Four Alternatives to the Skullcrusher
We took an incredibly good triceps move — the skullcrusher — and made it even better. Here are the four variations you need to build sleeve-busting arms.
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Nothing beats a controversial statement, so let me throw one at you: The skullcrusher is the single-best triceps exercise you can perform. A number of you may agree with that statement, and some of you may not. But that’s really not the point I’m going to make here. Rather, nobody will contend with the assertion that repeatedly performing the same exercise from one workout to the next will have diminishing results. If your arms have stagnated and you consider the skullcrusher one of your go-to moves, it’s time to once again make the skull a novel exercise that can stimulate new gains. Easier said than done? Absolutely not! We’re going to show you four completely different ways to do the skullcrusher to make it an altogether different exercise, all of which will do your triceps a favor.
It’s important to remember that the triceps have three muscles: the lateral, medial and long heads. While you can’t target each without stimulating the others to some degree, you can involve one over another based on the angle of your arm relative to your body. The skullcrusher (upper arms perpendicular to your body) puts the lateral head as well as the long head under some severe tension, which is why most bodybuilders stand by it. But while the skull is king, the focus here is on ways to manipulate it and make it work for you while still targeting the muscles that are most prominent to the size and shape of your upper arms.
Assembled herein are four skullcrusher exercise variations that all have the essential elements of the skull but with striking differences that’ll dramatically stress and target your musculature and form.
1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Skull
While some benefits of single-limb moves are obvious, others might surprise you. For starters, with most exercises you can produce more force on each side of the body than you can using both sides together. Simply stated, when you use both arms simultaneously, the equal weight on both sides of your body balances your torso. When you examine the single-arm skullcrusher, the torque or body english is less than say the dumbbell row, but it’s still present. The single-arm skull also puts your core musculature on overdrive, which helps establish a better base of strength and stability for virtually every other move or technique you choose to tackle.
A more obvious advantage of performing the skull using one arm at a time is your ability to apply intensity techniques such as forced reps. Being able to self-spot can be a critical factor in inducing change to your upper arms. By simply applying enough assistance to move the working arm through the range of motion, you can push past failure on each arm. By doing each side independently, you can also identify weaknesses on either side of your body. Perhaps your left triceps is weaker than your right side, and by training each side individually you can target that weakness and get it to catch up with the other side. That imbalance could be the reason other moves and bodyparts, such as your chest, shoulders and relative presses are lagging behind as well.
One important factor to remember is that every time you incorporate single-arm moves into your routine, start your session or sets using the opposite arm with which you began your last session. That way, each side gets to be worked when your muscles are freshest.