Barbell Skull Crusher: Muscle Worked, How To Do, Form

Are you ready to make your tricep workout even better? Then you can use barbell skull crushers.

The barbell skull crusher is a popular exercise for the triceps that bodybuilders and athletes have been doing for a long time.

It is one of the most common tricep isolation exercises out there and is typically performed on a flat bench using either an Ez-bar and straight bar

One can also execute the barbell skull crushers by altering the bench position to either incline or decline, as per the requirements.

In this article, we will look at the following:

  • What barbell skull crusher
  • Which muscles worked during it
  • Their benefits and
  • How to perform them correctly
  • How you can modify

What Is Barbell Skull Crushers

Barbell skull crushers, also known as lying triceps extensions, are an isolation exercise that works the triceps brachii muscle. The term “skull crusher” derives from the exercise’s fundamental mechanics of lowering the weight down toward the skull from an elevated position.

Barbell skull crushers are a popular type of skull crusher among gym goers as well as bodybuilders. There are many other ways to do barbell skull crusher to get the most muscle stimulation.

Barbell Skull Crusher Muscle Worked

Barbell skull crushers primarily target the triceps brachii, with a particular emphasis on the long head of the muscle.

The forearm muscles, specifically the brachialis, brachioradialis, Forearm Flexor muscles act as stabilizers during skull crushers, helping to maintain control and stability.

In addition to its target of the tricep, the barbell skull crushers have the involvement of several synergist and stabilizer muscles, Pectoralis MajorAnterior DeltoidLats and Biceps Brachii.

Barbell Skull Crusher Muscle Worked

How To Do Barbell Skull Crushers

If you are new to this exercise, you should start with a light weight and work on perfecting your form. As you get used to the exercise and get stronger, you can slowly increase the weight you use.

Here are the steps on how to do barbell skull crushers:

  1. Lie down on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Make sure the barbell is loaded with the appropriate weight.
  3. Make sure your head, upper back, and buttocks are in contact with the bench.
  4. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down) that is slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  5. Make sure your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Slowly lower the barbell towards your forehead by bending your elbows.
  7. Lower the barbell until it is just above your forehead or until you feel a stretch in your triceps.
  8. Once you reach the bottom position, pause for a moment.
  9. Then, engage your triceps and extend your arms to lift the barbell back to the starting position.
  10. Complete the 3-4 sets of 8–12 repetitions.
How To Do Barbell Skull Crushers

Barbell Skull Crushers Form and Tips

When you do a skull crusher exercise, you should pay attention to these things.

  • Avoid lowering the weight too close to your face or forehead. This can put too much strain on the elbows and increase the risk of getting hurt.
  • Keep your wrists in a neutral position throughout the exercise to minimize strain on the joints.
  • You should do the whole movement slowly and carefully, especially when the weight moving down.
  • Don’t let the barbell fall too quickly or bounce off.
  • Exhale during the concentric phase (when lifting the barbell) and inhale during the eccentric phase (when lowering the barbell).
  • Keep your elbows close to your head and pointing upward.
  • Keep your shoulders and upper arms fixed. All the movement should be in your elbows.
  • Avoid allowing your elbows to flare out to the sides or drift forward.
  • Don’t lock your elbows at the top of the movement. This can put stress on your elbows and cause injury.
  • Pause for a moment at the bottom of the movement. This will help to stretch the triceps and get a better workout.
  • Start light, add weight gradually, and always keep the movement under full control.

Sets And Reps

The number of sets and repetitions you do, as well as the number of times you do each exercise, will be determined by your own goals, such as building tricep strength and muscle.

1. Muscle Growth

The research has shown that higher intensity exercises with moderate repetitions and sets build muscle by recruiting a higher number of muscle fibers.

  • Sets: 3 to 4 sets
  • Reps: 8 to 12 reps
  • Weight selection: That becomes difficult to complete the last few reps.
  • Rest between sets: 60 to 90 seconds

2. Endurance

To enhance muscular endurance, focus on higher repetitions with lighter weights and minimal rest.

  • Sets: Perform 3 to 4 sets of dumbbell skull crushers.
  • Repetitions: Aim for 15 to 20 reps per set.
  • Weight selection: That allows you to complete the desired repetitions without compromising your form.
  • Rest between sets: 30 to 45 seconds.

Barbell Skull Crusher Variations

There are many variations of barbell skull crusher that you can perform by changing the bench position and grip position. To suit your fitness level, you can also do it in different ways.

  • If you’re new to doing skull crusher, you can make it easier by using lighter weights.
  • For a more advanced way to engage different muscle groups in the triceps, try incline and decline barbell skull crushers.

1. Incline Barbell Skull Crushers

The incline skull crusher helps to build muscle and strength in all three tricep heads.

The incline position allows for a deeper stretch of the triceps during the eccentric (lowering) phase and a more intense contraction during the concentric (lifting) phase.

Adding incline skull crushers to your tricep workout routine can help you get stronger and overcome plateaus.

Incline EZ Bar Skull Crushers

How To Do Incline EZ Bar Skull Crushers

  1. Set an incline bench at around 30-45 degrees.
  2. Take an EZ Bar and lie down on a bench with your face facing up and your feet on the floor.
  3. Extend your arms over your shoulders with your palms facing up.
  4. Then slowly lower the weight towards your forehead by bending your elbows.
  5. Hold this position for a count and then with a controlled motion raise your arms back up to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for as many reps and sets as desired.

