Although they’re one of the most common triceps exercises you’ll see being performed at the gym, skull crushers are also one of the very worst movements out there when it comes to placing unwanted stress on the elbows.

In fact, I would say that most lifters who include this exercise in their routine for more than a couple of years will eventually end up with nagging elbow pain whenever they perform it if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

The movement itself is very simple…

You lay flat on a bench with a loaded bar or dumbbells (incline or decline angles can also be used), press the weight directly over the front of your face, and then extend at the elbow until the weight touches your forehead before pressing it back up.

You can view the proper form here.

In today’s post, I want to outline 5 tips that you can employ right away to either eliminate skull crusher elbow pain altogether, or at least reduce it down to a manageable level.

Before I go any further though, I do want to stress the following…

As much as you might enjoy this movement, skull crushers are certainly not a mandatory exercise, and there really is no hard necessity to include them in your muscle building routine in the first place anyway.

Yes, skull crushers certainly are a good exercise for stimulating the triceps, but the reality is that there are a million and one other triceps extension variations out there for you to choose from that will be just as effective.

If you’re currently experiencing a reasonable amount of elbow pain when performing your skull crushers, the simplest solution is to just find a different triceps extension variation that doesn’t give you problems.

Triceps pushdowns, overhead extensions and cable kickbacks are all perfectly good choices, and you can experiment with different angles and attachments on these to find what works best for you.

(In addition to this, don’t forget that the majority of your triceps growth will come as a result of your compound pressing exercises for your chest and shoulders anyway.)

So, from the perspective of overall training longevity and muscle growth, you’d probably be best to just ditch the skull crushers now and save your elbows from any further damage.

That said, if for some reason you really enjoy this particular exercise and want to keep it in your routine, or if you aren’t experiencing elbow pain yet but just want to get some preventative measures in place, here you go…

5 Tips To Eliminate Skull Crushers Elbow Pain

#1 – Don’t go too heavy or perform low reps.

Instead, select a weight that you can remain in complete control of using a slow, deliberate cadence for around 8-12 reps. Skull crushers are anything but a “power” exercise, and if you start bouncing the weight up and down using excessive amounts of resistance, you’re just begging to injure your elbows in the process.

#2 – Make sure your technique is perfect.

Along with using a controlled rep speed and keeping your elbows tucked in rather than flared out, also aim to lower the weight slightly behind the top of your head rather than to your nose or forehead. This will still keep the tension on your triceps but will also take some of the stress off of your elbows.

#3 – Cycle them in and out of your routine.

There’s no necessity to perform these year round. Instead, add them into your program for 4, 8 or 12 weeks at a time, and then simply take some time off and perform a different triceps extension variation in its place to give your elbows a chance to recover.

#4 – Use dumbbells rather than a straight bar or EZ curl bar.

Grab a pair of dumbbells and perform your skull crushers using a neutral grip (palms facing eachother). With your arms now able to move in a more natural motion (rather than being locked into a fixed position on the bar), your wrists and elbows will also be placed under less stress.

Elbow issues aside, this is simply a better variation from a muscle building perspective anyway, since each arm will be moving independently and one can’t cheat for the other.

#5 – “Roll” your shoulders back at the bottom of the movement.

Instead of just pressing the dumbbells up and down using pure triceps extension, roll your shoulders slightly backward at the very bottom of the movement, before rolling them forward again to extend the weights up.

Here’s an example of what this looks like…

Performing your skull crushers in this fashion will deload your elbows at the bottom of the movement in order to take some of the stress away.

5 Tips To Eliminate Skull Crusher Elbow Pain – Wrap Up

So, if you’re looking to keep those skull crushers in your routine in order to build your triceps without the accompanying elbow pain…

1) Stick to moderate weights for around 8-12 reps.

2) Keep your elbows tucked and lower the weight behind the top of your head.

3) Only include them in your routine for a period of 4-12 consecutive weeks before cycling off.

4) Perform them with dumbbells using a neutral grip.

5) If you’re still experiencing pain, use the “rolling” variation to deload your elbows in the fully stretched position.

Give these tips a try and see how it goes.

If you’ve already buggered your elbows up to an excessive degree at this point, then they may or may not solve the problem. In that case, you’ll simply need to introduce a different variation in its place.

However, if you catch it early enough and start employing these techniques right away, you can probably keep those skull crushers in your routine without any elbow issues moving forward.

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