If you want T Shirt popping arms, you need to work your triceps. One of the best tricep exercises is skull crushers.

However, what happens if you can’t do skull crushers? 

Whether you don’t have the equipment, can’t perform them due to injury, or fancy a change, you’ll need to find another way to train your triceps. 

In this article, I’ll show you the 10 best skull crusher alternative exercises you can add to your workout to build a fantastic set of triceps. 

If, for some reason, you can’t perform the skull crusher movement in your home gym, the list below details 10 of the best skull crusher alternatives and shows you how to do each one.

1. Rope Pushdowns

Man Doing Rope Pushdowns

The rope pushdown is one of my “go-to” triceps exercises. I’ve found that using the rope handle allows you to stimulate your triceps using a comfortable neutral grip that doesn’t place much stress on the shoulders or wrist joints.  

It’s a simple skull crusher alternative that most people can perform without much guidance.

Traditionally you need a cable machine to perform this exercise, but I have seen it done using resistance bands with a high anchor point, making it the ideal home gym exercise.


  • Creates constant tension in the triceps.
  • Less stress on the wrists and shoulders. 

How to do it: 

  1. Attach a rope handle to a cable machine and stand in front of the handle. 
  2. Hold the rope using a neutral grip.
  3. Pull the rope down slightly to chest level and tuck your elbows into your sides.
  4. Push the rope downwards until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • As you push the rope down, open each side of the rope up so they go towards each hip. By doing so you'll increase the work your inner triceps head has to do.  

2. Parallel Bar Dips

Man Doing Parallel Bar Dips Outdoors

Many gym-goers love this alternative for skull crushers. One of the main reasons is it's an excellent way to work your lower chest and triceps in one movement.  

Leaning forward creates more tension on the chest while remaining upright places more emphasis on your triceps.

Even though this movement is traditionally body weight, you can use an assisted dip machine which is brilliant for beginners looking to learn the movement.

But, you can also increase the weight by using a dipping belt or weighted vest, making it a good exercise for all experience levels. 

Dips are one of my favorite exercises for developing upper body mass. I've always ensured they're in my workout every week no matter what. 


  • Uses your body weight.
  • Works your triceps through a wide range of motion.
  • The exercise can be adjusted to suit all ability levels.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in front of a dipping station and grip the parallel dip handles. 
  2. Lift your body, so your arms are supporting your body weight.
  3. Lean forward slightly (depending on how much of your chest you want to engage).
  4. Lower yourself until your arms reach 90-degrees.
  5. Push upwards until the arms are straight.
  6. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you don't have an assisted dip machine available, try using a resistance band to help.  

Related Article - How To Use A Dip Belt

3. Bench Rolling Triceps Extension 

Man Doing Bench Rolling Triceps Extension Exercise At Home

The bench rolling triceps extension is one of the most effective skull crusher alternative exercises you can perform to develop your triceps’ muscle mass.  

It’s a multi-joint exercise and allows you to achieve a maximum stretch in your triceps by taking the dumbbells beyond your head. By doing so, the long head of the triceps is forced to work harder in order to move the dumbbell.

With this movement I tend to perform it using one dumbbell at a time. I prefer the focus I have on that one arm and always feel like it gives me an excellent pump. 

The only downside to this skull crusher variation is that it can be taxing on your shoulder and elbow joints.[1] If you have issues with this movement, try another from this list like the rope pushdown.


  • Doesn't require much equipment.
  • Fully stretches your triceps.
  • Suitable for most ability levels.

How to do it: 

  1. Pick up a pair of dumbbells and lie on a flat bench. 
  2. Hold the dumbbells at chest level and extend your arms, so they’re above your chest.
  3. Bend your elbows and lower the weight to the side of your head.
  4. Roll the arms back so the dumbbells touch your shoulders.
  5. Reverse the movement and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't have a bench in your home gym? You can lie on the floor instead, so you can perform this movement almost anywhere.  

4. Close Grip Bench Press 

Man Doing Close Grip Bench Press

Traditionally, the bench press is a chest exercise. However, adjusting your hand position, so you've got a narrow grip places more emphasis on the triceps and a lot less on the chest muscles.  

