Want massive, shapely arms with a ton of muscle? You can’t afford to neglect your triceps. Sure, biceps are more visible. But just cos you can’t see your triceps doesn’t mean you can forget them. For one thing, everyone else can see them just fine (and they’ll sure notice if they’re small). What’s worse than the armholes of your tee flapping in the breeze cos your twig arms can’t fill them out? Focus on your triceps to build a ton of mass and bring great shape to arms.
Get ready to perfect your form on our #1 go-to triceps exercise – the skull crusher – with expert guidance from CrazyBulk ambassador Chris Tripp. Take one look at his arms and you’ll see he knows exactly how to train triceps. Let’s get to it.
What are skull crushers?
Exercise type: mass builder, strength, muscle gain, hypertrophy
Main muscle worked: triceps
Equipment: dumbbell (can also be done with barbell, fixed bar, EZ bar, Smith machine, cables)
Level: beginner, intermediate, advanced
Other names for skull crushers: French press, lying triceps extensions
Which muscles do skull crushers work?
If you want to max out growth in your triceps, you gotta understand the anatomy of your arms. Your triceps (or triceps brachii) make up the back of the upper arm, but they aren’t just one single muscle. They have three heads (“tri”): the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. The long head is the largest of the heads and so it’s the one you gotta give the most attention to.
And guess what works the long head like nothing else? You got it. Skull crushers. If you want to make a big difference to the look of your arms, do skull crushers. But do them properly, or not at all.
How to do skull crushers properly
Here’s how to do skull crushers properly:
As you’ll see in our instruction video, Chris Tripp chose dumbbells for his skull crushers. When we asked him why he was quick to reply. “Dumbbell skull crushers are the best for triceps development,” he said. In fact, Chris said if he had the choice of EZ bar skull crushers, fixed bar skull crushers, skull crushers in the Smith machine, or dumbbells, he’d choose dumbbells every time. “Using dumbbells means you can really focus on perfect skull crusher form,” he explained, “Because your arms are not locked in place by the kit. And each arm can move independently, which is important because none of us are exactly symmetrical left and right”.
OK, so now we know why the pros choose dumbbells for skull crushers, let’s get to it. Here’s how to perform the perfect dumbbell skull crushers every time. Chris shows us how to perfect the move with one dumbbell before you graduate on to two dumbbells
1 – Set up a flat bench and lie back, setting up your form first. Have your feet under your knees so you can brace into them (you don’t want to be tapping your toes or moving your feet around). Flatten your lower back into the bench. Pinch your shoulder blades in and down. The entire back of your body should be tight and braced for a controlled skull crusher movement.
2 – Raise your arm overhead with the dumbbell in your hand, using a pronated grip (palms facing each other). The dumbbell should be over your eye line for the start of the dumbbell skull crusher move.
3 – Now bend at the elbow and send the dumbbell slowly back towards your head, palm facing in. Keep your upper arm in towards your ribs (avoid your arms flaring out during the skull crusher exercise). Point the elbow forwards, towards your knee.
4 – Now for the part most people miss. As the dumbbell comes back towards your head, move your elbow slightly forwards towards your knees. This gives you a full stretch in the triceps which will maximize the skull crusher move.
5 – At the bottom of the move, when the dumbbell is by the side of your ear and the tricep is fully extended, tense the muscle so you maintain tension in the triceps. This is how to really work the muscle. Pause momentarily here.
6 – From that bottom position, extend up. Press the dumbbell up to the top by squeezing the back of the arm and feeling the tension in the triceps.
Taking it to two dumbbells
Here’s how all that works with two dumbbells for the regular dumbbells skull crusher move:
Pick up dumbbells (one in each hand). Lie back, feet flat on the floor and shoulder blades pinched in and down underneath you. Start with the dumbbells over your eye line.
Lower them in a slow, controlled way, sending your elbows forward and keeping your upper arms in towards your ribs.
Pause at the bottom position, with the dumbbells almost next to your ears. Feel the full stretch and tension in the triceps at the bottom of the skull crusher move.
Extend up with both dumbbells, squeezing through the triceps.
Two ways to do skull crusher workouts
Skull crushers are one of the biggest moves you can do for the triceps. So put them up front and center on arm day, and follow up with lighter accessory work to hit the smaller heads of the triceps.
Or you could put triceps in your push day workouts if you follow a push/pull/legs split. This would mean you’ll put skull crushers into the same workout as bench press and other chest exercises, plus overhead press and other shoulder work. All that pressing and pushing will warm the triceps up nicely before you get directly to them with skull crushers.
Similar exercises to skull crushers
Skull crushers are a triceps exercise which works by hinging at the elbow and extending overhead. Similar exercises to the skull crusher include incline cable presses, cable overhead extensions, EZ bar overhead presses, and dumbbell kickbacks.
Take your workouts to the next level with skull crushers
Once you’ve mastered the skull crusher using the form in our video, you can progress it on upwards. The thing about skull crushers is that they can be done in many ways. Skull crusher just means the exercise, not the angle or equipment you use. You can use almost any kind of kit to add load and do them on lots of different angles from flat to upright.
EZ bar skull crushers
Take your grip shoulder width to make it more comfortable on the joints. You can do EZ skull crushers on a flat bench, incline bench, or standing. Grab a spotter and ask him to hand you the bar – and help you get rid of it at the end, too.
Incline bench skull crushers
Do barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbell skull crushers on an incline bench to put even more work through the long head of the triceps.
Decline bench skull crushers
Doing skull crushers on a decline bench will put more emphasis through the lateral head of the triceps for an all-round skull crusher workout.
Cable skull crushers
Set up a bench facing away from the cable stack, and put a bar or EZ bar on the cable. The reps start at the bottom of the move and there’s no rest at the top. You can also use a rope attachment for a neutral grip.
So what are you waiting for? Master the art of the perfect skull crusher exercise and you can start packing serious mass onto those arms.
What’s your verdict: love or hate skull crushers for triceps? Let us know in the comments below.