13 Skull Crusher Alternative Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: October 31, 2022

Skull crushers are an excellent exercise for anyone working to increase the size and definition of their triceps. However, they do have some downsides.

First, traditional skull crushers require an EZ bar or straight barbell and weight plates. Second, doing skull crushers too often with heavy weight can lead to elbow pain.

In this article, I show you 13 skull crusher alternative exercises to add variety and prevent overuse injuries.

Skull Crusher Alternative

What Is a Skull Crusher?

Skull crushers are a fundamental tricep exercise where you lay on a bench and lower the bar to your forehead. The proximity of the weight to your cranium is how this exercise got its name.

During the exercise, your upper arms remain relatively straight in front of your body. At the same time, you bend your elbows, so your forearms and hands move towards your head as you lower the weight.

When the weight reaches your forehead or passes overhead, you extend your arms to push the weight back to the starting point at arm’s length.

Skull Crusher Muscles Worked

As you probably know, the tricep comprises three separate muscle heads. Hence the “tri” in tricep. These muscles are called the lateral, medial, and long heads.

Skull crushers work all three tricep heads quite well. Although, the body mechanics of this exercise are best suited for working the lateral and medial heads.

Skull Crusher Alternative Tricep

Skull Crusher Body Mechanics

At first glance, the skull crusher looks like pretty much any other tricep exercise. You bend your arms and then extend them again under load.

But skull crushers are different from some other tricep exercises based on how your arms are positioned relative to your body. And where the weight feels the heaviest in the range of motion.

For example, skull crushers keep your upper arm at nearly 90o in to your torso. And the loading is highest when your arms are bent at about a 90o angle.

Medial Head Tricep Exercises Arm Elevation
Medial Head Tricep Exercises Range of Motion

How to Replicate the Skull Crusher Exercise

When looking for skull crusher alternatives, keep the arm angles in mind. The best exercises to replicate skull crushers have your arms in front of your body and/or max loading when your elbows are bent.

Other factors to consider are the load and rep range. For example, skull crushers are generally a heavy-weight tricep exercise performed for fewer reps.

Therefore, replacement exercises could be those that allow you to go heavy for 5-10 reps before failure.

Skull Crusher Alternative Arm Angles

13 Skull Crusher Alternative Exercises

Now you know what a skull crusher is and how it works your tricep muscles. So it’s time to jump into some skull crusher alternative exercises.

To make this list easier to digest, I’ve broken it into sections based on the type of equipment needed. This segmentation also allows you to jump to a particular exercise based on your gym setup.

Cable Skull Crusher Alternative

First, here are some skull crusher alternatives you can do on the cable apparatus at your gym.

1. Cable Tricep Pressdown (V-Bar)

The tricep pressdown is a versatile exercise that you can adjust to replicate several other tricep exercises, including skull crushers.

However, the key is using the correct body position and proper form. And most people get this wrong!

The first mistake is standing too close to the cable. And the second mistake is using your body weight to generate momentum at the start of the movement.

Instead, step back and lean forward until your arms are in front of your body. This arm position is closer to the skull crusher and keeps tension on the tricep when your arms are bent.

2. Rope Tricep Pressdown

Another option for the cable tricep pressdown involves the rope attachment. This handle places your hands in a neutral position and incorporates all parts, including the long head.

Again, focus on using the proper form, as illustrated in the video above, to keep more tension on the triceps instead of using momentum or other muscle groups.

3. Straight Bar Pushdown

The straight bar pushdown is an excellent skull crusher alternative because it replicates both the arm and hand position.

Use the straight bar cable attachment with an overhand or pronated grip. Then keep your elbows pinned in front of your body as you perform the tricep extension movement.

4. Overhead Cable Extension

The last cable skull crusher alternative is the overhead extension, also called a French press. You could think of this exercise as a standing skull crusher where you lower the weight behind your head.

As with skull crushers, the loading is highest when your elbows are bent. However, your arms are at a higher angle, which hits the lateral and medial heads.

Machine Skull Crusher Alternative

Next up, let’s look at some skull crusher alternatives you can do on machines commonly found in fitness clubs or commercial gyms.

5. Machine Tricep Extension

The machine tricep extension is perhaps the closest exercise to the skull crusher. And it’s an excellent alternative without some of the drawbacks.

Most machines have your arms resting on a pad like a preacher bench, which creates an upper arm angle very close to skull crushers.

However, unlike skull crushers, the machine tricep extension keeps constant tension on the triceps throughout the range of motion.

6. Machine Dips

Another common piece of equipment for triceps is the machine dip station. It looks like an upright bench with handles on either side attached to a weight stack.

While this exercise keeps your upper arms close to your body, it does allow for heavy loading in the stretched part of the range of motion. So it’s another good exercise for building tricep mass.

Barbell Skull Crusher Alternative

The barbell or EZ bar is typically used for doing skull crushers. And you can also use this equipment for some similar tricep exercises.

7. Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is another heavy duty tricep exercise. And the flat bench position creates an arm angle similar to skull crushers.

The main difference is that the loading is highest when your arms are tucked in at your sides. So the close grip bench press works the long head of the tricep more than skull crushers.

8. Barbell French Press

The barbell French press is essentially a skull crusher performed while seated or standing in an upright position. Therefore, it is a close substitute.

However, the higher arm angle of the French press exercise means that it works the medial and lateral heads more than traditional skull crushers.

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Dumbbell Skull Crusher Alternative

Next up, we have skull crusher alternatives using dumbbells. These exercises are perfect for those working out at a home gym without a barbell or EZ bar.

9. Dumbbell Hex Press

The hex press is like a close-grip bench press with dumbbells. However, you hold the dumbbells with your palms facing in and keep them touching throughout the exercise.

In addition to working the triceps, the hex press helps you target your inner chest.

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10. Dumbbell French Press

The dumbbell French press is like the cable or barbell version. And it closely replicates the tricep activation of the skull crusher.

However, this variation allows you to use a single dumbbell with both hands or two dumbbells with one in each hand.

11. Dumbbell Kickbacks

Dumbbell kickbacks are an excellent exercise for targeting the long head of the tricep. And they are least likely to cause elbow pain, as you might experience with skull crushers.

However, this exercise generally uses lighter weights, and most of the load is on the tricep in the contracted position.

Other Skull Crusher Alternatives

Finally, we have a couple of skull crusher alternatives for even the most basic gym setup. You can do these exercises with your body weight or added resistance.

12. Parallel Bar Dips

Dips are a superb exercise for working your chest and triceps. And they are a great choice replacing skull crushers because they put heavy loads on your triceps.

If you can’t do dips with your body weight, try using an assisted dip machine or a resistance band to support some of your weight. Once you can do sets of 10 or more, you can consider doing weighted dips.

13. Bench Dips

If you don’t have a set of parallel bars, you can also do dips using a bench. For this variation, you place your hands on the bench and lower your body weight in front of it.

You can make this exercise more challenging by elevating your feet and placing a dumbbell or weight plate in your lap.

More Exercises

That concludes this list of the best skull crusher alternative exercises. But you don’t have to stop learning about exercise alternatives and variations!

Here are some related articles to help you design the perfect workout routine based on your equipment and your goals.

Hack Squat Alternatives

Leg Extension Alternatives

Cable Arm Exercises

Long Head Tricep Exercises

Medial Head Tricep Exercises

Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Before you leave, check out some of these other fitness-related articles!

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By |October 31, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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