Skullcrushers: The Great Debate

Saw an interesting discussion about Skullcrushers so thought it’s worth the Tnation forum perspective.

I find them awkward with cranky elbows and/or wrists queued up to visit in a few weeks.

Has anyone here done these regularly with success?

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Personally, I’ve always liked them but have noticed that they can be hard on the elbows. Lightening up the weight and using and E-Z curl bar has worked for me.

Honestly, if they bug you then just don’t do them. There are too many replacement exercises for triceps that you could do.

I hope that this little bit of information helps and I’ll be interested in what direction you decide to take.


For a couple years in my mid twenties I did them a lot. When I got up to 135+ on the straight bar, it was Awesome. My bench was the strongest it ever was, my arms were the big and it was fun to show off in the gym.

Now that shit kills me. Same with French Press, 1 arm overhead dumbbell extensions and all the good, classic Long Head of the Tricep exercises. I couldn’t do any of these for years and my arms became smaller.

Then my bros got me on PJR Pullovers. All the good stuff from a skull crusher with none of the problems. They’re awesome.

And overhand extensions with a band. Same motion as a skull crusher, for Unlimited reps and unreal pumps with out the pain. They’re great too.

Now my arms are big again and my elbows are problem free.


I had to learn how to move the weight using my triceps vs my elbows. It’s like bodybuilders might be onto something when it comes to building muscle.


With any single joint exercise, warmup is the key, and if there are still issues, limiting the rom works and still hits the important aspects of the lift.

I have some elbow issues, and hav still found skulls to be beneficial enough to keep it in my arsenal of important exercises.

Just my $0.02

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Good point. I had a bad habit of turning tricep moves into weird angle shoulder presses for awhile. It was a bad time.

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Also good. I have followed John Meadows advices of doing peak contraction Push Downs with elbows near the ribs to warm up before stretching the Tris with overhead moves.


Skullcrushers were my go-to tricep exercise for tricep size in my 20’s. Like many others my elbows became too sore as I aged.


Always ended up with elbow pain using dumbbells for these. Now I do them right at the end of a workout with an EZ bar and a lighter weight. I super-set them by doing 10 reps of skulls and then AMRAP close-grip bench.
No more elbow pain, but pretty sure that’s at least partly related to using lighter weights as they’re not my main tricep exercise.

These always look like you’d be avoiding focus on the triceps. Not your experience?

What does PJR mean?

They hurt my elbows… unless I use them as a finisher after pre exhausting my triceps (very light weight, go for the pump)

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“Private John Rambo”

At 4:30 you can see Franco Columbo teach it, on an incline bench, as part of the Rambo Workout.

Here is Paul Carter going cross bench.

I usually just lay regular on a flat bench.

Me too!. I never liked laying across the bench how I’ve seen quite a few teach it. It just never felt right to me.

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No way man, Straight Tricep Tension!

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I’ve started doing skull crushers recently (I’ve played around with a lot of tricep isolation movements over the years, but pretty much all of them cause me elbow pain if I go much under 12-15 reps), so normally I do skull crushers for sets of 20 & then often even finish with a few super-sets of very light weight tate presses straight into skull crushers and really focus on getting a good stretch in my tris).

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Like @T3hPwnisher said, I think there’s a couple ways to do the movement. This was helpful to me to learn to do it with triceps (and, thus, minimize elbow pain):

  • Have a little pump first. Push-downs, diamond pushups, etc. are good.
  • I’d recommend dumbbells
  • Push yourself back on the bench so your shoulders are near the top and your head is off
  • Get the dumbbells up in position
  • Lower in an arc. It’s not a straight 90° angle - I think about bringing them down to my shoulders rather than really to my skull to get the motion right
  • Slow down
  • Let your upper arms travel a little. Don’t go crazy, but they can move. I find if I don’t let them, it turns into a weird shoulder cramp and I can’t tell if I’m working my triceps
  • Finish the rep. This was big for me - make sure you actually get a contraction at the top; this helps you stay muscle vs joint
  • Don’t force the stretch at the bottom - it will start to come over time

Also! These are awesome to do from the floor. Tap the dumbbells down right by your head while following all the cues above and it seems to just clean everything up


I gave up on doing them with free weights and now do the bodyweight versions on rings for the sake of my joints. I think both the combo of being able to freely rotate my wrist and arms and being able to maneuver my body keep me out of any danger zones while still getting some really good mind-mucle connection.

The three variations I do are elbows out to the side, tucked elbows, and also letting my elbows travel up high on the eccentric then bringing them back down for the longhead. Only thing with the last variation is that tension on the abs could distract from the work you wanna do on your triceps.

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Tucked elbow skulls fuck my elbows up.

I’ve used regular (natural arm angle) for a while now, pain free. Biggest part is definitely what @T3hPwnisher said. Extending the elbow by flexing the tricep feels completely different than pushing with your hands and letting your elbows absorb all the force.

DB tri Extensions are the best skull variation, IMO. Besides PJR pullovers, which are a close second, but the best for the long head.