Staying healthy in the gym

During the first season of my three-season arena-football stint, as I was going up to block a pass, I suddenly felt what can best be described as being hit with a lightning bolt in my left shoulder. When the play was blown dead, lying on the turf, it felt like my arm had just been torn off by Jaws. Later in the week, I drove to a New Jersey hospital to receive an MRI. The result was a torn supraspinatus.

Four years later, I continue to experience regular pain and discomfort from this injury — not only in a gym setting, but also in real life. Injuries are nothing that should be taken lightly, so I think that we can all agree that it should no longer be acceptable to train one’s body as if it were nothing but a simple sack of guts and bones. I notice many people in the gym gripping their opposite shoulder with clenched teeth, wondering why their shoulder feels as if it’s going to fall off, which is unacceptable and dangerous. We go to the gym for self-improvement, not to promote poor movement patterns and increase our risk for injury. As much as I would enjoy writing about the anatomy of the shoulder, I feel that it is beyond the scope of this specific article, and cannot be done in only 500 words. However, the purpose of this article is to arm you with the knowledge to protect yourself from irresponsible trainers and exercises that promote more harm than good.

Enter the bench dip: I get it. You want massive triceps, but there is no reason that you should sacrifice the health of your joints for unlimited tickets to the gun show. The key is to find what works and ditch what doesn’t damage your body in both the short and long term, and bench dips put undue amounts of stress and strain on the rotator cuff.

Allow me to explain with the following example. As you drop down into the bottom of the movement, the front of your shoulder is driven forward, which will create a massive amount of stress on the anterior portion of your shoulder. The lower you go, the more weight you pile onto your lap, the more stress and strain. This is especially terrible for anybody with a pre-existing shoulder injury. The very high risk-versus-reward ratio is just not worth it, as it is an extremely vulnerable position for your shoulders. Bottom line: Bench dips are an exceptionally terrible exercise that can cause damage during your workout. 

To keep your shoulders healthy while building massive triceps, try doing a close-grip floor press. Perform this exercise with moderate-to-heavy weight and a variety of rep ranges. Typically, you’ll want to grip where the pointer fingers are, right outside of the smooth part of the bar. Pull the bar down to your chest, pause when your triceps reach the floor and return the bar to the starting position.

Just because your trainer or a random fitness publication promotes specific exercises does not make it right to put this advice into regular practice. Choose exercises that provide you with the biggest bang for your buck, because the bench dip is most definitely not one of them. Finally, seek the advice of a 12th Street Gym registered personal trainer who will be able to give you the tools and exercises that are required for a safe, healthy and balanced workout.