Dumbbell Skull Crushers: The Ultimate Guide to Tricep Development

If you want to focus on your triceps during your arm workout session, you could consider doing dumbbell skull crushers.

While you can use many different equipment for this exercise, the use of dumbbells lays more emphasis on triceps development and strength than cables for example.

This exercise guide will take you through a step-by-step guide on how to perform this exercise effectively, common mistakes, and major benefits, while also providing some alternatives and variations that you can mix with this workout.

Without any further ado, let’s dive right in!

Exercise Details:

  • Exercise type: Strength
  • Body type: Arms, Triceps
  • Level:  Beginner to Advanced
  • Main targets: Triceps
  • Secondary targets: None
  • Compound/Isolated: Isolation
  • Force Type: Push
  • Equipment Required:  Dumbbells, bench, or stability ball
  • Rest time: 60-90 seconds

What are Dumbbell Skull Crushers?

Tricep muscle training can be achieved through Dumbbell Skull Crushers or lying Tricep Extensions due to performing elbow flexion and extension while also having stabilized shoulders

The skull crusher is a term that refers to the action of bringing down a weight to your skull while having started from an overhead position.

Adding dumbbell skull crushers to your workout programs leads to the effective development of the triceps providing both mass and definition.

When it comes to working out your triceps in isolation exercises like skull crushers are commonly performed with either a Bar or dumbbells on a flat or an incline bench.

How to Perform Dumbbell Skull Crushers Correctly

Learn how to perform a dumbbell skull crusher in a correct and safe form with the help of these steps:

  1. Lie down on the bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand (palms directed towards one another).
  2. Using a neutral hammer grip, position the dumbbells over your chest with straight arms, then with a position that is similar to a standard hammer bench press.
  3. Inhale and brace your core, glutes, and grip.
  4. Perform elbow flexion to lower the weight while making sure your upper arms are fixed, and when performing this particular part of the motion ensure that only your forearms are in motion as they raise back up to starting position without completely extending or locking out your elbows once you get to a higher point.
  5. Position the weights at their initial point after stretching and contracting your triceps.
  6. Exhale.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Recommended sets & reps:

  • 3-4 sets
  • 8-12 repetitions.

Some Tips:

  • As soon as you lower the weights to their lowest position, take a brief rest prior to returning them back up, (just pause for 2 seconds)

  • Sustain tension in the triceps by not locking your elbows.

  • Avoid lowering the dumbbells too far behind your head, as this can cause some tension on your elbow joint.
  • If greater resistance is required during exercise then it is possible to utilize a heavier single dumbbell held with both hands instead of lighter weights.

Muscles worked During Skull Crusher Using Dumbbell

Image Showing Muscles Worked During Dumbell Skull Crusher

Your triceps brachii are the primary muscles that the Dumbbell Skull Crusher targets.

The primary function of this muscle, which has three heads, is to extend (straighten) your arm, although it has several other functions.

In addition to working your triceps brachial muscle group, the Dumbbell Skull Crusher exercise is great for activating multiple other muscle groups as well:

  • Brachialis
  • Antonius
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Brachioradialis

Common Mistakes to Avoid

To avoid injury during your workout and experience most of its benefits, using the correct form is essential.

However, performing dumbbell skull crushers can be difficult if you’re making these common mistakes:

  • Allowing your upper arms to move (using momentum): 
    To ensure that you are properly targeting and activating the triceps muscles during this exercise, it’s important that you don’t allow any unnecessary upper arm movements, and don’t extend your elbows towards the side.
  • Using too much weight:
    Selecting the right amount of weight makes all the difference when performing an isolation exercise such as the dumbbell skull crusher, so in case of difficulty in controlling the weight, you must lower it immediately.
  • Not controlling the descent phase:
    The eccentric stage needs attention too, It’s vital to control both phases—lifting and lowering—so to reap the benefits from this exercise make sure to control the weight on its way down.
  • Arching your back:
    To optimize results while exercising on the bench it is imperative that you maintain a flat back and avoid any curvature, however, putting too much strain on your lower back could decrease how effective the exercise is.

Benefits of Dumbbell Skull Crushers

  • Increased strength in the triceps and shoulders: By performing Dumbbell Skull Crusher exercise regularly you can increase strength for both shoulder and tricep areas, and improve the strength and endurance of these muscles.
    Apart from its primary benefit of exercising target muscle groups, it also helps shoulder muscles that stabilize the movements.
  • Increasing your shoulder mobility and flexibility: Adequate shoulder range of motion is necessary for performing the Dumbbell Skull Crusher properly, and to perform this action of lowering the weight towards your head successfully requires good flexibility of shoulder muscles.
  • Increased grip strength: The amount of weight you can lift during db skull crusher workout heavily depends on your gripping abilities, so you can experience a natural improvement in your grip strength by progressing through exercises and steadily increasing the lifted weight.
  • Wrist-friendly: this exercise is a good choice for individuals who want to prevent or minimize injury in their wrists when exercising by utilizing a neutral grip instead of a pronated one resulting in a more comfortable execution of the exercise.

Dumbbell Skull Crushers Variations: For High-Defined Triceps

1. Close-Grip Dumbbell Skull Crushers:

Holding onto dumbbells with a close grip, in this variation, you position your hands closer together than they would normally in a regular setup

So, in order to maximize the engagement of your triceps while minimizing the use of chest muscles you can perform this version of exercise.

Close-Grip DB Skull Crushers ImageExecution:

  1. Place yourself in a flat position on top of a bench while keeping both feet grounded and holding onto the dumbbells using an inward-facing palm-neutral grip.
  2. Your arms should be raised straight up above the chest with elbows kept close to body.
  3. While keeping your upper arms still and bending at the elbow joint bring down the weight towards your face in a slow motion.
  4. Spend a moment pausing at the base position before stretching out your arms again.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Skull Crushers:

One-arm-at-a-time execution of this variation notches up the difficulty level to maintain stability, this makes engaging your core muscles even better.

moreover, it is useful for balancing the strength and flexibility of both halves of your body.

Single Arm Dumbbell Skull Crusher ImageHow to do:

  1. Rest in a supine position on a flat bench using both feet for anchoring purposes, then hold one dumbbell in an upright posture employing neutral hand positioning.
  2. With an upright elbow extend your arm above your chest.
  3. Your upper arms should stay still as you slowly bring down the weight toward your forehead by bending only at the elbow.
  4. Wait for a second at the endpoint before stretching out your arm again.
  5. Execute this exercise for the number of repetitions you wish to complete and then change over to your other arm.

3. Barbell skull crusher:

Picture for a men doing Barbell Skull Crushers

The barbell skull crusher exercises can be done by lying over a flat bench and applying pressure with a straight rod.

This exercise is great for developing your triceps instead of other muscles in your arm, to accomplish this variation, we have a fully comprehensive guide with images and videos that can certainly help you with this.


Performing the dumbbell skull crusher exercise can be done either at home or in the gym because it requires little to no equipment.

And the tougher variant of the popular skull crusher exercise can assist with both shaping and building up your tricep muscles.

On either a bench or the ground you can execute this exercise by supporting your body weight with one arm and extending one leg.


  1. Escamilla RF, Andrews JR. Shoulder muscle recruitment patterns and related biomechanics during upper extremity sports. Sports Med. 2009;39(7):569-90. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200939070-00004. PMID: 19530752.
  2. Schoenfeld, Brad J. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(10):p 2857-2872, October 2010. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3
  3. Skull crushers for triceps: benefits, technique, and variations. Bodybuilding.com. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/your-complete-guide-to-skullcrushers.html
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