- Skull Crushers Exercise Guide: How To, Form, and Tips
- How to Do the Skull Crusher
- Muscles Worked – Skull Crushers
- Shoulder Stabilizers
- 4 Benefits of Skull Crushers
- Stronger Triceps
- Improved Lockout Strength
- Healthy Elbows
- Bigger Arms
- Who Should Do Skull Crushers?
- Skull Crushers for Strength and Power Athletes
- Skull Crushers for Olympic Weightlifters
- Skull Crushers for General Fitness, Hypertrophy and Strength
- How to Program the Skull Crusher
- Strength – Reps and Sets
- Hypertrophy – Reps and Sets
- Muscle Endurance – Reps and Sets
- Skull Crusher Variations
- Dumbbell Skull Crushers
- Incline Bench Skull Crushers
- Skull Crusher Negatives
- Skull Crushers Alternatives
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Overhead Triceps Extensions
- How To Do Skull Crushers For Triceps And NOT Hurt Your Elbows
- But Then There Was One
- What Are Skull Crushers?
- Beware: They May Destroy Your Elbows
- 1. Don’t Do Them With A Straight Bar
- 2. Don’t Do Them With An EZ Curl Bar Either
- 3. Don’t Lower To Your Nose… Or Forehead
- 4. Don’t Do Low Reps
- 5. Don’t Do Them For Too Long Or Too Often
- 6. Don’t Worry Too Much About Weight And Progression
- What If Your Elbows Still Hurt?
- The Complete Guide to Bodyweight Skull Crushers
- What are Bodyweight Skull Crushers?
- Setting Up For Bodyweight Skull Crushers
- Bodyweight Skull Crushers Technique
- Bodyweight Skull Crushers Benefits
- The Best Way to Perform Bodyweight Skull Crushers
- How many times should you do bodyweight skull crushers per week?
- How many sets and reps?
- How to Build Bigger Triceps with Skull Crushers – Fitness Volt
- Triceps anatomy
- How to do skull crushers properly
- How to do skull crushers correctly:
- Skull crusher variations
- 1. Dumbbell skull crushers
- How to do it:
- 4. Rolling skull crushers
- 5. Skull crusher and close grip bench press superset
- To do this exercise:
- The wrap-up
- Your Complete Guide To Skullcrushers!
- Tips for Crushing The Skullcrusher
- With an EZ-Bar
- Incline bench
- Decline bench
- Cable version with bar/EZ-bar
- Cable version with rope
- Smith machine
- Did You Know?
- Skullcrushing Superset
- Cheat Crushers
Skull Crushers Exercise Guide: How To, Form, and Tips
Triceps training is something most power, strength, and sports athletes know they should be doing. For some of us, knowing and doing are not the same. It is for this reason that we will discuss, review, and provide technique breakdowns and exercise recommendations for the skull crusher, a premier triceps strength and hypertrophy exercise for all training levels.
If your goal is stronger pressing (bench press, snatch and jerk lockouts, and/or even gymnastic work dips and handstand push ups), stick around as we will cover:
- Skull Crushers Form and Technique
- Benefits of Skull Crushers
- Muscles Worked by Skull Crushers
- Skull Crushers, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Skull Crushers Variations and Alternatives
- and more…
How to Do the Skull Crusher
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly set up and perform the skull crusher using a barbell.
Skull Crushers Start
Step 1: Start by lying flat on your back, on a bench, with the head slightly off the end. The barbell should be locked out at the top position, with the wrists about shoulder width.
Wrist widths can vary flexibility and preference. The key is that the lifter should feel that they are able to contract the upper beck and depress the shoulder blades to secure the shoulder girdle. This will be essential for the next steps.
Skull Crushers Bottom
Step 2: As the name implies, the lifter should allow the elbows to go into joint flexion, so that the barbell itself is tracking towards the cranium.
As you do this, be sure to keep the elbows pushed into the body, making sure that they are not flaring out to the sides. It may be helpful to focus on squeezing the bar, setting the back, and making sure the elbows stay pointed back/up as you descend into the negative portion of the lift.
Skull Crushers Extra Stretch
Step 3: Once the barbell has reached just above the cranium, be sure to double check the elbow and barbell placement (see above step). From here, it is recommended that you allow the elbow to track slightly backwards with the elbow itself fixed in deep flexion.
This movement is subtle, yet can increase the stretch on the triceps and help to keep tension on the triceps at the bottom of the range of motion.
Skull Crushers Concentric
Step 4: From there, slightly pull the elbows forward as you reach upwards to the sky.
It is important to not have the elbows get pushed to far forwards, as this will decrease triceps isolation and increase strain on the shoulder.
