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Straight-Arm Dip

Balance out your traps with this must-do exercise

Straight-Arm Dip

One thing that I'm a big promoter of is developing a well-balanced body.

But I am not just talking about a well-balanced physique in regards to muscle symmetry. Sure, that is important, but even more important for your muscle strength and for every day function is having balance among your muscles in regards to strength. You may all be aware of the common hamstring injuries that many runners, soccer players, and football players suffer from. Many times this injury is due to an imbalance in the strength of the quads overpowering the hamstrings. If you follow my leg training programs, which are chock full of hamstring exercises like Romanian deadlifts, leg curls, back extensions, walking lunges, etc: then you have little to worry about if you decide to play some football on the weekend with your buddies, or show off your fast wheels in a race.

In addition to a greater risk of injury, having a strength imbalance can also limit your muscle strength.

Most of you want to have a bigger bench. But did you ever realize that your bench press strength may limited due to your back strength, or lack there of? That's right, have a stronger back, particular a stronger row (which is the opposite movement of the bench press) can help you have a stronger bench press. The theory is that your nervous system will attempt to hold back your strength of a muscle if that muscle's antagonist (the muscle that performs the opposite movement) is far behind in strength.

And in addition to a greater risk of injury and limited muscle strength, another reason for developing balanced muscle strength is for symmetry.

You've all seen the guy with MASSIVE triceps but VERY small biceps. And it looks downright silly! So of course you want to make sure your muscle groups are ALL well developed.

In addition to the biceps/triceps, quads/hamstrings, chest/back, another muscle pairing that your probably didn't even realize were an agonist/antagonist muscle pair is the trapezius.

How can one muscle group be it's own agonist and antagonist? Because the traps are composed of three different areas. Remember the traps are not just composed of the upper traps that sit between your deltoids and neck. The trapezius is actually a large diamond-shaped muscle on your back that begins at the base of your skull, extends down and out towards each shoulder, and then comes together at the thoracic spine in the middle of your back.

The three main areas of the traps include:

> The upper traps – these muscle fibers work to pull your shoulder blades up and together, such as during shrug exercises.

> The middle traps – these muscle fibers work to pull your shoulder blades in together, such during face pulls, rows, rear-delt flyes.

> The lower traps – these muscle fibers work to pull your shoulder blades down and together, such as during the straight-arm dip, which I will cover in this article.

The upper traps and the lower traps basically act as an agonist/antagonist muscle pair since the upper traps pull the scapula (shoulder blades up) and the lower traps pull the scapula down.

And yet while most people focus on doing plenty of shrugs to build up big impressive upper traps, and they may focus on the middle traps too with exercises like face pulls, the lower traps are often neglected. Front raises will work the lower traps to some degree, but unless you are raising your arms straight overhead, they are getting limited action. And so most people have a major strength (and muscle size) imbalance between the upper and lower traps.

Having a muscle imbalance between the upper traps and the lower traps is associated with neck and shoulder pain.

In fact, one study reported that those with shoulder impingement have upper traps that are about 3 times more active (or stronger) than the lower traps.

Doing an exercise that I call the straight-arm dip can help to correct the strength imbalance between the upper and lower traps.

To do this exercise, get on the parallel bars as if you were going to perform regular dips with your arms supporting your body. But instead of moving at your elbows and shoulders, you are going to keep these joints straight throughout the entire exercise. Allow your body to sink down as low as you can. Then focus on using your lower traps to pull your scapula down and in, which will raise your body up. Try to raise your body as high as possible and hold it for a second in the top position and then lower it back down and repeat for reps.

Your body weight will be heavy enough when you first start doing straight-arm dips.

Just focus on feeling your lower traps contract, getting more comfortable with the exercise and increasing the number of reps that you can do each set. Once the exercise becomes easy and you can do more than 15 reps at ease, you can add resistance by wearing a weight vest or strapping weight plates to your waist with a chain belt. Do 2-3 sets of these when you train traps. Since I know that it's tough finding the time to hit all the major muscle groups you already train each week, my advice is to superset shrugs and straight-arm dips.

In fact, for a training program that not only supersets straight-arm dips and shrugs, but supersets every major agonist/antagonist muscle pairing on the body click on the link below for my Super-Man Training program. It will get you twice as strong in about half the time: not to mention leaner!


Here's a video covering the benefits of the Straight-Arm Dip and showing how to do the movement:


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