12 Barbell Skull Crusher Alternatives For Strong Triceps

Barbell Skull Crushers are one of my absolute favorite exercises for building bigger and stronger triceps. Skull Crushers do a great job of isolating the triceps and you can use a good amount of weight using a barbell.

However, there may be some situations where you need an alternative for Barbell Skull Crushers.

Maybe you simply don’t have a barbell. Or maybe they bother your wrists or maybe you just want some ideas to change up your workout routine.

Whatever the case, if you’re looking for Barbell Skull Crusher Alternatives then you are in the right place. I’m about to give you 10 of my favorite substitutions and hopefully at least one of them can work, regardless of your situation.

Alternatives for Barbell Skull Crusher

In this list of 12 Skull Crusher alternative exercises, I’ve tried to include movements that would fit all kinds of scenarios. Exercises that still use a barbell along with exercises that use dumbbells, bands and even a cable machine. There are exercises that are much more forgiving on the wrists and also exercises that can be done single arm.

One thing to note before I get into the exercises, you don’t need a bench to do skull crushers. I didn’t have a bench for the first year I worked out in my garage gym and did skull crushers on the floor. Wasn’t an issue at all.

EZ Bar Skull Crushers

EZ Bar Skull Crushers are the closest exercise in form and function to Barbell Skull Crushers. They are so close that many lifters naturally gravitate to an EZ Bar when they see Barbell Skull Crusher listed on their workout sheet.

There is, however, a few differences that I wanted to put out which is why I added them here as an alternative.

First, most lifters will find EZ Bar Skull Crushers much easier on their wrists. The angle of the cambered bar puts the wrist in a much more forgiving position and many (myself included) find it much more comfortable.

Second, the shorter bar comes with its own pros and cons. Being shorter makes it less cumbersome to move around than the much longer barbell. On the other hand, curl bars are generally too short to be racked on a squat rack. Depending on your situation, the shorter bar may be a plus or a negative.

Dumbbell Skull Crusher

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

The next closest exercise in form and function to Barbell Skull Crushers is its dumbbell variation, Dumbbell Skull Crushers. If you don’t have a barbell, Dumbbell Skull Crushers would be my first suggestion.

The dumbbell version has other added benefits as well. Because it’s dumbbells, both arms have to work independently so you’ll be able to notice any asymmetries – one arm being stronger than the other.

Also, because the dumbbells are rotated in, Dumbbell Skull Crushers put the wrist in more of a neutral grip position which is much more comfortable for many lifters.

Cable Skull Crusher

If you have access to a cable machine, Cable Skull Crushers are another Skull Crusher variation that can be done utilizing a different piece of equipment.

Slide a bench over the cable machine, lower the pin down to the bottom and adjust the weight as needed. A partner can be extremely helpful here to help hand you the bar to get started.

You may need to adjust the distance of the bench to the machine a few times to get the optimal angle, but other than that, it’s the same movement pattern as any other Skull Crusher variation.

Band Skull Crusher

The last skull crusher variation I’m going to mention is Band Skull Crushers. I love throwing a resistance band in my bag if I’m going on a road trip because you can do so many things with just a resistance band.

Simply wrap the band around your back and lay on a bench (or the floor). Grab the resistance band and do skull crushers – just like you would with a barbell or dumbbell. It’s surprisingly effective.

Close Grip Bench Press

Close Grip Bench Press (1)

Close Grip Bench Press is one of the best pressing movements that heavily emphasizes the triceps. If Barbell Skull Crushers bother your elbow or maybe your wrist, replacing them Close Grip Bench Press can be an excellent skull crusher alternative.

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a narrow grip, right at the start of the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows tight to the body.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

When doing Close Grip Bench Press, do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.

Floor Press

Floor Press is another great triceps exercise that uses a barbell.

Floor Press is basically Close Grip Bench Press while laying on the floor. Laying on the floor restricts the range of motion, similar to how a Board Press would do. This puts the focus of the lift on the triceps and the lockout.

Set yourself up in a rack, use a close grip and lower the bar down until your triceps lightly touch the floor and then drive back up. Make sure to have a spotter for this movement.

