T Nation

The Skullcrusher Thread


I wanted to start a thread on the lying barbell tricep extension exercise, aka, "skullcrushers"

At one time they were a staple movememnt in just about every bodybuilder and most powerlifters routine. Larry Pacifio once said that he trained them like a 4th powerlift.

I think that the popularity of them has fallen off somewhat, especially in powerlifting as lifters are doing a lot of Westside stuff such as board presses, floor presses, etc.

I have never quite been able to make it "click" Sometimes when you get an exercise that is not quite an isolation movement, but is also not quite a pure strength movement, there is a tendancy to have your technique be a bit vague.

I like doing them on a decline bench and also like using a low pulley cable.I have also had some success with doing them from a deadstop/bottom position off the pins in the power rack.

I would love to hear everyones thoughts, opinions, comments and tips on this exercise.



I think the movement sucks. It has always caused pain in my elbows and I never saw much growth from it. The moment I added heavy dips done on the HS dip machine because I handle MUCH more weight) they started to grow more. My routine now involves HS machine dips, kickbacks (I go pretty heavy on these as well and don't bend over all of the way as I see most people doing it), cable pressdowns(what I usually start with), and then a last movement of cable extension using each arm individually.

As far as machines go, I think the Cybex triceps extension (where you bring the grips from over head to down in front of you) is a great alternative as well. I use it whenever I have access to one.


I love skullcrushers. I don't have access to any machines other than a cable. Between CGB's and SC's - triceps is one of my favorite bodyparts to train.

I use a flat bench and an EZ curl bar. Honestly, I think I get more growth from CGB's - but the pump I get from the skullcrushers has me addicted to them.


I have mixed feeling on this. In general I can't really feel it working the target muscels very well. On my rare arm days I do it as a finishing exersize. I rep out with the crushers and then continue with close grip presses to the neck. I ALWAYS use an EZ curl bar to minimize wrist strain.


Hey Keith-enjoy your posts. I think skull crshers have died as well -primarily due to westside and the sore elbows they produce. With people using the bands now-you get so much more tricep work with bands-as you strain to lockout the tension increases. I myself don't do much extsenion work at all-I find the best exercise for my tri's /lockout is handing band presses-or the bar suspended in the bands and I lock it out-you can duplicate the correct bar path and then as you lock out the weight it gets heavier.

I also remember Kazmeier -in his books-saying he did tri-pushes-ie close grip benches with an e-z-curl bar-with up to 400lbs-because the skullcrushers would kill his elbows.


They used to be one of my favorite movements for training the triceps.

But about a year and a half ago while doing them towards the end of a workout, I got a sharp pain around the elbow. It was completely unexpected, since I was warmed up and was in the middle of the second set. Worse, I found myself unable to do any kind of pressing movement for a couple of weeks, and no direct triceps work for about two months.

I gradually got back into doing them, often on a decline bench. Yet about four months ago when doing them on a flat bench I got a similar pain in my elbow. Since them I have forsworn them. I have come across others who cite elbow problems with skullcrushers, and I won't go back to them. I did like them, but not at the cost of my elbows.


I used to do them but stopped. Like X, they caused too much pain in the elbows. I stick to cable pulldowns, reverse grip pulldowns...and weighted dips are the best.


I still do skullcrushers from time to time, but dont go as heavy as i could because I can almost feel my elbows and inner arm hurting before the very last rep.

The gym i am going to currently does not have all the equipment or the HS pressdown etc. So after a while for variety sake i end up bringing the skullcrusher back into my routine.

I have personally noticed reasonable gains from it. If you dont feel any elbow pain keep doing em.


I did them in my first 2 years of training.

I severely messed up my elbows because of them though, together with barbell curls.

If I don't do these, or any type of extension, my elbows feel pretty much ok.

I like weighted dips, close-grip presses and cable pressouts(only to a 90? angle)better.

During my the time I did do them, however, I loved to do them and at the end of the set use the same barbell to do some close-grip presses.

The best triceps movement I know after weighted dips are close-grip standing presses, with your palms facing you, as if you were doing a chin.


I also have mixed feelings toward them. In the past, I was able to do them and do them with heavy weights. However, after a while, it caused elbow pain.

I took a long break from doing them (years) and only recently began using them again. I found that I cannot use them with heavy weights and low reps as it gives me tendonitis in my elbows and causes more pain. However, I can do them with moderate weight for 8-12 reps with no pain and I get a great pump from them.

I have found that dumbbell triceps extensions on a decline bench work very well and allow me to do them withou any pain, even if going heavy and doing lower reps (4-6). Unfortunately, I don't have dumbbells heavy enough to do them in my home gym, so I am using the EZ bar and doing them as I mentioned above.


Thanks for the reminder! I used to prioritize them as first things first, then got a pully machine and started doing them as supplemental. Slowly but surely they got lost in the shuffle. I like to use the hammer grip and e-z curl. Lately I have been working J.M. presses and close grip bench after heavy bench, but I think I'm going to start working these in for volume/strength. Maybee a 6x6 routine.


They are called elbow fuckers, friends.
I did them for a while with heavier weights and my elbows were dead, in everything. I thought it was from one arm chin negatives, until I noticed that extensions were VERY painful...
Now I do dips. Yey. Dips rule.


Totally agree with Nate Dogg on this one.
Done with DBs (with a semi-sup grip) the movement is much easier on the elbows. I find that going heavy on them also can produce elbow pain. I probably would not use anything over 80% on them but that is just me.
When I did the movement regularly with an EZ bar I would often wake up with a numb hand. Anybody else have this issue?


I've used Skull Crushers off and on in my 30 + years of training with varing degrees of success. It's strange, sometimes they seem to really stimulate my triceps but lately they haven't really done much for me. I switched to doing Seated Extensions with the EZ bar in their place and seem to get a lot more focus on the triceps. I also do weighted dips on a paralell bar which really blow my triceps up. I use Pushdowns to get them warm and ready for heavy punishment and haven't had the tendonitis problems many here are having. A lot of people either do half-ass warmups or none all. I can't say enough about proper warmups not just for elbows but ALL bodyparts.


You mean, "The Stranger?"


Is this exercise just "mechanically wrong" for lack of a better term?

I did them a few days ago and my elbows a killing me -- but I still love doing them along with the other exercises mentioned.


Elbow pain stopped me from doing them.


I used to like doing them - but as I used heavier weights they caused me elbow pain - so bad that i stopped lifting for two weeks. The pain cleared up when I stopped doing them.
I had been doing a simular movement with dumbells that don't cause me elbow pain.


I don't know of a more elegant way to say the same thing.

I had ok results using them with curls and EDT, but that's about it. Results were most likely resultant of EDT. They (skullcrushers) hurt my elbows, and I don't feel muscle recruitment the way I do with lockouts or dips.

But, they ARE still alive and kicking in the mainstream, as are hammer curls and countless other "movements that suck".

If they are called by their negative name of "skullcrushers" rather than their positive name of "tricepbuilders", then perhaps that is a pretty darned good indication that they do indeed belong in the "movements that suck" category. BTW, their other negative name could be "elbowhurters".



Like Nate Dogg, I really like to do them with DBs and a semi-sup grip (think hammer curls) and them on a decline will theoretically recruit about 10% more muscle fibers (the gospel according to CT)