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 for the upper body because you are pushing your entire body through space, using just your hands.
As the name suggests, the pull up is a pulling exercise that moves the entire body through space.
The pull up works close to 90 percent of the muscles in your upper body, through this movement.
While the deadlift works 90% of the muscles in the entire body and is also considered a pulling movement.
The deadlift resembles the pull up in that they are both pulling movements that move the entire body through space.
In fact the pull up can improve your deadlift by building tremendous grip strength and the lats.
Moving your body through space also recruits several stabilizer muscles that provide additional growth opportunities to the body.
These stabilizers are responsible for building solid core strength that transfer to everyday life.
Moving the body through space using only the pull up and dip, requires 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 while performing these gravity defying movements.
Doing so will build you a rock hard core in the process.
Pull ups and dips build real world strength and have direct carryover to real life events.
They are highly functional movements that can be used to navigate through real world environments.
Pull ups and dips are non-negotiable movements for rock climbers, martial artists, athletes and those serving in the military.
Scaling walls and climbing rocks use movement patterns that are similar to the pull up and dip.
You pull yourself up and push yourself over the obstacle, using actions that closely mimic these exercises.
Training these movements with weights will give you the upper hand.
Gymnasts are excellent examples of athletes that gracefully navigate their environment using pure upper body strength.
Which brings me to my next point about the best piece of equipment for performing pull ups and dips.
The ONLY piece of equipment required to perform pull ups and dips…
If you are serious about building impressive upper body aesthetics and strength, then you simply cannot do without do without a pair of gymnastics rings.
Gymnastic rings are an excellent piece of calisthenics equipment that perfectly complements this minimalist push-pull training style.
When performing pull ups on gymnastic rings it is possible to implement all 3 grips variations during one single repetition.
That is a lot of bang for your buck in terms of muscle recruitment in the pull up.
When it comes to performing dips, Gymnastics rings can be a life saver.
Several gyms don’t keep dipping bars on their premises. Gymnastics rings allow you to train this movement even without a set of dipping bars around.
In fact, the biggest problem that arises when performing dips is the spacing between the bars. Bars don’t come in standard dimensions and can be uncomfortable and injurious depending on their spacing and your shoulder width.
Gymnastics rings allow you to keep the rings as close to your body as required, thus placing them directly under the shoulder joints where they belong.
Another feature of gymnastics rings is that they’re height adjustable and will allow you to perform paused dips which are harder and safer to perform under heavy loads.
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.
Pull ups and dips build exceptional grip strength
The pull up can build finger strength, support grip strength as well as crushing strength based on the grip being used.
In fact one of the best grip building exercises is a dead hang.
This can be done on bars, rings or even towels/cloth for a different overload effect.
You can also train the pull up with fat grips on pull up bars or gymnastic rings.
Pull ups 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.
Pull ups and dips save 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.
Which leads to greater growth stimulation in less time.
This reduces the need to isolate certain muscles which in turn means fewer exercises per workout.
The pull up works 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 deltoids.
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.
You won’t have very many lagging body parts in the upper body with this routine!
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.
As a matter of 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, well developed core.
The need for no additional ab-work, further reduces the amount of time spent you need to spend in the gym.
Using pull ups and dips only is a minimalist way to workout.
But minimalist training makes you a specialist at these movements.
Keeping with the theme of minimalist training, these lifts allow you to specialize.
Specializing in the pull up and the dip means that you can build elite levels of strength in these two movements.
For example, the one arm pull up is a movement that requires upper body pulling strength to weight ratios.
You can easily achieve this level of upper body strength to weight ratios buy specializing in pull ups. This will have tremendous carryover to one arm pull up training.
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 within the body itself.
The inability to micro-load accurately can hinder progress on bodyweight movements when compared to their barbell or machine counterparts (Check out my article on Pull Ups Vs Lat Pull Down.)
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 and the right technique)
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.
If the dip hurts you in the shoulder or sternum for any reason, stop performing it immediately. Check out my article on the Incline push up performed on gymnastics rings instead, it will show you how to reap similar results from the incline push up instead!
Performing pull ups and dips only can lead to muscular imbalances and overuse injuries in the long-run.
Performing pull ups and dips alone can stimulate impressive 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.
Pull ups and dips alone will get you strong and jacked.
As a beginner, intermediate or advanced athlete, pull ups and dips must be the mainstay of your muscle and strength building program.
But, they can lead to postural problems and overuse injuries in the long run.
Working on shoulder mobility and strengthening the external rotators of the shoulder will improve joint health.
But to maximize muscle growth it is beneficial to add a few more exercises to your upper body routine.
Exercises like bodyweight skull crushers, the inverted row and handstand push ups are excellent additions to your upper body workout routine.