Skull Crushers Finish
*** The skull crusher is a great strength and mass builder for the triceps, however many lifters and coaches may be performing them incorrectly. It is imperative you adjust widths, angles, and tempos to best individualize this exercise to the athlete.
Muscles Worked – Skull Crushers
The skull crusher is a single joint exercise that specially target the triceps.
Un other triceps movements, close grip bench press and dips, the skull crusher is single joint in nature, and therefore the only movement that takes place is at the elbow joint (which, the triceps works to extend). By adding this single joint exercise into training, you can specially target weak, underdeveloped triceps.
The triceps are responsible for elbow extension which is found in most pressing movements (bench press, overhead presses, push ups, dips, overhead stability, etc). The skull crusher isolates the triceps by having the lifter perform deep elbow flexion while stabilizing the shoulder and wrist joints (see below).
While the shoulders are not concentrically and eccentrically contracting, they scapular stabilizers and rear deltoids are working diligently to stabilize the shoulder socket to allow the lifter to remain in a fixed position. By not allowing shoulder movement, the lifter can force the elbows to flex to acquire necessary ranges of motion, which in turn increases the demands on the triceps to fully extend the elbow joint.
4 Benefits of Skull Crushers
Below are four (4) benefits of the skull crusher that coaches and athletes from most strength, power, and fitness sports can expect when implementing skull crushers into a training regimen.
Strong triceps are key for all pressing movements and overhead stability. Powerlifters must have strong triceps to assist in the locking the bench press. Weightlifters must perform triceps work as they are necessary for elbow extension in the receiving phases of the snatch and jerk. In addition, stronger triceps tend to help decrease wear and tear on the elbow joint.
Improved Lockout Strength
The triceps are responsible for elbow extension, which is a key marker for proper lift execution in the bench press, snatch, and jerk. Most power and strength athletes will see improvements in lockout performance with added triceps strength and hypertrophy work (assuming they are perfecting any technical faults that may be resulting in pressouts).
Healthy joints often come from proper training volume, technique, and increasing muscle hypertrophy and force production so that volumes and loading can be absorbed by the muscles themselves rather than on the tendons, ligaments, and joints. Stronger triceps (along with proper modifications in case of elbow flare-ups) are key to not only increasing pressing performance but minimizing overuse injury to the joints and connective tissues.
For some strength and power athletes, bigger, leaner arms are an added goal. The triceps are roughly ⅔ of the arm, so more dedicated tricep work could help you achieve a superior set of pipes. If you are someone who is only looking for the “functional” reasons as to why we train triceps, just ignore this one…but for the rest of us…
Who Should Do Skull Crushers?
The skull crusher can be highly beneficial for all strength, power, and fitness athlete. The below groups can benefit from learning and performing this movement due to the various reasons listed below.
Skull Crushers for Strength and Power Athletes
The skull crusher is an accessory movement to increase triceps strength and hypertrophy. In addition, this can help to increase injury resistance for the elbow joint and improve overall elbow extension abilities necessary for sports performance.
Skull Crushers for Olympic Weightlifters
The triceps are responsible for overhead stability and elbow extension in the snatch and the jerk portions of the competitive lifts. By increasing triceps training by implementing single joint exercise skull crushers, you can help a lifter build more raw strength and muscle mass necessary for locking out lifts (assuming there is not a technique fault).
Skull Crushers for General Fitness, Hypertrophy and Strength
The skull crusher, while not as “functional” as other pressing movements push ups and dips, can be a good option for lifters looking to increase triceps training volume without the added wear and tear on the shoulders and chest (such as if they were to simply do more push ups, bench press, etc). They also are vital for proper elbow extension and upper body strength.
How to Program the Skull Crusher
Below are three primary training goals and programming recommendations when utilizing the skull crushers into specific programs. Note, that these are general guidelines, and by no means should be used as the only way to program skull crushers.
Strength – Reps and Sets
For strength building sets, athletes can perform lower repetition ranges for more sets.
- 4-6 sets of 4-8 repetitions, resting 2-3 minutes
Hypertrophy – Reps and Sets
Muscle hypertrophy can be accomplished by adding training volume (more reps), time under tension, and/or training towards fatigue.
- 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions, resting 1-2 minutes
Muscle Endurance – Reps and Sets
Some lifters may want to train greater muscle endurance (for sport), in which higher repetition ranges and/or shorter rest periods are recommended.
- 2-3 sets of 12+ repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between (this is highly sport specific)
Skull Crusher Variations
Below are three (3) skull crusher variations that can be used by coaches and athletes to keep training varied and progressive.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers
Dumbbell skull crushers are done in a simians fashion to the Barbell or EZ bar variation, however by using dumbbells you are able to attack the triceps unilaterally. This can be beneficial for lifters who may have muscle imbalances or coordination issues. Additionally, this may allow for a deeper elbow flexion angle which may improve muscle development.
