The shoulder joint is intricate and fragile in both structure and function. It sacrifices stability for mobility, meaning it has great range of motion to grab things like a cup in the top of the cupboard, but does not possess a solid foundation like the ball-and-socket hip joint.  Everything is packed in there pretty close together and because of this, there is not much room for error in function due to its’ structure. Compared to the hip, which is a ball and socket joint, the shoulder is more like a ball and saucer joint held together by a network of ligaments and tendons. In fact, the only true attachment the arm has to the rest of the skeleton is the collarbone, (sternoclavicular joint).


Given all this, it is amazing that anyone would be willing to compromise this fine-tuned machine and its capsular integrity that has to perform for a lifetime, by executing any exercise that puts unnecessary stress on the joint in a weakened, less stable, and hazardous position. Yet, any given day you can walk into any weight room in the country and see people literally hoisting weights overhead, out to the side, bent-over, or out to the front, not respecting the joints’ capabilities and complex, intricate function. The Tricep Dip is a perfect example of a high-risk, low-benefit exercise where the shoulder is put into a situation which all of these bad things are going to happen.


How It's Done

A traditional Dip is performed on two parallel bars (dip bench) or a bench with hands spaced about shoulders’ width apart. The exerciser lowers the body to create a shoulder range and angle somewhere below 45°, and often to 90° where the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Really, a Dip is just an extreme version of a Decline Press.



The problems with this exercise begin with the load, (torque), increasing while the shoulder joint is weakening and becoming less stable. In fact, at looking at the ball of the shoulder (head of the humerus) in relation to the cup of the shoulder blade (glenoid), at the bottom of the range, you can see that it is really hanging on by a thread and ready to slide off. Couple this with the excess strain on the Biceps Tendon, which itself is subjected to normal wear and tear just due to its placement, and the anterior capsule wear, you have an exercise that is not worth doing.


Goals Of This Exercise?

Most say Tricep development. Sure, the Triceps are taking the brunt of the work; but at what cost? There are better options. If you want to build strong and defined Triceps, do what the muscle was intended to do: extend/straighten the elbow. Various forms, grips, and attachments of the cable Pressdown and supine (lying) Tricep extensions with two dumbbells will accomplish your goals.

The Anterior portion of the Deltoids, too, are involved, but they are the most over-worked muscles in the upper body and excessive emphasis can contribute shoulder internal rotation, rounded shoulders, poor posture, and even more regular stress on the Biceps Tendon.

Lower Chest development?  Even the most inexperienced exerciser can tell you better choices for Pectoral development.


A Note On High Risk Low Benefit Exercises

In most cases, these exercises have been passed down in gyms, from generations of weightlifters who haven’t taken the time, (nor have the ability), to analyze the movement in terms of safety, effectiveness, biomechanics, and the forces involved. It should be realized that resistance training is no longer confined to young male bodybuilders looking only to get as big as possible, but now includes the elderly, female, special populations, and those of us that just want to be lean, strong, and have healthy joints for a lifetime.


Objective analysis of an exercise is always done from a mechanical and neural perspective. Many will argue: ‘That’s just your point of view’ or ‘That’s just semantics’, but in fact, we all have pretty much the same skeleton on this planet and loading it inappropriately and analysis of the [detrimental] forces is something no one can argue with.  


There are always better options to train the muscles/movement/joints without compromising the body, risking injury, and promoting premature degeneration.


-Your Friendly Neighborhood Caveman