Barbell Skull Crusher

Isolation exercise, Free weights




Required equipment

Main muscles

  • Triceps: Three-headed arm muscle
    (Musculus triceps brachii)

Training plans

Barbell Skull Crusher is a suitable substitute for similar exercises in or as a supplement to various training plans.

Barbell Skull Crusher: Basics and alternatives

: Involved main muscle groups Barbell Skull Crusher

Involved main muscle groups:
Barbell Skull Crusher

The barbell skull crusher is a great way to target your triceps, and it’s similar to the dumbbell skull crusher. You lie on your back and lower the weight towards your head over your upper body.

Other triceps exercises like overhead barbell tricep extension, kickbacks, or even resistance band kickbacks can be done at home. Although they have different body positions, they all involve elbow flexion, like the skull crusher.

Compound exercises like bench press or push-ups also target your triceps while working your chest and shoulders.

Correct execution

The grip width on the barbell is adjustable, so you can grip it wider or narrower based on your comfort.

The way you perform the exercise matters too. You typically grip the bar wider (about shoulder-width) when lifting it overhead and grip it narrower when the weight is closer to your face. That’s why it’s also called “skull crusher” or “nose breaker”.

Neither version is better or worse. The overhead version is more challenging because it has a larger range of motion and requires more stability.

You can do the exercise on the floor or on a flat or negative bench. Both work fine, but doing it on the floor may slightly limit your range of motion. To counteract this, pull your shoulder blades back and slightly extend your chest.

A 30-degree angle is commonly used for the negative bench. This bench is best for lighter weight training and still provides great muscle stimulation. The movement is the same as the flat variation, so there’s no significant advantage other than the potential for lighter weight.

Video tutorial

Barbell skull crusher- perfect technique! MPT

Step-by-Step instructions

Sit on a flat bench and place the barbell on your thigh, holding it with a grip about shoulder-width apart.

Lean back and place the bar on your back. Hold the bar with both hands and extend your arms above your upper body. You can use a little push from your legs to help lift heavier weights.

Pull your shoulder blades back and slightly bend your elbows. This is the starting position.

Lower the bar towards your forehead or behind your head, making sure the movement mainly comes from your elbows. If you’re lowering the bar behind your head, your shoulders and wrists may be slightly more active.

Then, lift the weight back up to the starting position by extending your elbows.

Common mistakes

Avoid swinging your arms while lifting the weight, as it can strain your elbows and decrease the exercise’s effectiveness. Instead, lift the weight cleanly and controlled. Also, pay attention to the position of your arms and shoulders. The movement should come from your elbows, not your shoulders or arms. Over-activating your shoulders and spreading your arms can turn the exercise into a bench press, losing the triceps isolation.