It’s a commonly-asked question, “How Deep Should I Go on Dips?”
Let’s face facts, you don’t want to be the person that everyone stares at in the gym, as you become known as the “half-dipper”.
Then again, you don’t want to dip too far, as you’ve heard that it can cause shoulder issues.
So, is there a perfect dip depth?
In this article, I’ll explain how deep you should go on dips, plus I’ll also reveal how to focus your dips more on your chest or your triceps.
How Deep Should I Go on Dips?
You should dip until your upper and lower arms are approximately 90 degrees to each other. Some people will state that your dip depth should see your shoulders slightly below your elbows. This is fine as long as you don’t go past the 90 degree angle. If you go further you’ll take the stress of the actual working muscles, i.e. chest, shoulders, and triceps, and then your ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues will take over.
1. Should You Go All the Way Down on Dips?
Personally, I think most lifters, new or advanced, try to go too deep when performing dips.
There seems to be a school of thought that claims deeper is better.
However, there could be nothing further from the truth.
You should always dip until your upper arms and lower arms form a 90-degree angle.
Now, you’ll often hear that you should dip until your shoulders go slightly past your elbows.
To be honest, this may be fine for some of you, but not for others.
In reality, this will largely depend on your body, biomechanics, as well as flexibility and mobility in the shoulder joint.
Therefore, some people could actually take their shoulder slightly past elbow level and not go past 90 degrees.
However, the main aim for everyone when they dip – do NOT go past 90 degrees.
Now, it may feel absolutely fine and as though you’re working with more intensity when you go past 90 degrees.
But, in truth, once you do dip too deep you’ll take the stress off the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
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The strain is then taken up by your ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues.
Okay, I’m all for training these connective elements, but only in a safe and effective way.
Unfortunately, as soon as you go past 90 degrees, you’re putting way too much stress on the body.
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2. Maintain External Rotation in the Shoulder
A common cue for many exercises is to retract the shoulder blades.
I’m sure you’re aware that there are a vast array of exercises which require you to pull your shoulders back and down prior to performing them.
Just to name a few, bench press, pull ups, bicep curls, etc.
However, this is extremely important when you dip.
Basically, when you retract the shoulder blades you’ll be placing your shoulders in a much more stable position.
Not only will this help to perform certain exercises more effectively, it also ensures that you’re removing a lot of undue stress that can typically be placed on the shoulder joint.
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So, prior to performing dips you should pull your shoulder blades back, towards each other, and down.
There’s a few different cues, but I liken it to either trying to hold an imaginary tennis ball between your shoulder blades, or trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pocket.
Plus, you’ll want to maintain this shoulder position throughout each rep and every set of dips.
Now, what typically happens when you dip too far is that your shoulders tend to come out of this position.
In fact, the deeper you go, the more your shoulders will start to internally rotate.
And this places your shoulders in a very precarious position, something that is likely to end in injury if you keep dipping that deep.
So, once more I’ll repeat, don’t go past 90 degrees with dips.
Plus, pay special attention to your shoulders, and ensure that they don’t go through internal rotation.
3. Perform Dips With a “Hinge”
I know many people are unsure of exactly how to perform dips.
What I mean by this is how they should hold their body, plus what actual muscles they want to work.
You’ll often hear that you should lean forward to work the chest or maintain an upright torso in order to target the triceps better.
However, in truth, I’ve always viewed dips as a fantastic compound exercise.
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In other words, dips will always work a variety of muscles at the same time, and they always should.
Therefore, I don’t think you should be changing things up simply to target a specific body part more.
In fact, I’m not a fan of the “straight torso dips for triceps”, and I feel this places a great deal of stress on various muscles that aren’t even involved in dips.
Plus, if your torso is too upright then your shoulders will automatically start to internally rotate.
The exact same can be said if you simply lean forward without paying attention to what your body is actually doing.
If you just slump forward then you’ll round and flex your spine, thus placing your spine in a very dangerous position.
Additionally, and yet again, your shoulders will internally rotate.
The aim here is to actually perform a hip hinge while suspended between the bars, which will ensure that you get that perfect 45-degree torso angle.
You should also really tighten and pull in your abs, which will also help to push your hips back into that perfect hinge position.
So, you’ll end up activating your abs, glutes, and hamstrings, which is ideal.
Even though dips are an upper body pushing exercise, you can perform them far more effectively by allowing your core and lower body to have a supporting role.
Furthermore, by adhering to the hip-hinge position you’ll be able to maintain a retracted shoulder blade position better, which is obviously great for your overall shoulder health.
The Right Way to Do Dips
So, I hope you understand that you shouldn’t go below 90 degrees when performing dips.
Basically, you want your upper arms and lower arms to form a 90-degree angle.
If you go any deeper than this you will take the stress off the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while placing it onto the ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues.
Additionally, if you dip too deep your shoulders are likely to internally rotate, which is extremely dangerous for your shoulder health.
Finally, you should get yourself into the hinge position prior to performing dips.
This is much the same as performing a hip hinge, although you’re now suspended above the ground.
This involves pushing your hips back and allowing your body to naturally create a 45-degree angle.
Plus, don’t forget to contract your abs, glutes, and hamstrings for additional support.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.