Use Band Resistance On Dips For Massive Upper Body Size and Strength
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Accommodating resistance is an incredibly effective technique for taking any exercise and increasing the intensity of the stimulus. During most exercises the strength curve of the movement does not match that of the muscles. By using bands or chains we can deload the portion of the movement where the lifter is typically weakest (usually the bottom) and overload the phase of the exercise where they’re typically strongest (usually the top). Applying bands to dips does just that. When incorporated into ring dips the stimulus to the chest, triceps, and shoulders is incredibly high as the amount of tension is off the charts.
You’ll also notice I use a significant forward lean, dorsiflexed ankle position, hollowed core, and 90 degree elbow bend. These are all elements of a proper dip. Here’s more detail on each as well as a detailed video tutorial of correct dip mechanics.
Hinging over at the hips is probably the single most important cue when it comes to performing dips with proper body position. Too often lifters either try to stay excessively upright to target their triceps or lean over improperly (to emphasize the chest) by flexing and rounding their spine. Neither of these is ideal and places the shoulder joint into an internally rotated position as you move further into the extension (bottom of a dip).
The hinge position allows the hips to set back which tilts the torso over to an optimal 45-degree angle (approximately). Once the torso is set to a moderate incline the glenohumeral joint can centrate and lock in while allowing a natural unencumbered motion to occur throughout the shoulder joint with no restrictions.
As you move into the bottom of a dip with this proper hip hinge, the elbows will be free to drive back towards the sides of the torso along the lats (similar to a neutral grip dumbbell chest press) rather than moving upwards towards the ears (which elevates the shoulder girdle).
Hollowing the core and hinging at the hips work together. In fact it’s nearly impossible to hollow the core until the hips hinge. Similar to what gymnasts do when they’re suspended on rings and parallel bars, focus on pulling the stomach in while creating tall posture. You should literally feel your spine set into a stable position with a hyper-activated core. Think stomach in, chest out, hips back, forward lean, tight abs, and tall posture – that’s a hollowed core.
As with any movement, the goal should be optimal range of motion not excessive range of motion. Many advanced lifters make the mistake of going far too deep on dips which actually takes stress off the working muscles as the tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue are forced to support the load.
By following the above cues the body will naturally want to stop at approximately 90 degrees. To get deeper you would literally have to abandon the cues previously listed. Furthermore, when going beyond 90 degrees the shoulders will be forced into internal rotation rather than external rotation.
In general, a 90 degree elbow bend on dips ends up being the most biomechanically and neurophysiologically sound position not just for joint health but also for strength and size gains.
This is a small but very important cue. In order to create a hollowed core and hip hinge you have to flex at the hips which means stretching the glutes and hamstrings. Dorsiflexion of the ankles creates greater stretch on the hamstrings further emphasizing the hinge position. As the toes pull up, the lats and upper back will further tighten making the hinge more pronounced. This further reinforces a neutrally arched spinal position while simultaneously pulling the scapula down and back for a more centrated shoulder joint. In fact it’s nearly impossible to have kyphotic posture when you combine hip hinge and ankle dorsiflexion.
In addition activating the feet and ankles increases tightness and stability throughout the entire body through a neurophysiological phenomenon known as concurrent activation potentiation. This is just a fancy acronym describing a state where every muscle in the body from head to toe is activated so fiercely that neural drive is increased to the primary muscles thereby enhancing force production. It’s also a great way to eliminate energy leaks as there’s no weak link in the body.
The other proper position for the legs on dips is the 90-degree knee flexion bent leg position (with the legs pulled straight in back of you). As with the straight leg position, the feet should also remain in dorsiflexion). However, for most individuals using a straight leg position will be more conducive when first trying to learn the optimal hip hinge, hollowed core, and 90-degree arm bend on dips.
I recommend performing 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps on band-resisted dips with a pause or eccentric isometric hold on each repetition. In addition I suggest super-setting these with some type of bent over row to reinforce the idea of a hip hinge position combined with proper shoulder mechanics and lat activation.