Dumbbell Skull Crusher vs Barbell: Is One Better?
When it comes to building big and strong triceps, Skull Crushers are one of the most effective exercises in any weightlifting program. But with so many variations, it can be challenging to determine which type of skull crusher is best for you.
In this article, I’ll compare two popular variations of this exercise: Dumbbell Skull Crushers and Barbell Skull Crushers.
I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each exercise, including the muscles worked, the equipment needed, and important coaching points. Then I’ll compare each exercise side-by-side for some common lifting goals.
In just a few minutes, you’ll have a better understanding of which type of skull crusher (or both) is right for your training goals and how to perform it safely and effectively.
Let’s start with the Dumbbell Skull Crusher.
Dumbbell Skull Crusher
- Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as in the video above)
Dumbbell Skull Crushers primarily work all three heads of the Triceps Brachii – the lateral head, long head and medial head.
- Using dumbells, lie flat on a bench with your head down, and chin up. If you don’t have a bench, you can simply lie on the floor.
- Press dumbbells to arm’s length above the shoulder.
- Lower dumbbells to just beside ears, bending arms at elbows, keeping upper arm vertical and elbows in.
- Return to starting position and repeat.
Keep the elbows high throughout. When DB Skull Crushers start to become difficult, the natural tendency of the lifter is to drop the elbows. Keep the elbows high and tight (try not to let them flare out to the side either).
RELATED –> 10 Best Dumbbell Skull Crusher Alternatives for Strong Triceps
Barbell Skull Crushers
- Bar* (Can be a barbell or a Curl Bar)
- Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as well)
Barbell Skull Crushers primarily work all three heads of the Triceps Brachii – the lateral head, long head and the medial head.
- Grab a bar with an overhand grip, lie flat on a bench with head down, chin up. If you don’t have a bench, you can simply lay on the floor.
- Press the bar to arm’s length above the shoulder.
- Lower the bar until it almost touches the top of the forehead, bending arms at the elbows, keeping upper arm vertical and elbows in.
- Drive the bar back up to the starting position and repeat.
Keep the elbows high throughout. When Skull Crushers start to become difficult, the natural tendency of the lifter is to drop the elbows. Keep the elbows high and tight (try not to let them flare out to the side either).
*You can use a straight barbell or an EZ Curl Bar although most lifters prefer a Curl Bar because of the angle it allows the wrist to turn.
Need an alternative for Barbell Skull Crushers? Check out my 12 favorite Skull Crusher alternatives.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers vs Barbell: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength: Barbell Skull Crusher
In general, the barbell version of an exercise is going to be better for developing strength when compared to the dumbbell variation.
Using a barbell allows more weight to be lifted. More weight lifted equals more improvements in strength.
However, this doesn’t mean that Dumbbell Skull Crushers don’t have their advantages.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers work each arm independently. This is great for reducing or eliminating any muscular imbalances that may occur over the course of training.
Using Dumbbells also forces the stabilizing muscles to work harder to maintain stability and control of each individual dumbbell. This is very beneficial for shoulder stability.
Better For Beginners: Dumbbell Skull Crusher
There are a few reasons why I would recommend a beginner to start with Dumbbell Skull Crushers before moving on to Barbell.
First, I think they’re safer. With Dumbbell Skull Crushers, the dumbbells come down beside the head – not over the top of it. This is a much safer position for someone just starting out should they lose control of the weight for whatever reason.
Second, many lifters – especially beginners – will find Dumbbell Skull Crushers to be much more comfortable on their wrists and even elbows than the barbell version. Finding exercises you enjoy doing (rather than dread) is a big part of actually looking forward to going to the gym.
Finally, dumbbells allow a beginner to use as light of a weight as necessary. For some newbies, just the barbell alone is going to be an extremely challenging weight – not ideal when you’re first learning an exercise.
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I’ve just spent the last section of this article trying to compare which is better – Barbell Skull Crushers or Dumbbell Skull Crushers. The truth is, once you’re comfortable with the technique, there is no reason not to incorporate both exercises into your training.
Both exercises have their pros and cons and by utilizing both over the course of your program you can add variety to workouts and keep them from getting stale.