Why Can I Do Dips but Not Pull Ups? [Is This Normal?]


Dips and pull-ups are some of the first bodyweight exercises that most of us start with.

And I have seen a couple of people that can pump out several dips with perfect form. However, they struggle to do a single pull-up. So why is that?

I can do dips but not pull ups is this normal? Yes. Pull-ups are significantly harder than Dips. The main reason why dips are easier is because they target different muscle groups. Being able to do dips does not carry over in a significant way, to doing more pull-ups. The biomechanics differ between the two exercises, which makes it harder for some people to switch from dips to pull ups.

Or in other words, these two exercises, as we will see in a bit, are very different in their mechanics and how they affect our body.

But if you are here, you probably want more than that. You want to learn how to fix that and be able to do both dips and pull-ups. So let’s get started.

doing dips

Is It Normal to Do Dips but Not Pull-Ups?

Not being able to do pull-ups even though you may be able to d do say 5, 10 or even more dips is completely normal. Here’s the thing:

  • Dips are a very different type of exercise that targets different muscle groups;
  • Specific muscle groups that are incredibly important for doing a successful pull-up are not being trained at all by the dips;
  • Dips are relatively easier compared to pull-ups;
  • Pull-ups will require a lot more strength and endurance from you;
  • Dips will not have a significant carryover to pull-ups; and
  • The best way to learn to do pull-ups is by, you guessed it, doing more pull-ups.

Now that you have a basic idea of why it is completely normal not to be able to do a pull-up despite doing very good at the dip bars, I want to cover one more topic.

It is about having the right mindset.

Pull-ups are arguably the king of all exercises. Although in my opinion, they share the first place with the muscle-up, but let’s not digress too much.

And there is one more important caveat here that many people may easily neglect.

Here’s the thing.

Say you are a complete beginner. The chances are you have started your journey by learning how to do push-ups. They are arguably very easy to do and don’t require anything than a piece of ground in order to do them. They will train your chest, triceps, front shoulders, and abs.

And these are the exact same muscles, more or less, which you will use when you do dips. So in a way, you have already prepared your body to meet the requirements needed to perform a dip.

But what you haven’t prepared your body to do as of yet is do pull-ups. You haven’t strengthened and conditioned the muscles you need to do a successful pull-up.

What Is the Reason You Cannot Do Pull-Ups

The actual reason behind why you cannot do pull-ups is going to be very hard to determine without any information about your physical and strength levels and condition.

However, there are a few things that I can point out which are the most frequent reasons why people cannot do pull-ups that I have stumbled upon while working with various people:

  • Your grip is too weak;
  • Weak forearms;
  • Weak back muscles;
  • Weak trapezius muscles;
  • You may be doing the pull-ups with a bad form;
  • You may be trying to pull with your hands instead of with your back;
  • You don’t’ rest or sleep enough leading to reduced strength and energy;
  • Your diet is poor not allowing your body to recover from training and have enough strength and energy for training;
  • You are struggling with overcoming a mental plateau; and
  • You are getting tired from exercises done before the pull-ups.

This may look like a very intimidating list. But keep in mind that not all of these are going to apply to you. But a certain mixture of these different problems may be what is stopping you from achieving your first pull-ups.

You are already doing dips so you are on the way. You just need to use the proper approach. And this is what I am going to cover here. Read on, and things will start to click.

How Do Dips Affect Your Body

Dips are a pushing exercise. Usually, exercises can be separated into three categories:

  • Pushing movements;
  • Pulling movements; and
  • Legs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a fancy name for the leg exercises as of today. So pushing exercises are going to be focusing on pushing movements such as the push-ups or dips. Imagine the movements. You are pushing things away from you.

And pulling movements are the opposite. A good example is, of course, the pull-up. A pull-up you pull the bar towards you.

As you can see, they are the complete opposite. And being such they will incorporate the use of opposite muscles. Do you see now how a dip is going to be different than a pull-up theoretically speaking? Forget about details, for now it is crucial to understand the basics of body mechanics and how it moves in the space.