Tips For Proper Form

  • Keep your upper arms fixed, with your elbows close to your head.
  • Do not use excessively heavyweight as this is dangerous for your elbows.

2. Decline Barbell Skull Crusher

Decline barbell skull crushers are a variation of the traditional skull crusher exercise performed on a decline bench.

The decline angle enhances the stretch on the triceps during the eccentric phase and allows for a deeper contraction during the concentric phase. This increased range of motion can lead to greater muscle activation and development.

Decline Skull Crusher

How To Do Decline Skull Crushers

  1. Grab a barbell and lie against a decline bench with your feet firmly on pads.
  2. Extend your arms over your shoulders with your palms facing up, and then slowly lower the barbell behind your head by bending your elbows.
  3. Hold this position for a count. Then, in a controlled motion, raise your arms back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for as many reps and sets as desired.

Tips For Proper Form

  • Keep your upper arms fixed, with your elbows close to your head.
  • At the top of the movement, do not lock out your elbows.

Benefits Of Barbell Skull Crushers

The barbell skull crusher is a highly effective exercise that offers a multitude of benefits for your arms. It works the tricep muscle through a deep range of motion, which is great for building muscle strength.

The benefits of performing barbell skull crushers are listed below.

  • Skull crushers work the triceps, which will help protect your elbow joints in other settings.
  • It can help improve complex movements such as the bench press and add mass to the triceps.
  • Studies have shown that the triceps play a critical role in throwing movements. This resulted in enhanced overhead throwing power.
  • To do skull crushers, you need to move your arms to full range of motion. This can make your shoulders and elbows more flexible and move freely.
  • The skull crusher exercise can be a good alternative to the standing overhead triceps extension if you are experiencing pain or difficulty with overhead exercises.
  • A study conducted in 2020 revealed that a specific triceps exercise could enhance the strength of the bench press.
  • Strengthening your triceps is a great way to work on your functional fitness, and make sure that the work you do in the gym also benefits you in your everyday life.

Add Barbell Skull Crusher In Your Workout Routine

There are many different ways to incorporate barbell skull crusher in your workout routine to build a bigger and stronger tricep.

1. Push Day

Barbell Bench Press48-1060-90s
Incline Dumbbell Press310-1260-90s
Barbell Skull Crushers410-1260s
Dumbbell Shoulder Press38-1060-90s
Cable Flyes312-1560s
Triceps Pushdown312-1560s

2. Triceps-focused Workout

Close-Grip Bench Press48-1060-90s
Barbell Skull Crushers48-1060s
Triceps Dips310-1260-90s
Overhead Triceps Extensions38-1060s
Cable Pushdowns312-1560s

3. Full-Body Workout

Barbell Rows48-1090s
Barbell Skull Crushers410-1260s
Bench Press48-1060-90s
Dumbbell Shoulder Press38-1090s


Short answer on Why is the skull crusher so hard?

The Skull Crusher exercise is difficult because it targets the triceps, which can be a weaker muscle group for many people, and requires strength, stability, and control to perform the movement properly. Skull crushers are closed-chain exercises, meaning that the weight is being lifted against gravity. This makes the exercise more challenging.

Are skull crushers for beginners?

Skull crushers are not generally recommended for beginners. They are a challenging exercise that can put a lot of stress on the triceps and shoulders. If you are a beginner, it is better to start with other exercises that are less demanding, such as triceps pushdowns or dumbbell kickbacks.

Are skull crushers safe?

Skull crushers are safe when performed correctly and at the right weight. However, individuals with existing shoulder, elbow, or wrist issues should exercise caution and consult with a fitness professional before starting.

how many skull crushers should i do

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps are ideal for focusing on the triceps and boosting muscle development and strength.


Barbell skull crushers are an excellent way to build mass and strength in your triceps. 

There are many ways to do this exercise, so you can choose the best skull crushers variation for you. Mastering the skull crusher will help you see gains across many muscles in your upper body.


  1. Boehler B, Porcari JP, Kline D, Hendrix R, Foster C, Anders M. ACE-sponsored research: Best triceps exercises. American Council on Exercise.
  2. Borges E, Mezêncio B, Pinho J, Soncin R, Barbosa J. Resistance training acute session: pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and triceps brachii electromyographic activity. J Phys Ed Sport. 2018;2018(02):648-653. doi:10.7752/jpes.2018.02095
  3. Alves D, Matta T, Oliveira L. Effect of shoulder position on triceps brachii heads activity in dumbbell elbow extension exercisesJ Spors Med Phys Fitn. 2017;58(9):1247-52. doi:10.23736/s0022-4707.17.06849-9
  4. Shuttlewood K, Beazley J, Smith CD. Distal triceps injuries (Including snapping triceps): A systematic review of the literatureWorld J Orthop. 2017;8(6):507-513. doi:10.5312/wjo.v8.i6.507
  5. American Council on Exercise. ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises.

7 Best Barbell Tricep Exercises For Bigger and Stronger Arm

Leave a Comment