Guide to a perfect skull crushers

skull crushers

Everyone wants big arms, keeping that goal in mind people focus’s on biceps and making a big mistake by ignoring the triceps because the triceps is the bigger muscle situated in the arm to have an overall big looking arm you have to give your equal focus to both. Triceps are also included in many push exercises and if you want to progress and lift heavy you can’t ignore triceps.

Focusing on triceps, it is one of my favorite exercises “skull crushers” or as some people like to call it nose breaker fancy name for an exercise. There are many names for just one exercise like french press or french extension. Just try to let go of the bar and you will have a very good experience of why is it called skull crushers.

skull crusher exercise is a great way to improve your triceps and they are an intermediate level exercise. Just like multiple names, there are also various ways to do the same exerciser such as by using dumbbells, barbells, or cable. In this article, you will get to know in-depth about skull crushers like how to do it, benefits, muscle worked, and basic variations.

How to do skull crushers?

We will be doing the most common variation of skull crushers because it won’t ask for much you just need a straight bench, a barbell with weights and that’s it.

  • Choose you’re favorite gym bench and lie down chest facing up with your legs comfortably placed. Get into a position that suits you best.
  • As you’re learning to do the exercise select weight that would be suitable enough for you to get 10 – 12 repetitions per set.
  • Hold the barbell straight over your chest (Exact straight bar is good but for extra intensity place bar at 100 to 110 degree), hand positioned shoulder width apart, The grip position can vary according to your wrist flexibility and comfort. You made it to the starting position.
  • Now begin to lower your barbell towards the rear of your head, only extend your elbows forbid your upper arms to move back and forth from their position as you lower & bring back the weight.
  • It’s important to keep your elbow tucked in, It is okay if it flares out a little bit and that’s natural but if it flares too much it will deactivate the triceps, and the motive to train triceps will become null.
  • Once your barbell begins to reach the rear of the forehead lower your shoulder and roll your arm so the barbell is behind your head. The entire back of your arm will be engaged and you will feel intense stretch.
  • Do each repetition slowly, don’t just drop the weight just for the sack of getting 10 to 12 reps.
  • Now bring the barbell back to the starting position by taking the same path you took to lower the bar and remember to keep your elbow tucked in.

If you feel muscle soreness after doing exercises take a few minutes to do after workout stretching that will help you get rid of the soreness and it will be a catalyst for better recovery. To make sure you’re doing skull crushers with a perfect form start with just the weight of the barbell and record yourself doing reps.

Avoid making these common mistakes

As a beginner, you don’t have much knowledge or experience so making mistakes is natural but if you learn about those mistakes you can avoid them and it will bring your one step closer to perfect skull crushers.

  • Flared elbow – It’s important to keep your elbow tucked in forbidding them from flaring out. The flared elbow is a poor form and distributes the effort that was supposed to be on the triceps to other muscles. Imagine you’re holding a ball or some other thing with your elbow that will help you avoiding flared elbows.
  • Grip – Keep in mind, there is a reason why this exercise has been named as skull crusher. if you don’t want to become an example have a firm grip on barbell.
  • Weight towards your face – Don’t lower your barbell towards your face or forehead it is supposed to travel to the rear of your head, don’t spoil its journey.
  • Speed – It’s not a race so do each rep slowly and carefully while maintaining a good form.
  • Heavyweight/low reps – Doing this exercise with heavyweight will surely put stress on your elbow and that’s something you should avoid with this exercise aim to have good quality reps with lightweight. Lightweight will also give your perk of better control.

Muscle worked while doing skull crushers

Skull crushers or lying triceps extension will work the entire triceps muscle group. It will start from the triceps in the elbow and work all the way to the latissium dorsi due to this advantage it is one of the reasons why most people include this exercise in their workout routine.

The triceps extension is an isolation exercise in simple words, they only use one joint so it makes triceps extension a good way to fix muscle imbalance in the triceps (1). While the triceps is doing all the work your scapular stabilizer and rear deltoids are also doing some work to stabilize your shoulder so you can stay in a fixed position. If there is no shoulder stability your elbows will have an unnecessary range of motion and targeted muscle triceps won’t be engaged fully. So with your shoulders working, you will also see an improvement in your shoulder stability.

Benefits of skull crushers

If an exercise wouldn’t have any benefits there is no point in doing it. Just like that skull crushers comes with some good perks that make it an even better deal to be included in your workout.

  • Stronger/better triceps – This point was obvious, with strong triceps you get better in overall push movement. Strong triceps is a neccesity if you want to lift heavy in the bench press or any other exercises arm strength is necessary so to keep yourself pushing and getting better you need the support of strong triceps.
  • Elbow health – To prevent joint injury you need a healthy elbow and a healthy elbow is the fruit of hard work done with proper technique, proper training, and good muscle hypertrophy. A healthy elbow is necessary so that force and the intensity of the workout get absorbed by the targeted muscle rather than joints and ligaments.
  • Bigger arms – having big arms has always been a goal of many beginners as well as experienced lifters. The triceps are the bigger muscle in the arm almost two-third of your arm so the more time you spent training your triceps the better your arm will get.
  • Improved grip strength – Your grip plays an important role in skull crushers by preventing you from dropping weight on your face. It’s important to keep your wrist straight, it is easy to not keep a straight weight and that makes it easy for you to hold weights but keeping your wrist straight throughout the exercise will improve your grip strength.

Reps and sets

Reps and sets fall on what your goal is if you’re someone who is looking to grow their muscle size or if you’re someone who wants to develop muscle strength so when choosing your repetitions and sets keep your goal in mind.

  • Strength – If you want strength then you should choose myofibrillar hypertrophy. This type of training focuses on making your muscle fiber bigger rather than increasing its size. Lift heavy weight than you usually do with a good rest period. Do for 4 to 6 sets with the 4 to 6 reps.
  • Muscle size – If you want to increase your muscle mass then you should choose sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. It’s a type of muscle growth that mainly focuses on increasing muscle glycogen concentration that will lead your body to draw fluid in larger quantities to your muscle cell hence increasing your muscle size. Lift light/ moderate weight and do 10 to 12 repetitions with it with 1-minute rest.
  • Endurance – If you want to have muscle endurance then go for higher reps with short rest period then usual. Perform 2 to 4 sets but your repetition count should be between 14 to 18 reps with rest period of 1 minute.

Common skull crushers variations

These are some of the common variations that can be seen in your gym for this particular exercise…

Dumbbell skull crusher

The Dumbell skull crusher is exactly the same as the barbell skull crusher only difference is that it is done with the help of dumbbells. This variation is helpful for a person who has a hard time coordinating both arms with this variation he can hit the triceps of both arms and it’s helpful for muscle imbalance too.

if skull crushers with dumbbells are more effective or not?

Both are equally good as long as you’re having an effect on your targeted muscle it is good if not then you might have to check your form or if you can feel your triceps being engaged try doing it with barbells or kettlebells.

Incline bench skull crushers

In this variation, the only difference will be the level of the bench it can be done with dumbbells, barbells as well as kettlebells. By adding incline you will be able to stretch your triceps even more and will be able to hit it from a slightly different angle.

Decline bench skull crushers

The angle of the bench can have a different effect on the same muscle so with your head being on a lower level then your feet will demand more activation from the lateral triceps head that is situated towards the outside of your arm


This exercise is commonly known for leading to elbow pain and if you’re already suffering from elbow pain or an injury you should avoid it and consult with your doctor. At any point in the exercise, you feel pain (not the workout pain) stop doing it. Look for another triceps exercise that will be putting less strain on your elbow and joints. Last but not least have a spotter with you, in case anything goes wrong.