"A lot of people like tricep dips, whether they're on a chair or whatever surface, but they just tend to cause a lot of shoulder issues for people," says Devon Levesque, fitness trainer and Performix House partner. "If you look at [the exercise], the pressure is on your shoulder, and it's not a normal movement."
When you think about a tricep dip, it requires you to put most of your body weight into your shoulders as you press up and down, which is not an exercise that physical therapist Jaclyn Fulop, founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, recommends her patients to do. "If it's not executed in perfect form, it puts the shoulder at risk for impingement syndrome, which is inflammation of the bursa or rotator cuff tendinitis," she says. "A tricep dip relies heavily on the strength of the anterior deltoid, and if the body dips too low, this motion shifts the shoulder anteriorly, creating a lot of stress on this particular muscle."
If your muscle isn't strong enough to support all of that stress, Fulop says that it can compress the glenohumeral joint (which connects your upper arm to your torso), which inflames the shoulder. "The shoulder is the most unstable joint in the body and has the least amount of blood flow, so an injury is very common in this area and the rehabilitation process tends to take longer," she says. There are plenty of other exercises you can turn to in order to work those triceps, minus all the shoulder stress.
The best triceps exercises to do instead of dips
1. Lat pull-down
Besides strengthening your triceps, the lat pull-down works your entire upper back (and helps with your posture, too). You can do these on a weights machine or with dumbbells—just be sure to keep your palms facing forward and your shoulders back and down. Pull the weight or weights down towards your mid-spine, then slowly press back up.
Pull-ups are challenging, but work your entire upper body. Find a bar, pull yourself up, then release slowly with control. You should feel your triceps firing up. If you need a modification, use a pull-up assist (like a resistance band).
3. Tricep push-up
This push-up variation hits your triceps as it strengthens your core. To do it properly, come into a high plank with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Lower down as you keep your elbows tucked into the sides of your body. As you push yourself up and down, keep your tailbone tucked and avoid arching your back.
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