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February 12, 2023 7 min read

Many people opt for reverse dips when doing body exercises for triceps training, a popular and traditional bodybuilding and upper body strength training exercise that has been done in gyms for many years.

Reverse dips involve using the triceps brachii and a variety of upper body muscles to complete the exercise.

These dip exercises are also referred to as triceps dips, backward dips, chair dips, chest dips, and bench dips, which depend on how they are done.

Reverse dips are bodyweight exercises, or calisthenics exercises that involve raising and lowering yourself from something like the edge of a bench, couch, or chair. They are compound exercises that engage multiple muscles and joints at the same time. However, if the proper technique and form are not used, permanent shoulder damage can be caused.

Muscle Groups Worked in Reverse Dips

Reverse dips are a great exercise for targeting multiple muscle groups at once. The main goal is to strengthen the triceps, which will become more defined and toned with regular use of body weight only. In addition to the triceps, these dips also target the upper back, core, and shoulders.

Furthermore, they can be beneficial for increasing the size of the chest by breaking down anterior deltoid fibers and stimulating the muscle-building process, resulting in increased muscle mass and a stronger, larger chest.

Upper body muscles – Image from Shutterstock
  1. Triceps Brachii: The 3-headed triceps muscle is located in the back of the upper arm, it facilitates elbow joint extension, and assists in shoulder extensions.

  2. Trapezius: The trapezius muscle commonly referred to as the “traps,” is a large muscle located in the neck and upper back. It originates at the bottom of the neck, extending across the shoulders and down the midback, allowing for the support of proper posture and the ability to move the head, neck, and torso.

  3. Shoulder muscles: These muscles are responsible for shoulder stability and health, and they facilitate arm movement.

  4. Pectoralis Major: The pecs are chest muscles and their primary function is to adduct the arm across the body and to press the arms away from the body during pushing motions.

  5. Latissimus Dorsi: The lats are located in the mid-back where their primary function is to extend the shoulder and arm and to bring the arm toward the body.

  6. Anterior Deltoid: Located in the front of the shoulder, with the function to flex and medially rotate the shoulder joint.

  7. Rhomboids: Located in the mid-back where its function is to retract the shoulder blades.

  8. Abdominal muscles: Your abs are located in your abdomen and have several important functions, including keeping your organs in place and supporting almost every movement you make.

Benefits of Reverse Dips

Reverse dips are incredibly beneficial for strengthening the triceps, pecs, core, and upper back, which can lead to improved physical performance. Fitness experts agree that having strong arms, chest, and core is essential for optimal performance as described below.

Sports Performance Improvement

Your triceps and chest play a role in nearly any sport that requires pushing, such as basketball or volleyball. The same can be said of rugby and soccer, which involve pushing the ball during line-outs and throw-ins. Doing reverse dips also strengthens your core, which can help give other muscles, like your arms and legs, more power. Therefore, by working on your core with reverse dips, you can become a better athlete in various activities, including running, dancing, volleyball, football, and CrossFit.

Volleyball – Image from Shutterstock

Increase Stability

Stability is vital for success in any situation, from putting away groceries to walking, throwing a ball, or driving a car.

Reduce Injury Risks

Having strong triceps and pecs overall can help safeguard your elbow and shoulder joints from harm. If you are adequately strong in other areas of the body, such as your core, it can help you to stay balanced in the case of an unexpected stumble. Exercises like reverse dips are beneficial in developing a solid core.

Convenient

Although reverse dips can be done on a dip machine or using parallel bars, more convenient options are available. Reverse dips are a great way to get a full body workout without having to leave the house, as they can be done without any equipment like dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells, making them a convenient and accessible exercise for anyone!

A Metabolism Booster

Metabolism refers to the rate at which your body uses up energy or calories. Typically, the more muscular you are, the higher your metabolism will be. Doing reverse dips can help to build up your muscles, which in turn can help to increase your metabolism. In some cases, this can result in more weight loss.

Improve Overall Workout Performance

Reverse dips can improve the performance of other gym activities. They can help strengthen the muscles used for other lifting activities such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. They can also help improve posture and balance, which is essential for many other gym activities. In addition, reverse dips can help build core strength and stability, which are important for any gym exercise.

