Skull crushers, also known as barbell triceps extensions, are perfect if you’re looking for an exercise to add size to your triceps and avoid excess strain on your shoulders, which are engaged in most compound movements of the upper body where the triceps are involved. If you’re looking to get more size on your upper arms then this is the movement you want to incorporate in your workout routine!
Muscles Targeted: Skull crushers don’t have the word crusher in them for just any reason. This exercise strictly focuses on maximizing the tension and range of motion on your triceps. All three heads of the triceps are fully activated in this exercise.
Exercise Instructions: Lay flat on your back on a bench and grasp a barbell with an overhand grip. Hold the barbell tightly and extend your arms upwards above your head while keeping your elbows in a fixed position. Slowly lower the weight down so that the barbell comes to about 1-2 inches from your forehead or the top of your head (whichever feels better). Make sure to keep your elbows in and completely fixed while you lower the barbell down and up. From the bottom position, raise the barbell back up to the top position and repeat.
Why This Exercise is Important: Skull crushers are one of the most widely used and effective isolation exercise there is for your triceps. All pressing motions involve the triceps to some degree. Only skull crushers and other triceps isolation exercises work the muscle group through its full range of motion. Forcing the triceps to work through the full range of motion will encourage extra growth in your triceps. This exercise is also a good way to continue working your triceps in spite of injuries to other parts of your body. It can take a lot of stress off your shoulders and chest if those are two problem areas and continue progress on your triceps. Lack of triceps strength can be a limiting factor in pressing motions. In the bench press, your triceps are responsible to lock the bar out. Specific work on skull crushers (barbell triceps extensions) can boost your triceps strength and help you close out heavy pressing exercises.
Things To Avoid: Skull crushers can put strain on your elbows and your wrists if you are not careful. Make sure you avoid aggravating those areas and use caution if you feel any discomfort that might lead to further injury. Avoid any unnatural movements. Avoid going too heavy on this exercise and using bad form to jerk the weights up. Avoid bringing the bar too close to your head. The bar should follow a natural path that brings it close to your forehead or even slightly above your forehead when it’s fully lowered.
Reps and Sets: On skull crushers you will want to keep your weight fairly light and focus on form. Your triceps do respond to heavier weights, but they will get enough of that through a balanced routine of other pressing exercises. Take your time to do the exercise through a full range of motion. Keep your sets in the 2-4 range and reps in the 8-12 range.
Other Exercises To Use: Skull crushers should be rotated with a few of the following exercises for maximal triceps development. The close grip bench is the exercise that most closely targets the triceps like skull crushers. Mix and match between those two to maintain focus on your triceps. The decline barbell bench also hits the triceps well and relieves pressure on your shoulders too. Lastly, if you want to take a break from isolation exercises you can always just do more flat barbell bench presses. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the triceps.
If you think your triceps are lacking in mass or strength, add skull crushers into your routine to focus on bringing your triceps up to their fullest potential. If you start feeling any discomfort in your wrists or elbows, you need to try to find a way to work around that if possible. Rotate the exercise in and out of your workouts to get all the benefits and avoid any injuries.