This alternative for skull crusher is a powerful triceps exercise that allows you to overload the triceps with large amounts of weight.  

I'm a HUGE fan of this movement as you can really overload your triceps with a lot of weight. By doing so you'll provide them with the large amounts of stimulus needed to grow. 

If you don't have the necessary equipment to perform this exercise, I suggest you take a look at close grip bench press alternatives.


  • It's a compound exercise (works multiple joints).
  • You can overload your triceps easily. 

How to do it: 

  1. Lie on a bench and grab the barbell with a narrow (shoulder width) grip. 
  2. Bend your elbows and bring the barbell to your chest. Be sure to tuck your elbows into your sides, don’t let them flare outwards.
  3. Press the barbell back to the starting point.
  4. Repeat the movement and complete your set.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • When performing this movement, ensure your grip isn’t too close together as it may cause shoulder, elbow, or wrist pain. 

5. Straight Bar Pushdowns 

Man Doing Straight Bar Pushdowns At The Gym

The straight bar pushdown is a fairly similar exercise to the rope pushdown. As you're using a straight bar, you can lift more weight than you would when using the rope so that you can place a load of stress on the triceps.

However, even though this exercise is a brilliant barbell skull crusher alternative, it can place a lot of stress on the wrist joint, so if you have joint issues, swap the handle for a rope or V handle.

If I'm honest, I don't use this substitute for skull crushers as much anymore. This is largely because I suffer from wrist pain occasionally and this exercise doesn't help. 

Overall it's a good substitute for skull crushers.

Straight bar pushdowns are also an excellent alternative to dumbbell pullovers.


  • Uses a wide range of motion. 
  • You can do them in most gyms.

How to do it: 

  1. Attach a straight bar handle to a cable machine. 
  2. Hold the bar with both hands using an overhand grip.
  3. Bring the bar to chest height and tuck your elbows into your sides.
  4. Push the bar toward your hips and straighten your arms.
  5. Slowly bring the bar back to your chest height.
  6. Repeat the movement.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you don't have a cable machine available you can use resistance bands instead. While it's not the exactly the same (due to the grip position) it'll still work similar areas of your triceps. 

6. Reverse Dip (Skull Crusher Alternative For At Home)

Man Doing Reverse Dips

The reverse dip, commonly known as the bench dip, is a brilliant skull crusher alternative.  

The exercise doesn’t require much equipment; you need a bench, step or chair, and your body weight. This makes this alternative for skull crushers an excellent choice of exercise if you're struggling for space in your home gym or if you're traveling. 

I've used this exercise in my local park many times. But you can perform them easily on most elevated platforms (so long as they aren't too high). 

It’s a good skull crusher variation as it works your triceps through a full range of motion. 


  • Uses bodyweight.
  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Ideal if you're on the move.

How to do it: 

  1. Sit on a bench or step (side-on). 
  2. Place your hands on the bench outside your hip-width (palms facing backward).
  3. Support your body weight and walk your feet outwards.
  4. Bend your elbows and lower yourself until your arms reach 90-degrees.
  5. Push through your triceps and return to the beginning of the movement.
  6. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to finish your triceps off, try performing a static hold halfway through the dip. Hold that position for 20-30 seconds, and then perform your set. It's a killer. 

Suggested Equipment - Best Dip Bars For Home Use

7. Diamond Push-Ups 

Man Doing Diamond Push Up

No gym equipment? It’s not a problem. The diamond push-up can be performed anywhere, whether you’re at home or on the move.  

This push-up modification engages your triceps more than the regular push up, making this exercise a brilliant skull crusher alternative.  

While this substitute for skull crushers uses only your body weight, some gym-goers struggle to perform a push-up, so it’s not suitable for everyone.  

As diamond push-ups offer many benefits, it’s worth nothing if the exercise places a lot of stress on your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints, so if you’ve got any injuries in those areas, I’d give this skull crusher alternative a miss.


