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November 07, 2021 8 min read
Whether you are a professional bodybuilder or your average weightlifter, you probably know how important it is to hit your upper body often. Everyone wants big and shapely arms, but you’ll need to work hard for that. Barbell skull crushers are a great place to start.
Skull crushers are a popular workout to maximize muscle growth in your triceps.
They sound intimidating but don’t worry, you won’t actually be crushing your skull. Read on to learn more about this move and why you should incorporate it into your workout routine.
Barbell skull crushers are a lying triceps extension exercise that effectively isolates your triceps. You perform them by laying on your back, gripping your barbell across your chest with your palms facing outward, and lowering the bar towards your face by bending at the elbow. We’ll go into the details of what this should look like below.
Barbell skull crushers are a variation of skull crushers, an exercise popular amongst your average gym goer as well as famously ripped people. Christian Bale incorporated them into his workout when prepping for his role as Batman. So, if you want to get shredded like Batman, start working on your skull crushers.
Before you get started, complete a dynamic warm-up to loosen up your arms and prep your triceps for some serious work. You’ll need a bench and a barbell for this workout, so get your equipment in order before we begin.
Maintaining proper form throughout this exercise is essential to avoid injury and get the most out of every rep.
Good form for barbell skull crushers looks like this:
If the barbell skull crusher feels too intense for your workout routine or if you are recovering from an injury, try these modifications:
As we mentioned earlier, skull crushers are an extremely popular workout that you can complete with various equipment types. We love the barbell because it is versatile and has proven success in building muscle mass.
This study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the barbell to other types of equipment and found that it was superior in achieving results.
The following are other popular equipment options for your skull crushers:
1. Dumbbell skull crusher:
Hold a dumbbell in each hand while completing your skull crushers. You can modify to make your reps easier by using dumbbells that are lighter than your barbell. You can also use dumbbells to modify up by choosing a heavier set, forcing you to isolate the weight in each arm instead of distributing it across your body.
2. EZ Bar skull crusher:
The EZ curl bar might be the most popular barbell alternative in skull crushers. You use the EZ bar in the same way that you would the barbell. Some find it easier to grip the EZ bar than a traditional barbell. If you want more EZ bar moves, check out this article on EZ bar exercises for arm strength and size.
3. Lose the bench: Some weightlifters prefer to complete their skull crushers lying on the floor instead of on a workout bench. If you do not have access to a bench, this is a great way to fit this move into your workout. It is also popular with people who have back issues that make lying on a bench uncomfortable. Keep in mind that this will reduce your range of motion, as you will not be able to dip the weight beneath your head.
4. Use an incline bench: Lay on an incline bench to complete your skull crushers instead of a regular bench. Using an incline bench will target more than just your triceps, turning this isolation exercise into something that hits more muscle groups.
Barbell skull crushers target and isolate your triceps, hitting every part of the muscle group. This exercise targets the long head, lateral head, and medial head of your triceps. Although you are hitting all three heads here, it has a more significant impact on the long and lateral heads of your triceps.
You might not expect this one, but skull crushers will also hit your shoulders, back, and pecs because you will use them for stabilization. As you stabilize yourself on the bench, you use your anterior and posterior deltoids and your latissimus dorsi (lats) to keep from moving on the bench. You are also using your pecs to stabilize, so you might feel it there too.
You will also notice that you use your wrist flexors for stabilization during your barbell skull crushers. The grip and movement pattern associated with this exercise will strengthen your wrist flexors with every extension.
This can maximize the impact of building muscle mass from performing skull crushers consistently.
There are plenty of benefits from regularly completing barbell skull crushers that you will feel both inside and outside the gym.
Before you grab that barbell, let’s address some of the most frequently asked questions about barbell skull crushers.
Barbell skull crushers belong in your upper body/arm days. These skull crushers are an isolation exercise for your triceps, so you can pair them with workouts that target other parts of your arms, such as a French press or bench press. Alternatively, you can focus on burning out your triceps by pairing them with workouts that also target your upper arms, such as triceps dips, triceps kickbacks, or triceps pushdowns.
Barbell skull crushers are a strength exercise, so you will want to complete them on strength days. If you do not have enough time in your schedule to complete strength and cardio on different days, structure your workout to meet your goals. If you are looking to lift heavier, finish your strength before cardio. If you are looking to improve your endurance, complete cardio before strength. A personal trainer can help figure out a strength vs. cardio schedule that best fits your needs.
You might notice that this exercise looks and sounds a little dangerous. In fact, we call this exercise “skull crushers” because you can crush your skull if you slip or mess it up. For this reason, we recommend that you start with a lower weight than you would typically use for a triceps-focused move and work your way up from there.
However, once you are comfortable with the movement, you can lift somewhat heavy for this exercise. As long as you can complete your repetitions safely and with good form, there is no need to hold yourself back on this one.
As we just mentioned, barbell skull crushers don’t sound very safe. However, if you use an appropriate amount of weight and maintain proper form during your repetitions, you can absolutely complete them safely.
We recommend completing the motion first with no weight to become accustomed to its feel. Once you feel comfortable, gradually add weight until you have your desired amount on the barbell.
If you are concerned about safety, grab a friend to be your spotter. Have them stand behind you while you complete your repetitions. If you falter or need help with your barbell, your spotter can help by grabbing the weight to support you in finishing your rep and safely removing the barbell.
Now that you are an expert at barbell skull crushers, it’s time to get working for those bigger arms. Let’s hit the gym! Grab a bench and a barbell to complete your reps to isolate your triceps. Once you make these a regular part of your routine, you will progress in other exercises and your everyday life.