In many workout programs, you’ll see exercises categorized in groups such as horizontal push, vertical push, vertical pull, squat, etc. These categorizations are useful because they allow us to focus on specific movement patterns and muscle groups with a variety of exercises. Here is a list of common categories and exercises:
OK, that’s cool and all, but what’s up with the dips? And why does it matter?
While both horizontal and vertical pushes work largely the same muscles, there are some key differences between the two movement patterns.
In the horizontal push, the arms generally start behind you and end up squeezed together in front of you at the top of the movement, generating more tension in the chest.
In the vertical push, the arms generally start in front of you and end up squeezed together above you at the top of the movement, generating more tension in the shoulders, and relying on more stability and mobility from the scapula (from the serratus anterior and the traps).
Almost everyone considers dips to be a vertical push. Why? Because you are pushing vertically down. However, because of the mechanics of dips, they would be better suited in the Horizontal Push category.
While this might seem a matter of semantics, knowing the correct category for dips can be very useful for creating a well rounded program. Each category contains exercises with specific benefits that have a large carryover to one another. Putting an exercise in the wrong category can cause you to miss out on potential benefits of a missing category.
For example, if you’re working with horizontal and vertical pulls, and program pushups as horizontal, and dips as vertical, you’re missing out on all the scapular benefits that overhead pushing can provide.
You wouldn’t program a pullup for a horizontal pull. So don’t program a dip for a vertical pull.
In summary: Dips are a Horizontal Push!