Skull Crushers: Hypertrophy Guide to Revolutionary Exercises

Skull crushing is a great exercise for building larger triceps and increasing your bench press strength. Skull crushers are also easier on the elbows than overhead triceps extensions. They are popular in powerlifting and bodybuilding. This article will show you how to skull crush, how to incorporate them into your workout routine, when to do them, how many sets, and how many repetitions per set.

What Are Skull Crushers?

Skull crushers are also known as nose breakers or lying triceps extensions. It is an isolated exercise that is used to bulk up the chest and increase strength for bench pressing. They are a rare metalhead exercise that isn’t named for their physical characteristics (like triceps pushdowns), but for what happens if you lose weight.

The skull crusher. Skull crushers are one of the most well-known triceps exercises, but they’re still underrated. They are a challenge to the triceps by using a wide range of motion that is great for building muscle.

How Do Skull Crushers Use Muscles?

Skull crushers can be used as an isolation lift to work your triceps. Skull crushers work your triceps differently from pressing movements. This allows you to bulk up your long head of triceps. If we take for example a study that compared chest and triceps growth we find that bench pressing stimulates twice the growth in your chest than in your triceps.

Because pressing movements don’t engage your triceps well, they push your shoulders forwards and your triceps pull backward. They would be fighting against your chest, shoulders, and back if they were fully engaged. Your bench press will be locked if your triceps are fully engaged.

The skull crusher is the solution. The skull crusher allows you to keep your shoulders straight, which will allow all three heads of the triceps maximum engagement.

This is why skull crushers and other triceps extension variations combined with pressing movements to help us build larger arms and achieve more balanced muscle growth. Skull crushers can also be great for your medial and short heads so they can increase your bench press strength.

How to Do Skull Crushers

Skull crushers are performed by lying on your back on a bench. You lower the weight behind your head and lift it up using your elbows. You can do them with dumbbells or kettlebells. However, most people prefer the curl-bar grip.

Here Are the Steps to Crush Skulls

  • Place the barbell over your chest and work your way up, much like you would with bench presses. It can be picked up using safety bars (as I did), or bench press pins.
  • Place your weight over your forehead by bending your arms at a backward angle. This slight angle backward will help keep tension on your triceps during the lockout. It may also improve muscle growth (study).
  • Lower the weight on the bench behind you. This will give you a clear range to work with while keeping each repetition consistent and allowing you to track how your strength improves from workout to workout.
  • Lift explosively, lower under control. It is best to build muscle by lifting weights explosively and then slowly lowering them. See the above gif to see an example.
  • Keep your elbows straight. As you decrease the weight, it’s OK for your elbows to move a bit. Your triceps are connected at the shoulders. Therefore, moving back towards the shoulders will put your triceps under more stretch.
  • Too much movement at the shoulder joint can make it a pullover and involve your lats. The skull crusher should be used as a triceps lifting device.

Skull crushers don’t have to be difficult. You can do them in many different ways that will all work your triceps. You can do skull crushers in a variety of ways, including one that feels more comfortable on your elbows, makes it easier to lift heavier weights, or improves your triceps pump.

Programming Skull Crushers: How Often Should They Be Done?

Although our muscles are most effective when they are trained 2-4 times per week it doesn’t mean we should do skull crushers as often. It just means that your triceps training should be spread out throughout the week. Here’s how the triceps exercises might look in your workout routine:

* Monday: skull crushers + bench press
* Wednesday: push-ups
* Friday: Overhead press + overhead extensions

This routine allows you to do skull crushers only once per week but still train your triceps with 5 different exercises 3 times per week. This is a great way to increase your triceps’ strength and size.

Skull crushers can be enjoyed if they don’t bother your elbows. However, it is recommended that you do them at least 3 times per week. As a general rule, we recommend trying different lifts. This will reduce the strain on your joints, which can be beneficial for their longevity. Additionally, you are stimulating your triceps differently, which is good for building muscle.

How Many Sets Should You Make?

