If you’re looking to build your arms with minimal equipment, then the bodyweight skull crusher is a great go-to tricep movement. Since the triceps make up one-third of your upper arm, you would want to train them properly to achieve big and strong arms. And this movement will help you achieve exactly that.
Bodyweight Skull crushers are an effective way to train all heads of your tris, specifically the long, medial, and lateral heads. It is a scalable exercise that lifters of any level and goal can perform.
So, read on to learn how to get the most out of bodyweight skull crushers with this definitive guide.
This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:
- How To Do Bodyweight Skull Crushers
- Benefits of Doing Bodyweight Skull Crushers
- Common Bodyweight Skull Crusher Mistakes To Avoid
- Bodyweight Skull Crusher Muscles Worked
- Bodyweight Skull Crushers vs Weighted Planks
- Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
- Bodyweight Skull Crusher Variations
- Bodyweight Skull Crusher Alternative Exercises
- FAQs About Bodyweight Skull Crushers
How To Do Bodyweight Skull Crushers
What You’ll Need
- Squat Rack and Barbell – The only equipment you would need to do bodyweight skull crushers is a sturdy horizontal bar (barbell) that you can adjust the height of (via the squat rack or power cage).
There is no need for plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, or bands used in a traditional skull crusher. Gravity and body position will determine the load or resistance.
- Bench – A bench can be used by true beginners to perform the movement kneeling or by intermediate lifters for a greater amount of resistance.
- Sturdy Table or Desk – For an at-home triceps workout, a heavy table, kitchen counter, or even your bare wall can be used for bodyweight skull crushers.
Step 1. Set your barbell up.
Position your barbell on the squat rack at about waist or elbow height. This height is not fixed; you can scale up the difficulty of the exercise by lowering the bar more or scale it down by placing it higher.
Step 2. Grab the bar.
Grip the bar with an overhand grip, arms shoulder-width apart. You can also use a false grip, but I find the former to be safer as it helps your hands to avoid slipping from the bar.
Step 3. Step a few steps back.
Walk about 2 or 3 steps back. What you want when you set up is for your forehead, aka skull, to be directly on top of the bar at the bottom of the movement. Remember to keep your knees extended. Your back straight, and feet at shoulder width.
Step 4. Control the eccentric.
Now that you’ve found your proper set-up start the rep from the top position with your elbows straight. Then, slowly lower your skull towards the crusher (barbell) by flexing or bending your elbow joint.
Step 5. Get a deep stretch.
At the bottom of the movement, you would want to have your forehead as close to the bar as possible to get a really good stretch on your triceps. This activates more muscle fibers that will lead to better hypertrophy (muscle gain).
Tip: You can get a deeper stretch on this tricep movement by walking further away from the bar. Instead of the barbell inhibiting elbow flexion, there’ll be more range of motion since your head will move past the bar, allowing for an even better stretch for the triceps.
Step 6. Explode on the concentric.
When moving away from the barbell, make sure that the only joint moving is the elbow. Push as explosively as you can towards full extension. Repeat steps 4 to 6 until you reach failure.
5 Bodyweight Skull Crusher Benefits
1. Little to no equipment is needed.
The bodyweight skull crusher is an exercise you can do virtually anywhere! When a gym is fully packed on a Monday, aka international chest day, all you’d need is a squat rack and a barbell or even just a flat or incline bench. At home, you only need to find a sturdy table or counter. When on vacation or outdoors, a wall to push off of would do.
2. Isolates the triceps.
The bodyweight skull crusher is as effective as using weights to target your triceps. Just like its barbell, EZ bar, dumbbell, kettlebell, or cable counterparts, it allows you to solely work the triceps via elbow extension. Thus, it is a true triceps isolation exercise instead of just being an alternative to something better.
3. Trains the tris in a lengthened position.
This movement places the arm in the elbow and shoulder extension. So, not only does it train the lateral and medial heads in a stretched position, but it also allows more long head activation because of the angle of the humerus relative to the torso.
In other words, the whole muscle group is maximally activated, creating a better stimulus and, subsequently, better hypertrophy and strength adaptations.
4. Can be scaled to match fitness and technique level.
Whether you are a gym noob or a gym rat, this exercise will kick your butt. You can program these skull crushers as an easy warm-up movement, use them as the main movement for hypertrophy, or as an accessory exercise to your press-focused strength training.
If free weights require you to go up or down in reps or weights, all you need to do for this exercise is change the height of the bar or your distance from the bar.
