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Conquer the 45-Degree EZ-Bar Skullcrusher

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Target Muscles: All three triceps heads with emphasis on the long head.

By Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS; Photography by Gregory James; Model: Armon Adibi

THE START

  1. Lie face up on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor. Your body should be fully supported from your hips up to your entire head.
  2. Have a partner hand you an EZ-bar and grasp it with an overhand grip. Be sure to wrap your thumbs around the bar for safety.
  3. With your arms extended hold the bar at a 45-degree angle above your head, back toward your spotter. Lock your upper arms in this angled position for the duration of the set.

EXECUTION

  1. Keeping your upper arms positioned at the 45-degree angle throughout the set, unlock your elbows as you slowly lower the bar toward the top of your head. The only movement should occur at your elbows. Control the descent of the bar so that it doesn’t bonk you on the head.
  2. When you reach a 90-degree angle in your elbows or the bar is just an inch or so away from the top of your head, pause for a moment in this stretched position.
  3. Contract your triceps to forcefully extend your arms, pressing the bar back to the starting position. Be careful not to move your upper arms forward as you raise the weight.
  4. With your arms positioned at a 45-degree angle, you have to work harder to maintain your arm position than when they’re directly perpendicular to your body.

IN YOUR ROUTINE

  • Do the 45-degree EZ-bar skullcrusher early in your workout with heavy weight after a thorough warm-up.
  • You can follow the skullcrusher with pressdowns, reverse-grip pressdowns, kickbacks and dips to fully exhaust your triceps.
  • Because the weight is directly above your face, we highly recommend you have a spotter, especially when going heavy. Your spotter can assist you in accomplishing a few more reps after initial failure.
  • Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

BEST ALTERNATIVES

Incline Cable Overhead Extension

We want you to place your arms at 45-degree angles during the skullcrusher for a couple of reasons. One is to induce constant tension on to the triceps from start to finish. During the standard skullcrusher your arms are perpendicular to your body at the start position, allowing the triceps to relax briefly during the set. However, when you draw your arms back slightly, your triceps are called upon throughout with no real chance of resting during the rep or set. The second reason is that the farther back your arms approach an overhead position, even when you’re lying down, the more you engage the meaty, long head of the triceps. Therefore, a good alternative is anything on the incline bench that brings your arms overhead. In this case the incline cable overhead extension puts your arms in almost an identical position as the 45-degree skullcrusher.

Single-Arm 45-Degree Dumbbell Skullcrusher

If you don’t have an incline bench or an EZ-bar, you can still target the long head with a dumbbell by angling your arm back above your head slightly. In fact, even though you may be able to do both arms simultaneously, the benefit of using a dumbbell is that you can use your free arm to provide a spot if you want to train past failure. Help just enough to squeeze out a few more reps. At the end of the set you can sit up and rest for 30 seconds before hitting the opposite arm. We recommend you start these exercises with a different arm from one workout to the next so that each has the benefit of beginning first when you’re freshest.

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