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Fitness Corner -- Dips

Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley is back for another installment of his Fitness Corner column.

Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to

Here is an archive of past columns. Dan and Ray have also made the club's strength and conditioning manual available. Click here to download it. And here is an abridged one for the fitness enthusiast.

Here's Dan…who is joined this week by Texans strength and conditioning assistant Everett Coleman, who also is the head strength coach at Kincaid High School.


I was looking on the NAVY Seals website for their workout. They mentioned "dips" as one of the exercises. Can you please tell me what dips are?


-- Brian M. Todd

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A dip (1; 2) is a very demanding and extremely productive exercise if properly performed. It is an exercise designed to develop the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and back of the upper arm. It can be a great exercise for the muscles of the chest. Many people avoid this exercise because they are not strong enough to handle their own bodyweight. The same can be said for chin-ups.

To perform parallel dips, you must be strong enough to raise and lower your entire bodyweight (excluding the weight of your hands and forearms). Many people are not strong enough to properly perform parallel dips. They find ways to cheat and make the exercise easier and less productive. The primary concern becomes "how many dips can I do," regardless of how the exercise is performed.

Techniques used to cheat include:

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  1. Placing little or no emphasis on the lowering phase (allowing the bodyweight to drop effortlessly). Remember, ½ of the exercise is the lowering of the weight. The same muscles used to raise the body are the same muscles used to lower it. Significant strength can be gained during the lowering phase if more time is taken to lower the body.

  2. Not exercising through the full range of motion. Many people perform half-reps.* *There is a distinct leverage disadvantage in the stretched position. It is more difficult to lower the body through a full range so may people avoid the lower half of the exercise. Note: Avoid this exercise if it causes any joint stress.

  3. Locking the arms and resting. We instruct our players to fully extend their arms and pause momentarily before lowering the weight. However, do not remain in the arms extended position to rest.

  4. Using the legs to kick and help during the raising of the body.

Techniques used to properly perform a dip include the following.

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  1. Emphasize the lowering of the weight (slow it down) through the full range of motion.

  2. Be consistent each rep during the lowering phase. Use the same speed to lower the weight. Do not suddenly unlock the arms and drop. The lowering speed from the arms extended position to the stretched position is smooth and controlled from the first to the last rep (rep reproduction).

  3. Bend the legs to prevent kicking and help keep the body from swinging back and forth.

  4. Look down and try to keep the chest over the hands. Do not try to keep the body erect.

  5. Pause momentarily after completing each rep.

  6. Do not bounce in the fully stretched position.

  7. When 12 properly performed reps can be performed, begin adding extra weight with a weight belt.


L-Seat Dip


A modified form of the dip is an L-seat dip (1; 2). The L-Seat dip allows you to lift less of your bodyweight. It is easier to perform than the conventional dip. It is a good alternative for those individuals unable to handle their own bodyweight.

While performing the L-Seat dip the body is seated and in the shape of the letter "L." It is easier to perform than the conventional dip. While performing the L-seat more emphasis is placed on the shoulders and triceps and less emphasis on the chest.

Techniques used to properly perform the L-seat dip include the following:

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  1. Do not drop effortlessly. Emphasize the lowering of the weight to a comfortable and stretched position and pause momentarily,* *do not bounce out of this position.

  2. Keep the back near the bench throughout the execution of the exercise. Do not let the back move away from the bench (1; 2).

  3. Return to the starting position and pause.

There are three techniques to make the exercise more difficult:

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  1. Slow down the raising phase. Take more time to raise the body.

  2. Add resistance with a barbell plate. Place a barbell plate on the lifter's lap.

  3. Training partner applies manual resistance to the lifter's shoulders during the raising and the lowering phase.

There are two techniques to make the exercise easier:

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  1. Exercise with the feet on the floor and the legs straight.

  2. Exercise with the feet on the floor with the legs bent.


Negative Only Dips


Negative-only dips are another productive option. Negative only dips are one of the most productive upper body exercises…if properly performed. Negative only dips provide another alternative for those people not strong enough to raise and lower their own bodyweight.

To perform a negative only dips utilize the following guidelines:

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  1. Find a dip station with steps that allow you to recover to the starting position using your legs (1; 2).

  2. From the starting position allow eight seconds to lower the bodyweight. Have someone use a stopwatch and verbally sound off with a cadence, 1001 - 1002- 1003, using the stopwatch to provide rep consistency. Without a stopwatch the cadence will be haphazard.

  3. The lowering phase should be smooth and controlled, no sudden drops. The eight seconds should be spread out from the starting position to the fully stretched position. Establish a range of motion in the lowered position that is safe and comfortable for you.

  4. When eight properly performed negative only dips (64 seconds of exercise) can be performed with bodyweight, it is time to start adding extra weight with a dip belt. Add ten pounds once eight properly performed dips can be performed. Continue adding ten pounds whenever eight good reps can be completed. Be more concerned with good quality reps than how much weight you can lower. Significant strength gains can be generated with this style of exercise.

The Pre-Exhaustion Principle can be used to target a body part when performing dips (normal or negative-only). For example, to target the muscles of the chest, our players perform a set of normal dumbbell or machine pec-flys (1; 2)* *followed immediately with a set of negative-only dips. This protocol will significantly enhance the intensity for the muscles of the chest.

Our players perform all exercises for the arms at the end of a workout. To amplify the intensity for the triceps we have them perform a strict set of triceps pushdowns (1; 2) followed immediately with a set of negative-only dips. This exercise sequence will amplify the intensity of exercise for the triceps.

Any form of the dip is one of the most productive upper body exercises available. We suggest taking advantage of everything this demanding exercise has to offer.

Thanks for the question Brian. Go Texans!

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