Diamond Push-ups

Close Grip Pushups

If you’re looking for Skull Crusher alternatives because you’re limited on equipment options, look no further than Close Grip Pushups (or Diamond Push-ups). Close Grip Pushups require no equipment and can be done anywhere at any time. They also happen to be extremely effective in building crazy strong triceps.

Place your hands just inside shoulder-width, keep your elbows close to your sides and otherwise do pushups as you normally would.

Pro Tip: Yes, you can put your hands in the diamond formation and do Diamond Push ups, but what you really want to focus on is the elbows. Keep the elbows tight to the body to emphasize the triceps.

Triceps Pushdown

Triceps Pushdown

Walk into any gym in the country right now and I can almost guarantee there are two exercises being done – Bench Press and Triceps Pushdown.

If Barbell Skull Crushers bother your wrists, Triceps Pushdowns are a great alternative. There are plenty of different attachments to choose from and it shouldn’t be hard to find at least one that you really like. (Rope Pushdowns are my personal favorite)

The other place where Triceps Pushdowns work as a great substitute is at the hotel gym. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a hotel gym that had a barbell, but almost all of them will have a universal cable machine.

Pro Tip: Use a Reverse Grip and you’ll not only hit your triceps, but you’ll smoke your forearm muscles as well.

Band Triceps Pushdown

If you want to use Triceps Pushdowns at home, but don’t want to shell out a couple of grand for a cable machine, try Band Triceps Pushdowns. (If you hold each side of the resistance band independently – as in don’t hold your fists together – it actually closely simulates doing Rope Pushdowns.)

Resistance bands are relatively cheap and have an endless amount of uses. One of which, is wrapping the band around the top of your squat rack and doing triceps pushdowns. They’re probably worth the cost just for this one exercise alone.

One of the biggest benefits of Band Triceps Pushdown is its versatility. Take your resistance band with you when you’re going out of town and this exercise combined with Close Grip Push-ups give you two great Skull Crusher alternatives.

Seated Overhead Triceps Extensions

Seated Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Seated Overhead Triceps Extensions can be done with dumbbells or a bar.

Personally, my favorite of the two options is using a singular dumbbell. Sit on a bench with good posture and grab a dumbbell with both hands by the head of the dumbbell. Lift it straight overhead and then bend the elbows, lowering the dumbbell to just behind the head. Finally, press back up to extension.

This movement can also be done with a bar, but it’s a lot more cumbersome and you’ll probably want the help of a partner to hand you the bar and grab it once your set is over.

Pro Tip: Can also be done as a single-arm exercise using a dumbbell.


Dips (1)

There is no way I can do a list of Barbell Skull Crusher alternatives without including Dips. Dips are the absolute king of triceps exercises and one of the best exercises period for building a strong upper body.

Whether it’s higher volume bodyweight Dips or lower rep weight Dips, one way or the other, you should have Dips in your training program at least once a week.

Focus on hitting full range of motion, going down until the upper arm is parallel to the floor (or just slightly below). Easily the biggest mistake I see with Dips is people only going down a quarter of the way (kind of like squats actually).

Bonus Exercise: If you don’t have a Dip attachment, you can opt for Bench Dips. Bench Dips aren’t nearly as effective for building strength, but done at high reps you can still can get a great triceps pump. (Here are 9 more alternatives for Dips if you don’t have a Dip attachment)

Owl Presses

This final of the 12 triceps exercises is a combo set combining three different exercises into one giant back-to-back superset. I’ve used it for quite some time with the teams that I’ve worked with and it always adopted the name of the school I was currently at.

The three exercises used are Barbell Pullovers, Skull Crushers and finally Close Grip Bench. The three exercises are done in that order, 10 reps each, all with no rest in between. You can use a barbell or an EZ Curl Bar if you prefer.

One thing is certain with Owl Presses – they will absolutely light your triceps up. If you’ve been looking for something unique to add something fresh to your workouts, this is the one I would highly recommend.

Final Thoughts

Barbell Skull Crushers are an awesome exercise, one I use in my programming all the time. They’re great for working the medial and long head of the triceps.

However, sometimes you need an alternative for Barbell Skull Crushers. No matter the reason why you’re looking for an exercise to use as a substitution, I hope at least one of these Skull Crusher alternative exercises I’ve listed above fits what you were looking for.

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