Your muscles will grow the fastest if you train them 2-3 times per week, with 3-8 sets of work per workout. Another way to put it, you should aim for 9-18 sets per week spread over at least 2 workouts. Everybody is different so it’s best to start at the lowest end and work your way up. Here are some tips to help you do this:

  • Consider adding sets: If your triceps don’t feel fully worked, you can’t pump much, aren’t feeling sore and you struggle to gain strength, then consider adding more sets.
  • Keep your cool: If your triceps feel tired at the end of your workouts, or they are feeling sore the next day, it’s an indication that you’re performing the correct number of sets.
  • Reduced sets: If your triceps pain is interfering with your workouts, you might consider doing fewer sets.

This is where things get tricky. Your triceps can be partially exercised by pressing movements. Some are better than others. It is difficult to determine how sets should be counted. Is the bench press considered a triceps exercise as well?

If your grip is tight enough, it might be possible. What about dumbbell bench presses? This does not work with your triceps. What about the bench press with a close grip? It’s kind of. It’s a great exercise for the triceps, but it’s only for the medial or lateral heads.

If you want to increase your triceps size, I recommend triceps extensions every other week for at most 3 sets. This is only 6 sets per week. But when you add it to your pressing movements it can provide a lot of volume for your upper triceps.

You can add skull crushers to your bench press if you are already there. If you are already lifting the barbell overhead, add some overhead triceps extensions. This is often all you have to do.

How Many Reps Should You Have?

Although we can build muscle with as little as 4-40 reps per set (meta-analysis), most research has shown that 6-20 reps are the best way to get maximum growth. This is where things get a little more complicated. The heavier reps work better with larger compound lifts.

You can think of squats and bench presses as well as deadlifts, overhead presses, overhead presses, and even chin-ups. We want to lift lighter weights like skull crushers. This will reduce the strain on your elbow joints and should result in more muscle growth with each set.

What if Skull Crushers Cause Broken Elbows?

Triceps isolation exercises can cause elbow pain. Although skull crushers are easier on the elbows than overhead extensions, they can still cause pain. There are some things you can do that work well, however.

  • Perform your heavy pressing first. You can warm up your elbows by using lifts that won’t aggravate your elbows, such as the overhead press or bench press.
  • Your triceps will also be tired, which will reduce the weight they can lift with your skull crushers. Also, skull crushers that are lighter in weight and with warmer elbows can often relieve elbow pain.
  • Choose a lower rep range. If heavy skull crushers are irritating your elbows, you can try doing them in an increased rep range. It is a good idea to do at least 8 reps per set. You can also go up to 20 reps.
  • Try a different type of skull crusher. A curl bar is a better choice than a straight barbell. You can also use dumbbells and kettlebells if you are using a curl bar.
  • Try a different type triceps extension. Triceps pushdowns may be a better option if skull crushers don’t work for you. Although the stretch for your triceps may not be as great, most people find them to be much easier on their elbow joints.

Skull Crusher Alternatives

Skull crushers can be used to bulk up your triceps. These are three great options, each with its own pros and cons.

  • Overhead Extensions: If you have good shoulder mobility, strong elbows, and good posture, overhead extensions can be used to strengthen your triceps.
  • Triceps Pushdowns/Pressdowns: if skull crushers are hurting your elbows, try triceps pushdowns. Although they won’t stretch your triceps as deeply, they can be very beneficial for your elbows.
  • Close-Grip Benches Press: If your triceps extensions don’t work for you, this is the solution. A close-grip bench press is a great option. Although it isn’t as effective at stimulating the triceps muscles, it’s still very beneficial for the elbow joints.

The overhead dumbbell triceps extensions. You can do this with a variety of rep ranges.


Skull crushers allow you to lift a lot of weight using a wide range of motion. Skull crushers are often considered to be one of the best exercises for developing bigger triceps. This is a great accessory lift to increase your bench press strength, especially for those who struggle with the lockout.

You can add skull crushers to your routine by doing them after the bench press. After the bench press, you can warm up your elbows, work your triceps, and finish them off by doing 3-4 sets of skull crushers. Each set should be around 15 reps. You can increase the growth rate of your triceps by doing this twice a week.

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