How to Do Bench Dips Without Jacking Up Your Shoulders

Any arm day is incomplete without training your triceps, the biggest muscle on your upper arm. From pressdowns to kick backs, there are plenty of great exercises at your disposal. You can get a great triceps pump even if you're limited to only working with your bodyweight, too. You can try close-grip pushups or even adapt skull crushers to use the ground and elbow extension to target the muscles. The first choice most people make for bodyweight triceps training, however, is the bench dip, a classic bodybuilding staple that's been done in gyms around the world for decades.

The bench dip is a fairly simple exercise, and at first glance it appears to be an intuitive one, using some of the most common equipment you'll find in a weight room (or at a park or in your living room). Just get into position in front of the bench or raised platform, set your hands behind to support your weight, and dip up and down. But there should be more to the movement than that if you want to make the most of your efforts—especially if you want to have healthy shoulder function and avoid injury.

fitness director admits that the bench dip is a reliable movement to build triceps muscle, but he cautions that it can put you in a dangerous position. In order to avoid the worst case scenario, make sure to pay close attention to Samuel's cues and guidance as he explains the bench dip.

What to Know Before Adding the Bench Dip to Your Workouts

The biggest concern about the bench dip has to do with the positioning you'll assume on the bench and your shoulder mobility. Yes, the exercise can and does allow you to target your triceps—but you'll be putting your shoulders into , which can lead to injuries as you continue loading the movement. For that reason, some trainers suggest , while swapping in other triceps training exercises in its place.

Check out the first tip from Samuel below to help to determine if bench dips are worth the effort for you. The goal here is to make the move as safe as possible so you can keep training beyond just the next workout.

How to Do the Bench Dip

Follow these form cues to learn how to do safer bench dips. Once you've read the step-by-step directions, follow along for some higher-level tips from Samuel to dive deeper into the exercise.

●Sit on the edge of a bench, with your arms extended and your hands on the bench. To start, keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent. As you progress, you can straighten your legs and rest your heels on the ground to ramp up the difficulty.

●Importantly, your hands should be placed on the bench so that your hands are facing out away from yourself. If you keep your knuckles facing forward, you'll put your shoulders into an internally rotated position.

●Push up off the bench, which will help you to drive your shoulder blades down and create scapular depression. Squeeze your shoulder blades to create tension.

●Lower down with control to a depth that feels comfortable. You shouldn't lose tension in your mid-back. Your elbows should never exceed your shoulder height.

●Extend your elbows and squeeze your triceps hard to raise back up.

●Start with 3 sets of 8 to 10 controlled reps.

Know Your Body

The dip is a solid move to pack on triceps muscle, but it also places the shoulders in a compromising position, inviting a ton of internal rotation at the shoulder joint. This closes down joint space in the front of your shoulder, easily pinching the many tendons and ligaments that travel through that area.

That doesn't mean you can't do dips, but before you attempt them, check out your body and your mechanics. Reach your straight arm behind your torso as far as you can and see how high you can get your elbow. If you can't get it level with your shoulder (and it's completely okay to not be able to do that), you should be extra-conscious of not lowering your torso too far when you do dips.

Knuckles Out

Because the dip invites so much internal rotation, we want to set ourselves up in a position that forces as much shoulder external rotation as possible. That's why you shouldn't get in the bench setup that most people use, with knuckles pointed forward.

Instead, point your knuckles outwards. This mirrors how you'd set up your hands on dip bars, and creates a more shoulder-safe position.

Scaps Squeezed and Tight

Before you do a rep, squeeze your shoulder blades together, then push your torso up high. Again, we're working to avoid as much shoulder pinching as possible, so pulling your shoulder blades back will help drive your shoulders open and also open your chest in the process.

You'll want to maintain this scapular tension as you lower into the dip, fighting for it as you're pressing down. The moment you can't hold that scapular tension is the moment you stop lowering your torso.

Personal Depth

The main triceps function we train with the dip is the straightening of the arm (extension of the elbow), and that occurs when you straighten the arm, not when you bend super-deep. So lowering your torso deeper on the dip doesn't work your triceps "more"; it just creates a potential mechanism for injury. Because of that, don't over-lower. Stop lowering the moment you can't keep your shoulder blades tight or the moment you feel shoulder pain, then drive back up, straightening your arms aggressively.

Shoulder mobility is highly personal so your depth on the dip will be personal as well. Don't chase an arbitrary standard. The only thing you don't want to do: Never net your shoulders get lower than your elbows, because then you're putting your shoulders at serious injury risk.

Find Other Tools

The dip is a tried-and-true triceps exercise, but it's not for everyone, and there are plenty of other ways to stimulate major triceps growth. If you have shoulder issues, this is a move that you may want to sit out, period, even if a group fitness trainer wants you to do it, or if it's in a workout plan you've decided to try.

Don't be afraid to sub it out. Exercises like , , and triceps pressdowns all offer chances for you to grow your triceps with less shoulder risk, so don't obsess over the dip.