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Many people get shoulder or chest pain when doing dips without experience.

Are bench dips a good preparation exercise for beginners? Do they help reduce injuries and discomfort when doing dips? Alternatively would half range of motion dips be better as a preparation?

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The value of bench dips in preparing beginners depends greatly upon the technique with which they intend to perform the full dips, for which there tends to be great variation.

In the most general terms, the joint actions of the two exercises would appear to be the same—shoulder flexion and adduction, and elbow extension—but bench dips have a limitation that alters their mechanics entirely: bench dips are a closed chain movement. The posture of the shoulder is therefore tied to the position of the feet. Furthermore, the bench itself presents a physical barrier which governs our degree of freedom. The net result is that our centre of mass is forward of the position of the hands, and the force vector of our effort must therefore contain a significant horizontal component, pulling our mass back towards the bench. This can be minimised by sitting close to the bench, but it cannot be eliminated. And the bench precludes the retraction of our shoulders.

Bench dips are consequently dominated entirely by our triceps brachii and anterior deltoid, with the pectoralis major, pectoctoralis minor, serratus anterior, and the entire core and posterior chain rendered ineffective. And we can conclude, therefore, that they would have limited utility in preparing beginners for full dips.

Such a conclusion assumes, of course, that our full dips are performed in a manner in which our centre of mass passes through the line of the chest and shoulders, that our movement contains significant components of shoulder retraction/protraction and abduction/adduction, and that our body is held straight and firm. And in considering common variations of the dip, this is not a good assumption. The two lifters below, for example, illustrate a posture typical of gym-goers characterised by protracted shoulders, spinal kyphosis, and a lack of support and control in the torso and extremities. And the bench dip might therefore be considered a rather good approximation of their dips.

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But if we accept that, we are ignoring so many of the benefits of the dip as an exercise, which include development of the chest, lats, ‘core’, and entire posterior chain (especially the erector spinae, gluteals, and hamstrings). A better example of dip technique is illustrated below, observing all of the postural and movement cues that maximise the benefits of the exercise.

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Thus, a better choice of exercise for preparing beginners for full dips would be push-ups, since they incorporate all of same the postural and movement mechanics. For particularly unconditioned individuals, push-ups can be performed from an adjustable-height platform such as a Smith machine, thereby allowing them to follow the same recruitment patterns with some trigonometrically-governed fraction of their body weight.

I hope that helps.

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Each person is different, but bench dips puts more strain on my wrists and shoulders than regular dips. The other challenge I had with bench dips was how to bail out when I couldn't complete a rep. That was more of an issue when I was learning, but I hurt my wrist once and had a few bruises on my rear end. If you have more flexibility in your wrists and shoulders, bench dips may still be a good way to go for you.

Using fixed bars feels like a more natural motion to me and it didn't cause the same shoulder and wrist issues I had with bench dips, so I quickly switched over. I still couldn't do more than a few dips and my form degraded rapidly. To solve that problem, I stood on a stool and used my legs to assist. I focused on good form and made sure I was engaging my core. I slowly moved away from assisted dips as my strength increased. Once I was able to do 20 regular dips, I started adding weight to increase resistance and shorten the sets.

Depending on the angle of your body, you can work your chest or your triceps more. If you want to primarily work your triceps, your upper body should be in a mostly vertical position. Leaning forward will work your chest more. In either case, letting your legs do a bit of the work can be a good way to get started.

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Speaking from my experience. It's good if you can do at least 40 full push ups before starting chest dips. Once you start doing chest dips, you might not be able to do it in proper form. Keep doing it. Don't force yourself. Eventually, you will get the good form.

Are bench dips a good preparation exercise for beginners?

Not sure, it is a tricep exercise.

Alternatively would half range of motion dips be better as a preparation?

Not a bad idea to use an elevated platform where you stand. Try to mimic the movement. Keep reducing the height of platform slowly.

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