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Build Massive Arms with Skull Crushers – Technique, Benefits and Variations

Build better, stronger arms.

This guide will teach you how and why you need to include Skull Crushers in your training.

What are Skull Crushers?

Skull Crushers are a lying barbell exercise that targets and isolates the triceps.

Muscles Worked by Skull Crushers

The primary muscles worked are the triceps. The exercise also strengthens the wrists, forearms and shoulders to a lesser degree.

Triceps: Skull Crushers isolate the triceps through deep elbow flexion whilst forcing the shoulders and wrists to stabilise and balance the load throughout the full range of motion.

Shoulders: The shoulders are worked during the exercise but not as intensely as they might be with a Strict Press or Handstand Push Up for example. This means that the scapular stabilisers and rear deltoids must work hard to balance the movement.

This is great because through performing Skull Crushers you will gain the ancillary benefit of better, stronger and more injury proof shoulders.

Tricep Dips WODs skull crushersSource: John Fornand on Unsplash
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Benefits of Skull Crushers

Triceps Muscle Mass

The exercise is a great way to grow bigger triceps. There is a reason that this barbell movement is so popular in hypertrophy programs.

Stronger Triceps

More strength in your triceps allows you to enhance all pressing and overhead movements.

Powerful triceps will help you to lock out your Bench Press, Split Jerk more, help balance the Snatch and many other exercises.

Build Bigger Arms in General

A common mistake for beginner lifters that want bigger arms is that they spend all their time concentrating on the biceps. As the arms are 2/3 triceps, everyone must work this less glamorous aspect of their arms if they want them to increase. The exercise is a sure fire mass builder.

Improved Lockout Strength

Triceps handle elbow extension. Any exercise that requires you to fully extend your elbows will there fore be improved by the strength and functionality of your triceps.

Healthier and more Injury Resistant Elbows

Skull Crushers also strengthen and improve the shoulder and elbow joints and all the tendons and ligaments that work together to make them work effectively.

Man in gymSource: Ryan Hofman on Unsaplsh
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The exercise will help you build more resilient shoulders, arms, triceps and wrists which will then reduce the likelihood of injury from other compound overhead and pressing movements.

How to do Skull Crushers

You can perform Skull Crushers on both a bench and on the floor.

The following instructions are for the exercise version on a bench. If you don’t have a bench simply adapt them whilst you are positioned on the floor.

  • Lie down on your back. Hold the bar with fully extended arms and a narrow, pronated grip
  • Position the load directly above your chest
  • Press your feet hard into the floor to maximise stability
  • Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip
  • Bend your elbows and begin to lower the weight right now to your forehead (or lower, see below)
  • Pause, squeeze your triceps as tightly as you can then return the weight slowly to the starting position
  • Pin your elbows in the same position in space at all times
  • Exhale at the top of the movement
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Technique Tips

Take your form and technique to the next level.

Experiment and Find the Right Stretch for You

Skull Crushers must be adapted to suit you. Some people make get a great stretch by lowering the bar to their forehead whilst others like to go lower all the way behind the head (only available on the bench).

Experiment for yourself to find the best results for you.

Stay Tight and Squeeze the Barbell

Make sure that your body is tight and your grip is strong at all times. You must provide a stable platform to support the movement so you have as little extra movement as possible.

Gripping the bar as tight as you can will help to generate strength, control and power.

Go Slow and Control the Load at all Times

Make sure that you don’t let the weight drop quickly or hurl it back up with no control. You must control the tempo at all times and move with precision, purpose and accuracy.

Woman in gym
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Use the Same Bar Path at all Times

As much as possible try to follow the same bar path for both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift. This will improve your muscular control and proprioception.

Skull Crushers Mistakes

Make sure you aren’t making these common mistakes.

Flailing Elbows

You want to keep your elbows in close and fixed in the same position at all times. Many lifters allow them to move out to the sides or up and down the body. You want to avoid this.

Going too Fast

Hypertrophy remands time under tension. Go slow and maximise your gains.

Going slower is harder and requires more stabilisation and control. Both of these are good things for your health and results.

Going too Heavy

Start light. Skull Crushers place a lot of stress on the elbows and wrists and these parts of your body also need to build up their strength over time.

Skull Crushers Alternatives

These alternatives all provide similar benefits in slightly different ways.


These are an excellent way to augment the triceps, chest and anterior shoulders. As a bodyweight exercise you don’t need much space or equipment.

Try adding a weight belt to test and improve your strength even more.

Close Grip Bench Press

The Close Grip Bench Press will significantly develop your triceps.

The movement pattern reinforces the close, tucked in elbow position that you also need for the Skull Crusher so the two compliment each other nicely.

Overhead Triceps Extension

A great exercise that can be completed with an EZ bar, dumbbell, barbell or cable machine.

If you experience any elbow pain from the Skull Crusher then this can be a great alternative.

Skull Crushers Variations

You can add variety to the movement by altering the movement itself.

  • Negative-rep Skull Crushers
  • Dumbbell Skull Crushers
  • Incline Bench Skull Crushers


Still got questions?

Scroll through and find your answers.

What are skull crushers good for?

The exercise builds big, strong triceps. Additionally, they will strengthen your wrists and arms and shoulder stability.

Is skull crusher a good exercise?

Yes, Skull crushers are an effective exercise to add into your arm and upper body training routines.

What exercises hit all three heads of triceps?

Triceps Push Downs, Diamond Push Ups, Tricep Kickbacks and Close Grip Bench Presses all hit all three triceps heads simultaneously.

How much weight should I use for Skull Crushers?

Start light and build up over time. Make sure that you concentrate of form and technique first.

Give your shoulders, wrists and forearms time to develop their strength as well.

Why are Skull Crushers so hard?

The exercise is hard because it isolates your triceps and requires complete control at all times.

What bar is used for Skull Crushers?

You can use a regular or an EZ bar for Skull Crushers.

Can you do Skull Crushers without a bench?

Yes, the exercise can be performed without a bench by lying on the floor.

Expand your knowledge

Add these effective press alternatives to your training:

Improve your Box Squat, Landmine Row or Front Squat technique.

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