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Do you want to get rid of flabby arms? Besides training your biceps, you should train your triceps – 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?

Skull crushers work the triceps from the elbows all the way back to the lats. Triceps brachii consists of three parts, the long, medial, and lateral heads. The name triceps comes from Latin due to being the “three-headed muscle of the arm”. Triceps are the muscles involved in elbow extension, helping straighten your arms, as well as in arm adduction and shoulder joint stabilization.

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
  • Versatility: This exercise allows you to work your triceps bilaterally when using a bar. You can also work your triceps unilaterally but simultaneously when using dumbbells. If you want to work your triceps unilaterally, you can use dumbbell and alternate arms
  • Simplicity: Some exercises require specific equipment. In order to perform skull crushers, you only need a bar and maybe a bench. If you don’t have access to a bench, you can even perform them 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: Holding and moving the weight up and down as you are lying down improves your grip. This comes in handy when performing other exercises like deadlifts, dumbbell squats, dumbbell lunges, and more.

How to Do Skull Crushers

  • 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
  • Position the weight directly above your chest with your feet rooted on the floor or on the bench
  • Keep your core tight to maintain control of the weight and your upper arms perpendicular to the floor but not locked at the elbows
  • Bend your arms at the elbow, lowering the bar down close to your forehead
  • Slowly bring your forearms back up to the starting position
  • 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. 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 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

*️⃣ The best way to perform this exercise is with an EZ curl barbell since it’s angled. But you can also perform it with a regular barbell, dumbbells (with your palms facing away from you), or even bands

*️⃣  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 moving your elbows: Keep the elbows in close, tight to the body, steady, and with the same width apart during the whole movement – do not let them sway outward.
  • 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. 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.

Tricep Workout

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

Skull Crushers Video

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

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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