Tired of having your arms compared to wet noodles?
You know the feeling.
You want to look good in a tank top, but your arms are so small they can’t even hold up the sleeves.
If so, then skull crushers are the perfect exercise for you.
Triceps are one of the most important muscle groups in your body because they are responsible for how big and strong your arms look.
Skull crushers consist of several different isolation exercises because there are several different variations you can do by using different weight types or body angles.
Before we get into the different variations, let’s discuss what skullcrushers are for.
What are skullcrushers?
The skullcrusher is a push exercise that isolates your tricep muscles by working them out during elbow flexion.
They get their name because they’re typically done by laying down and lowering a bar to your forehead giving the illusion that you could crush your skull.
They are an underrated exercise as they require a deep range of motion which is great for building fully developed, strong muscle in your arms.
What muscle do skullcrushers work?
Skullcrushers are great to incorporate into your arm or push workout routines.
These exercises mainly target your triceps while still helping with shoulder stabilization.
They’re great for helping increase your bench press strength.
They tend to be easier on the elbows than similar exercises such as overhead tricep extensions.
They’re a great exercise for targeting your triceps compared to bench press variations.
A study compared tricep and chest activation in the bench press and found that bench works your pecs twice as hard as your triceps.
How To Do Skullcrushers
- Being with the weight held above your chest, similar to bench press.
- Angle your arms so that the weight is above your forehead. According to a study, the angle should help keep tension on your triceps and improve muscle growth.
- Lower the weight to your forehead (or behind your head) by pivoting your elbows. Make sure you keep each rep relatively consistent to help track your progress.
- Push up fast, lower slowly. The best muscle activation can be lifting the weight explosively while lowering it slowly in a controlled manner.
- Keep your elbows steady. Try to keep your elbows from drifting back towards your head as much as possible. Allowing them to do so will turn the exercise into a pullover, involving your lats (now what we want!)
Tips to master the skullcrusher exercise
- Focus on keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor and not just the bench. This forces you to work against gravity.
- Only focus on extending your elbows. If your upper arms move as your raise and lower the weight, some of the activation is transferred away from your triceps.
- When pushing up, don’t go to full lockout so that you avoid resting. This increases the time under tension.
- Use a spotter when training to failure. They don’t call them “skullcrushers” for nothing! A spotter can help with the last few forced reps and grab the weight once you’re finished.
- Keep your elbows tight and don’t allow them to flare as this reduces the tricep workload.
- Cheat crushers: towards the end of your skullcrusher sets, it’s ok to allow the upper arms to move back and forth a little during the movement. It does turn the movement into a multi-join movement, but it allows you to do more reps or weight than you could typically do for the remaining reps.
When creating a workout plan, it is important to decide how often you should include skullcrushers in your workout.
Doing them too often and you won’t properly recover. Not hitting them enough and the gains will be absent.
You need to design your routine to hit skull crushers and other tricep exercises with enough frequency and rest. You should shoot to do triceps about twice per week.
How many sets and reps should I do?
Your sets and reps will vary depending on your fitness goals.
- For strength, four to six sets of eight repetitions with two to three minutes of rest
- With muscle mass as the goal, four to six sets of eight to 12 reps with one to two minutes of rest
What if skullcrushers cause elbow pain?
An isolation exercise like skullcrushers can cause elbow pain due to the stress it places on your elbow if you’re properly challenging them.
They are easier than overhead extensions, but you can still feel pain. Here’s what you can do to help reduce the risk of elbow pain:
Do heavy presses prior. By doing heavy presses before, you warm your elbows up during exercises that probably won’t aggravate them. This will also tire them out so that you’ll have to reduce the weight you can lift once you get to skullcrushers later in the workout.
Do a lighter rep range. If heavier reps are hurting your elbows, focus on doing higher rep ranges of at least eight reps per set.
Use different skullcrusher variations. There are several variations to try. Find the one that is most comfortable for you!
Use other tricep exercises. If you’re getting elbow pain, try other tricep exercises. There’s plenty of other great exercises to choose from. Hurting yourself to keep skullcrushers in your routine isn’t worth it!
In general, most people perform skullcrushers with an EZ bar.
Have an open mind and try some variations to spice up your workout and hit your triceps differently!
Skullcrushers with Dumbbells
Each arm will work unilaterally helping with any muscle imbalances. You will have to reduce the weight compared to a bar, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! The versatility of dumbbells allows you to alter the grip to help hit your triceps from different angles.
Skullcrushers with a Barbell
If you can do heavier skullcrushers than the EZ bars in your gym go up to, you can use a barbell. It will probably be tougher on your wrists due to the possibly uncomfortable position, but still a solid alternative.
Skullcrushers with an Incline Bench
This variation will emphasize the long head activation more, but be careful about making the angle too steep.
Skullcrushers with a Decline Bench
This variation will put more emphasis on the lateral head of your tricep.
Skullcrushers with a Cable and Bar/EZ Bar
The benefit of cables is constant tension so you won’t be able to rest at the top of this movement. The increased time under tension will help with muscle development!
Skullcrushers with a Cable and Rope
Being able to use a neutral grip will target your triceps differently. You can also pronate at the end of the range of motion to emphasize the contraction.
Skullcrushers are great for hitting your triceps hard, but they’re not the only tricep exercise to include in your workouts. You can try some of the following:
- Dips/Machine Dips
- Close-Grip Bench Press
- Cable Push-Down
- Close-Grip Push-Up
- Overhead Extensions
- Board Press
- Close-Grip Floor Press
- Cable Kick-Back
How do skullcrushers work for beginners?
Skull crushers are a great way to work your triceps. It’s one of the best exercises for beginners because it doesn’t require much coordination or balance, and it can be done at home with just two dumbbells.
Do skullcrushers build mass?
To build mass in your arms, skull crushers are a great exercise to try. It’s a powerful arm motion that strengthens all the major muscles in the upper body including the biceps, triceps, and forearms.
Are skull crushers a good exercise?
Skullcrushers are a great tricep exercise because they target the tricep muscles directly. They’re perfect for someone who wants to grow their arms fast and experience a new workout routine that will get results in less time.
Should I do skullcrushers with dumbbells or an EZ bar?
Doing skullcrushers with dumbbells or an EZ bar both have their benefits. It depends on which feels more comfortable for you. Whichever way feels better will be the best decision!
Skullcrushers are a great tricep isolation exercise that allows you to overload the triceps through a deep range of motion.
These benefits make them one of the best exercises you can do to build the triceps of your dreams.
On top of that, they are a great accessory to help increase your bench press and destroy your sticking point to get more PR’s!
Do them later in the lift on push days or at the beginning if you have a specific arm day routine.
Share this article with whomever you think could benefit from growing some massive arms fast!