Pain With Triceps Dips? Here's What Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

Triceps dips aren't the only triceps exercise out there, so if you can't do them or feel any discomfort, skip them.
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Triceps dips are a simple way to strengthen and build your arms at home without dumbbells, resistance bands or any other fancy gear.

By placing your bands behind you on a bench or chair, straightening your legs out in front of you on the floor and then bending your elbows to move you up and down, this exercise builds serious triceps strength.

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The only issue: Dips are easy to mess up. And even if you do them with perfect form, it's still possible that you'll feel some shoulder, elbow or wrist discomfort.

So if you're struggling with this body-weight triceps exercise, read on to learn what your body is trying to tell you — and what you should do about it.

If You: Have Shoulder Pain

You Might: Lack Shoulder Mobility

Triceps dips' behind-the-back hand positioning puts a ton of stress on your shoulders.

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Most people lack the mobility they need to extend their arms behind their body while keeping the shoulder joint stable, says Josh Clark, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at LoHi Athletic Club in Denver.

If you have limited shoulder mobility, when you move your arm behind you, your shoulder blade will tilt forward. This adds pressure to the front of your shoulders and can degrade the joint over time, he says.

Fix It

Before you try chair or bench dips, check that you have the shoulder mobility to pull them off.

Face a mirror sideways and, keeping your arm straight, see how far you can extend it behind your body before your shoulder tilts forward. “If you can get [your arm] to about 45 degrees, you have clearance to do a dip, because that means your body can accommodate that range of motion,” Clark says.

If You: Have Elbow Pain

You Might: Be Tucking Your Elbows

Unlike other triceps moves, chair dips put a lot of weight in your elbows, says exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist Dean Somerset, CSCS. If you do too many reps or start with too-challenging variations, that load can stress your elbows' connective tissues and bursae (fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joint).

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The angle of your elbows will also affect just how much pressure you feel in your joints. If you have pain in the elbows, it's likely that your elbows are pointed straight behind you, rather than flared diagonally behind you, says Jacopo Mattaini, DPT, a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Brooklyn Rehabilitation and Performance in New York City.

Dipping in a straight-back position stresses your triceps tendon, Mattaini says. Over time, that can lead to elbow discomfort and pain. With enough repetition, you may develop tendonitis (tendon inflammation) or tendinopathy (a breakdown of collagen in the tendon).

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Fix It

First, check to be sure your elbows are in an ideal position. They should flare 45 degrees from your sides when you lower into a dip, Mattaini says. To make sure you’re getting it right, he recommends watching yourself do the exercise in a mirror or taking a video.

Then, consider dialing back the intensity of the exercise. “Ease into them with lower-load regressions before jumping into the deep waters of a full chair dip,” Somerset says. Do them on the kitchen counter or even the arms of a sofa versus the seat of the chair. “Also, start with less volume, see how you feel after, then gradually increase 1 or 2 reps at a time with each workout,” Somerset says.

If You: Have Wrist Pain

You Might: Need to Strengthen Your Wrists

Doing dips from a chair or bench can be rough on your wrists. Why? Because you have to put your wrists into full extension, which many of us aren't used to doing.

Then, once your wrists are in that awkward position, they then have to support your body weight.

Fix It

Dips are similar to push-ups in this way, Somerset says. And like push-ups, you may need to ease into chair dips to give your wrists a chance to build some wrist mobility and strength. Doing the forearm and wrist stretch before your workout can help loosen tight wrists and hopefully get into position more comfortably.

Another trick: adjust your hand position so you’re supporting your weight with your wrists in a neutral position, Somerset says. Try placing two dumbbells on top of the bench and hold them during your sets. Focus on keeping your wrists straight at all times.

If You: Have Any Pain

You Might: Need to Trade Triceps Dips for a New Exercise

Sometimes, even the best exercise modifications won't nix triceps dips pain. If you continue to feel any discomfort, your best move is to avoid chair or bench triceps dips!!!).

Fortunately, there are plenty of other great triceps exercises out there that aren't so rough on your body. Narrow push-ups and close-grip bench press variations are a couple of great options.

You can also try swapping out your triceps dips for chest dips with parallel bars. While they focus on your chest muscles, they also give you a great triceps workout.

"Chair dips are not a great exercise — parallel bars are much better," Mattaini says.

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