“Reverse Dips” or “Dips behind the Back” are a time-proven effective compound-movement for increasing triceps strength.

The conventional way to perform this exercise generally involves to sit on the long side of a bench with the heels of the hands placed near the edge of the bench right next to the hips and the back of the hands facing forward; the legs are extended out in front of the bench with “soft knees”. To begin the exercise requires to push oneself up into start-position, extending the arms completely and raising the butt off the bench and slightly forward. Then the butt is lowered towards the floor in a controlled manner by bending the elbows backward, keeping the arms along the sides of the body and the back close to the edge of the bench. Once the elbows have reached an angle of approximately 90 degrees, the torso is pushed back up to the start-position, maintaining an upright posture and contracting the triceps until the elbows are locked out and the arms are completely straight again before executing the next repetition.

The “Reverse Dip” or “Dip behind the Back” has been scientifically verified to elicit very high triceps activity and has remained highly popular until today. One reason for its popularity is that it is a simple body-weight movement, which can be performed virtually anywhere and does not require any fancy expensive equipment;a simple chair, a bench, or a sturdy box is sufficient.

Another reason is that the “Reverse Dip” presents itself as a great alternative to those, who do not yet have sufficient strength to perform parallel-bar-dips to develop their triceps. The “Reverse Dip” allows for most gradual progression from beginner’s level to more advanced training levels. Initially, “Reverse Dips” are often performed with the feet flat on the ground and bent knees, later with the legs extended further out and just the heels on the ground;then, at more advanced stages, with the heels placed on an opposite bench, and eventually with the heels placed on an opposite bench and a weight-plate placed on the lap to increase resistance.

Unfortunately, “Reverse Dips” or “Dips Behind the Back” have meanwhile been labeled to be a “contraindicated” or controversial exercise, and now share this bad reputation with exercises like the Close-Grip Barbell Upright Row, Lat-Pull-Down Behind the Neck, etc. But is this dismal reputation truly justified, and, if so, might there possibly be a safe variation to allow keeping this powerful triceps builder incorporated in your training routine ?

In the gym and even in many online trainers’ YouTube clips, “Reverse Dips” are often seen performed with less than perfect technique, which may partly be to blame for its bad reputation as a hazardous movement. The exercise is often incorrectly executed with a rounded upper back, the shoulders in a hunched forward “shrugged” position, and failing to keep the back straight and close to the edge of the bench when approaching the bottom-position of the movement.

Such poor technique naturally even further exacerbates the risks that are attributed to the Reverse Dip; after all, one can’t help to admit that even the conventional correct performance of the “Reverse Dip” as described above puts the shoulders anatomically into a challenging, stressful and potentially risky position.

Supporting your body on the heels of your pronated hands hip-width apart near the edge of a bench places your arms into an internally rotated start-position; additionally, this hand-position often puts considerable strain on your fully extended wrists. When raising your buttocks off the bench and lowering your torso bending your elbows backward, your humeri (plural of humerus=upper arm bone) extend at the shoulders in internally rotated position, which inevitably places severe stress on the inner joint capsules and the ligaments of your front shoulders, with a high risk of impingement of your supraspinatus muscles (the uppermost rotator cuff muscle) and the tendons of the long heads of your biceps. Additionally, during the descent (eccentric contraction), your glenohumeral joint is pushed beyond the normal anatomical range of shoulder extension. All this can indeed be a recipe for shoulder injury, especially when going too deep, rounding the back, and when failing to keep one’s hips close to the edge of the bench throughout the entire movement.

Without doubt, the “Reverse Dip” is an exercise which involves some risk of injury and may therefore not be the safest choice for each and everyone. It may not be suitable at all for gym-athletes with poor shoulder flexibility or pre-existing shoulder problems, and not for those, who have problems to grasp or master its perfect exercise technique.

However, for those, who are able to maintain correct exercise-technique and who manage to perform the movement with perfect control, the Reverse Dip should actually be reasonably safe, especially when a few minor modifications and precautions are implemented.

Most importantly, in order to safely execute the “Reverse Dip”, once you have raised your butt off the bench into starting position, you must depress and retract your shoulder blades and must remain like this during the entire exercise performance. This means pulling your shoulders back, pushing them down, away from your ears, and raising your chest up, maintaining this erect posture throughout your entire set.

In order to diminish the stressful internal rotation, which occurs when performing the movement supporting yourself on the side of an exercise bench with your palms facing backward, instead choose a chair andsupport yourself with the heels of your hands on the sides of that chair near its front ledge; doing so places your hands in a neutral position with the palms facing inward and the fingers off the chair. This eliminates internal rotation of the arms and significantly reduces shoulder stress when lowering your torso towards the floor, and also allows to better keep your forearms in line with your hands, which reduces wrist strain. During both the descent and ascent it is vital to keep your back entirely straight and erect, close to the front-ledge of the chair; never allow your back to curve forward, your shoulders to hunch forward, and/or your butt to drift away from the chair.

To eliminate overstressing your shoulder-joints by a too excessive range of motion, it is vital to never lower your torso as deep that your elbows would form a sharp angle of less than 90 degrees. Lowering your torso up to the point that your elbows describe a 90 degree angle already represents “ full range of motion” for this exercise. To be on the safe side, you can actually determine your individual safe range of shoulder extension by standing upright and raising your stretched arm out behind yourself as high as possible without rolling your shoulders forward. The angle formed between your upper arm in fully extended position and your straight torso – usually somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees – gives you a good idea of your individual safe range of motion for this exercise.


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