Dips are a very effective exercise for building the lower chest and the triceps -- there’s no denying it. It's for this reason that so many people are absolutely shocked when I tell them they should never do dips when they exercise.
These people usually ask me the question, “Why not?”
But they should begin by asking the question, “Why?”
Why is it that so many people are determined to include dips as a regular part of their chest and triceps workouts? If the answer has to do with dips being the best exercise for building the lower chest or the triceps, I would tell them that they’re wrong.
When we are talking about dips we are talking about the original dips, which does not include some dip selector pin machines. Some of these machines are made specifically for the triceps and they do not compromise the shoulder joint, nor do they focus on the lower pectoral. If the dip machine that you are using does not cause your shoulder to rotate out of socket this is not truly a dip.
So, with that out of the way, now I can address why people shouldn’t include dips in their workouts. There are three simple answers to this question, and once you’re aware of them, hopefully you will remove dips from your training routines completely.
#1) Dips are very dangerous for your shoulders.
When you train, it is important that you put yourself in the safest possible environment to cause the muscles being trained to grow into their strongest, most ideal form. In terms of the way they position the shoulder joint, dips are actually an incredibly dangerous exercise.
During the dip movement, the shoulders start to roll forward at the bottom of each repetition, which forces the shoulder joint out of its socket during each repetition. Certainly, the movement has strength-building benefits for the lower chest and the triceps, but in the process of generating this stress, the movement is absolutely wrecking the shoulder joint over and over again by keeping it in a very dangerous position.
This danger is compounded by the fact that people often perform dips after they’ve done other compound movements, and the muscle groups around the shoulder joint are already fatigued. This results in the joint being even more susceptible to injury than it would normally be by the time dips are executed during training.
Even under normal circumstances, when you’re doing dips, you’re performing a movement that’s very unsafe. That’s why I can’t encourage anyone to do them with a clear conscience. Even though you might get some positive results from dips, the side effects and the negative consequences simply aren’t worth it.
#2) There is a much safer way to build your lower chest
Now that I have dealt with the primary reason why dips shouldn’t be done, we can tackle the question of whether or not there is a better way to achieve the same muscle-building results as dips. Without reservation, I can tell you there are far better ways to build your lower chest.
I always talk about muscles being made in an arc formation, and that includes the chest muscles. So, whatever movement you do, you want it to be a movement you can control, and a movement that works your muscles within the arc formation they were designed in. Chest exercises are commonly thought of in terms of pushing and pressing movements, but the rotational motion of the shoulder is the primary force that results in the chest contractions that truly build the pectoral muscles.
Two of the more effective ways to develop the lower chest are Decline Dumbbell Presses and Lower Pectoral Cable Crossovers as opposed to dips. When you do these two exercises, you can focus specifically on the lower pectorals. When the shoulders go back, it forces the entire pectoral region to get involved, and when you finish the rep by pushing low and down, it forces the lower pecs to do the majority of the work.
Remember to bring your shoulders back and then forward and down. The backward movement opens and stretches the pectorals, and then you should squeeze forward and contract downward to finish each repetition.
#3) There are much better ways to train your triceps
Training the triceps is fundamentally about straightening the arm by contracting the triceps and extending the forearm out or down. No matter what method is being used to train the triceps, the way to build muscle is to extend the forearm and straighten the arm through a contraction.
While doing a dip there are two positions -- the stretched position and the extended position. When the triceps is in a full stretch the shoulders are greatly compromised, because they are rotated out of the socket. Depending on how much weight you are pressing will determine the possible damage that’s being done. When you push down to extend the arm the bulk of the stress and pressure is on the joint while it is in this highly compromised position. Some have stronger ligaments and tendons, so it takes longer to see the damage that is being done. The stronger you are and the more weight you lift speeds up the damage that is being done.
When isolating and working the triceps it is more effective to alleviate larger muscle groups and the shoulder joint as you focus solely on the triceps. You do this by doing exercises that biomechanically safely allows you to extend the forearms by contracting the triceps.
If you want to train your triceps in a safe manner that allows you to give them your full attention, and in a fashion that allows you to maximize the focus on the triceps by contracting the muscles and keeping them squeezed throughout the movement, almost any form of triceps extension is more effective and efficient than dips. This includes cable triceps extensions, seated triceps extensions with the machine, triceps kickbacks, and any other triceps movement that enables the shoulder joint to remain in its socket while the triceps are being trained.
The key takeaway here is that dips are extremely bad for your shoulder joint. You may really love dips, you may have done them for a long time, and you may feel that you have extremely strong triceps because of them.
I understand these things are hard to give up if you love them. In the long run, they’re just not good for you, and there are better ways to get the results you want in both your chest and triceps.
For more great fitness tips, feel free to check out the rest of the blog at RonWilliamsFitness.com, and also the Ron Williams channel on YouTube!