The race for bigger arm muscles never stops. That’s why isolation exercises such as skull crushers are always in the mix.
Everybody dreams of having big triceps muscles that pop out every time we flex. In this article, “Unlocking your triceps growth with skull crushers: technique, variations, & mistakes,” you’ll learn the basics to get you on the path to bigger triceps.
I’ll cover the following:
– Triceps anatomy
– Step-by-step guide
– Common mistakes
Let’s dive in!
- 1 Basic Triceps Anatomy
- 2 How to Do Skull Crushers
- 3 Skull Crusher Variations
- 4 Common Mistakes
- 5 FAQ
Basic Triceps Anatomy
The triceps brachii is located in the back of the arm and has the shape of a horseshoe. The biceps brachii is the antagonist (elbow flexion), which often overpowers the triceps when the arm is at rest (1)
The primary function of the triceps is elbow extension (straightening the arm.) It has three heads:
– Long head
– Medial head
– Lateral head
They all share the same function, but the origins of the tendons are different, although they all merge into one before inserting on the elbow joint (olecranon process.) (2)
Another function of the triceps brachii is stabilizing the elbow joint when the forearm and hand are doing fine movements, such as writing. (3)
How to Do Skull Crushers
Independent of the variation, skull crushers have a very similar movement pattern. Let’s break down the EZ Bar variation (see more below), but remember that the movement pattern is the same.
- Set up the EZ Bar with the desired weight, and put safety clips on both sides.
- Lay your back down on the bench and make sure you’re stable and comfortable (feet flat on the ground, upper back and head on the bench)
- Grab the EZ Bar and hold it on top of you at eye level with the elbows fully locked.
- Slowly descend the bar until it reaches the back of your head, and your triceps are fully stretched.
- Keep your elbows from flaring out.
- Pause for 1-2 seconds at the bottom, then extend your elbows until they reach the initial position with the bar at eye level and elbows fully locked.
If you don’t have an EZ Bar, try a different variation, and you’ll notice how the sequence is the same.
Skull Crusher Variations
Although the skull crusher is essentially the same movement pattern, there are multiple variations you can try to add different muscle stimuli. Sometimes, you might have to adapt based on your equipment availability.
EZ Bar Skull Crushers
EZ bar skull crushers are one of the most common ways of doing skull crushers. The EZ bar is a multi-angled bar that allows different grips, which takes away pressure from your wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
Since the classic skull crusher exercise puts a lot of tension on your elbow and shoulder, this bar is handy for those purposes. You can find many options on Amazon from $40 – $200+.
DB Skull Crushers
Dumbbell skull crushers are the perfect tools when you don’t have an EZ bar. You can easily adjust the wrist and elbow position, which like the EZ bar, takes away some tension from the elbow joint.
You can use a neutral or semi-pronated grip with the pair of dumbbells, and it will almost feel like an EZ-bar skull crusher. Another advantage is doing unilateral reps to work on muscle imbalances.
KB Skull Crushers
Kettlebell skull-crushers are another uncommon yet effective variation for working your triceps. Because of their shape and weight distribution, kettlebells have the peculiarity of making the skull crusher harder at the bottom part of the movement.
Advanced lifters usually do this variation since it places more stress on the elbow joint than regular skull crusher variations.
Floor Skull Crushers
Of all the variations, skull crushers from the floor might be the easiest due to the shorter range of motion.
The setup makes it ideal for beginners or advanced/intermediate lifters looking to add volume at the end of the training session.
Incline Bench Skull Crushers
Another way of hitting your triceps is with the incline bench. Although most variations use the bench, having a slight incline will target the long head of the triceps more.
This is due to the shoulder being more flexed, allowing a greater range of motion. The inclined bench skull crusher variation is one of the most challenging ones.
Skull crushers are one of the safest movements for triceps growth as long as the technique is correct. However, some common mistakes could jeopardize your form and increase the risk of injury.
Range Of Motion Too Short
The proper form for most exercises includes a wide range of motion (ROM). This ensures that there will be more muscle recruitment on every rep.
The more muscle you recruit from every rep, the more the muscle will grow. A common error in the skull crusher is a short range of motion.
Some people do it because they’re afraid of going all the way down, and others don’t see the value of it. Regardless, you should try a wider ROM if your wrist and elbow joints feel okay.
Too Much Weight
Ego lifting is often seen among lifters of all levels. Many people would instead stack the weights up without caring about form and technique than keep the weights low and execute the movement safely and effectively.
The skull crusher is not the ideal movement to add much weight because it can compromise the triceps tendon health. This could hurt your elbow’s integrity and limit you from doing other pressing exercises such as bench presses, dumbbell presses, or push-ups.
I recommend a weight that allows you to do 10-15 reps with a moderate effort and combine the movement with another triceps exercise to push the muscle safely.
Not Warming Up Correctly
The skull crusher is a relatively easy movement to master, so many people succumb to the temptation of starting hot off the gates and skipping a proper warm-up.
Not warming up correctly puts your triceps tendon at risk of injury due to the high tension on the elbow. Try this before your heavy sets:
– A1: 20 reps empty bar or 5 lbs dumbbells.
– A2: 20s Dead hang on the pull-up bar
Repeat for two sets, then progressively add weight. This warm-up will put your triceps and elbow in a better and healthier position.
Not Controlling The Tempo
One of the most important variables of muscle growth is tempo, which means controlling the movement throughout the range of motion at a prescribed speed.
This increases muscle tension which pushes muscle growth to the limit. So, instead of moving the weights fast, try slowing down the movement’s descending (eccentric) and ascending part (concentric). I guarantee you’ll feel your triceps more.
What Are Skull Crushers Good For?
Skull crushers are a great exercise to target the long head of the triceps. The long head is the biggest muscular portion of the triceps and is responsible for giving the arm a big aesthetic look.
Are Skull Crushers Push Or Pull?
Skull crushers are considered a push movement. If you pay attention to the movement from the laydown position, you’re pushing the weight away from you to the top. For reference, biceps curls and dumbbell rows are pulling movements.
Should You Go Heavy On Skull Crushers?
It would be best not to go heavy on skull crushers because the movement mechanics put much pressure on the triceps tendon attaching to the elbow. Keep the light-moderate and aim for a longer rep range.