Weighted Dips with Dorsiflexion Barbell Loading
Dr. Joel Seedman
When it comes to leg position during dips and pullups, the same rules apply to both. In fact you really only have one of two options when it comes to maximizing mechanics for dips and pullups. Either keep the legs perfectly straight and dorsiflex the toes or use the knee flexion method by bending the legs in back of you to a perfect 90 degree angle without crossing them.
Anything but these two positions promotes lethargic lower body activation and poor spinal rigidity which has a negative impact throughout the kinetic chain not to mention decreased force production. And yes that means no crossing of the legs and no dangling the feet like a limp fish both of which are very common. Fortunately both the dorsiflexion and knee flexion methods are highly conducive for implementing weighted dips as doing so not only provides a unique way to overload the movement but it actually serves to enhance body mechanics, improve shoulder health, and eliminate cheating.
PROPER DIP MECHANICS
In order to perform a proper dip it's essential that the lifter create a hollowed core and hip hinge position throughout. This helps place the shoulders in the optimal bent-over position for a more centrated and packed glenohumeral joint. In other words it decreases internal rotation and increases external rotation of the shoulders both of which are ideal particularly during eccentric loading. Another cue is “think bent over row” (which tends to be a healthy shoulder position”, instead of “upright row” (which tends to be a hazardous shoulder position).
Although dips can be performed with a bent-leg position it tends to be easier to master with the straight leg dorsiflexed position. That's because this combination is more conducive for flexing at the hips, which means stretching the glutes and hamstrings. In other words you’ll achieve a better hip hinge position through elongation of the posterior chain as well as a more hollowed core position. In addition dorsiflexion creates greater stretch across the hamstrings and glutes thereby emphasizing the hip hinge even further. Although the dorsiflexion dip can be performed with kettlebells and dumbbells, there are several benefits of using a barbell. First, there is literally no room for cheating, excessive momentum, twisting, or body shifting. Similar to the barbell dorsiflexion pull-up variation, any deviations in form or technical breakdown and the bar will tilt or fall off the feet.
Second, if the individual aggressively dorsiflexes the feet and curls the toes upward, the bar will sit quite naturally on the top of the foot. As a result, the stimulus to the feet, toes, and ankles is very intense yet highly effective for eliminating dysfunction in the lower leg and ankle complex. This also helps to lock the dip mechanics in as foot and ankle activation produces improved spinal rigidity and postural alignment.
That’s because 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 term 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. In addition, this technique eliminates energy leaks as there's no weak link in the body. You'll also experience increased core activation which further helps dial in the movement
THE ULTIMATE DIAGNOSTIC TOOL
Lastly and most importantly the barbell variation is the single most effective diagnostic tool for assessing how symmetrical your dip technique is. If you tilt your hips, shoulders, or core to one side, push more with one arm, or initiate the dip by favoring one side of your body, the barbell will immediately begin to tilt uncontrollably. Even the slightest asymmetrical pressing technique will produce a significant teeter-totter effect immediately exposing and magnifying dysfunctional dip mechanics. Learn to keep the bar completely parallel to the floor with no signs of wavering and watch your body symmetry and postural alignment improve immensely not only on dips but on most upper body movements.
Read more about proper dip form HERE