Using dips as a workout can cause shoulder pain and irritation of the rotator cuff. Typically, you are at a greater risk of shoulder pain when you perform dips using a chair or bench. To reduce the risk of a shoulder injury, switch to doing dips on a dip station with a set of parallel bars. With proper form, parallel bar dips can help build shoulder, arm, and chest strength with a far lower risk of a shoulder injury.
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Why are Dips Hurting Your Shoulders?
Dips can cause pain—and even injury—in the shoulder joints because they force the shoulder up and forward. This puts strain on the tendons of your rotator cuff. It also puts pressure on the bursa that cushions your shoulder against your clavicle. This range of motion can cause sharp pain, inflammation after doing dips, or lead to triceps tendinitis.
- Some variations of dips force the shoulder joint upward and forward.
- Forcing the shoulder joint up and forward strains tendons and puts pressure on the protective bursa.
- Bench dips are more likely to cause unnatural shoulder strain than other dip variations.
Placing your hands behind your torso for chair dips or bench dips increases the forward and upward stress on your shoulders. If you’ve been doing bench dips and have been experiencing shoulder pain, dips are likely the cause. While some individuals do not experience shoulder pain during dips, it can lead to injury for others.
10 Steps for Doing Dips Without Shoulder Pain
The tricep dip is such a phenomenal body weight exercise that it’s worth altering your form to protect yourself from injury, rather than cutting dips from your program. In order to use this common exercise to build muscle in your triceps, shoulders, and chest, just follow these steps:
Don’t Stretch Before Dips
Avoid performing static stretches as part of your warm-up before doing dips. Stretching relaxes and lengthens the muscles. This can actually cause dips to force your shoulder joint into more injury-prone positions. So, it’s best to stick to an active warm-up for your upper body before you do dips.
Quit Doing Bench Dips
Bench dips—which place the hands and arms behind your torso—are more likely to cause shoulder pain. If you’ve been using a chair or bench for your tricep dips and you’ve had shoulder pain, stop doing this exercise. There is a better way to do dips that has far less injury risk.
Work Toward Parallel Bar Dips
Instead of bench dips, use a set of parallel bars or a dip station for your dip workout. The form for parallel bar dips puts less negative stress on the shoulders, resulting in less pain and a reduced chance of injury. However, parallel bar dips are an advanced exercise. You may need to build muscle through push-ups, bench press, and overhead press before you can perform parallel bar dips.
To perform parallel bar dips, grip both bars with your palms facing inward and arms extended. Then, hinge forward at the hips until your upper body is angled toward the ground at 45 degrees. Your legs should still be extended straight downward, but your upper body should be flexed forward.
Point Your Toes Up
Extend your legs as you grip the parallel bars. Then, push your heels down so that your toes are flexed upward. This flexion helps to tighten your core muscles and maintain the proper form for your straight-bar dips.
Keep Your Back Straight
In order to prevent injury to your shoulder girdle, it’s essential to keep your back straight during dips. Do not allow your back to curve or round when you tilt your upper body forward. The forward tilt necessary to prevent shoulder strain during dips comes from hinging at the hips and tightening the core, not from bending your back.
Retract Your Shoulder Blades
Pull your shoulder blades down and back throughout the entirety of the dip exercise. Allowing your shoulder blade to come forward will put upward and forward stress on your rotator cuff tendons, which can cause injury. In order to keep your shoulder blades in the proper position, it helps to think of tensing the large muscles in your upper and mid-back.
Tighten Your Core
Keep your abdominal muscles tight throughout the dip exercise. This not only keeps your hips angled forward, but it also promotes a straight back. You will be in a far less vulnerable position during dips by keeping your abs tight.
Lower Yourself Slowly
To prevent rotator cuff injury, perform the downward “dipping” motion of parallel bar dips slowly. This eccentric movement should take 2–3 full seconds. By working slowly, you also keep your arm and shoulder muscles under tension, leading to a better workout.
Don’t Dip Too Deep
At the bottom of your dip, your elbows should be bent 90 degrees. Do not lower yourself beyond this point. Doing so can put more stress on your shoulder tendons. By lowering to 90 degrees, then pushing yourself back up to your starting position. By performing dips using these tips, you’ll get an intense workout for your triceps, shoulders, and chest, with a very low risk of injury.
What Exercises Can You Do Instead of Dips?
If dips cause you shoulder pain and discomfort, or if you are not quite ready to advance to parallel bar dips, there are several other exercises you can do to get the same benefits as dips. The triceps are the main muscle used during dips. You can isolate your triceps with overhead triceps extensions, rope pushdowns, skullcrushers, or close-grip bench press.
- Dips work the triceps, shoulders, and chest.
- For Triceps: Rope pushdowns, overhead triceps extensions, close-grip bench press, skullcrushers,
- For Shoulders: Overhead press, front raises.
- For Chest: Push-ups, bench press, chest flyes.
Because dips also work the shoulders and chest, add a few exercises to your routine to build these muscles. Overhead press is a fantastic exercise that works the same anterior deltoid muscles targeted by dips. For chest, incorporate push-ups, bench press, or cable flyes into your workout schedule.
Are Dips Good for Your Shoulders?
Dips can cause injury to shoulder tendons, especially if you perform bench dips. However, dips are also capable of building shoulder muscle when performed with the correct form. In order to avoid injury, use these dip tips:
- Do not stretch your shoulders and arms as part of your warm-up before doing dips.
- Do not do chair dips or bench dips—they increase shoulder injury risk.
- Perform dips on a set of straight bars at a dip station.
- Hinge your hips forward 45 degrees during dips to keep your shoulders in a healthy position.
- Extend your legs straight down and flex your toes up during dips.
- Retain a straight back during dips.
- Keep your shoulder blades down and back to encourage good form.
- Tighten your abs as you do dips.
- Slowly lower yourself into the dip until your arms are bent 90 degrees.
- Push yourself back up, but do not lock out your arms.
Following these tips will help correct poor form that can lead to injury. Dips are one of the best bodyweight exercises for building upper body muscle, so it’s worth putting in the work to learn advanced parallel bar dips. However, if you have a history of shoulder problems, you can use alternative workouts to get many of the same benefits as dips.