Jason Dupree
October 27, 2022

Dips: Horizontal or Vertical Push?

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:

  • Horizontal Push: Pushups, Bench Press, Dips???
  • Vertical Push: Overhead Press, Handstand Pushup, Dips???
  • Horizontal Pull: Barbell Row, Bodyweight Row, Cable Row
  • Vertical Pull: Chin Up, Pull Up, Lat Pulldown
  • Squat: Front Squat, Back Squat, Low Bar Squat
  • Hinge: Romanian Deadlift, Deadlift, Single Leg RDL
  • Lunge: Forward Lunge, Split Squat, Backward Lunge

OK, that’s cool and all, but what’s up with the dips? And why does it matter?

Horizontal VS Vertical Push

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).

So What Category Do Dips Fall In?

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.

  1. When you do a dip, as you go down, the arms go behind you, and at the top, they squeeze together. Not in front of you, but at your sides. Even so, this is very similar to any other horizontal push. You can think of it like a decline bench press, just a very steep incline. Looking at the video above, you’ll see that at the bottom, the arms are in a similar position as a deficit pushup.
  2. You don’t actually stay completely vertical at the bottom of a dip anyway. You are slightly leaned forward, further cementing the decline press similarity.
  3. They are missing the overhead scapular rotation / stabilization component of overhead presses.
  4. If you’re familiar with dips, you’ll know they are a very chest dominant movement.
  5. Dips have a large carryover to other horizontal presses like pushups and bench press, but a smaller carryover to overhead presses. Carryover meaning, if you are strong in dips, you are stronger in other exercises as a result (because they are very similar movement patterns).

Why Does It Matter?

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!