Are Triceps Dips Safe for Shoulders?

Triceps dips can cause pain and discomfort in the shoulders.
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If you're like most women, you're unhappy with the gravitational and aging effects that have caused the back of your upper arms to flap in the wind. Toning up your triceps is commonly at the top of the fitness goal list for women, and the triceps dip is a strength-training exercise that does effectively work the back of your arms. During dips, instead of using a machine or dumbbells, your muscles have to overcome your own body weight. While triceps dips are effective, the position they put your shoulders in can be dangerous.

Techniques of Triceps Dips

There are two ways to do triceps dips. If your strength levels are above average, it's likely you prefer the traditional triceps dip, which involves using a dip bar at the gym. You lower your body toward the floor by bending your elbows so your arms stretch behind you. The traditional triceps dip is challenging, because you've got to lower and lift your entire body weight. The bench triceps dip offers an option for those who don't have the strength for traditional dips and are done from a bench with your legs straight and feet on the floor, reducing the amount of weight you have to lift. Again, as you bend your elbows, your shoulders extend back. It’s this extreme shoulder extension that occurs during both types of triceps dips that can lead to problems.


During both types of triceps dips, as you lower your body toward the floor, your shoulder joints extend and stretch back. When they do this, there is an increase in the stress placed on the very front of your shoulder joint. It's stretched beyond its normal range of movement, and in this position, it's limited in its ability to stabilize itself and produce force. At this point it's susceptible to injury. Also, as your shoulder joints stretch back, they also internally rotate slightly, meaning the ball-and-socket joint rotates inward toward the center of the body. This internal rotation with extension significantly increases the risk of shoulder impingement.


Despite it's safety concerns, the triceps dip was found to be among the top three effective exercises for recruiting and thus developing the triceps brachii in a 2011 study published in the American Council on Exercise Certified News. For women who are looking to develop their triceps, dips could be a quality choice. If you’ve never had discomfort or instability at the shoulders, dips can be safely implemented into your regimen. However, keep in mind the possible dangers, and if you’re worried about the stress placed on your shoulders, consider doing other triceps exercises.

Alternative Triceps Exercises

If you’ve had discomfort or instability concerns at your shoulders in the past, there's no reason to risk injury. There are other triceps brachii exercises that you can do that are safer. The other two triceps exercises that were found to be the most effective in the 2011 American Council on Exercise study were the triangle pushup and kickbacks. Triangle pushup is done like a traditional pushup, but with your hands placed directly underneath your chest with your hands creating a diamond shape. If you’re unable to do them from your feet, perform them with your knees on the floor. Kickbacks are done while kneeling on a bench, with one hand on the bench to support your body. Hold a dumbbell with the other hand and position your upper arm so it’s alongside your torso and parallel to the floor. Extend your elbow until it’s completely straight.

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