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Its been a pretty good week, and I can't really think of any facets of the fitness industry that have put me in "WTF" mode. Its been a good week on the bike, my roommates have been awesome and my folks are making their weekly LHP visit on Friday. Everything's coming up roses, right?

Well, actually, there may be something that turned out to be quite a head scratcher. It was something about a running workout with dips inserted in between efforts intended to be "core" strength.

If I recall correctly, running is done primarily with the legs and the body in an upright position with the arms swinging back and forth. But hey, there as many flavors of exercise as there ways to exercise.

No, just stop right there Al. That doesn't apply here at all and it has to do with something called "specificity of training" as to the reason why. You can't cast the widest net possible when you exercise and expect it to be effective. There is a certain science behind programming a workout that doesn't contain any loopholes.

This a long one people, so you better grab a tall cold glass of cow juice and some "Oreos," sit back and enjoy.

For the record, dips are an upper body exercise for the triceps, shoulders and chest. Imagine putting your arms on a couch you may be sitting against, and pushing yourself up away from the floor. If you can do this motion, you've just dipped.

While this is a good exercise to develop the upper body pushing muscles, there is very little (essentially zero) functional carry over to running. Let alone programming this in as a "core" strength exercise for a running workout. If you want to know what muscles actually make up the core, click here for a previous literary litany.

See, this is why I hate "core strength." Too many people using it without enough knowledge of how to actually apply it in a productive way.

How difficult is it to pick up something from the "New Rules of Lifting" book series and program a workout session in a safe effective manner? I'll give you a hint: it isn't. I know this first hand because I've ordered each book from the internet in a surprisingly simple fashion with every attempt.

Another approach that might actually make sense is to do something for the lower body to prepare it for the next effort. Maybe even recover to allow the required energy system used to recharge so it can be stressed to make it stronger. To continually pound the body with no discernible plan or periodized strategy only gets you the sport of fitness, which unfortunately has arrived.

Perhaps some ankle mobility drills might help. Maybe some lunges to loosen up the hip flexors and quads. Possibly some single bowler squats to loosen up the glutes as they get some work. But, I guess pushing the arms down to activate muscles that don't really work in that fashion when you run is a much better idea.

"Lord, you gave them eyes, but they cannot see." Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in the first "Superman" movie in case you didn't know. I feel it applies very well here.

So, let's actually break down what the body actually does when you run. Or more importantly, what it doesn't do:

  • leg press
  • hamstring curl in a prone position
  • extend the knees out in front of you
  • dip
  • crunch
  • flex the spine bent over
  • jump up and down on bleacher steps

So, long story short, here's what's actually happening when you run, broken down into it's four phases:

  • initial contact with the ground
  • midstance (stabilization of body weight)
  • propulsion (moving forward off of one foot)
  • swing (the back foot leaving the ground to start the cycle again).
Unless I'm mistaken, there isn't a "dip phase" in this process.
Your arms are supposed to be at 90 degrees (distance running) moving back and forth at chest height. The hands stay in front of the shoulders so you don't cross the midline of the body and get excess rotation in your trunk as you run.

So, with that being lamented, let's take a look at the "dip phase," and see how closely it mimics running. The images may shock you....

Hmmm, ok, interesting. Now, let's take a look at the "running" phase of, well, running...
So, as you can see, there is a little bit of a difference in what the upper body is doing. Now, I get that dips can help with shoulder mobility in turn helping the arm swing portion of running if they are done RIGHT. BUT, you work on that in the gym so that when you do run, your body is moving more fluidly before you lace up your shoes.

The other issue I have with this is if you are going to do strenuous intervals, a certain amount of fatigue will set in. If you are "super setting" intense running with body weight strength training, the chances of quality movements go down as your fatigue levels go up.

This is training to the laws of diminishing returns. Believe it or not, the goal of a workout is not be pounded into oblivion.

Meaning, if someone has forward rounded shoulders and poor thoracic mobility, dips will trash their shoulders due to the position of the shoulder girdle as they press.

If you are going to do "core" strength after a run, it needs to be hip stabilization work, thoracic spine mobility (NO CRUNCHES BTW), lunges, lateral lunges, cross over lunges, prone spinal erector activation, single leg bridging if the hams don't cramp essentially hip dominated/mobility based activities. Doing all of this will "reset" the glutes, help you recover faster and aid in fighting the uniplanar repetitive stress nature of running on the lower body.

As you can also plainly see, there aren't any arm specific motions in the post run cool down because very rarely (meaning never) do you have to "reset" the shoulders after a run. Unless you've been tackled by a 400lb human being and just broken your collarbone.

Then, I'd imaging there's a certain amount of "resetting" taking place. Probably under Oxycontin (made famous by Rush Limbaugh and Brett Favre, but I digress) is my guess as to how that process would work.

Plus, most runners have not been taught how to do dips correctly. Not too mention posses mastery over the proper joint stabilization needed to do them correctly. These are difficult exercises for professional body builders to do the right way, let alone a general fitness population.

They can be horrible for your joints if your elbows get higher than your shoulders, your hands are in the wrong position, your chin gets out in front of your collar bone or you don't move with a neutral spine.

Doing a quick scan of this image, there are several examples of poor dip form.
You also shouldn't have your low back more than a few inches away from whatever it is your pushing against. The picture to the right illustrates just about every contraindicated thing you can do when performing dips:

  • spinal flexion
  • flexed necks
  • forward rounded shoulders
  • bodies too far away from the surface used
  • no straight lines from shoulders to hips

Depending on if the person is using straight legs or bent knees, you get even more implications. Most runners have a difficult time properly extending their hips without some sort of lumbopelvic movement dysfunction. I've seen enough runners in the last 12 years to know this is pretty accurate statement.

So, if you are fatigued from a hard interval, and can't properly support your hips, guess where that support will come from? Your lumbar spine. If you need an explanation as to why this is bad, please go to another blog immediately. If you've got common sense, and the ability to exhibit it, please continue.

So, the take away of all of this you ask? Exercise safely, please. If it hurts, don't do it.

If the exercises you are doing look nothing like the movement they are intended to improve, the chances are they aren't helping you get better. Well, maybe "better at sucking" as Brett Contreras says, but that's about it.

Remember, this is an op-ed piece, and in this ed's op, I would never insert a high skill movement (which dips are) into a workout when there is potential for poor form.

I will leave you with strength and conditioning expert Mike Boyle's explanation of programming exercise that doesn't make sense in a workout:
"Programming is an art. You can't just mix a steak, eggs, vegetables and fruit together and expect it to taste good. That's called **** soup."


Al Painter, NASM-CPT, PES, CES is the President and Founder of INTEGRATE Performance Fitness. He has also been named the Bay Area's Best Personal Trainer (CitySports Magazine) as well as a People's Choice Award Winner (Palo Alto Daily News).

Al is also the Fitness Editor for and

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