When it comes to upper-body blasters, skull crushers should be on your list of go-to strength training movements. Let’s dive into what they are, how to do them, and what the benefits are!

Wait — What are Skull Crushers?

Skull crushers are a type of strength training exercise that involves lying on your back on a bench or exercise mat and using dumbbells or a shorter bar to perform a triceps extension. It looks like you’re literally going to crush your skull with the weight. (Gnarly, we know.) Essentially, you hinge at the elbows and have to engage your triceps, shoulders, and even your core in order to stabilize and lift the weight back to its starting position.

This exercise is also known as a lying triceps extension or a French press — although the latter movement is more commonly performed upright.

How to Do Skull Crushers Broken in 4 Steps

First, check out this video for a little context:

Now, let’s recap and break this down into steps so you can perform skull crushers yourself. To execute these, it’ll be helpful to have either dumbells or an EZ curl bar, and a bench.

Step 1: Start by lying down on your back on a flat bench or exercise mat

A bench is the go-to surface but if you don’t have one, don’t stress! The floor works just fine.

Step 2: Hold two dumbbells or a bar

Dumbbells demand that you stabilize them more, so these will be more challenging. However, if you don’t have an EZ curl bar, dumbbells allow you to rotate your grip as necessary, which is a bonus. Note that a standard barbell is tougher to use because it requires much more wrist mobility and shoulder mobility!

With the weight in your hands, lower down until you’re laying flat on your back.

Step 3: Extend your arms straight up over your chest

You might find that the easiest way to get into this position is to simply lay down with the weight on your chest and then press it upward. At this point, the weight is directly overhead.

If you’re using dumbbells, turn your grip inward so that your palms are facing each other.

Step 4: Lower the weight down to your head

Hinge at the elbows (keeping them stationary), bend your arms, and slowly lower the weight down toward your ears. You should be at roughly a 90-degree angle. Then, return the weight upward. If your elbows don’t feel stable, try focusing on one arm at a time. With the free hand, place your fingers on your elbow to ensure that it doesn’t move.

These feel a bit awkward at first, so be patient with yourself and get a few reps in. They get easier with practice.

Tip: Some people actually lower the weight behind their head. This further engages the lats and deltoids. Here’s what it looks like:

The Benefits of Skull Crushers

Skull crushers are a great exercise for building strength and size in your triceps. This exercise is also relatively easy to learn and perform, making it a good option for both beginner and experienced lifters.

Additionally, skull crushers can be performed using a variety of different implements, such as dumbbells, barbells, and even resistance bands. This also means that this exercise is highly versatile and can be trained with a wide range of different weights and at varying intensities.

The Variations of Skull Crushers

There are a few different ways that you can vary the skull crusher exercise to target your triceps in different ways or to make the exercise more challenging. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Change the grip that you use. Instead of using an overhand grip with a barbell (palms facing away), you can try using an underhand grip (palms facing toward you). This will place more emphasis on the inner head of the triceps muscle.
  • Adjust the range of motion. Instead of lowering the weight all the way down to your shoulder, you can stop the movement when your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. This will place more emphasis on the outer head of the triceps muscle.
  • Try performing the exercise one arm at a time using dumbbells. This will help to ensure that each arm is working equally and will help to prevent any imbalances from developing.
  • Try using a resistance band instead of dumbbells or a bar. This is a great option for people who don’t have access to weights or for those who want to make the exercise more challenging but low-impact.

What Are the Risks and Precautions of Skull Crushers?

As with any exercise, there are a few risks and precautions to be aware of with skull crushers.

One of the main risks associated with skull crushers is elbow pain. This is especially true if you have any pre-existing elbow issues. It’s important to make sure that you use a lighter weight to start and maintain good form to avoid any unnecessary stress on the elbow joint. Elbow sleeves can help. They provide extra compression, warmth, and stability.

Another risk is shoulder pain. This can occur if you lower the weight too much or if you go too heavy. Again, it’s important to use good form and to choose a weight that you can handle. Should it be challenging? Yes, but never painful.

Finally, neck pain is another common problem. This can occur if your head and neck are placed in a stressful position. You can lay down either with your head flat on the bench or slightly tilted back, as in the video above. Make sure that you keep your gaze focused on the ceiling.

Skull crushers make an excellent accessory exercise. Try adding them in after your compound lifts to give your workout an added upper-body boost!