Incline Bench Skull Crushers
The incline bench skull crusher variation can be done with any type of loading (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc) and is set up with the bench at a slight incline. By adding the incline, you are able to slightly increase the stretch on the triceps and hit the muscle from slightly different angles.
Skull Crusher Negatives
Negatives, also called eccentrics, are highly effective at creating muscle damage and hypertrophy. To do this, an athlete should have a spotter spot them as they slowly lower the supra heavy load down under control.
The spotter should be sure to keep control and make sure the load doesn’t come crashing down on them. When it is time to lift the load, the spotter can help the lifter lift the weight to the top position, repeating for reps.
Skull Crushers Alternatives
Below are three (3) skull crusher alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase triceps strength and muscle hypertrophy.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is a bench press variation that is done to target the triceps and chest by narrowing the grip width on the barbell.
In doing so, the lifter must tuck their elbows into their sides, typically at around a 20-30 degree angle to the torso.
This variation can be easily swapped for regular bench press when athletes have issues locking out bench press reps or if they are looking to limit shoulder involvement in the press.
Dips, whether on rings, bars, or other supports are great mass building exercise for the triceps, chest, and anterior shoulders. Strength and power athletes can use these with bodyweight or additional resistance (chains, weight belts, etc) to increase triceps strength and hypertrophy.
Overhead Triceps Extensions
The overhead triceps extension can be done with dumbbell, a barbell, EZ bars, or cables. This exercise targets the similar segments of the triceps that the skull crusher does, and may be less painful on joints if a lifter has elbow issues. Note, that pain should not be dismissed and properly reviewed by a medical professional.
Featured Image: Mike Dewar
How To Do Skull Crushers For Triceps And NOT Hurt Your Elbows
When it comes to the “best” triceps exercise, the conversation most often involves the following three:
- Close grip bench press.
- Skull crushers.
Sure, there are plenty of others that can get the job done just fine. And yes, various other compound pressing exercises in your routine (bench press, shoulder press, etc.) will ly produce the majority of your triceps size and strength gains.
Plus, as I’ve explained a million times before, there is rarely anything in the weight training world that is universally “the best” for every single person… especially exercises.
But, ignoring all of that for a minute, it’s hard to argue that these aren’t all potentially great triceps exercise. They most definitely are, and I’ve personally used each one of them in my training at various points over the years.
But Then There Was One
As of today however, the only one I still do regularly is skull crushers.
Close grip bench presses were never a favorite of mine. They always just felt slightly awkward. And doing them on a flat bench tends to bother my shoulders a bit, which leaves decline close grip bench pressing as the only way I’ll do them. Dips are totally the question for me, as they kill my shoulders (along with many other people’s shoulders).
Which leaves us (or really me) with skull crushers. Along with a small handful of others, they’ve been one of my go-to triceps exercises of choice for quite a while.
What Are Skull Crushers?
Despite its scary name, it’s just a triceps isolation exercise that involves the same basic elbow extension movement every other triceps isolation exercise involves.
The main difference here is that you do them lying down (on a flat, decline or incline bench) with the weight (straight bar, EZ curl bar, dumbbells) held directly over you similar to the top position of a bench press. It’s then lowered down directly over your face/head by bending at the elbow.
It’s technically just a lying triceps extension, but “skull crusher” just makes for a much catchier nickname. You can see an example here.
Simple and easy enough, right? Of course, there is one tiny potential problem (besides accidentally crushing your skull) that may be of note…
Beware: They May Destroy Your Elbows
Besides dips (which are a well known shoulder killer), there is no other exercise I can think of for any body part that is as well known for causing elbow pain as skull crushers are. It’s just one of those exercises that tends to hurt for a lot of people.
Why is this? Well, the mechanics of the movement itself may very well be the sole culprit in many cases. In other cases however, I think the specific way the person is performing the exercise may either be causing the problem entirely or at least adding to the stress being placed on the elbows.
To show you what I mean, here now are what I’ve found to be the 6 most elbow friendly tips for doing skull crushers pain-free…
1. Don’t Do Them With A Straight Bar
Even though most gyms have EZ curl bars, I still sometimes see people doing skull crushers and various other triceps extension exercises with a straight bar. The fun part is watching them finish their set and proceed to rub their elbow and/or wrist as though they are in pain.
I’m not surprised. I’d be in pain too if I did these with a straight bar.
That’s where the EZ curl bar comes into play. The slight curve it allows is often significantly more comfortable on your wrists and elbows. You know, similar to how the EZ curl bar is also more wrist/elbow friendly than the straight bar when doing biceps curls.
