Big arms signify you lift shit up and put it back down on a regular basis. They’re like a badge of honor and are among some of the most common goals in the gym. But more often than not, lifters will flock to the dumbbell rack and curl until they can’t wipe the sweat off their forehead.
The problem with this approach is it’s limited. You’re tackling a small portion of your arms by focusing solely on curl variations to isolate your biceps.
2/3 of your upper arm mass is comprised of your triceps, and they tend to be the most neglected. So, if you want bigger arms…train your damn triceps.
More than just a funky name, skull crushers are one of the most brutal ways to attack your tri’s.
- Are an elbow-hinging accessory exercise
- Strengthen the deep supportive muscles surrounding the elbow
- Increase your lockout strength in the bench and other pressing lifts
- Will fuck you up if you don’t grip the weight
I use these five variations interchangeably throughout my programming. No one is better than the other, they’re all good. So try em out and do what feels good for you.
Important note: Skull crushers are a very elbow-dominant exercise. Don’t overdo them. Personally, I don’t do them more than once a week (usually only every other week). They’ll put a toll on your elbows if you over-train them. So tread carefully, please.
Here are five skull crusher variations for bigger, stronger triceps.
1. EZ BAR SKULL CRUSHER
You might feel aches and pains in your wrists when doing skull crushers and other exercises with the straight barbell.
Not always, but a common cause is tightness/restriction in the biceps and other anterior muscles that are usually worked more frequently than their posterior counterparts.
The EZ bar offers different angled grips that take the stress out of your wrists so you can feel it more in your triceps.
2. BANDED DUMBBELL SKULL CRUSHER
Bands are the best because they’re cheap, take up no space, and can increase the return on an exercise instantly.
Loop the band around your thumbs and upper back on the outside of your arms.
As you know, the band tension will become greater when you lock out your arms, meaning more triceps gains.
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3. SLIGHT DECLINE SKULL CRUSHER
No decline bench? No worries.
Take a plate and place it under the front of your bench to create a slight decline. Why?
You’ll have a greater range of motion as opposed to the flat bench.
Pro tip: If your shoulders hurt when you bench, you can use the same set-up. Read my article on T-Nation, “Bench Like a Beast Without Shoulder Pain” here.
4. BARBELL SKULL CRUSHER WITH CHAINS
Chains look cool and make a lot of noise. That’s pretty much 2/3 of what makes an exercise effective.
Slap some chains on the ends of the barbell for accommodating resistance. Similar to bands, the resistance increases as you lock out your arms.
The difference you’ll notice using chains is they’ll want to swing all over the place. So to perform them optimally, you need to really control your lockout and lowering.
5. DEAD STOP ROLLING DB EXTENSION
Skull crushers from the floor cut the range of motion down but they also eliminate any over-swinging or momentum you can use to get the dumbbells up.
Personally, I find this variation feels great on the shoulders (no pain) and really hones in on the triceps.