This is also why you may find your self very strong in the pushing movements but weak in the pulling movements, especially if you have been focusing on doing one or the other too much time.

For example, let’s say I’ve been doing only dips for the past 6 months. As a result, my dips are solid, and I can do 30 consecutive dips no problem. So my pushing muscles are very strong and well-trained. But what about my pulling muscles? I haven’t done anything for them. As a result, they are weak. I will not be as weak as somebody who hasn’t trained at all but still very weak. My pulling movements like the pull-ups will be very low.

So, in other words, I need to incorporate some pulling movements exercises into my routine in order to strengthen the necessary muscles to do a pull-up.

Will Doing More Dips Result in More Pull-Ups?

The short and sweet answer is going to be – not necessarily.

Dips, as we have seen, affect different muscle groups in your body, you can almost argue that it targets the complete opposite muscles that you need for a pull-up.

But things are not that bad.

Dips have several good things going on for them that may help even if not directly your pull-up progress.

First dips will train your chest. And while doing pull-ups, will use parts of your chest muscles, they have a different role; they are being used as stabilizers.

A stabilizing muscle does just that it stabilizers and protects your joints from excessive and dangerous movements. So by having stronger stabilizers, your movements will be cleaner, with better control, a better range of motion.

Another thing that dips will do for you is to strengthen your shoulders and trapezius muscles. This is very important. These muscles do play an essential role in doing pull-ups. The shoulders again act as stabilizers. And having strong shoulders will make the pull-ups a lot better and easier for you. Also, shoulders are one of the weak areas of a great many people, and doing pull-ups with bad form may injure your shoulders.

The trapezius muscles are again used while doing pull-ups.

I personally never had to train them specifically because they’ve grown huge just from the sheer massive amount of pull-ups I’ve been doing for the past several years.

As you can see dips will not train your back muscles which will be most important, neither they will strengthen your forearms or brachioradialis which are playing an important role in keeping yourself on the bar.

Still, the positive impact will be present as dips can strengthen your body in different areas which will definitely help. After all, it is better to have an overall well-developed physique and muscles than focusing on just one muscle group.

How Many Dips Should You Be Able to Do Before Starting to Do Pull-Ups?

That may sound strange, but the number of dips you can do is not going to be that important. Here’s why.

If you are reading this, this means you are probably already able to do at least a few dips, which is more than necessary.

And for those of you that really, just really want a number. Although very vague here it is. If you can do three to five dips, this is more than enough.

Here’s a little story. When I first started doing pull-ups, I didn’t even have access to a dip station. I was able to pump out like 30 to 35 consecutive push-ups, but when it came to dips, I didn’t have anywhere to do them.

In other words, what I am trying to say here is that dips are not necessary for you to be able to do your first pull-up. They will make you stronger, indeed, but are they required in order to do a pull-up? No, they aren’t.

You just got to do focus on doing pull-ups.

Can You Combine Dips and Pull-Ups?

Absolutely. You can combine dips with pull-ups, and in fact, you should do it. Here’s why.

You already know and understand how both dips and pull-ups work. That they target different (antagonistic) muscles of the body. As such, the combination of these two exercises will provide you with a relatively complete workout. The only major muscle group missing will be legs.

You have a few options generally speaking to choose from:

  • Train dips and pull-ups on the same day; or
  • Do them on different days.

And you may want to know which one is the best? Well, that depends.

In the beginning, your body will grow both in strength and in size a lot more. You’ve probably heard of the newbie gains. So either way will do just fine.

How to Do Your First Pull-Up

Now that we have dips relatively out of the way and that you know that they can play more of a supplementary role, we can move on the more important stuff – namely – the pull-ups.

There will be various reasons why, despite being able to do several dips, you may still have difficulty doing pull-ups.

  • Some of the muscle groups associated with doing pull-ups are too weak;
  • Your grip strength is not enough; or
  • You are using bad form.