It just seems to be closer to the natural state your wrists and elbows would prefer things to be in during this exercise (and others).
2. Don’t Do Them With An EZ Curl Bar Either
What I mentioned in #1 is often common knowledge, or at least something people discover on their own at some point. Which means, most of the people doing skull crushers are already smart enough to be doing them with an EZ curl bar.
But yet, it STILL hurts their elbows (and maybe their wrists as well). If this describes you, then I highly recommend using dumbbells instead.
Grab them with a neutral/hammer grip (palms facing each other) and try it that way. You’ll probably feel a significant improvement in wrist comfort, and it will probably feel a lot better on your elbows as well. I personally do skull crushers almost exclusively this way.
3. Don’t Lower To Your Nose… Or Forehead
Skull crushers can be done by lowering the weight to a bunch of different places between your chin and some point behind your head. The three most common tend to be:
- A version sometimes referred to as “nose breakers” where the weight is lowered to around nose level.
- The version you probably see people doing most often which involves lowering the weight to about forehead level.
- The third version involves lowering the weight to some point just slightly past the top of your head.
If you are fond of your elbows, I’d highly recommend not going anywhere near the “nose crusher” version. And if the typical “forehead” version hurts, I’d recommend avoiding that one too.
Instead, the most elbow-friendly lowering point for most people (myself included) is usually slightly over your head.
4. Don’t Do Low Reps
Some exercises are much better suited for lower reps (deadlifts come to mind), while others seem to be better suited for higher reps (leg extensions and lateral raises come to mind). I’d definitely put skull crushers and most similar triceps isolation exercises into the “better suited for high reps” category.
I personally don’t go lower than 10 reps for these and most often stay in the 10-15 rep range. If you having elbows that don’t feel crap, you may want to do the same.
Don’t worry, your triceps will get plenty of lower rep work during pressing exercises. Let skull crushers do the higher rep ‘pump’ work.
5. Don’t Do Them For Too Long Or Too Often
This one especially applies to you if you’ve found that you can do them for 4 weeks, or 6 weeks or 8 weeks or whatever-weeks with no elbow pain or problems of any kind, but at some point when you’ve been doing them long enough, they start to hurt.
How do you avoid this? Simple. Change exercises before reaching this point. I’m not talking about silly muscle confusion nonsense or changing exercises super often to “shock your body.” I’m just talking about rotating out your triceps isolation exercises just frequently enough to avoid experiencing any elbow pain.
I’d also recommend keeping the frequency of this exercise to once per week. So for example, if you’re using an upper/lower based program (such as The Muscle Building Workout Routine) and are therefore training triceps twice per week, do skull crushers in one of the workouts and something else in the other.
6. Don’t Worry Too Much About Weight And Progression
Yes, progressive overload is and always will be one of the biggest requirements of building muscle and gaining strength. Yes, pushing yourself to increase the weight being lifted as often as you can should be your #1 focus.
However, as crucial as this is, it should be less of a focus with an exercise skull crushers.
Why? For starters, you’re not going to be able to progress at isolation exercises very often in the first place… especially in comparison to compound exercises.
This is why you don’t see many people doing an exercise lateral raises with very much weight (unless of course they’re doing the hilarious full body heave version).
Skull crushers and most other isolation movements are kinda the same way.
They are better suited for generating muscular fatigue than progressive tension, whereas squats, deadlifts, presses. rows, etc. are typically the other way around or an equal combination of the two. (Additional details here: How To Get Bigger Arms)
Not to mention, due to the not-so-elbow-friendly mechanics I mentioned earlier, this isn’t really an exercise where you want to be grinding out reps with a weight that’s just a little too heavy for you.
That’s why I’d rather see people push for higher reps ( I said before, I going as high as 15 reps per set with these) rather than trying to constantly up the weight at which point your form (and subsequently your elbows) will almost always turn to poopy.
(A reader recently asked me if I was capable of getting my points across without resorting to using words “shit.” That, dear reader, was for you.)
Then, when you are comfortably able to do that amount for a few workouts in a row, feel free to add the smallest amount of weight possible.
What If Your Elbows Still Hurt?
Now let’s say you try all of these adjustments. You use an EZ curl bar, you use dumbbells, you lower more to the top of your head than your nose, you do higher reps, switch to another triceps exercise every few weeks, keep the frequency low and don’t obsessively try to increase the weight every workout.
Let’s say you try all of that and skull crushers STILL end up hurting your elbows. What do you do then?
Simple… stop doing skull crushers.
For whatever reason, there are just certain weight training exercises that don’t get along with our bodies no matter what modifications we make to our form and the overall way we’re doing them. In cases this, the best idea is to just permanently avoid those exercises.
