skull crusher alternative
Exercise Alternative

8 Effective Skull Crusher Alternatives For Building Muscle

Skull crushers, otherwise known as the lying triceps extension, is one of the most effective exercises to work your triceps. That’s because they move your triceps through a full range of motion while also providing early phase loading to maximally stimulate all three individual heads of the triceps.

But dumbbell skull crushers are not the only exercise that will max out the major muscle of your upper arms. in this article, I lay out 8 skull crusher alternatives.

1. Rope Pushdowns

Why it’s a great alternative

The rope pushdown allows you to place your hands in a neutral position to stimulate your triceps from a unique angle. 

Muscles worked

Triceps

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Place a rope attachment to a single pulley cable machine. Stand two feet in front of the machine, facing it and grab the rope handle with a neutral grip.
  2. Hold your hands at chest level with your elbows in at your sides.
  3. Push down to full arm extension.
  4. Reverse and repeat.
  5. Do 4 sets of 15-6 reps, increasing the weight each set.

Equipment used 

Cable pushdown machine, rope handle attachment

Tips 

Do not let your elbow flare out to the sides; maintain a neutral lower back position. 

2. Bench Rolling Triceps Extension 

Why it’s a great alternative

The rolling triceps bench extension is a multijoint exercise that allows you to extend your triceps all the way back and beyond your head to maximally extend the long head of the triceps.

Muscles worked

Triceps

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Lie on a bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Hold them over your chest at full arm extension, keeping the elbows in at the sides of your head.
  2. Bend the elbows to lower the dumbbells to the sides of your head.
  3. Now roll the arms back to bring your elbows down to the dies of your head and the dumbbells down below the level of the bench. 
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps. 

Equipment used 

Flat bench, dumbbells

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Tips 

Keep your elbows in at the sides of your head throughout the movement.

3. Cable Skull Crushers 

Why it’s a great alternative

The cable skull crusher is a single-arm movement that allows you to work the triceps unilaterally. This provides greater benefits in terms of both strength and muscle gains.

Muscles worked

Triceps.

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to its highest setting. Grab the handle with your right hand and hold it up at the level of your head with your elbow bent.
  2. Stand about three feet in front of the machine with a staggered stance.
  3. Extend your right arm to full extension.
  4. Reverse and repeat.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used

Single pulley cable machine

Tips 

Support the working arm with your other arm under the elbow to help to keep the elbow from drifting out. 

4. Straight Bar Pushdowns

Why it’s a great alternative

The straight bar triceps pushdown is an effective mass builder that allows you to forcefully contract the muscle in the fully extended position.

Muscles worked

Triceps

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Place a straight handle attachment to a single pulley cable machine. Stand two feet in front of the machine, facing it and grab the rope handle with a neutral grip.
  2. Hold your hands at chest level with your elbows in at your sides.
  3. Push down to full arm extension.
  4. Reverse and repeat.
  5. Do 4 sets of 15-6 reps, increasing the weight each set.

Equipment used 

Singe pulley cable machine

Tips 

Do not allow your elbows to drift away from your sides; forcefully contract the triceps in the bottom position.

5. Reverse Dip 

Why it’s a great alternative

The reverse dip is a very good bodyweight exercise for the triceps that moves the muscle through its full range of motion.

Muscles worked

Triceps

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Position yourself in front of a sturdy chair. Put your hands on the chair behind you at shoulder level distance. Now place your feet out so that your body is at an angle of around 45 degrees to the floor.
  2. Perform a triceps dip by bending the elbows to bring your body down to the floor.
  3. From the bottom position, push through the triceps to return to the start position. Be sure not to pulse with your body to provide momentum.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
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Equipment used 

Bench

Tips 

Be sure to lower down to full extension and push all the way back up. Do not buck with your hips.

6. Band Pushdowns

Why it’s a great alternative

Band pushdowns simulate the cable version of the exercise, providing you with an excellent triceps pump and allowing for a forceful contraction t the end of the movement.

Muscles worked

Resistance band

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Secure a resistance band to a secure upright at waist level. Hold the end of the band in your right hand and stand about four feet away from the upright, facing it.
  2. Bend at the waist to a 45 degree torso position. Begin with your elbow at your side and elbow bent.
  3. Now extend the lower arm back to full extension. Contract the triceps in the extended position.
  4. Return to the start position. Perform all reps on one side before repeating on the other side.
  5. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

Resistance band

Tips 

Do not allow your arms to wander away from your body.

7. Single-Arm Pushdown

Why it’s a great alternative

The single-arm pushdown is a unilateral pressing movement to work each triceps muscle separately. This will produce greater strength and muscle gains.

Muscles worked

Triceps (medial head)

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set the cable on a single pulley cable machine to its highest setting. Stand about two feet in front of the machine, facing it. Grab the cable handle with your right arm.
  2. From a start position with your elbow bent and the cable handle at chest level push down to extend you arm to full extension.
  3. Reverse and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps on each arm.

Equipment used 

Single pulley cable machine

Tips 

Move your arm deliberately through a full range of motion.

8. Band Triceps Kickbacks

Why it’s a great alternative

Triceps kickbacks are one of those isolation exercises that work the triceps through their full range of motion for maximum muscle activation.

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Muscles worked

Triceps (medial head)

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Position a resistance band around a secure upright at waist level. Stand about two feet in front of the upright and grab the other end of the band with your right hand in a palm down grip.
  2. Bend at the waist so that your body is at a 45 degree angle. Bend at the elbow and place your arm at your side.
  3. Now extend your arm to full extension.
  4. Return to the start position and repeat.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12 reps on each arm.

Equipment used 

Resistance band

Tips 

Do not allow momentum to help you get the band up.

Final Thoughts

The skull crusher is a fantastic exercise to work your triceps and you should include it in your workout routine. Dumbbell skull crushers are better than the barbell skull crusher as they allow you to work each arm unilaterally. You can also do incline skull crushers to hit the triceps from a slightly different angle. Throw in one or two of our skull crusher alternative exercises each workout to deliver a complete, rounded workout. Do a total of 8 sets for your triceps, varying your rope range between a high of 30 with a light weight and a low of 6 reps with a heavier weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you hit all 3 heads of triceps?

You cannot work each of the 3 triceps heads separately. The lateral triceps head, the medial head, and the long head all have the same insertion point. The elbow is a hinge joint, which can only move in one direction and all three heads are involved in that movement. So, all of the exercises listed above will work all three heads of the triceps.

Is a close grip bench better for the chest?

No, the close grip bench press will stimulate your triceps more than the shoulder-width grip, which is better for the chest.

How can I get huge arms?

To get huge arms you need to work the triceps, bicep and forearm muscles with full range of motion exercises that early phase load the muscles. Hit each body part every 5 days with 8 sets of between 6 and 30 reps. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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