How to Do Reverse Dips

Bench dips are a very common exercise seen at the gym and can easily be done at home on a couch or chair. However, they are also often done incorrectly, which can lead to shoulder damage. In this article, we will discuss how to perform reverse dips in the correct form, to ensure you can build muscle without any risk of injury.

Starting Position

  • Begin by sitting on a bench with your arms extended and your hands placed on the seating surface.

  • If you are a beginner, place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees. If you are experienced, walk your feet forward away from you until your heels are resting on the floor.

  • You should set up in a position that encourages external rotation of the shoulders rather than internal rotation, which is caused by the dip. Therefore, instead of the usual bench setup with knuckles facing forward, you should put your palms on the bench with your fingers pointing away from the hips. This will keep the shoulders in an externally rotated position, avoiding pressure on the rotator cuffs.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Raise your bottom to the edge of the platform.

  2. Drive your shoulder blades down, creating scapular depression and tension.

  3. Inhale as you lower yourself toward the floor slowly, using your body weight.

  4. Stay in control and only go to a comfortable depth – don't lose tension in your mid-back.

  5. Keep your midline tight and exhale as you extend your elbows and squeeze your triceps to raise back up.

Start with 3 sets of 8 to 10 controlled reps.

For those just starting out, it is essential that their feet stay close to their body and flat on the ground to ensure they are doing the exercise correctly. As they become more experienced, they can gradually increase the challenge by further distancing their feet and eventually performing it on their heels.

Adding weights like placing weight plates on the lap can also intensify the exercise if you are at the right fitness level. However, it is much more beneficial to first perfect the form and then increase the difficulty than to try to force a more difficult version.

Proper Form is Crucial

The  most significant issues with the reverse dip arise from the placement of the shoulders during the exercise. Making sure not to let them slide forward or up as you perform the movement is key to preventing impingement of the rotator cuff tendons and bursa.

Shoulder Anatomy – Image from Shutterstock

During the bench dip, the shoulders often move forward due to the way the hands are positioned on the bench. If the thumbs are facing the body, the shoulder is internally rotated, making it difficult to do the exercise safely. To correct this, rotate the hands outward, so the thumbs are pointing forward.

When beginning the exercise, make sure to keep your chest and shoulders open, rather than letting them slump forward.

You can make this easier by avoiding shrugging your shoulders or hunching them up towards your body as you lower yourself. Make a conscious effort to draw your shoulder blades down and keep your shoulders in the correct position throughout the bench dip.

When you make the necessary adjustments correctly, you should be able to detect two outcomes.

  1. Any pinching or grinding in your shoulders should be alleviated.
  2. You should feel your triceps working much harder than before. By making these changes, you can target the working muscles more effectively, resulting in a more effective workout.

Shoulder strain can further be avoided if you make sure to keep your back and buttocks firmly pressed against the bench as you go through the full movement of the exercise, from the top of the rep to the bottom.

Overstretching at the bottom poses another risk factor. Going beyond a 90-degree angle in a bench dip is a common mistake that won't bring any real benefit to the triceps, but it can increase the risk of a shoulder injury. It may be better to reduce the range of motion slightly and focus on contracting the triceps at the top rather than stretching them at the bottom.

Take extra care when adding weights to reverse dips. When you start adding weights to your lap during bench dips, any mistakes in technique will magnify the risk of injury. This is not a powerlifting exercise, so it's best to use moderate weight (or just your body weight) and maintain proper form.

Elbow movement is also important. Be sure to keep your elbows close to your body while performing your dip to avoid transferring the tension from your triceps to your shoulders which could lead to injury.

Don’t Rush! If you rush through the motions, you may find yourself using momentum to power through the repetitions. Doing this will prevent you from accessing the full potential of the exercise. To reap the most rewards, move deliberately and with controlled intention.

This video will demonstrate the finer details of proper form and technique for reverse dips.

Safety and Precautions

It is important to be mindful of any pain in the elbow and shoulder joints when performing reverse dips. If you experience pain or exercise worsens any current pain, you should stop immediately.

If you have joint pain, your personal trainer may suggest different options for your workout routine, like using push-ups as an alternative triceps exercise to build strength in the triceps and shoulders. If you have shoulder issues, you should avoid this exercise altogether. The best option is always to consult a physician to ensure exercise safety.