How To Do Skullcrushers

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At last – an exercise with a fun name! There’s nothing wrong with accurate, descriptive terms like “squat” or “dumbbell pull-over” but do they excite like skullcrusher? They absolutely do not.

With that excitement might come a twinge of fear, but rest assured, there will be no actual crushing of skulls during a set of skullcrushers unless things go very wrong indeed. What the exercise does do is work your triceps, making it a good addition to the routine of any gym-goer looking to develop strong upper arms.

The skullcrusher bears many similarities to the dumbbell pull-over and the lying dumbbell triceps extension, and can be done with a variety of free weights and at different bench angles to provide different benefits. First though, we’ll run through a flat-bench skullcrusher using dumbbells, because it’s as good a place as any to start.

How To Do Skullcrushers


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Lie on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand above you with your arms extended and palms facing. It’s very important not to go too heavy with the dumbbells, or the whole skullcrushing thing might start to feel like a possibility well before the end of a tough set.

Keeping your upper arms straight, lower the dumbbells slowly and under complete control by bending at the elbows until they are just above your forehead, then raise them back to the starting position.

The advantage of using dumbbells is that each arm works independently so one side of your body doesn’t compensate for the weaker side. The disadvantage is that you have to use less weight than with an EZ-bar or barbell to avoid losing control. Other skullcrusher variations involve setting the bench up at an incline or decline or altering your grip to put more emphasis on different parts of the triceps.

Skullcrusher Variations

Lying dumbbell triceps extension

Lying triceps extension

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We told you that the skullcrusher was similar to both the dumbbell pull-over and lying dumbbell triceps extension, but it’s only the latter that really counts as a variation. The dumbbell pull-over is a great way to work your chest muscles and lats at the same time, but since you don’t bend your elbows as you take the weight back behind your head, it doesn’t really work the triceps.

The lying dumbbell triceps extension, however, undoubtedly does, with the only real difference between it and skullcrushers being that you take the weight to your shoulders or just behind your head rather than lowering it towards your face. Just like skullcrushers, you can do this move with different types of weights and with the bench set at different angles, or even standing up, but we’ll stick with a flat bench and dumbbells for the sake of continuity.

Lie with your back on a bench and press two dumbbells above you with your palms facing each other. Lower the dumbbells towards your shoulders by flexing at the elbows, then contract your triceps to extend your arms and take the weights back above you.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.