5. Trains the core.
During this tricep movement, you have to brace the core to keep your torso straight. Hence, you must intentionally contract your abs throughout the set. By engaging your core muscles, you keep your entire body tight and, thus, keep the tension on your triceps.
Common Bodyweight Skull Crusher Mistakes to Avoid
Using momentum to push off
Exploding on the concentric portion of the skull crusher is hugely different from bouncing off the bar. Rushing your reps or repping in an uncontrolled manner makes you prone to injury by placing unnecessary stress on your tendons and ligaments. Plus, you could slip and actually make the exercise live up to its name.
Going beyond your active range of motion
Exceeding the range of motion that your body is used to can result in nagging pain in your elbow or shoulder joint. So, use the variations listed later in this article to better accommodate your current ROM.
Dropping your hips, rounding your back, and losing core tension will make the exercise easier, which is not what we want. Make sure you keep your form throughout the movement, with the elbows and shoulders being the only joints that move.
Bodyweight Skull Crusher Muscles Worked
- Triceps brachii
- Long head
- Medial head
- Lateral head
All three heads of the triceps muscles are well-stimulated when doing bodyweight skull crushers. It trains the tris in its most lengthened position because it incorporates both elbow and shoulder flexion. So, if you want horseshoe triceps, then this is a great exercise to keep in your arm days. And as research shows, training a muscle in a lengthened or stretched position is superior for hypertrophy (muscle gain) compared to doing so in a short position like in a triceps press down. This is because it increases mechanical tension in that muscle, which is one of, if not the best, drivers for muscle growth.
Bodyweight Skull Crushers vs Weighted Planks
Wen we think of skull crushers, we immediately set our minds to weighted skull crusher with free weights like dumbbells. Bodyweight skull crushers and its bodyweight variation are very much different. The only similarity between bodyweight skull crushers and Weighted Planks is the position of your body – elbows and shoulders flexed, knee extended, and torso straight and tight. They are entirely different movements simply because the former is a fantastic triceps exercise while the latter is an isometric exercise for your abs and lower back, aka your core.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs:
For Hypertrophy Training
If you are training to add muscle mass to your triceps like in bodybuilding, then you should focus on mechanical tension. Simply put, work down to a bar height where you can perfectly execute reps and fail at the 8-10 rep range. After finding that height, do 1-2 working sets and 1 back-off set. It would look something like this:
- Warm-up sets
- Chest height BSC – 1 x 20
- Waist height BSC – 1x 12
- Working set
- Hip height – 2 x 8-10 (to failure)
- Back offset
- Chest height BSC – 1 x to failure
For Strength Training
Bodyweight Skull Crushers are a great exercise to build strength in your triceps, which is important for pressing movements like the bench press, especially during lockouts. This exercise not only helps you increase your pressing power but also helps you work on your shoulder stability. As an accessory exercise, do 3-4 sets of these in the 5-8 rep range while focusing on exploding up in the concentric phase.
Bodyweight Skull Crusher Variations
We do acknowledge that people with different fitness goals and levels will be reading our guide. So, we made a short list of bodyweight skullcrusher variations you can do to make the exercise easier and lighter or harder and heavier.
Kneeling Skull Crushers
The kneeling variation puts far less weight on your triceps muscle compared to the standing version. This makes it ideal for beginners who are not yet strong enough, people with heavier bodyweight, or experienced gym-goers as part of a mechanical drop set.
Suspension Trainer Skull Crushers
Stability fitness equipment like TRX straps or gymnastic rings increases the level of difficulty and muscle engagement of bodyweight skull crushers. This variation will demand more core and scapulohumeral stability – making it a great exercise for improving athletic-type upper body movements.
Floor Skull Crushers
This is a hard version of our featured tricep-building exercise because you’re almost using all your body weight while executing the movement. But, it does have a limiting factor – the range of motion. This is a great calisthenics and gymnastics exercise.
Bodyweight Skull Crusher Alternatives
Besides skull crushers, here are other bodyweight exercises you can do to train your triceps:
Diamond or close grip push-ups
The skull crusher movement isolates the triceps, making them the lone movers in the exercise. However, if you’re looking for a compound push bodyweight exercise with a focus on the triceps, do diamond push-ups. It trains the chest and shoulders while emphasizing the triceps.
Tricep chair dips
Tricep Chair Dips is a great exercise to bias the largest head of the triceps. The triceps’ long head pulls the humerus down and back past the frontal plane of the body. And this motion is trained in the chair dips.
For calisthenics or bodyweight training, Bar Dips are by far the best push-based movement. It works your tris, chest, and delts to a great degree, similar to using free weights because you’ll be lifting your own bodyweight.