Thursday 25 April 2019

Triceps Bench Dips

The triceps bench dip, also simply known as the bench dip, is a great beginners exercise for targeting the triceps in a calisthenics manner. It also hits the front of the shoulders when pressing back up as well as targeting the upper back musculature as you press yourself up at the very top of the movement.

This exercise can also be performed anywhere you can find a ledge such as a chair, window sill, bench or similar.

Table of contents

Classification and muscles used

Whilst the primary focus of this exercise is the triceps with the motion mainly depending on joint action at the elbow, due to the motion that also occurs at the shoulder a lot of other muscles are called into play.

  • Type: Bodyweight
  • Classifcation: Compound (multi-joint) pushing
  • Primary joint actions: Elbow flexion and extension
  • Plane: Sagittal

(Click image to expand)

Primary (greens)
  • Triceps brachii
Secondary (blues)
  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoid
Other (pinks)
  • Rotator cuff muscles (shoulder joint)
  • Forearms
  • Trapezius
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Serratus anterior
  • Pectoralis minor

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How to perform

  1. Find a flat and stable station and stand with your back to it in a perpendicular position. Ensure that it is high enough so that your butt won't touch the ground at any time during the movement.
  2. Fully extend your hands on the edge of the station, shoulder width apart, and with your fingers and thumbs facing forward or preferably externally rotated out the sides.
  3. Ensure your wrists, elbows and shoulder all track in a straight line and that your elbows are locked out.
  4. Keep your shoulders retracted back and pressed downwards.
  5. Place your feet as far out as desired, with legs either bent (to make easier) or out straight (to make harder).
  6. Ensure your torso remains pointing downwards towards the ground at all times however.
  7. Bend your elbows to start lowering your body. Do not let your elbows flare out the side. Keep them in line with your wrists and shoulders at all times..
  8. Inhale on the way down.
  9. Lower yourself until your elbow is at a 90 degree angle. If you can't yet lower yourself this far, then go as far as you can safely control.
  10. If you feel stress on your shoulders then you are going too low.
  11. Make sure your forearms continually point downwards throughout the movement.
  12. Once in the bottom position, whilst pushing with the palms of your hands, contract your triceps to start raising your body back up to the starting position.
  13. Exhale as you raise yourself.
  14. Repeat for desired repetitions and keep your breathing rhythmic.
A fantastic example of how to perform proper bench dips. Note the form of the arms and upper body. Photo from Heidi

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Common mistakes

Some common bench dip mistakes are:

  • Letting your arms internally rotate bringing your shoulders inwards. This creates a lot of compression in the front of the shoulder and can lead to impingement. Ensure your thumb is off the station along with your fingers or if needs be the hands pointing further away from the body. This automatically puts it into external rotation, which is good.
  • Letting your shoulders sag forwards. They should be kept pulled back and down to avoid the above issue.
  • Letting the elbows flare out to the side. This makes the exercise harder to control and puts stress on your joints.
  • Going too deep. It is best to lower yourself until your arms are roughly at an 90 degree angle or your arms are parallel to the floor. Deeper than this can place an unnecessary amount of stress onto your shoulders.
  • Not keeping your wrists and elbows in track with your shoulders. Placing your hands too close together or too far apart makes it harder to keep your elbows, triceps and shoulders in alignment. A narrower grip is advisable only for advanced practitioners.
  • Tilting your head forward or back. This breaks your optimal alignment, putting stress onto your spine.
  • You hold your breath.

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Progression and regression

Ways to regress, or to make this exercise easier to perform:

  • Perform with your hands on a higher station.
  • Bring your feet closer to your body by bending your knees. This shortens your leverage making it easier.
  • Negatives. If you can't perform one proper bench dip then performing negatives can greatly help. Simply lower yourself under control and repeat for desired amount of reps. Negatives greatly help build strength especially when done with a slow tempo such as 3 to 4 seconds each rep.
Bench dips knees bent, legs straight, and feet elevated
A simple look at the main easier to harder variations of the bench dip. The form of the middle one is poor however as the torso should point downwards at all times. Picture from Coach Mag.

To make the bench dip harder:

  • Lower your station so that your feet and hand height are closer height wise. Obviously don't lower yourself that far that your butt touches the ground.
  • Similarly raise your the height of your feet. However, having your feet too high such as higher than your hands will make it a lot harder whilst also increasing the potential for over-stressing and injuring your shoulder musculature and joints.
  • You can add a barbell plate onto your lap for extra resistance.

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Below is a list of some of the many variations of dip that can be done:

  • Wall press: rather than having your feet on a station, you have them pressed firmly against a wall. This increases the difficulty by not only hitting your triceps harder but by also placing more focus on your core and legs.
  • 1-handed bench dips: performing with one hand, this targets your ability to control your balance. Easier to start with if the knees are bent to a 90 degree angle.
  • 1-hand 1-foot bench dips: similar to above however with the opposite leg also lifted off the floor. This really targets your balance and control.
  • Parallel bar dips: full triceps dips with feet unsupported. This is the natural progression from bench dips.

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Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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