The push press, push jerk, and split jerk are some of our athletes’ favorite movements. What’s not to love? Moving heavy weight overhead makes one feel strong and able. As good as they make us feel now though, we’re all still missing out on maximizing our potential because of errors in one small, but ever-so important, aspect of each of those lifts: the dip. The dip is where power and speed are prepared and utilized. A poor dip will always translate into a less than optimal, if not poor, overhead press.
Such a simple concept, and yet one of the most butchered aspects of the overhead lifts. The elements we’re looking for in the dip are:
- Vertical torso
- Knees out
- Weight in heels
You’ll actually find that, when performed correctly, each point lends itself to the other.
The reasons for the vertical torso are two fold. First, and rather obviously, you are holding heavy weight on your front shoulders. Any sort of forward tilt and, well, I shouldn’t have to tell you where that bar is going. Stay upright and the bar will be balanced on your shoulders safely and efficiently. Second, if you aren’t going down in a straight line you probably aren’t coming up in one either. This will likely result in a bar path that is out and away from you. If the bar isn’t coming off of your shoulders in as straight a line as possible your chances of successfully completing a lift drop dramatically.
Driving your knees out during the dip goes hand in hand with staying upright. In fact, it’s difficult to do one without the other. By driving the knees outwards (like an air squat) instead of forwards, the torso is able to drop straight down without a lean. In addition, you’re also creating torque (tightness) in the hips. That will come in handy when it’s time to shoot yourself back up from the bottom of the dip. The torque in the hips acts as a sort of slingshot, propelling you, and the bar, upward much more aggressively.
Weight in heels
I really shouldn’t even have to justify weight in heels with a passage here (we talk about this on a daily basis for every movement), but I’ll do it anyway. You’re strongest from your heels, period. Try back squatting from your toes and see how much weight you are able to move. Staying back in the heels for the dip will also make keeping upright and driving the knees out easier and more effective. They all go hand in hand!
Dipping improperly is usually a result of Muted Hip Function (see above-right photo). MHF manifests itself as an open hip that chases the knees. Rather than dropping straight down, the hips tuck under and follow the forward inclination of the knees. Aside from it just looking super awkward, dipping this way violates our three previously stated rules. That is, the torso isn’t completely vertical, the knees are forward instead of out, and all of the weight has shifted from the heels to the athlete’s toes. This is the overhead PR’s mortal enemy.
Why is that happening? Simple body awareness and coordination are good places to start. Can you flex (close) and extend (open) at the waist without bending the knees? Can you flex and extend the knees without bending at the waist? Can you do both at the same time? Here is a link to a simple article written by Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder) that explains basic anatomy and physiology. You won’t be able to dip properly if you don’t have full control of your own body.
Another big-time factor is mobility. If you can’t keep your hips from turning over into what we so affectionately refer to as the “crapping dog” dip, you probably have hip and hamstring mobility issues. If you can’t keep your heels on the ground while bending your knees even just a few inches, you probably have some serious ankle inflexibility. Address them! Ask a trainer, or visit mobilitywod.com for advice.
Last is simply the personal attention you’re giving the dip during workouts and weightlifting sessions. Is making the dip as efficient as possible a priority for you? If it isn’t, it should be. During timed workouts we all have a tendency to ignore technique for speed. In doing so, we fail to realize the incredible effect an efficient dip has on our muscle fatigue come the end of a workout. A proper dip allows for better leg recruitment, which means less stress on your arms. Since your arms are much weaker than your legs, focusing in the dip is vital to your short term (workouts) and long term (ultimate goals) success.
Jake’s 2 Cents
In my experience, knees out is the best cue for the dip. In fact, stop thinking about bending the knees altogether. I find that athletes focused on bending at the knees tend to let said knees go way too far forward. This will most assuredly pull you off of your heels and cause the pesky MHF to make an appearance. Instead, focus on pushing your knees out. Barring any outlandish mobility issues, you will automatically drop into a dip with your knees out and your weight back on your heels. That’s two-thirds of a proper dip right there!
Here’s to big time overhead PRs!