A Series of Unfortunate Events
I’ve been thinking about this for 3 weeks, and now that my friend Jeff Evans has been the latest to befall an unfortunate pec injury on the ring dips at Regionals, I feel compelled to throw in my 2 cents as to why I believe they have been so prevalent.
I think the cause is multi-factorial so I will start with the factors that I believe contribute the least and work to what I think is the biggest reason.
1. Some speculate PEDs, steroids, or whatever you want to call them. They do cause muscular development to out pace that of the other soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments. This places those soft tissues at risk for rupture/tears. Theoretically, PEDs could also cause the muscle to become too powerful for itself and tear within the muscle belly as well. I would lean towards this if the incidence was lower, but there have been so many, and some from people I know aren’t cheating, so I don’t buy this one.
2. Another reason stated is not enough exposure to ring dips and time under tension at the bottom of the dip. While this may have accounted for some, most of these guys do a generous amount of muscle-ups a week, and many of the ones I know personally have ring dips in their programs weekly.
3. Not enough exposure to the range of motion required by the standard. I typically practice my ring dips touching my shoulder to the ring at the bottom. The Regional standard is the shoulder must pass below the top of the elbow. For people with longer levers like myself, that often means the shoulder must go below the top of the ring as well. This is harder and will place more stress at the front of the shoulder (why I personally don’t like to do them that way). Another Regional standard was the 15ft. height the rings were hanging from. While there was a strap to hit to complete the rep that helped to stabilize the rings, they may still have required more stabilization than the athletes were used to on shorter rings. The ones I spoke to however, didn’t notice this.
4. So why all the men and no women?! Well
Men typically weigh more, which causes a greater load to the tissue. They weigh more because they’re stronger though right? Well that works against them a little too. They’re also strong enough to do dips with their forearms more vertical, which places more stress at the anterior shoulder and utilizes more pec over triceps. Lastly, they’re strong enough to use the stretch reflex in the bottom of the dip more often than women. This eccentric loading into a highly lengthened position of the pec major and then a quick turn around into concentric loading to press back out is what essentially causes a failure of the tissue. Partner that with them going as fast as they can, while using a kip that increases the force at the bottom on game day, and it increases the loading further.
Now onto my main causative factor… But first, why I chose this reason is because we saw ring dips at the Games in 2012 and the Regionals in 2014 and I don’t remember a single pec tear. The standards in 2014 were also the same, people probably did even fewer ring dips in their programming then, and the guys were arguably still stronger than the women.
5. The last reason I believe is responsible… “a series of unfortunate events”. Event 1 and then the other movement in Event 2 (dumbbell snatches) were unfortunately coupled in the right way (or wrong way) to fatigue all of the other anterior stabilizers of the shoulder, leaving the pec major vulnerable. Maybe even more vulnerable by week 3, considering how many times some of the athletes may have tested the workouts at home by now. I’d account the injuries coming into the event to this. To elaborate, the weighted chest to bar pull-ups fatigue some important muscles that attach at the anterior shoulder including the lats, coracobrachialis, subscap, and teres major; while the handstand push-ups fatigue the anterior deltoid and depending on the angle some of the upper pec major. The bigger problem though, is the fatigue of the bicep from the dumbbell snatch directly coupled with the dips. Most of the men I watched are strong enough to decelerate the dumbbell using a good amount of bicep and also snatch with their thumb facing forward. This makes the movement more bicep intensive than when a more pronated grip is used, especially at high speeds. The bicep performs elbow flexion and also shoulder flexion. As the athletes descend into the bottom of the dip, the bicep and the pec major are eccentrically loaded and lengthened into shoulder extension (the opposite direction). With the bicep already being fatigued, the pec major is left to do more of the work of reversing the motion, pressing back out of the dip, stabilizing the anterior shoulder, and adducting to keep the rings together. In some cases (currently about 30) it can’t handle all of that and a strain or tear can occur. At this point it’s too many to call them outliers I’d say.
Now I’m not claiming I’m without a doubt right on this. My number 4 and 5 are probably pretty equal in cause, the more I think about it. But if it was the combination of movements, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen it. I certainly didn’t. When I first looked at the event it seemed like an eloquent and sexy couplet (yes that’s how I describe programming sometimes). For the general public I don’t think these movements together would be an issue. It’s the speed and force these athletes are capable of that make it an issue. A speed that only increases during the height of competition. Even so, to be on the safe side I wouldn’t recommend affiliates to program them together. I also hope people consider the compounding effects one movement can have on one another in general. Especially when combined with intensity, and take their workout velocity down a notch accordingly.
That was probably worth more like a quarter of my cents, but there you have it! I also wish a speedy recovery to all of those injured!