Take Home Points on Dips
Dips increase the risk of impingement in swimmers who already have a high risk.
- The dip doesn’t activate the triceps in a position similar the sports demands.
For each exercise, consideration of the risks and benefits is essential. The combination of the risk benefit analysis for a swimmer’s needs analysis helps determine the appropriateness of an exercise for an individual. Many perform dips with the goal of improving triceps strength, a vital muscle for arm force production in swimming. However, the dip is far from swimming specific and increases the anterior stress of the shoulder.
The joint capsule has the role of stabilizing the joint and preventing excessive motion. The capsule is a sheet of ligamentous tissue that connects the shoulder socket of the scapula to the humerus (upper arm), with several regions identified by variations in capsule thickness. Little is known about the capsule and pathologies, other than that it is responsible for the common injury adhesive capsulitis (“frozen shoulder”).
Of all the shoulder joints, the glenohumeral joint capsule is most commonly discussed due to its large size. It provides passive stability around the joint, preventing subluxations when active structures are inefficient. A subluxation occurs when the active and passive structures cannot hold the head of the humerus in the correct position. As a result, the humerus migrates out of the glenoid. The majority of subluxations occur anteriorly (Mullen 2011).
Swimming already promotes instability in the shoulder from the amount of overhead shoulder rotations. Do you think doing bench dips is worth the risk of adding anterior instability?
Swimming training results in greater shoulder range of motion for shoulder internal
rotation, as shoulder imbalances occur at the age of 14 in competitive swimmers (Batalha 2010; Batalha 2013). These imbalances in range of motion increase the likelihood to develop glenohumeral instability, range of motion deficits, impaired scapular retraction strength, proprioception, neuromuscular control, dynamic stability, muscular endurance and poor muscular timing, or dyskinesis (Burkhart 2003; Jobe 1993; Jobe 1994; Kibler 2003; Priest 1976; Wilk 2002). These defects result in further tissue breakdown and injury at the glenohumeral capsule, glenoid labrum, rotator cuff musculature, and tendon (Sein 2008; Jobe 1994; Burkhart 2003).
When using the bench or bleacher, the humerus internally rotates. This internal rotation wraps the infraspinatus up and impairs the strength of the shoulder. In fact, the head of the humerus slides forward in front of the clavicle and encourages shoulder impingement. Now, this is bad enough when adults with enough strength perform this motion, but think of all the little age-group swimmers you’ve seen do this improper form? This damaging effect begins before kids have muscular control for the movement resulting in flopping up and down in this compromising position.
Now, bench dips are effective in targeting the lateral head of the triceps, but this does not outweigh the risk. Even perfect form diminishes the space for the rotator cuff under the acromion. If you are a believer of “functional exercise” then how would a bench dip simulate swimming? Perhaps it is like the recovery, but swimmers (anecdotal alert) don’t have problems recovering their arm, it is typically the catch and press where the triceps fail.
If you are seeking a replacement exercise, look no further than band extension. This simple exercise targets the tricpes and can encourage scapular retraction (another commonly weak area) in swimmers. Ensure scapular retraction, as anterior shoulder stress still occurs in this motion, so scapular stability is mandatory. Luckily, this stress occurs without the shoulder elevated.
- Burkhart SS, Morgan CD, Kibler WB. The disabled throwing shoulder: spectrum of pathology Part I: pathoanatomy and biomechanics. Arthroscopy. 2003; 19(4):404Y20.
- Jobe FW, Pink M. Classification and treatment of shoulder dysfunction in the overhead athlete. J. Orthop. Sports Phys. Ther. 1993; 18(2): 427Y32.
- Jobe FW, Pink M. The athlete’s shoulder. J. Hand Ther. 1994; 7(2): 107Y10.
- Kibler WB, McMullen J. Scapular dyskinesis and its relation to shoulder pain. J. Am. Acad. Orthop. Surg. 2003; 11(2):142Y51.
- Priest JD, Nagel DA. Tennis shoulder. Am. J. Sports Med. 1976; 4(1):28Y42.
- Wilk KE, Meister K, Andrews JR. Current concepts in the rehabilitation of the overhead throwing athlete. Am. J. Sports Med. 2002; 30(1): 136Y51.
- Sein ML, Walton J, Linklater J, et al. Shoulder Pain in Elite Swimmers: Primarily Due to Swim-volume-induced Supraspinatus Tendinopathy. Br. J. Sports Med. 2008. (in press)
- Batalha NM, Raimundo AM, Tomas-Carus P, Barbosa TM, Silva AJ. Shoulder rotator cuff balance, strength, and endurance in young swimmers during a competitive season. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Sep;27(9):2562-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827fd849.
- Batalha, N., Tomás-Carús, P., Fernandes, O., Marinho, D. A., & Silva, A. J. (2010). Water training effects shoulder rotator strength in young swimmers. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.
- Mullen, GJ. Swimmer’s Shoulder System (Second Edition). San Jose, CA: Center of Optimal Restoration, 2013.
Written by G. John Mullen who received his Doctorate in Physical at University of Southern California (USC) and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). At USC, he was a clinical research assistant performing research on adolescent diabetes, lung adaptations to swimming, and swimming biomechanics. G. John has been featured in Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, and the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal. He is currently the owner of COR, providing Physical Therapy, Personal Training, and Swim Lessons to swimmers and athletes of all skills and ages. He is also the creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, Swimming Science, Swimming Science Research Review, Mobility System and the Swimming Troubleshooting System.