For example, here are 6 great exercises I’ll never do again for this very reason.
I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other triceps exercises that can get the job done just fine, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find at least a few of them that don’t hurt your elbows these do. Use them instead.
Because, I’ve also mentioned before (What Are The Best Exercises For My Workout Routine?), that’s really step #1 in determining which exercise truly is “the best” for you.
The Complete Guide to Bodyweight Skull Crushers
If you’re an avid reader of Athletic Muscle, then you know how big we are into calisthenics exercises for an unbelievably impressive physique.
One of the mainstays in the bodyweight workout arsenal is the bodyweight skull crusher.
An amazing exercise that focuses on your triceps and some of your deltoids, skull crushers have been building teardrop arms for decades.
In this article, we’ll go over what bodyweight skull crushers are, how to set up for the exercise, technique, and all of the benefits associated with bodyweight skull crushers.
Let’s dive into some calisthenics!
What are Bodyweight Skull Crushers?
You may have heard about traditional skull crushers.
Those ones involve using an EZ-bar, sitting on a bench, and bringing your arms up near your head so that the bar goes above your head instead of actually crushing it.
Bodyweight skull crushers are a totally different beast.
For one thing, you completely flip your body so that you’re facing the floor. When you do this 180, you allow gravity to be your resistance.
Hence the name: you’re using your body’s weight to perform the skull crushers.
Because of this, form is pivotal when performing bodyweight skull crushers. (Which we will get into in a future section.)
This particular exercise is a wonderful addition to a full-body workout or can be used as a standalone triceps trainer.
Ideally, you would pair this calisthenics move with other upper body push movements, such as push-ups variations and handstands.
Other than the diamond push-up, bodyweight skull crushers are the best at targeting your triceps muscles quickly and efficiently.
Setting Up For Bodyweight Skull Crushers
To start out, you’ll need a horizontal bar that can sustain your weight and be between a foot and four feet off the ground.
This is where your hands will grip and will hold your entire weight.
The reason behind the range is you’ll want to adjust your height ability; the lower you put your bar, the more difficult it will be.
Just as important, you’ll want to have solid support for your shoe grip.
This is where you could get tricky. A simple mat should suffice to keep your feet from sliding along the floor once you give up your body weight to gravity.
However, if you are confident about your abilities and have access to one, you can put a Bosu ball under your feet.
This should keep your shoes locked in place and forces you to engage your core throughout the whole movement.
That’s it. Setting up for bodyweight skull crushers is quite simple, as any calisthenics exercise should be. This allows you to set up anywhere, anytime, even in your own house!
Bodyweight Skull Crushers Technique
Technique is crucial to get right when doing bodyweight skull crushers.
There are three main points to get dialed in before you start repping them out a maniac: elbow position, how far to dip, and leg position.
First, elbow position.
This one is easy: Place your hands on the horizontal bar at shoulder’s width. This means your hands should be a little over a foot and a half apart on the bar.
As for your elbows, you must keep them tucked in next to your body. This keeps your arms from flaring out, which puts excess pressure on your shoulders and elbows. So just keep in mind–hands at shoulder’s width, and keep your elbows tucked in.
Second, dip depth. Essentially, you want to dip below the horizontal bar.
In order to get under the bar without having to strain your neck to get your head through, be far enough away so that your head can pass underneath with ease.
Your feet should be a few feet behind the bar, allowing for your triceps to handle most of your weight and giving your head breathing room when you lower yourself under the bar.
In a nutshell, dip under the bar by bending your elbows.
Lastly, leg position. You can consider this as full body positioning, too. That’s because your entire body should be ramrod straight.
During the movement, it shouldn’t be moving on its own accord. The only body part that moves should be your elbow.
At the bottom of the rep, the top of the rep, and the entire time in between, your legs, torso, and chest/back should be a pillar of stone.
This final technique–keep your body rigid–will keep you from cheating on your reps by using your bigger body parts to carry the load. It makes this exercise extremely tough, which is how it should be.
That’s why we recommend beginning with the bar really high up. It lowers the angle perpendicular to the floor, meaning less gravitational pull and less body weight pushing down on you.
Even if the bar is high, you still should scoot your feet back a little so that your head passes underneath safely and so that you feel the strain in your triceps.
For a full rep: Starting with your arms in-line, bend at the elbows, bringing your body under the bar.
Once your elbows are at a ninety-degree angle, push back up using only your triceps and extending your elbows. When they get back to straight, that’s one rep.