Your job now is to eliminate each and every one of these factors.

There can be even more reasons, as it stands, and we will come to that in a bit. But for now, let’s focus on the more important stuff.

Strengthening the Muscles Used in a Pull-Up

This can be done in several ways.

The first way is by doing negative pull-ups. Although these are significantly easier compared to a regular pull-up, they still will require a decent amount of strength from you.

A negative pull-up is done by getting over the bar and slowly lowering yourself down in one smooth and fully controlled movement. Doing these will train your muscles in a very decent way.

Another way to go at this is by doing assisted pull-ups. You will need something that you can use to make the pulling up and the going down movement easier though. This can be a chair, a rock, a resistance band, or a training buddy.

If you are having trouble hanging on the bar and controlling the movement down, then we can go for a different approach, which by the way can also be used in combination with the negative pull-ups as well.

Here we will be focusing on doing a variety of exercises that will stimulate and develop the muscles which you use when doing a pull-up.

  • Inverted bodyweight rows;
  • Dumbbell back rows;
  • Dumbbell biceps curls;
  • Dumbbell shoulder raises;
  • Dumbbell shoulder shrugs;
  • Negative pull-ups or chin-ups;
  • Assisted pull-ups or chin-ups.

But why am I recommending dumbbells?

Well, they are going to provide you with the best versatility training-wise. You will use the as the foundation to build strength and muscle mass.

Even today, one of the few training equipments I have in my home is a set of two dumbbells.

With a good set of dumbbells, you can train every muscle in your body.

There is no reason to worry about any specific rep or set ranges.

How to Train in Order to Achieve Your First Pull-Up?

Train three times a week, doing the standard three to four sets of eight repetitions. That’s plenty enough to build strength and condition your body.

Also I have given you a somewhat big list of exercises. You don’t have to do them all, as they are going to be too much. I would recommend starting out with three to four different exercises. Choose the ones that feel best to you.

Incorporate exercises for the back muscles, biceps and the shoulders. In other words don’t focus on exercises that target just your back or biceps.

Improving Grip Strength

A weak grip or weak forearms is one of the most common reasons why people are having trouble keeping themselves on the pull-up bar.

This can be fixed in a few different ways.

  • Dead hangs from a bar;
  • Neutral or Hammer dumbbell curls;
  • Using hand grips.

Again there is no need at this point in time for complicated training routines splits. Three times a week, doing three to four sets of eight repetitions is more than enough.

Improving Your Pull-Up Form

Your pull-ups will be only as effective as the actual quality of your form. You cannot, and most importantly, should not compromise with that.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your pull-up form:

  • Avoid using momentum or excessive kipping;
  • Pull with your back, not your arms. Imagine you are tucking your elbows in the back pocket of your pants;
  • Use normal shoulder-width grip;
  • Keep the body straight and tightened;
  • Do not drop to a dead hang;
  • Keep your movement controlled; and
  • Use a full range of motion.

What Other Factors Will Affect Your Results

Now that we have covered some of the common problems which may lead to you doing dips but not pull-ups, let’s take a look at a few other factors which are necessarily connected with your strength.

High Body Fat Percentage

One of the best ways to increase your pull-up count is to get rid of the extra weight. Even one pound of extra fat on you will affect your performance and repetition count (for both pull-ups and dips).

Poor Dietary and Lifestyle Choices

The other thing that can affect your performance and strength level is the quality of your overall lifestyle.

This incorporates almost everything you do on a daily basis like:

  • The levels of stress you deal with;
  • The quality and quantity of your food;
  • Do you drink alcohol;
  • Do you go to be on time and do you get enough sleep hours;
  • How much do you rest after each workout;
  • Are you working a physically demanding job, and more.

Miro Ste

Hi fitness enthusiasts, my name is Miro, and I am the person behind everphysique.com. Here I share my tips and trick about how to achieve the best physique possible. I focus primarily on old school bodybuilding methods that have been tried and tested. With a huge focus on calisthenics and street workout.

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