Skull Crushers Exercise Tutorial (Form, Variations, and Benefits)

Written by: Stuart Carter,

Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1
C.O.O., The Fit Father Project

Written by: Stuart Carter,

Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1
C.O.O., The Fit Father Project

skull crushers
Skull crushers are one of the best strength training workouts men can do to build their triceps.

Skull crushers are an isolation exercise, focusing on your triceps, that will lead to better strength and definition of your arms. They can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, an EZ bar, or even cables on a flat bench or at virtually any angle.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or improve your muscle, skull crushers need to be added to your regular exercise repertoire. It is vital that men increase their muscle mass, especially as they age, to offset natural muscle loss and increase their body’s ability to burn calories, even when at rest.

Keep reading to learn how to do skull crushers with the proper form, along with different variations to try.

Skull Crushers: A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 – Get A Bench

You need to lie down on your back, starting off on a flat bench, but you can use position variations on the bench to mix up skull crushers 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. This is why they're called skull crushers!

Use too heavy a weight and come down too 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!

Top Tip: The EZ bar is the preferred option for skull crushers. However, you can use a barbell or dumbells. Keep in mind a shorter barbell is recommended, as longer ones will be harder to balance through the movement.

This video will show you how to properly perform skull crushers with an EZ bar, barbell, and dumbbells.


What You Need To Know About Using Dumbells for Skull Crushers

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 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.

Here are the 5 best tricep exercises you can do using only a set of dumbbells!


How Many Reps Should You Be Doing?

Skull crushers are intended to be done 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 skull crushers 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.

The Benefits of Skull Crushers

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

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 skull crushers 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 arms' dimensions.

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

best exercise for men 40+

What Are The 5 Best Muscle Building Exercises For Men 40+?

best exercise for men 40+
The secret to building age-defying muscle in your in 40s, 50s, & 60s is to modify the best muscle building exercises (bench, squats, rows) to make them safe on your joints…

Want More? Try These Variations!

The most common approaches to skull crushers 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 skull crushers, 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 body weight is taken by your arms and your triceps need to work hard in order to propel yourself back upwards.


Overhead Extension

This is another exercise that will work your triceps, but you’ll need some equipment to help you get it right. It involves your arms being behind your head and then pushing them upwards until 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 skull crushers right and maximize the benefit of this excellent addition to your routine.

    • Skull crushers are 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 skull crushers are 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 the 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 harder to do — which can be a good thing!
    • Finally, when doing skull crushers for the first time, it's a good idea to have 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 … you could have issues!

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.

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*Please know that weight loss results and 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 skull crushers.


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Written by: Stuart Carter,

Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1
C.O.O., The Fit Father Project


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