There’s never been an exercise with a cooler name than the “Skull Crusher.” You should perform them just for that reason alone but they’re also one of the best exercises for building massive triceps. This exercise is also known as the “Lying Tricep Extension” but why would you call it that when you can sound like a Viking and proclaim that it is your right to crush skulls? If you haven’t guessed already, the skull crusher is one of my favorite tricep builders and I generally team it up with a strange finishing move that I’ll explain later.
The skull crusher is classified as an isolation exercise. You generally don’t use much weight with isolation moves, as compared to compound moves, so they’re not usually known as mass builders. But I perform skull crushers as a power move and therefore I’m able to move some heavy weight.
I like to use a curl bar because it’s easier on my wrists than a straight bar and I can power up more weight. I take a narrow grip using the first angles on the bar. I lay back on the bench until my head is right at the edge. This high position helps when I’ve increased the weight to the point where I prefer to reach back and lift the bar off the floor to perform a pullover followed by a close grip bench press to get the bar in the starting position. This exercise can put a lot of stress on the elbows so I make sure I warm up with a light weight for 20 reps and I slowly add weight for the next three sets until I hit my first working set. As a straight isolation move you’d keep your elbows pointing straight up and about eight inches apart. But I perform this move as a mass builder so I let my elbows drift out to a comfortable position. I also use a full grip because a thumbless grip will keep your elbows tight and when using a heavy weight you risk turning this move into an actual “Skull Crusher.” As the bar descends I let my wrists curl up so my thumbs always point towards the ceiling. I always lower the bar in a slow controlled manor until it touches my forehead. I then explode the bar upward to a lockout position. If you can work up to 45 lb plates it raises the curl bar higher off the floor and makes it easier to reach behind your head. Sometimes I’ll bring the bar down to my chin for a greater stretch in my triceps. I also like to mix it up and I’ll sometimes execute this move on a decline bench.
Give skull crushers a try, in this specific manor, and you’ll understand why I call it a mass builder. You’ll also quickly increase your power in all other pressing movements.
The Finishing Move
After my triceps are spent from heavy skull crushers I’ll usually perform this finishing move. I don’t even know if it has a name but I know it wouldn’t be as cool as “Skull Crusher.”
I remove the heavy weight from my curl bar and replace it with something really lame. I’m talking about a ten pound plate on each side. Lay back on a flat bench until your head starts to hang off the end. Take a narrow grip on the bar, at the first angles, and let the bar hang straight down as if you were going to perform a pullover. This is an isolation move so I use a thumbless grip and I try to keep my elbows about eight inches apart. Hold your upper arms in place, parallel to the floor. Now raise the bar until your arms are entirely straight out and in line with your body. Lockout your elbows and pause the bar at full extension. At this point you’ll realize why you’re using such a lame amount of weight. I perform as many reps as I can, in this strict form, and then I start to raise my elbows to continue the set. I continue to slowly raise my elbows, with each rep, until my elbows are pointing straight up and I’m now doing strict skull crushers. I do three sets of these and my triceps are completely smoked.
Try this heavy duty mass move followed by this obscure finishing movement and turn your triceps into horseshoes worthy of a Clydesdale.
About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com