I suffered a severe rib cage injury in 2010 during the first year of my personal training journey. The injury forced me to start searching for recovery, and eventually, I did found the way to fix the sternum pain from dips.
I experienced the sternum injury during the weighted parallel bar dips. Parallel bar dips are the most common way people injure their sternum.
My biggest mistake was when I didn't stop the workout the moment I was injured. I was doing the 3 set of my weighted dips and I still had 2 sets to be done. I tried to do the next set and I injured my rib cage and sternum even further.
Injury prevention principle: In the case of injury, stop the exercise when it hurts, not when the sets and reps are done.
My rib cage was injured for over 6 months. I tried pretty much everything. I visited a nurse, a physiotherapist and then finally, I visited a physiatrist.
Did anything help? No, absolutely not.
I didn't experience pain during my daily life activities but I still couldn't do dips or planche work without feeling severe pain in my sternum.
When I was meeting my physiotherapist and my physiatrist, I was given numerous of rib cage mobility exercises, which were designed for grandmothers to be able to cope with their daily life without pain and discomfort.
The standard mobility rib cage exercises just weren't effective enough to build strength and mobility in the rib cage for me to be able to perform dips.
In order to build real mobility, the mobility exercises have to be strenuous enough to cause the growth and expansion of your rib cage.
I had to find my own way and I did find the way to fix the sternum pain from dips. Here it is:
How To Fix Rib Cage Pain From Dips
First and foremost, stop doing the exercises that cause pain! They aren't helping, in fact, they are hindering your recovery.
If you feel pain in your sternum while doing dips, don't do dips.
Then, after you have stopped doing the exercises that cause pain, you need to build flexibility and mobility in your rib cage and serratus anterior. And do it in an effective manner.
This exercise pretty much saved me from sternum pain and significantly increased my rib cage mobility:
Leaning rib cage stretch for rib cage flexibility
You can do this exercise against a table or a wall. Both work extremely well; but a table or a box offer the most freedom of movement for this exercise.
If your rib cage is tight, you will definitely feel it in your sternum. If your rib cage isn't in a bad shape, you will feel it in your serratus anterior instead.
Increasing the strength and mobility of your serratus anterior muscle is the key here.
Serratus anterior protects your rib cage from resistance. Serratus anterior, also known as the boxer's muscle, is involved in shoulder abduction, elevation and upward rotation.
If your serratus anteriors are too weak, your shoulder girdle cannot sufficiently hold your bodyweight. This causes the pain in your sternum and rib cage. In other words, your skeletal structure is holding your bodyweight - not your muscles.
The leaning rib cage stretch above will improve your serratus anterior flexibility to a great extent.
The leaning rib cage stretch will improve the flexibility, but not will do enough for the strength of the sternum. To build strength in your rib cage and sternum, this exercise will save the day:
Straight-arm dumbbell pullover for rib cage mobility
Pullovers have been known as the "rib cage expanders" since the beginning of 20th century. The old school lifters and bodybuilders swore this exercise increased the size of their rib cage.
Nowadays, many people dismiss the pullover exercise as a rib cage expander.
Straight-arm dumbbell pullover may not increase physically the size your rib cage, but it will definitely increase the flexibility, mobility and strength in your rib cage and serratus anterior.
The key is to focus on maximal range of motion at the bottom of the exercise. If your shoulder flexibility is not good enough, you can begin with bent-arm pullovers.
The better you will be able to straighten your arms, the more the exercise will stretch your rib cage.
Bent-arm barbell pullovers for serratus anterior strength
Bent-arm dumbbell/barbell pullovers will build the strength and mobility in your serratus anterior and rib cage . Serratus anterior strength will protect your body from the sternum pain in dips.
If you do these every day (start light), you can make real progress in just 4 weeks and notice how your dipping performance is improving along with it.
Even if sternum pain is not a problem, but you experience tightness in the rib cage with dips or other exercises, or you start to experience some sternum pain when you do really heavy weighted dips or ring dips, these exercises should solve these problems and take you to the road of recovery.
In addition to these exercises, one of the keys is to effectively strengthen your serratus anterior. If these exercises won't help, you can try:
- Dumbbell shrugs with upward rotation.
- Serratus anterior push ups, also known as scapula push ups.
