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Skull Crusher Exercise: How To Get It Right First Time

By: Stuart Carter, Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1,

C.O.O., The Fit Father Project

skull crusher exercise
The good news is, despite the name, this exercise doesn’t actually involve crushing your skull! In fact, the skull crusher exercise is one of the best for working your triceps.

muscles worked with the skull crusher exerciseThe great news is that you don’t need any special skills to start these either.

You can simply choose the type of weight you'd like to use, be that a dumbbell, barbell, EZ bar, or even cables, then watch this tutorial and get started.

You can do the skull crusher exercise on a flat bench or virtually any angle.

If you’re struggling to get back into shape, don’t forget that building muscle is a great way to increase your daily calorie burn. In turn, this will improve the rate at which you can lose weight.

Of course, as well as just the skull crusher exercise, we have our old school muscle program and our 5 best muscle builders video that can help you out too!

What Is The Skull Crusher Exercise?

The skull crusher exercise is an isolation exercise, focusing on your triceps. You should add this exercise into your routine to provide better strength and definition to your arms.

skull crusher exerciseBut, most importantly, you’ll also be increasing your muscle mass. This is important as you age, to off-set natural muscle loss and increase your body’s ability to burn calories, even when at rest.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or improve your muscle, the skull crusher exercise needs to be added into your regular exercise repertoire.

Step By Step Guide

Okay, enough talk! Although… you may want to know that the skull crusher exercise is sometimes referred to as the French Press.

Let’s take a look at doing the skull crusher exercise. You can check out our awesome video below to help you visualize the process.

Top Tip: The EZ bar is the preferred option as it works very effectively for this exercise. However, you can use a barbell.

But, a shorter barbell is recommended as longer ones will be harder to balance through the movement.


Step 1 – Get A Bench

You need to lay down on your back, starting off on a flat bench.

You can use position variations on the bench, to mix up the skull crusher exercise and hit your triceps from different angles.

Step 2 – Get The Position Right

Start by taking your bar in both hands and sit on the edge of your bench.

Then lie back on the bench, your feet should be planted firmly on the floor, keep them flat throughout the exercise. They should be in line with the end of the bench.

Make sure you’re comfortable and your whole back is on the bench.

Then lift the bar above your head, your arms should be straight.

It’s important to be comfortable but the best starting position is to have your hands directly above your shoulders, your palms should be facing your feet.

Keep your wrists strong throughout the movement. Check out the image below for the start and end points.
skull crusher exercise form

Step 3 – Lowering The Bar

Now you’re ready to complete the exercise. Slowly lower the bar down to your forehead. If you’re interested, this is why it’s called a skull crusher.

Use too heavy a weight and come down to fast and you’re going to have a headache.

Note: To keep the tension on your triceps, the movement must come solely from the elbow.

You can try different grips on the bar, such as narrower if you wish, but keep your wrists strong. Once the bar touches your forehead, pause for 2-3 seconds. Then, push it back up to the starting position.

That’s it! You’ve done your first skull crusher exercise.  Nice work!

Using Dumbells

You don’t need to invest in an EZ bar or even a short straight weighted bar. If you already have a set of dumbbells, this can be all you need!

dumbbells strength training for weight lossIf you’re going to use dumbbells, it’s a good idea to add a fat grip to them. This will make your whole arm work a little harder.

Squeeze them as hard as you can throughout the exercise.

The starting position is the same for this version of the skull crusher exercise.

However, you’ll need to decide whether to have a neutral wrist grip, where the dumbbells are in line with your body and your palms are facing each other.

OR… You can hold the dumbbells in the same way as the barbell, although this is not generally as comfortable.

Keep your wrists and shoulders stacked as you bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells down. They should sit one on each side of your head.

Keep it slow, pause for 2-3 seconds before pushing them back up.

Note: If you’re holding the dumbbells like a barbell, half the dumbbell will lightly touch your forehead. You’re likely to find that the dumbbell will sit at an angle in this position.

That’s it! Again, check out the reps below.

How Many Should You Be Doing?

The skull crusher exercise is intended to be used with lower weights, as getting the form right is essential to ensure you gain the maximum amount of benefit.

skull crusher exercise close upFor this reason, you can aim for higher reps. Ideally, try to complete 3 sets of 8-20 reps with a 1-2 minutes pause between sets.

Don’t forget that, as with any exercise, it is advisable to rest your muscles for between 24-48 hours between workouts.

Aim to add the skull crusher exercise into your routine every other day.

If you’re hoping to build muscle endurance you may want to try 3 sets of 20 reps. However, for strength, you’ll need to up the weight and try 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps.

Benefits Of This Exercise

It’s much easier to add any exercise into your daily routine if you know what the benefits are. Check out the biggest benefits of doing the skull crusher exercise:

Tricep Strength

It’s not surprising that an exercise that targets your triceps is going to improve their strength!

