Skull Crushers and Dips are two of the most popular (and effective by the way) triceps exercises you’ll find in the weight room. However, you may find yourself wondering which is better to use in your workouts.
Is one movement better than the other for developing strength? Or, which is the better option if you’re a beginner?
In this article, I’m going to answer those questions and more. I’m also going to breakdown how to properly perform each exercise along with the muscles worked and overall benefits. In just a few minutes you should have a solid understanding of which of these exercises (or both) is best for your training goals.
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- Bar* (Can be a barbell or a Curl Bar)
- Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as well)
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 the 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. If you don’t have either, dumbbells can also work great as an alternative for Barbell Skull Crushers.
Benefits of Skull Crushers
Skull Crushers are one of the best triceps exercises for improving strength and building muscle mass.
- Squat Rack
- Dip Attachment
- A Dip Station can be used as well if you have access to one.
- Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
Step By Step Instructions
- Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
- Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
- Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
- Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
- Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
The biggest mistake I see with Dips is poor range of motion. If someone is struggling to be able to do reps, the easiest solution is to simply not lower yourself into a full rep, but this is incorrect. If a lifter cannot perform a full rep they should switch to one of the variations listed below.
The other issue I see athletes run into is unwanted swinging front to back while doing reps. Stay under control, keep a consistent rep path, bend the knees and cross the feet. These are all solutions that I have seen help eliminate swinging while doing Dips.
Benefits of Dips
There are several benefits to incorporating dips into your workout routine:
- Increased upper body strength: Dips require a significant amount of strength in the triceps, shoulders, and chest, and performing them regularly can help you build muscle and improve overall upper body strength.
- Enhanced functional strength: Dips require you to support your own body weight, which can help improve your functional strength and stability.
- Greater range of motion: Dips allow for a greater range of motion than many other upper body exercises, which can help improve your mobility and flexibility.
- Versatility: Dips can be performed with a variety of equipment, including bars, rings, and even parallel bars, giving you plenty of options for mixing up your workouts.
Overall, dips are a valuable exercise that can help you build strength, improve muscle definition, and enhance functional strength and mobility.
Skull Crushers vs Dips: Which is Better?
Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison to see which of these exercises might fit best into your strength program.
Better For Strength and Hypertrophy: Dips
This is to take nothing away from Skull Crushers. Skull Crushers are one of my favorite exercises for building triceps strength and size.
It just happens that Dips would be my number one draft pick. I believe that Dips is not only the best movement you can do to build triceps strength, but they are also one of my top three upper-body exercises (along with Bench Press and Pull-ups), period.
Once you’re able to do sets of 10 to 15 reps of Dips using your bodyweight, then it’s time to progress to Weighted Dips. Using a Dip Belt, you can add weight plates pretty much as heavy as you’re able to handle. Keep the rep range in the 5 to 12 range and continue to increase the weight as your strength increases.
Better For Beginners: Skull Crushers
First, let me be clear – if you’re a beginner and are able to do Dips, then my answer here would 100% be Dips.
Having said that, Dips can be very challenging for beginners to do at all, let alone a set of 10. And, continuing to get frustrated by doing an exercise that you continue to fail at is a recipe for disaster.
This is why I’m giving the nod here to Skull Crushers. You can start as light as needed (dumbbells can also be a great option for beginners) and then gradually work your way up as you get stronger. Exercises like Skull Crushers and even Tricep Pushdowns are solid alternatives for Dips to help improve your pressing strength.
Then, once a month or so, give Dips another shot. Sooner rather than later you’ll be able to knock out a few reps and then you can start incorporating them more into your training.
I just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better, Dips or Skull Crushers. The truth is, assuming you have the necessary equipment, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both exercises are excellent movements for building upper-body strength, specifically the triceps. And, utilizing both exercises can help you add variety to your workouts and keep them from getting stale and boring.
So, instead of trying to decide which is better, I suggest figuring out how you can incorporate both Skull Crushers and Dips into your training.