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Do you want to get rid of flabby arms? Besides training your biceps, you should train your triceps as well. These are the muscles in the back of the arms. A highly effective tricep exercise is the skull crusher or barbell lying tricep extension. 

Below we’ll look deeper into skull crushers and cover the following topics:

  • Muscles involved in skull crushers
  • Benefits associated with skull crushers
  • How to properly do skull crushers
  • Skull crushers’ modifications
  • Common mistakes when performing skull crushers 
  • Tricep exercises to complete your tricep workout
  • Video on how to do skull crushers

What Muscles Do Skull Crushers Work?

Primary Muscles in skull crushers:

  • Triceps Brachii: The name triceps is due to the fact that these muscles are composed of three muscle strands (the long, medial, and lateral heads). It specifically targets the long head of the tricep. Triceps are involved in forearm and elbow extension, helping extend or straighten the elbow. They are also involved in shoulder adduction and extension, helping pull the arms down. Additionally, the triceps help to stabilize the shoulder joint. Overhead tricep extensions target all three heads of the muscle, especially the long head.

Secondary Muscles engaged are:

  • Anconeus: Small muscle located at the elbow. This muscle attaches to the humerus and ulna, and it’s involved in elbow extension.
  • Forearms: Located in the upper limbs between the elbows and the wrists. There are several muscles part of this area. They help pronate, flex, abduct and adduct the hands.
  • Deltoids: These are the main shoulder muscles. The anterior deltoid flexes and medially rotates the arm, the lateral deltoid abducts the arm, and the posterior deltoid extends and laterally rotates the arm

Benefits of Skull Crushers 

  • Isolation: The skull crusher is an isolation exercise that focuses on the triceps, allowing all your energy to go to that particular area.
  • Strength: Skull crushers strengthen your tricep muscles, which not only helps during tricep exercises but other chest and shoulder exercises. This translates into better sports performance and improved upper body strength to help you move heavier loads when doing other exercises, such as push-ups or chest presses, or engaging in daily activities.
  • Simplicity: Some exercises require specific equipment. In order to perform skull crushers, you only need a bar and a bench. If you don’t have access to a bench, you can even perform skull crushers on the floor.
  • Wrist Health: Some tricep exercises like close-grip bench presses or dips can be uncomfortable for your wrists. Using the EZ bar or dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) when performing skull crushers doesn’t put extra pressure or stress on your wrists.
  • Elbow Health: When you strengthen your muscles with proper technique, training volume, and progression, you help develop strong healthy tendons, ligaments, and joints. Training your triceps helps you keep your elbow joint healthy. 
  • Grip Strength: Since you are holding and moving the weight up and down as you are lying down, you are working against gravity which helps improves your grip. This comes in handy when performing other exercises like deadlifts, dumbbell squats, dumbbell lunges, and more.
  • Versatility: This exercise is versatile. It’s generally performed with an EZ curl bar, allowing you to work your triceps bilaterally. However, you could use dumbbells as in Iying dumbbell tricep extensions. Then, you can also work your triceps unilaterally (arms individually). You can do so with two dumbbells simultaneously, you can use a dumbbell at a time, or you an alternate arms. You can even perform it with a regular barbell or even with bands

How to Do Skull Crushers

  • Grab an EZ bar.
  • Lie down on a bench or the floor holding an EZ bar with your palms facing away from your body and a narrow grip using the first angles on the bar.
  • Keep your core tight to maintain control of the weight.
  • Extend your arms and position the weight above your chest with your feet rooted on the floor or on the bench.
  • Keep your upper arms almost perpendicular to the floor – angled slightly back toward your head. This angle makes skull crushers harder for your triceps but easier on your elbows.
  • Bend your arms at the elbow, lowering the bar down close to your forehead.
  • Hold for a second or two.
  • Slowly bring your forearms back up to the starting position, squeezing the triceps at the top.
  • Perform the movement for 8 to 12 reps to strengthen and grow the muscle or 15 to 20 reps to sculpt further and build tricep endurance.

Variation of the Skull Crusher

  • You can start the exercise with your hands by your forehead (at the bottom position) instead of with your arms straight.
  • You can even start by keeping your arms straight but angled back further. So the bar will not be directly above your chest but above your face. Then, when you bend your elbows and lower the weight, the bar won’t be by your forehead but more towards the top of your head. This starting position can help keep the triceps under tension for a longer period of time.
  • Or you can start with your arms straight and the bar directly above the top of your ribs. So when you lower the bar, it will be by your chin. This starting position will give a different stretch to your triceps.
  • You can also grab the bar shoulder-width or with a closer grip, making it harder.
  • You can change the angle of the bench (e.g., from flat to an incline or decline position) as well in order to emphasize different tricep areas.

*️⃣  If you have had an elbow injury, you should avoid this exercise. It can lead to elbow pain. If at any time during this exercise you feel pain, stop and perform an alternative tricep exercise that puts less strain on the elbows.

Skull Crushers’ Mistakes

  • Avoid flaring your elbows: You have to keep your elbows tucked in to perform the exercise properly. Don’t let them sway outward. When you allow your elbows to flare out, you engage your biceps and shoulders to assist the flexion and extension. This no longer isolates your triceps.
  • Avoid having a loose grip: Grab the bar firmly to prevent it from accidentally slipping from your hands and potentially falling on your face or your head. Always start with a light weight, a weight that you can control.
  • Avoid speed: Lower the bar in a slow, controlled manner until it’s next to your forehead. This increases your triceps’ time under tension but also stimulates muscle growth and reduces your risk of injury. Avoid using momentum to move the weight – This is not a power-building exercise. 
  • Avoid moving your upper arms: Keep your upper arms steady – they shouldn’t move back and forth. You should only be moving your arms at the elbow. Moving the upper arms with the weight transfers some of the muscle work from the triceps to the shoulders – we want to isolate the triceps instead.
  • Avoid using very heavy weight: Be careful with this exercise since you have to lower the weight toward your face. Use a weight that you can control and handle properly in order to avoid accidents. Also, too much weight on this angle can overstress the elbows.

Skull Crushers Video

Tricep Workout

You can complete your tricep workout by performing the following exercises:

As you can see the skull crusher is a wonderful tricep exercise. It offers tremendous benefits associated with hypertrophy, strength, endurance, and aesthetics. Now that you know how to properly perform skull crushers, you can avoid the most common mistakes and enjoy their benefits. Remember, whether you want to lose weight, tone your body, or gain strength or size, all muscles must be trained

You can complete your tricep workout with Tricep Kickbacks, Overhead Tricep Extensions, and Tricep Pushdowns.

Lift, Burn more Fat, Get Stronger, and Live Healthier!

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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