Tricep dips are one of the best exercises for working the three-headed muscle in the back of your upper arm called the triceps. In fact, a study found that the best three exercises for targeting the triceps muscles are tricep dips, triangle push-ups, and kickbacks. Of these, you can do triangle push-ups and tricep dips using your own body weight.
Not only do tricep dips target the triceps muscles that extend the arm, these exercises also work the muscles in your chests and shoulders when you do them properly. Muscles in your upper back, including your trapezius muscles and the deeper stabilizing muscles in your back, also chip in when you do dips.
You can work your triceps with other exercises such as tricep extensions, kickbacks, and pushdowns, but dips are a compound exercise that builds functional strength and burns more calories than isolation movements for the triceps.
However, tricep dips also have the potential to cause injury. There is a right way to do them, and several wrong ways that can lead to a shoulder injury. Doing them correctly will give you the maximum benefit while avoiding unnecessary wear and tear on your shoulder joints.
The shoulder joint is quite mobile, giving us the ability to move it in several directions, but this mobility also makes the joint unstable and prone to injury. The shoulder joint depends on the strength of surrounding tissues, like the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to keep it stable. So, it’s important to use good form when doing any exercises that involve the shoulders, particularly an exercise like tricep dips where you’re in an unstable position.
Let’s look at some of the most common mistakes people make when they do dips and how to avoid them for the health of your shoulder joints.
You’re Dipping Too Low
One of the commonest ways to put excess stress on your shoulder joints is to dip too low. The way to avoid this, when placing your hands on a bench or platform, is to not go so low that your body touches the floor. Stop short of your buttocks hitting the ground. Dipping all the way down and trying to come up places excessive strain on your shoulders.
If you’re dipping using parallel bars (a more advanced move), don’t dip below parallel to avoid straining your shoulders. Some people have the opposite problem of not going low enough but it’s better to be conservative with your depth and avoid injury than push yourself to go low before you’re ready and end up with a shoulder injury.
You’re Using Too Much Momentum
Tricep dips should be a controlled movement. It’s common to see people using momentum – pumping out the dips with little regard for form. The problem with using momentum is that it can lead to a muscle strain in your shoulders or upper back. It’s not a speed contest!
When you use momentum, you never master proper form or get the full benefits of the exercise. Focus on the muscles you’re working as you go through the motion of dipping and hold your position for a second or two isometrically at the top of the movement. Taking the time to use full range of motion in your tricep dips will give you better results with less chance of injury.
You’re Not Warming Up Enough Before You Do Dips
If you push yourself right into doing tricep dips without warming up, you’re asking for a shoulder injury. A warm-up increases the temperature of your muscles and makes them more pliable. Most people spend time warming up their lower body but focus less on the upper body warmup. Don’t be one of them! Include dynamic movements such as punches and arm circles to warm your upper body up. Then, do upper body movements, like biceps curls, triceps extensions, and lateral raises with lighter weights before doing dips since it’s a more strenuous exercise. This will ensure your muscles are warm, conditioned, and ready to go.
Your Hands Are Too Wide
People inexperienced with dips often place their hands and elbows too wide when they dip from a bench. The proper positioning is placing your hands shoulder-width apart. Placing them closer or further than shoulder-width places more strain on your shoulders and can lead to an injury that takes weeks or months to heal. Get your hand placement right.
You’re Not Ready to Do Dips
Since triceps dip are a challenging exercise, it’s not the best exercise to tackle right out of the gate. If you’ve just started training, work up to a baseline level of strength in your triceps, shoulders, chest, and upper back before tackling dips.
After four to six weeks of upper body strength building, try your hand at bench dips, one of the easier ways to do a dip. If you’re not ready for that, you can even do dips on the floor with no bench. When you’re ready for a bench, start with a low one so you don’t have to dip as far. You can gradually raise the bench height and dip lower as you build up strength and confidence with the exercise.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to use good form regardless of the exercise you do, but dips place a significant amount of stress on your anterior shoulders if you do them incorrectly. You can avoid injury by making sure you’re ready for the movement before you do it. Warm-up beforehand, slow down, and make sure you’re strong enough to do the exercise safely. It’s not worth risking an injury.
The upside of dips is it’s one of the most effective exercises you can do for building triceps strength that doesn’t involve equipment. Some people even do a set when walking in the park. Every time they pass a park bench, they do a few dips. Take advantage of this exercise, but do it safely.
- “ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises.” https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/3008/ace-study-identifies-best-triceps-exercises/.
- “Tricep Dips Exercise: Are Dips Dangerous Causing too Much ….” https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1657/follow-up-q-and-a-dangerous-dips/.
- “Electromyographic analysis of the triceps brachii muscle ….” https://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/53487.