- Straight-arm dumbbell shoulder abductions for serratus strength.
More info on these exercises will be on this website.
If you follow these steps for 4-16 weeks, your rib cage should be healed and you shouldn't feel any pain in your sternum when you do dips or any other exercise.
The great thing about these exercises is that when your serratus anterior gets stronger, your bench press, dip and planche performance will greatly improve in just a few weeks.
I tried pretty much everything my physiotherapists and my physiatrist guided me with, but it wasn't until I found these exercises, I started to get better.
Stay safe, train hard.
I have been suffering from chronic sternum pain for 2 years now and only now found this website and feel that you identified the root cause perfectly. I can’t wait to start with the proposed exercises and will let you know how it went. I too saw a range of specialists that all helped nil to alleviate the pain!
Same. For some reason I just found this site after all this time.
Glad to help Marc! We have further improved our diagnosis and what will help a lot is to learn how to stabilize any pressing movement you do with your upper and middle back muscles.
For example, in the push up the middle traps should stabilize the shoulder girdle. With good mobility training for the spine (especially thoracic spine) and correct execution on the exercises (scapula stabilization), this sternum problem is 100% fixable.
Is there a video for this stretch? I can’t find it, but I’ve had this sternum pain for years.
Hi, I have this exact problem too after doing dips. I have it for more than 6 months already, even if I stopped Dips. I feel locked in my sternum when for example looking up at the sky behind my head.
Some other locks pops regularly with a sound and then I feel better, but one is locked and I don’t know how to unlock. I went to see 2 chiropractors already, but the pain is still there. Do you think your exercices could unlock the sternum ?
Thanks for your help
Pretty sure i just popped a rib yesterday, either 2nd or 3rd from top doing dips yesterday. I had a very specific sensation of like a lump/balling/pressure localized left of center. There was sensation, then a moment of nothing then very sharp pain, hard to breathe, etc….day 2 right now and super sore, doc said to rest and wait, if it doesn’t improve in a few days we mri. When it happened my immediate thought was this is what a rupture feels like but now 30+ hours later no bruising, so its starting to seem like i had a rib seperate and pop bavk…
Such a nice article !!! Here it is fully described “Fix Sternum Pain” from dips. It’s really good to know about this. Thank you so much for sharing it. If you want to know more about dips, you can visit this site https://dailylifedose.com/how-to-do-dips-for-chest/
I have had deep dull aching sternum pain for about 10 months now, brought on by weighted dips. I have seen multiple specialists and tried the backpod and more and have made significant progress but the core sternum pain still comes and goes. I hope these exercises and fully cure me and allow me to be able to do chest day again!
Hey Mike, did the exercises help with your sternum injury? Going to try them out as well
Could you explain the part “In other words, your skeletal structure is holding your bodyweight – not your muscles.” ?
My understanding is that you say that strengtening serratus anterior will somehow move the pressure from skeleton (sternum in this case) to this muscle.
I imagine that when doing e.g. a support hold on paralell bars, and protracting the scapula we activate the serratus anterior. Problem is, since serratus anterior is attached to the ribs, by protracting the scapula it is pulling the sternum apart.
This does not tell me how it is possible that this decreases the pressure on the sternum. Could you elaborate? Thanks!
This is a great breakdown of the issue for me, I can’t wait to try the exercises. FWIW, For those that are frustrated with doctors or “specialists”, I can say the following (can be stretched into many areas of care that aren’t a specific area of focus in medicine… Like breaks, bloodwork, Cancer, etc):
1. Unless they have had the problem, they likely don’t understand the problem, really.
2. You will find far more help locating others with the same problem and asking questions.
This isn’t because they aren’t good or don’t care, but seems to be because there is sometimes just not much focus on solving things beyond those that can spiral out of control. In this case, once they know you haven’t broken it or aren’t suffering some other “major” injury, they presume some TLC will solve the issue with time. Since doctors are reluctant to just say so (sometimes they are, no joke, leaning on 4 or 5 lines of advice in a much larger set of literature focusing on other more concerning issues).
In short, I tend to treat doctors advice as that coming from a well-meaning friend with some knowledge in the area unless I get that ah ha feeling MULTIPLE times during their explanation and care advice.