Old School Exercises: Pull-Ups and Dips

May 12, 2019

By Mike Gentry

Two great exercises that may have lost some of their appeal but are still super productive and effective are pull-up variations and dip variations.  Both exercises require minimal equipment and can be started by beginners with assistance from an exercise band or manual assistance from a training partner if needed.  Both exercises can be performed as bodyweight exercises when the athlete is strong enough to do so, and both exercises can be progressively weighted for the advanced strength athlete.

With both exercises, the benefits will be easily noticed as the athlete’s progress from assistance to bodyweight to added resistance.  As the athlete’s dips improve their press ability will also be improving.

I encourage you to program both exercises on a regular basis.  One reason that pull-ups and dips work is that they are difficult, you as the coach, may have to monitor these exercises to ensure accurate participation, especially at first!


Equipment– The main considerations regarding a dip rack are stability and not having the dip bars excessively wide for the athletes. A rack that is too much beyond shoulder width for your age athlete will invite shoulder issues.  Keep your dip rack close to shoulder width, better to ere on too close than too wide, in my opinion.

Technique – Each dip repetition should be completed with the arms fully extended, and the elbows briefly locked out.  The goal is for the athlete to bend his arms and lower his body under control until his upper arms are parallel to the floor.

Spotting – When athletes need assistance to perform reps, use one exercise band with each end around the dip rack handles.  The athlete may place his knees or foot on the band, be careful dismounting from the band.  An alternate spotting method is to have the athlete’s training partner hold his feet and help on the concentric extension of the arms.


The ability to vary the exercise by changing your grip is a positive thing.  These grip variations give the lowly pull-up a bit of “special.”  A wide versus a closer grip, an overhand grip versus the underhand grip, even the one hand over and one hand under grip done with the hands close together is a viable option.

As your athlete’s mature and gain relative strength many will be able to use a dip belt to add additional weight around their waists.  This method of progressive resistance will take their back, bicep and grip strength to a new level.   Another advanced method of grip strength development is to put two rolled up towels around the pull-up bar taping the two ends of each towel together.  These two ends taped together is where the athlete will grip each towel.  The athlete pulls until his chin is higher than his hands.  The towel pull-up is tough!

Dips and Pull-ups

On both the pull-up and dip exercises, keep the reps realistic; better five reps completed, than ten reps that strain the spotter and demoralize the exerciser.  The bodyweight pull-up and bodyweight dip exercise intensities can increase by having the athletes pause at the bottom of the eccentric movement for one second before performing another concentric movement.  Pause at the bottom of the pull-up with arms in full extension before pulling up and at the bottom of the dip with the arms flexed before extending up to full arm extension.

When the athlete can perform over twelve reps with good technique on the pull-up, and over twenty correct body-weight dips they may be ready to wear a dip belt around their waist with an additional ten pounds or so added to the belt.

Bar Hang Bonus- If you are using the bar hang exercise to stretch the shoulder and low backs while building the grip strength of a gorilla, you can incorporate a pull-up on your command every ten-fifteen seconds and increase mental and physical toughness.

I encourage you to make these “old school” exercises part of your program.  Let your competition take the shortcut!

Click here to read other articles from Mike Gentry on his website.


Mike Gentry is a former Associate Athletics Director for Athletic Performance who brings his expertise, innovation and leadership to build out and grow collegiate athletic programs, and he has created a website: High School Strength. From his early days at the University of North Carolina, East Carolina University, and, then, Virginia Tech, Gentry developed the strategies and tools that helped individual athletes realize and improve upon their performance. As Director of Strength and Conditioning for Athletics then Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance, he helped Virginia Tech build out their program by introducing the first Sports Psychologist and Sports Nutritionist programs.  Gentry is a National Hall of Fame Inductee, Coach of the Year and Master Coach. He was inducted into the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.

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