Bodyweight Skull Crushers Benefits
Of course, you wouldn’t do any exercise if there weren’t obvious and tremendous benefits. Here are some of the great advantages of adding bodyweight skull crushers to your calisthenics workout routine:
- They directly impact your triceps: By far the best benefit to bodyweight skull crushers. Your triceps will be utterly useless by the end of your reps and sets. Just a traditional skull crusher, it affects the long head of the tricep, which is what creates that teardrop look in the back of your arm when you flex. By continuously progressing this exercise, your triceps will get bigger AND stronger.
- Your core gets a workout as well: Because you’re leaning at an almost perilous level, you have to engage your core to keep your body rigid and straight. This gives you an unbelievable core workout. This exercise pulls double duty, which is always a great thing.
- They have an obvious progression model: When you get proficient at the bodyweight skull crusher, there’s a simple–but not easy–way to progress to a higher degree of difficulty: lower the bar. The more you lower the bar, the tougher it gets because you’re taking on more and more of your body’s weight. Therefore, throughout the weeks of training, you can stick with the same exercise until you get really close to the floor. This should definitely give you thick, powerful triceps.
- You don’t need any other triceps exercise: This can be your end-all, be-all movement for your triceps. It works not only the long head of the triceps, but the shorter heads as well. By performing bodyweight skull crushers as little as twice a week (we’ll go over the best way to do these in the next section), you don’t need anything else.
With one teeny tiny exercise, you get a host of benefits. This makes bodyweight skull crushers more than worth doing.
The Best Way to Perform Bodyweight Skull Crushers
Too much of a good thing is sometimes a bad thing. The same can be said with too little. Therefore, there’s an ideal way to use bodyweight skull crushers to your triceps’ benefit.
How many times should you do bodyweight skull crushers per week?
Once or twice. Twice is ideal for those just starting out; once you get proficient at them, you’ll need more recovery time between each workout.
And while triceps are smaller muscles compared to others in your body, it still takes a while to get soreness when doing bodyweight skull crushers.
How many sets and reps?
This can vary from person to person as well. However, the ideal way in our opinion is to reach failure in one or two sets total.
In order to get to failure, perform each rep with a 5/5 cadence. This means lowering your body below the bar slowly, for a count of five seconds.
Then, without pausing at the bottom, start coming back up slowly, for another count of five seconds. Quick, no rest at the top either! Go back down for five seconds.
This maximizes your Time Under Tension, which is the time that breaks down your muscle so that it grows back stronger during your recovery time.
Once you reach failure (meaning you can’t come back up 100%), hold your position wherever you got stuck, then really, really slowly bring yourself back down under the bar.
Once you get to the bottom, then and only then are you allowed to bring your feet forward and remove the weight from your triceps.
If you do bodyweight skull crushers this way, your triceps will be screaming at you after one, maybe two sets. That’s all you need. Then you wait until you’re no longer sore before going after it again in the week.
This technique can be utilized for almost any other exercise, calisthenics or traditional. (Just make sure you have a spotter for those heavy weightlifting movements that can leave you compromised at the end!)
Bodyweight skull crushers are terrific for you. The calisthenics version of anything usually provides its own twist on a bodybuilding classic.
The skull crusher has been bruising triceps for eons; using your own body’s weight just makes you that much more of a badass.
Make sure you read up on the setup and technique so that you avoid unnecessary injury.
By perfecting how to perform the bodyweight skull crusher, you can progress seamlessly and develop big, bulging triceps. All with just your body and a few pieces of available equipment!
We wish you the best of luck with your calisthenics journey!
How to Build Bigger Triceps with Skull Crushers – Fitness Volt
Most gym-goers want bigger, stronger arms.
Bulging baseball-shaped biceps and horseshoe-shaped triceps will add a lot to your physique and single you out as someone who takes their workouts seriously.
Ask any kid to show you a muscle, and invariably they’ll raise their arms and show you their biceps. Even children understand the importance and appeal of big guns!
There are plenty of different biceps builders to choose from but, when it comes to triceps training, a lot of exercisers limit themselves to a few sets of cable pushdowns. That’s a shame because, when it comes to arms size, your triceps are actually more important than your biceps.
The truth is that your triceps make up about two-thirds of your upper arm mass while the biceps only make up one third. If you want bigger arms, you need to prioritize your triceps training.
One of the best exercises you can do for your triceps is supine triceps extensions, more commonly called skull crushers.
The triceps, full name triceps brachii, is located on the back of your upper arm. It has two main functions – an extension of the elbow joint and extension of the shoulder joint. The word triceps means three-headed muscle.
The three heads are:
The long head
The lateral head
The medial head
The long head crosses the shoulder and the elbow and affects both of these joints. The lateral and medial heads only cross the elbow.
While all triceps exercises work all three heads, it is possible to emphasize one head at a time by altering the position of your upper arm. Because of this, your triceps routine should include exercises with your upper arms by your sides (e.g., pushdowns), out in front of you (e.g., skull crushers), and overhead (e.g., overhead triceps extensions).
