Tricep Pushdowns vs Skull Crushers (The Triceps Showdown)


Tricep Pushdowns vs Skull Crushers

If you’re looking to build bigger, stronger arms, Tricep Pushdowns and Skull Crushers are two exercises that you should definitely consider adding to your workout routine.

Both of these exercises target the triceps, Tricep Pushdowns and Skull Crushers actually have some key differences that make them suitable for different goals and training styles.

In this article, I’m going to deep dive into how to execute both of these exercises including the benefits of both. I’ll also compare both triceps movements side-by-side to help you be able to decide which one might be best for your preferences and training goals.


Cable Triceps Pushdowns


Triceps Pushdown

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Machine
  • Cable Attachment of your choice (V-Bar, Straight Bar, Rope, etc)

Muscles Worked

Triceps Pushdowns work all three heads of the Triceps muscle as well as the Anconeus (the muscle that wraps down across the elbow)

  • Triceps Brachii lateral head
  • Triceps brachii long head
  • Triceps brachii medial head
  • Anconeus

Pro Tip: Using a Rope will emphasize the lateral head of the triceps and using an underhand grip on a straight bar will emphasize the medial head of the triceps.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Step up a cable machine by sliding the pin all the way to the top of the beam.
  • Attach the rack attachment of your choice.
  • Grab the attachment and pull the attachment down until your elbows are next to your sides (arms should still be bent).
  • Now, extend the arms down by flexing the triceps and driving the attachment toward the floor.
  • Squeeze the triceps at full extension for one second and then slowly allow the attachment to raise back to the starting position.
  • Keep elbows tucked into the sides throughout the movement.

Coaching Points

Do not swing and use momentum at the top of the movement in an attempt to use more weight. Stay in control of the weight at all times and use proper form.

If using a heavy weight, you can lean slightly forward at the waist to give yourself more stability and to help keep yourself anchored to the floor.

Don’t have a cable machine? Here are 10 Triceps Pushdown alternatives that don’t need a machine.

Benefits of Triceps Pushdowns

Tricep Pushdowns allow for a greater range of motion compared to some other tricep exercises, such as Dips or Close Grip Bench Press. This can lead to a more thorough muscle contraction and ultimately better muscle growth.

Cable Tricep Pushdowns can provide a ton of variety with all the different cable attachments that can be used (V Bar, Straight Bar, Rope, etc)


Skull Crushers


Skull Crushers (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Bar* (Can be a barbell, EZ curl bar or dumbbells)
  • Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as well)

Muscles Worked

Skull Crushers primarily work all three heads of the Triceps Brachii – the lateral head, long head and the medial head.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • 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.

Coaching Points

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. You can also use dumbbells for Dumbbell Skull Crushers which slightly alters the movement pattern but is still predominantly the same exercise.

Benefits of Skull Crushers

Skull Crushers are one of the best triceps exercises for improving strength and building muscle mass.

Tricep Pushdowns vs Skull Crushers: Which is Better?

Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises to determine which might be better for your training goals.

Better For Developing Size and Strength: Toss Up

There is no real superiority of one exercise over the other for building size and strength in the triceps. Both Skull Crushers and Tricep Pushdowns can be effective exercises for developing the triceps, as long as they are performed with proper form and progressively increasing weight.

To say one is better than the other would really be splitting hairs. Ultimately, the best exercise for building size and strength in the triceps is the one that is most challenging and enjoyable for the individual, as this is more likely to result in consistent training.

Better For Beginners: Tricep Pushdowns

Tricep Pushdowns are a slightly better exercise for beginners because they involve a simple movement pattern and can be performed using a cable machine, which can be easier to use than a barbell or dumbbells.

That being said, it is important to note that Skull Crushers can also be a good exercise for beginners, as long as they are performed with proper form and a weight that is appropriate for the individual’s strength level.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Tricep Pushdowns vs Skull Crushers. The truth is, there is no reason (assuming you have the available equipment) you shouldn’t have both exercises in your training program.

Both are great exercises for developing upper body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Tricep Pushdowns and Skull Crushers in your training plan.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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