Tricep strength is essential for overhead lifting movements, particularly helping you to maintain stability throughout your upper arms and shoulder girdle.

Doing this will give your arms better definition, strengthen them, and even reduce wear on your elbow joint.

Lockout Strength

Lockout performance is something that most athletes are concerned about. In effect, it is simply the ability to hold a weight or position.

Your triceps are an essential part of most pressing exercises, improving your lockout ability will improve your lifting ability in most other exercises.

Healthy Elbows

Your elbows are an important part of your body. They provide good arm movement and ensure your strength is maximized.

skull crusher exercise - healthy elbowsWeak joints lead to pain and mobility issues.

Strengthening your triceps will also reduce the load on your tendons, joints, and ligaments.

In short, doing the skull crusher exercise will reduce the strain and chance of injury in your elbows and other arm tissues.

The Look

If you’re interested in looks as opposed to losing weight or getting healthier, then it may interest you to know that the triceps are actually two-thirds of the arm dimensions.

Dedicated work on the triceps, through exercises like the skull crusher, will give you great looking arms!

Mixing It Up: Possible Variations

The most common approaches to the skull crusher exercise are with the EZ bar or dumbbells. However, this is not the only option available to you.

Try mixing up your exercises by inserting these variations into your routine too. It will help you to keep the routine varied and interesting.

Decline Bench

You can use the EZ bar, short weighted barbell, or dumbbells with this variant. Simply decline the bench so that your head is angled towards the ground.

The exercise is completed in the same way, but, with the greater angle of the bench, the bigger the stretch on the triceps.

This will help to ensure your muscles are being shaped from all angles.

Close Grip

Instead of adopting the standard, shoulder-width grip on the barbell, bring your arms in closer and make sure your elbows are tucked fully into your sides.

Bench Dips

As an alternative to the skull crusher, you can also perform dips.

These can be completed on rings, bars, or any other equipment that supports your weight.

Simply grasp the bar or bench with your hands, with your back towards the bench. Then, lower yourself downwards.

Your weight is taken by your arms and your triceps need to work hard in order to propel yourself back upwards.

This option doesn’t need any dumbbells, it simply uses your body weight.

Overhead Extension

This is another exercise that will work your triceps, but you’ll some equipment in the gym to help you get it right.

It involves your arms being behind your head then pushing them upwards until keep your arms straighten. You also need to squeeze the grips hard throughout the entire exercise.

Additional Tips

Here are a few extra tips to help ensure you get the skull krusher exercise right and maximize the benefit of this excellent addition to your routine.

    • The skull crusher exercise is a great addition to the end of a workout. The reason is simple, you don’t need to go overboard on your weight, it’s all about the proper form. So, even when you’re starting to tire from a workout you’ll be able to benefit from this exercise.
    • It is important to make sure the movement comes from the elbow. That will ensure the skull crusher exercise is targeting your triceps and not your lats or some other muscle group.
    • You should also ensure that your elbows stay pushed in towards your body. Don’t let them flare outwards.
    • Set your goals. As with anything you need to establish a goal. In this case, it will be the weight you would like to lift. You can then start at a low weight and concentrate on form, gradually increasing the weight until you hit your target.
    • Some people feel pain in their elbows when doing this exercise. IF this is the case then use a lower weight. Should this not be sufficient to eliminate the pain then consult your doctor before you continue doing them.
    • The issue can be your elbow but, you should also ensure you are using correct form; it can make a big difference to the success of the exercise.
    • Don’t forget, dumbbells offer more of a stability challenge and therefore are more challenging. That should make this the preferred option.

Need A Little More Convincing

The skull crusher exercise can be tried at any point, all you need is a set of dumbbells or two other weighted objects that you can hold comfortably.

However, when doing these for the first time it is a good idea to have a friend present as a spotter. Providing you don’t try to start with too heavy a weight there shouldn’t be an issue. But, go too heavy, too fast, and the weight is hovering above your head…

Don’t forget, these are only targeting your triceps. To work all the muscles in your body check out these 5 muscle-building exercises and give the old school muscle routine a try.

Even if you’re just looking to lose weight, building muscle can help you to achieve your goals.

Your new friend and muscle coach,

Stuart Carter Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1

C.O.O., The Fit Father Project

Stuart gained his Diploma in Personal Training & Sports Medicine through Premier Global, back in 2001. In 2018, he completed his Level 1 Precision Nutrition qualification.

Throughout his career in Fitness, Stuart has trained hundreds of clients, worked in almost every position in the industry, and ran his own successful training studio.

After a hiatus away from the Fitness industry, working in Corporate Management and Finance, Stuart returned to what he loves… Fitness! This return led to a chance meeting with Dr. Balduzzi, and a place in the Fit Father Project team.

Brotherhood Nickname: The Fit Brit
Bragging Rights: 18 Years in the fitness industry, Author of ‘The Easy Fitness Guide', Father of 4 boys and Husband to a Venezuelan beauty.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on the skull crusher exercise.


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