Friday 11 September 2020

Triceps Dips

The full triceps dip is an advanced exercise that when performed correctly is one of the best exercises for the triceps muscle especially in calisthenics. It also hits the front of the shoulders and chest muscles making a great compound movement.

Unlike triceps bench dips, which require your feet to be supported, unaided dips utilise the full effect of gravity on your body to create the resistance, which can be increased with weight added such as with a dipping belt or weighted vest.

The exercise is incredibly versatile with some seriously hard variations possible and can be easily tweaked to shift focus more onto the chest muscles.

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
  • Classification: 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
  • Rhomboids
Other (pinks)
  • Rotator cuff muscles (shoulder joint)
  • Forearms
  • Trapezius
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Serratus anterior
  • Pectoralis minor

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Equipment required

  • Dipping bar / parallettes / two parallell bars or ledges

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How to perform

  1. Ensure that your dipping station is high enough so that your knees at the minimum do not touch the floor when in full dip. For those with sufficient strength ensure it is high enough so your feet can't reach the floor at full dip.
  2. Grip the bar and move yourself into a support hold (picture below), arms fully straight and locked out with your shoulders retracted and pressing downwards. This is the top and starting point of the dip movement.
  3. Ensure that your hands, wrists and forearms are all in track with each other and roughly shoulder width apart.
  4. Depending on your skill and strength level, or your station height, keep your legs tucked in behind you (easier) or keep them pointing straight down (harder).
  5. Bend your elbows to start lowering your body. Do not let your elbows flare out the side. Keep them in line with your hands and wrists throughout.
  6. Inhale on the way down.
  7. Lower yourself until your elbows are roughly at a 90 degree angle. If you can't yet lower yourself this far, then go as far as you can safely control.
  8. If you feel stress on your shoulders then you are going too low.
  9. Make sure your hands, wrists and forearms maintain their track and continually point downwards throughout the movement.
  10. Some forward lean is natural especially if your legs are tucked back, however ensure you avoid excessive lean as this shifts the focus onto your chest.
  11. 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.
  12. Exhale as you raise yourself.
  13. Repeat for desired repetitions and keep your breathing rhythmic.

A well executed support hold. This is the ideal starting point for a full dip.

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Common mistakes

Some common dip mistakes are:

  • Going too deep. Whilst going deeper helps put the triceps muscle through more of its full range of motion, in this exericse it can cause over-extension of the shoulder muscles, which done repeatedly can lead to shoulder hyperextension and instability leading to serious injuries.
  • Failing to keep your hands, wrists and forearms in line. Letting your hands cave in or out puts a lot of stress on your wrist joints and if you fail to control the exercise can lead to wrist injuries. Keeping them in track also helps ensure you maximise your force output whilst allowing you to be better at maintaining control.
  • Letting your elbows flare out to the side. This helps break the track between your hands, wrists and elbows making the exercise harder to control and puts stress on your joints. Depending on your ability and build some slight flaring out may be inevitable however you should always try to keep your elbows tucked in. Some dip variations involve your arms out to the side however in this one they should not be.
  • Tilting your head forward or back. This breaks your spinal alignment putting stress on it. Try to keep your head in alignment with your torso as much as possible.
  • Holding your breath.

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Progression and regression

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

  • Tuck your legs further back towards your butt. This shortens your leverage making it easier.
  • Negatives. If you can't perform one proper 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.
  • Use a resistance band of appropriate strength to help support your weight making the exercise easier.
  • Lean forward slightly to bring your chest muscles more into the movement to take some of the pressure off the triceps.
  • Use an assisted dip machine. This allows you to place your knees on a pad and set the weight to make it easier or harder however you will lose the additional benefits performing unaided or even resistance band assisted dips gives you.
An example of using resistance bands to help perform dips. Picture from Muscle & Strength.

To make the dip harder:

  • Keep your legs and torso in line as much as possible and as upright as much as possible. This increases your leverage making the exercise harder.
  • Use a dipping belt or weighted vest etc. to add weight to instantly increase the difficulty of the exercise.
  • Bring your knees forward towards your stomach. This shifts your centre of gravity making it far more difficult to execute a dip properly.

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Below is a list of some of the many variations of dips that can be done. Most would be classified as gymnastic however whilst they are included here for informational purposes you don't need to work up to doing some of them, the first five variations will help give you all the triceps strength you need:

  • Wide-grip dips: With you arms further apart this brings your chest muscles into the equation more.
  • L-sit dips: Starting in a L-sit position, where your legs are up straight in front of you. This seriously increases the difficulty as your centre of gravity is shifted whilst also bringing hip-flexor and core strength into the equation. (YouTube clip)
  • Ring dips: Using gymnastic rings rather than a static object helps to target your triceps and stabilisers more as you fight to control yourself on an unstable surface. It can be quite hard to get on to however is the natural progression from full dips. (YouTube clip)
  • Single/straight bar dips: Rather than have your hands parallel to each other, you have them grip the same bar. This radically changes the motion of the move and the requirements to maintain good form. (YouTube clip)
  • Elbow dips: Using parallel bars you perform a standard dip however once at the bottom position you move your forearms back until they and your elbow touch the bar. You then move back into the bottom dip position and push yourself back to the top position. (YouTube clip)
  • Bulgarian dips: A monster of a combination that involves going from an overhand grip on the rings into a full underhand grip rings turned out (RTO) support hold. This is a true gymnastic move. (YouTube clip)
  • Korean dips: Like single bar dips but done with your body in front of the bar. This is a tough exercise as your centre of gravity is shifted big time. It is hard to maintain good form with this one. (YouTube clip)
  • One arm dips: Probably the hardest form of the dip you could do. Your form will be out the window trying one of these and you should probably not even bother trying to work up to one as there are far more beneficial dip variations. (YouTube clip)

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Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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