Skull Crushers for Triceps

Trainer’s Tips for Building Bigger Arms

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: February 5, 2023

Skull crushers are a fundamental triceps exercise for any strength or bodybuilding routine. And they’re a great way to add size and shape to your arms.

But if you don’t do them correctly, your triceps won’t grow. Worse yet, you could damage your joints!

That’s why I’m going to show you how to do skull crushers the right way. So you can get the most out of your workouts.

how to do skull crushers

What Are Skull Crushers?

Skull crushers are a resistance training exercise where you lay on a bench and lower the bar to your forehead. As you probably guessed, the closeness of the weight to your head 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 Crushers Muscles Worked

Since skull crushers primarily involve extending your arm at the elbow, they are excellent for working the triceps. But it’s also important to know that the tricep has three different muscle heads, hence the prefix “tri”.

The three segments are called the lateral, medial, and long heads of the tricep.

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

skull crushers muscles worked

Skull Crushers Arm Position

Skull crushers activate more lateral and medial triceps because of the position of your arms relative to your body.

For example, your upper arm remains nearly 90 degrees to your torso during the exercise. And the loading is highest when your arms are bent at about a 90-degree angle.

Moreover, studies suggest these arm angles favor the middle and outer parts of your triceps1.

skull crushers arm position

How To Do Skull Crushers

Start by lifting the bar to your chest. Then sit on a bench and lean back with your upper body lying horizontal and feet firmly on the floor. Now extend the bar to arm’s length straight over your chest.

Before you begin, tilt your extended arms a few inches up towards your shoulders. This slight adjustment helps keep tension on your triceps through the whole range of motion.

Next, lower the weight by bending your elbows without moving your upper arms. Once the bar reaches the top of your head, extend your elbows back up to the starting position.

Step-by-Step Directions:

  • Hoist the bar to your chest
  • Sit down, then lean back on the bench
  • Extend the bar to arm’s length in front of chest
  • Tilt extended arms a few inches toward shoulders
  • Lower the weight by bending at the elbows
  • Extend arms back to the starting position

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Skull Crushers Form

First and foremost, keep your feet planted on the floor and your back flat on the bench during the exercise.

Also, imagine that your elbows are pinned in one spot. In other words, your upper arms should remain almost perfectly still while your forearms and hands move.

Finally, try not to flare your elbow out to the sides too much. And don’t begin the movement by pulling with your lats.

Remember, the goal is to reduce momentum and put more load on the triceps!

  • Keep feet flat on floor and back flat on bench
  • Tilt extended arms back towards head
  • Bend at the elbows without moving upper arms
  • Don’t flare elbows out
  • Don’t pull with upper arms

Skull Crusher Variations

You can do skull crushers using free weights or cables in several ways.

Barbell Skull Crushers

This variation is performed with a standard straight bar, which puts your hands in a more pronated position. Other than that, you can do the exercise exactly as described above.

One advantage of barbell skull crushers is that you can go really heavy, thanks to the 45 lb starting weight. However, the straight bar can be more uncomfortable on your wrists.

EZ Bar Skull Crushers

An EZ bar is generally shorter and lighter than a barbell. And it has bends in it that make it easier to grip.

Related: How Much Does an EZ Bar Weigh?

In addition, you can choose to use a narrower grip or a wider grip. However, studies suggest that grip width doesn’t significantly impact the part of the tricep worked.

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Using dumbbells allows you to isolate each arm independently. This is great for working more of the stabilizer muscles.

In addition, DB skull crushers prevent your dominant arm from taking over. So both arms get an equal workout.

Related: Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension Benefits & Tips

Incline Skull Crushers

Incline skull crushers are performed with an upward angle on the bench. The slope creates more tension on the triceps at the bottom of the movement.

You can also do this on a decline angle, reducing the stretch at the bottom. Some people report this is easier on their elbows.

Cable Skull Crushers

Finally, you can also do skull crushes with a cable apparatus. First, adjust the pulley to the lowest position near the floor. Then move the head end of a bench about a foot in front of the cable.

Next, lay back on the bench and grab the cable handle. Extend your arms in front of your chest, then bend your elbows and lower the bar towards the top of your head before extending back to the top.

cable skull crushers

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Skull Crusher Alternatives

Skull crushers are an awesome exercise for overall tricep development. However, there are times when you may need to rotate skull crushers out of your arm workouts.

For me, this happens periodically when I have elbow pain from overuse or other injuries. Or you might just feel like trying another tricep exercise for targeting the medial and lateral heads.

Whatever the reason, I’ve compiled a complete list of the 13 best skull crusher alternative exercises. Click the link to check them out!

skull crushers alternative

More Tricep Exercises

Now that you know how to do skull crushers properly, you can safely add them to your workouts and start building bigger triceps. But for maximum results, make sure you’re targeting all three tricep heads.

Check out these other super informative articles for building bigger triceps and arms.

Top Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

13 Medial Head Tricep Exercises

Best Long Head Tricep Exercises

21 Cable Arm Exercises

How to Do Weighted Dips for Triceps

3 Cable Tricep Pressdown Mistakes & How to Fix Them

Cable Triceps Pressdown

With this information, you’re well on your way to building thicker triceps and stronger arms. Now feel free to browse some of my other fitness and nutrition-related articles.

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By |February 5, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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