are x rings.

Disadvantages Of Performing Pull Ups And Dips Only

Pull ups and dips can be hard to micro-load accurately

It can be hard to micro-load these 2 exercises because your own body weight is part of the load. 

Our body weights fluctuate from day to day and also throughout the day. Thus micro-loading differences occur in the body itself. 

The inability to micro-load accurately can hinder progress on such bodyweight lifts when compared to their barbell or machine counterparts. 

Of course, the same argument can be made with barbell squats. In the squat, you do end up squatting your bodyweight and the barbell during the movement. 

But, minor fluctuations in weight can be easily handled by the lower body when compared to the upper body. 

This makes progressing with micro loads relatively harder to track with pull ups and dips alone.

It can be risky to perform the dip (but this can be overcome with gymnastic rings)

As discussed above, it is easy to place the shoulder in a compromised position at the bottom of the dip. 

This can be especially true when loading the dip with a weight that is hard to handle. 

The bottom of a weighted dip places the shoulder in hyper-extension under load. 

This can potentially be disastrous without a fail safe at the bottom of the movement. 

This is one of the cons of performing the dip. But, as mentioned above, this issue can be overcome with gymnastics rings. 

Gymnastics rings give you the ability to place your legs on the ground if you miss a rep. 

Thereby allowing you to prevent the shoulder from going into dangerous territory at the bottom of the movement.

Performing pull ups and dips only can lead to muscular imbalances and overuse injuries

Performing pull ups and dips alone can stimulate growth in majority of the muscles of the upper body. 

Unfortunately, there are still some muscles that don’t get stimulated enough when performing these exercises. 

These muscles include the upper traps, the lateral head of the deltoid and the long head of the triceps. 

While the pull up will build wide lats, the dip builds the pecs. These are both large muscles that play a role in internal rotation of the humerus at the shoulder joint. 

Excessive internal rotation of the humerus results in shoulder pain and improper posture. This internal rotation and of the upper body is then made worse by our smartphones and laptops. 

In order to fix this issue, shoulder prehabilitation exercises must be performed. 

The following are a couple of supplemental exercises that must be performed when using pull ups and dips alone.


Pull ups and dips alone are an excellent way to build a strong and muscular upper body. 

But, they can lead to postural problems in the long run. 

Working on shoulder mobility and strengthening the external rotators of the shoulder will improve joint health.

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