How to do skull crushers properly
Skull crushers work your triceps through a wide range of motion using moderate to heavyweights. According to studies, this is a perfect recipe for muscle building.
However, to get the best from this or any other exercise, you must do them correctly. Doing skull crushers with incorrect form increases the stress on your joints and also transfers tension onto other muscles.
This will make the exercise less effective.
How to do skull crushers correctly:
- Lie on a flat bench and hold a barbell or EZ Bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Place your feet flat on the floor and brace your abs.
- Press the bar up to arms’ length, so your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. In other words, your upper arms should be vertical.
- Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and lower the bar down to your forehead. You can either lightly touch your head with the bar or stop half an inch above it. Keep your elbows tucked in and your wrists straight.
- Lift the bar back up to the start position by extending your elbows only; do not move your shoulders or your upper arms. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Safety note: This exercise is called skull crushers for a good reason; you could injure yourself if you lower the bar too fast or are unable to complete a rep. Always have a spotter on hand to help you in case you run into trouble.
Skull crusher variations
The standard variation of skull crushers is an awesome exercise and one that no bodybuilder ever outgrows. However, there are several different variations of this exercise that you can use to spice up your triceps workouts and produce even better results. In studies, exercise variety has proven to be as important as loading for muscle hypertrophy.
1. Dumbbell skull crushers
Using dumbbells allows you to lower the weight below the level of your head. The further the load has to travel, the more work your muscles need to do, and the harder the exercise becomes. Use a neutral palms-in grip to add even more variety to your triceps workout.
As an added benefit, dumbbell skull crushers are safer than the barbell and EZ Bar version. If you are unable to complete a rep, you can simply lower the dumbbells down to the side of your head, avoiding any kind of skull-crushing accident.
Another dumbbell skull crusher exercise, this variation increases your time under tension per set. In other words, it forces your muscles to work for longer.
This increases lactic acid production for a bigger muscle-building pump.
This variation also makes light weights feel heavier, which means it’s easier on your joints while still providing your muscles with the stimulus they need to grow.
How to do it:
1. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and lie back on a flat exercise bench. Press the dumbbells up to arms’ length with your palms facing inward. Keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor, lower the weights down to either side of your head. This is your starting position.
2. Keeping your right arm stationary, extend your left arm until it is straight, and then lower it back to the starting position. Next, extend your right arm while keeping your left arm stationary. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.
Doing skull crushers on a decline bench means you have to use the long head of your triceps to hold your arm in position against the pull of gravity. Decline Skull crushers are a total triceps exercise that works all three heads of the triceps muscle. Triceps brachii, the proper name for the triceps, actually means three-headed arm muscle.
Set your bench to a 10 to 30-degree decline. The steeper the angle, the harder you’ll have to work to hold your upper arms in position. You can do decline skull crushers using a kettlebell, barbell, EZ bar, dumbbells, or a low cable machine as preferred.
Try them all and see which one feels most effective. Don’t be surprised if, the next day, you feel soreness at the very top of your triceps. That’s where the long head of triceps attaches to the back of your shoulder.
4. Rolling skull crushers
This skull crusher variation combines three exercises into one – regular skull crushers, pullovers, and close grip bench presses. It allows you to use more weight than usual, which will help you build muscle strength as well as size. You can do this exercise with a barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbells.
5. Skull crusher and close grip bench press superset
Skull crushers are an isolation exercise. That means they only work one joint at a time. This means that, once your triceps fatigue and fail, your set will come to an end.
However, you can extend your set and continue working your triceps for longer by swapping from skull crushers to close grip bench presses. Close grip bench presses are a multi-joint compound exercise.
This means other muscles come into play that will assist your fatigued triceps.
To do this exercise:
1. Do your skull crushers as usual, continuing your set until your triceps fail, and you are unable to complete any more reps.
2. Without resting, pull the bar over your chest and switch to close grip bench presses. Rep out until you are unable to continue.
There is nothing wrong with cable push downs, and your triceps get a lot of work when you do push-ups, bench presses, and shoulder presses. But, if you are serious about developing your arms, you must pay attention to your triceps, working them with a variety of exercises and using several different set and rep schemes.
Don’t just do three sets of ten or four sets of eight – mix it up! Combining different set and rep schemes with a range of exercises is the best way to build muscle fast.
- PubMed: The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training https://www.bodybuilding-natural.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/1_158907702.pdf
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than in Loading Schemes to Improve Muscle Strength https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2014/11000/Changes_in_Exercises_Are_More_Effective_Than_in.9.aspx
Skull CrushersTricepsTriceps Workout
Your Complete Guide To Skullcrushers!
