What are Skull Crushers? (A bodybuilders guid to bigger triceps)

What are skull crushers?

What are Tricep Skull Crushers?

Despite the violent sounding name, skull crushers are actually very good for your physical health! This exercise is also known as the 'french press' but the name 'skull crushers' has gained popularity now as it sounds much cooler! So, what are skull crushers?

Skull crushers are an upper arm exercise performed with an EZ bar that targets the tricep muscles. The motion allows for a great tricep stretch and puts the tricep under tension in a different way to a standard tricep pushdown. This makes it a great addition to your tricep routine. 

Which muscles are worked with Skull Crushers?

muscles worked with skull crushers

Skull crushers target the tricep muscles at the back of the upper arm. It is a great isolation exercise as it works all three heads of the tricep muscles. To a lesser extent, deltoid muscles in the shoulder are also activated, but these are just as stabilisers to keep your arms in a rigid position.

Regular performance of skull crushers and other resistance movements will increase muscle mass, strength and overall fitness.

Equipment required for Skull Crushers.

To perform skull crushers, you will need a loaded EZ bar (or dumbbells) and a flat dumbbell bench. The position of the resistance weight during this exercise means that it is not suitable for a cable machine or resistance bands. A straight bar can be used as an alternative to an EZ bar but will put extra tension on the wrist. An EZ bar will give you a better, neutral grip and allow for a better stretch of the tricep. 

If your gym has shorter, pre-loaded barbells, these will be easier to balance as you will be using a fairly narrow grip.

How do I perform a Skull Crusher?

Enough talk, let's get down to business...

EZ bar skull crushers

  1. Pick up your weight and sit on the end of a dumbbell bench with the weight on your lap.
  2. Raise the weight to your chest and lie back on the bench so that your back is flat. Make sure your feet are firmly planted and that you are in a comfortable, stable starting position.
  3. Raise the bar above your head with straight arms, a narrow grip (about shoulder width) and palms facing towards your feet. This is your starting position. 
  4. Lower the bar towards your forehead keeping your upper arms in a rigid, upright position. Also, keep your wrists straight.
  5. When the tricep is fully stretched, take a deep breath. Upon exhale, raise the weight back up to the starting position. Again, keep your upper arms in a rigid position making sure that your triceps are doing all of the work.
  6. When your arms are fully extended, squeeze the tricep for a couple of seconds before repeating the movement.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.

Tips for better results from the EZ bar skull crusher.

  • Select a relatively light weight. Focus on stretching the muscle, squeezing the muscle and a slow, controlled movement. A heavy weight will result in excessive strain on the wrists and bad form.
  • Select a short EZ bar or straight bar to make it easier to balance with a narrow grip. 
  • Try using a slight incline on the dumbbell bench to mix things up and target the triceps from a slightly different angle.
  • Some people find it beneficial to have the upper arms tilted slightly backwards next to the head instead of straight up. This is trial and error. As long as you are getting a good stretch and range of motion on the triceps, it is whatever works best for you.

Variations of the Skull Crusher.

Dumbbell Skull Crushers.

If you can not get hold of a short barbell or EZ bar, dumbbells are a great alternative.

dumbbell skull crushers
Dumbbell skull crushers are performed in the same way as an EZ bar skull crusher. The grip is slightly different as your palms face towards each other instead of to your feet. 

Incline bench Skull Crushers.

If you want to attack your triceps from a slightly different angle, try setting your dumbbell bench to an incline position.

Incline bench skul crushers
The incline position forces you to angle your arms backwards. This switches most of the load to the long head of the tricep. Because of this, you will need to use a lighter weight than you would for a standard, flat bench skull crusher. If you want to hit your triceps from all angles, try starting at an incline and then lowering to a flat bench for a couple of sets and maybe even a decline bench.

Decline bench Skull Crushers

Decline skull crushers can be performed with a barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbells. They target the lateral head of the tricep. Because of the angle, the bar comes towards the chin instead of the forehead. If skull crushers are part of your tricep training routine, try switching to the decline position occasionally to shock the muscle.
Decline bench skull crushers

One Arm Dumbbell Skull Crushers.

One-arm Dumbbell skull crusher can be performed on a flat bench, incline bench, or decline bench. The advantage of working one arm at a time is that you can give each muscle extra isolation and concentration. You can also use the opposite arm to support the working arm for extra stability.

One Arm skull crushers

Skull crushers vs. tricep extensions

This is a difficult question because there are many benefits to both exercises. Skull crushers are great for improving your triceps, biceps, and pectorals muscles. However, if you aren't able to use one arm due to injury or other restrictions, then skull crushers would not work as well. 

Tricep extensions help build endurance and isolate a specific muscle group. Isolating the triceps in this way allows you to really connect with the muscle and squeeze everything out of each rep. 

If you are aiming to add mass to the tricep, then a skull crusher is going to be the best bet. For definition or to finish off a heavy pressing session, opt for a standard tricep extension on the cables or with a dumbbell. 

Alternatives to Skull Crushers

Close grip press

Tricep pushdowns


Overhead tricep extensions


Gymenix offers a selection of free training programs to suit all abilities and goals. Click on the links below for FREE access. 

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form