skull crusher photo

your guide for skullcrusher triceps exercises

your guide for skullcrusher triceps exercises

Most exercises have rather literal names: A single-arm overhead dumbbell extension describes the movement pretty well, after all. A few others, however, are named for the part of the body they'll break if you lose control. In this class we have skullcrushers.

Skullcrushers are actually a family of single-joint triceps exercises, not necessarily just one exercise, because there are so many ways to do them. You can use almost any kind of implementdumbbells, barbell, EZ-bar, or cablesas well as a variety of angled benches. Each variation provides a slightly different feel and effect, so I'll guide you through the most popular.

What all skullcrusher variations have in common is simple: elbow extension. The upper arms are generally locked in a position perpendicular to the body, which means both the long and lateral triceps headsthe two biggestare called into play. As you increase the angle of the bench (i.e., use a more inclined bench), the upper arms move closer to an overhead position, so more of the work falls on your triceps long head. Doing the movement on a decline bench reduces the long-head involvement, so more of the emphasis falls on the lateral triceps head.

Keep your upper arms perpendicular to the floor, not necessarily perpendicular to your body. This ensures you're working against gravity. Your arms should automatically be perpendicular to your body when you're on a flat bench, but won't necessarily be when you're doing the movement on an incline or decline bench.

Lower the weight under control, which means using a weight you can safely handle. Use a very deliberate rep speed on the negative. I assume you know why! (If not, just reference the exercise name again.)

Don't use a very close grip on a bar; take it with a grip of about shoulder-width. Using the EZ-bar can be more comfortable for your wrists, compared to a barbell, and the wider grip will be easier to balance in your hands and reduce elbow flare.

With dumbbells, each arm has to work independently. You'll sacrifice the amount of weight you can use, because dumbbells are harder to control, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You're also able to perform these with different grips, which affects how the triceps are recruited.

In this variation, your upper arms are angled back toward your head about 45 degrees and locked in that position. This allows the bar to clear the top of your head, and there's no resting spot at the top. You'll also emphasize the triceps long head to a greater degree.

Though uncommon, you can do a variation of skulls on the Smith machine. Obviously the bar can't move in an arc, since it's constrained to a vertical pathway, and you'll have to adjust the position of your arms, but you can still move the load primarily with your triceps. If it helps, think of these crushers as a close-grip bench variation.

If you're doing any multi-joint exercises in your triceps workout like the triceps dip machine, weighted bench dips, or close-grip bench presses, do those before skullcrushers because you can use the most weight to overload the triceps. Because you can go fairly heavy with skullcrushers, they make a good second exercise in most triceps workouts. Choose a weight you can do for 3 sets of 8-10, but occasionally vary the rep target to prevent stagnation.

For a little extra oomph in your next triceps workout, try this superset: Start off with skullcrushers, then immediately proceed to close-grip bench presses. You don't even need to change bars or weight!

The first movement really targets the triceps; do it to failure. Instead of dropping the weight, go right into the multijoint exercise that allows the pecs to help you complete more reps to failure. Just lower the bar to your chest under control and press strongly back upward to full arm extension.

One final tip: You might think that cheating on skullcrushers would send to you to the doctor, but there's a way to keep a set going once you're near muscle failure. Instead of doing the movement strictlythat is, bending and extending at only the elbowsyou can allow your upper arms to move back and forth a bit during the exercise execution. While this turns a single-joint movement into a multijoint onewhich you normally want to avoidyou can typically squeeze out a few extra reps this way at the end of your workout to really fatigue your triceps.

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