Most exercises have rather literal names: A single-arm overhead dumbbell extension describes the movement pretty well, after all. A few others, however, are named for the part of the body they'll break if you lose control. In this class we have skullcrushers.
Skullcrushers are actually a family of single-joint triceps exercises, not necessarily just one exercise, because there are so many ways to do them. You can use almost any kind of implement—dumbbells, barbell, EZ-bar, or cables—as well as a variety of angled benches. Each variation provides a slightly different feel and effect, so I'll guide you through the most popular.
What all skullcrusher variations have in common is simple: elbow extension. The upper arms are generally locked in a position perpendicular to the body, which means both the long and lateral triceps heads—the two biggest—are called into play.
As you increase the angle of the bench (i.e., use a more inclined bench), the upper arms move closer to an overhead position, so more of the work falls on your triceps long head.
Doing the movement on a decline bench reduces the long-head involvement, so more of the emphasis falls on the lateral triceps head.
Tips for Crushing The Skullcrusher
There are a few important keys to doing the movement:
Keep your upper arms perpendicular to the floor, not necessarily perpendicular to your body. This ensures you're working against gravity. Your arms should automatically be perpendicular to your body when you're on a flat bench, but won't necessarily be when you're doing the movement on an incline or decline bench.
Only extend your elbows. Avoid allowing your upper arms to move back and forth from their position as you raise and lower the weight. If you move your arms, you put some of the load on your shoulders.
Lower the weight under control, which means using a weight you can safely handle. Use a very deliberate rep speed on the negative. I assume you know why! (If not, just reference the exercise name again.)
As you power the weight back up, stop just short of full extension so that you're unable to rest in the top position, which keeps tension on the muscle throughout the range of motion.
Use a spotter when training to failure. A spotter can also assist you with a few additional forced reps, hand you the weight to begin, or grab the weight when you're done.
Keep your elbows in tight as much as possible and avoid elbow flare to ensure the triceps do the bulk of the work. Allowing your elbows to flare out reduces the triceps' workload.
With an EZ-Bar
Don't use a very close grip on a bar; take it with a grip of about shoulder-width. Using the EZ-bar can be more comfortable for your wrists, compared to a barbell, and the wider grip will be easier to balance in your hands and reduce elbow flare.
With dumbbells, each arm has to work independently. You'll sacrifice the amount of weight you can use, because dumbbells are harder to control, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You're also able to perform these with different grips, which affects how the triceps are recruited.
This variation puts a bit more emphasis on the long head. Don't make the angle too steep.
These crushers put more emphasis on the triceps lateral head.
Cable version with bar/EZ-bar
The line of pull comes from the side with this variation, so there's no resting spot at the top.
Cable version with bar/EZ-bar
Cable version with rope
A neutral grip on the rope slightly alters how your triceps are recruited, and you can pronate your hands at the end of the range of motion to exaggerate the peak contraction.
In this variation, your upper arms are angled back toward your head about 45 degrees and locked in that position. This allows the bar to clear the top of your head, and there's no resting spot at the top. You'll also emphasize the triceps long head to a greater degree.
Though uncommon, you can do a variation of skulls on the Smith machine. Obviously the bar can't move in an arc, since it's constrained to a vertical pathway, and you'll have to adjust the position of your arms, but you can still move the load primarily with your triceps. If it helps, think of these crushers as a close-grip bench variation.
Did You Know?
Skullcrushers and nose breakers refer to the same movement, but there are other names for them too. They're sometimes variously referred to as French presses and lying triceps extensions.
If you're doing any multi-joint exercises in your triceps workout the triceps dip machine, weighted bench dips, or close-grip bench presses, do those before skullcrushers because you can use the most weight to overload the triceps. Because you can go fairly heavy with skullcrushers, they make a good second exercise in most triceps workouts. Choose a weight you can do for 3 sets of 8-10, but occasionally vary the rep target to prevent stagnation.
For a little extra oomph in your next triceps workout, try this superset: Start off with skullcrushers, then immediately proceed to close-grip bench presses. You don't even need to change bars or weight!
The first movement really targets the triceps; do it to failure. Instead of dropping the weight, go right into the multijoint exercise that allows the pecs to help you complete more reps to failure. Just lower the bar to your chest under control and press strongly back upward to full arm extension.
One final tip: You might think that cheating on skullcrushers would send to you to the doctor, but there's a way to keep a set going once you're near muscle failure.
Instead of doing the movement strictly—that is, bending and extending at only the elbows—you can allow your upper arms to move back and forth a bit during the exercise execution.
While this turns a single-joint movement into a multijoint one—which you normally want to avoid—you can typically squeeze out a few extra reps this way at the end of your workout to really fatigue your triceps.