  • Uses your body weight.
  • You can do them anywhere (parks, hotels, gyms, bedroom).
  • Minimal space required.

How to do it: 

  1. Assume a push-up position on the floor. 
  2. Place your hands close together, so your two thumbs and fingers touch creating a “diamond” shape.
  3. Bend at your elbows and lower your chest towards the floor.
  4. Push back up to the starting point and squeeze your triceps.
  5. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're struggling with this movement, place your hands on an elevated platform or put your knees on the floor. Doing either of these will make the push-up easier.  

8. Overhead Tricep Extensions

Woman Doing Overhead Tricep Extensions

This alternative for skull crusher helps strengthen your long head of the triceps. It can be performed using dumbbells or a rope (depending on your equipment) and is a simple movement most people can perform.  

It’s an iso-lateral movement, so both sides are required to work equally as hard, ironing out any muscle imbalances. If you’re looking to develop your triceps, this skull crusher replacement is one you need in your workout routine.

I'm a fan of this movement as it helps you iron out any muscular imbalances in your triceps.


  • Fully stretches your triceps.
  • Minimal space required.
  • You don't need a lot of space.

How to do it: 

  1. Pick up a dumbbell with one hand and stand up tall. 
  2. Press it overhead and bend the elbow, bringing the dumbbell behind your head.
  3. When the tricep is at maximum stretch, push the dumbbell back to the starting point.
  4. Repeat the movement and swap arms.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're on the move and want to work your triceps, using a resistance band is an excellent substitute for the dumbbell.  

9. Tricep Kickbacks 

Man Doing Tricep Kickbacks

Tricep kickbacks are a super-controlled movement that most gym-goers perform incorrectly. They often use far too much weight and end up swinging the dumbbell rather than controlling it.  

If you lower the weight and move the dumbbell in a much slower fashion, the tricep kickback is an excellent skull crusher alternative.  

The movement involves elbow and shoulder extension, creating one of the most intense tricep contractions you’ll get from an exercise.  

This skill crusher variation is brilliant for all ability levels, it's simple to learn and gives your triceps an excellent pump.


  • Minimal space required.
  • Only needs one dumbbell. 
  • Great for all ability levels.

How to do it: 

  1. Place your left hand and left leg on a flat bench and support your body. 
  2. Pick up a dumbbell and hold it in your right hand.
  3. Lift the dumbbell to chest level.
  4. Kick your arm backwards in a slow & controlled manner.
  5. Squeeze your triceps when your arm is straight.
  6. Reverse the exercise and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't lift too heavy with this exercise. To get the most from it, you want each rep to be slow and controlled.  

10. Band Pushdowns 

Man Doing Band Pushdowns

The band pushdown is a variation of the rope pushdown; it works all three heads of the triceps, making it one of the best skull crusher alternatives.  

It can be performed iso-laterally or bi-laterally depending on your resistance band setup. 

By using a band, the pushdown is no longer reliant on a bulky cable machine. This makes the exercise ideal if you’re struggling for space in your home gym or traveling and need to keep your exercise equipment lightweight.  

As a resistance band is being used, the strength curve of the band makes the movement more difficult at the bottom, allowing for a brilliant contraction and the end of each rep.

If you're like me and are always on the move, these can be an easy way to work your triceps pretty much anywhere. Whether you're in a park, beach, office, hotel, or bedroom, you can perform this skull crusher variation.


  • You can do them almost anywhere.
  • Minimal space required.
  • Works your triceps using a large range of motion.

How to do it: 

  1. Attach a resistance band to a head height level. 
  2. Hold the opposite of the band with both hands.
  3. Tuck your elbows to your side and lean forward slightly.
  4. Push the resistance band downward, straightening your elbows and squeezing your triceps.
  5. Reverse the movement and complete the set.
  6. Swap arms and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Pull each handle to either side of your hips to maximize your triceps activation.  

Benefits Of Skull Crusher Substitutes (Are They Effective?)

The skull crusher substitutes mentioned in the list above are best suited for most gym-goers.

However, a few exercises on the list are difficult to perform, so depending on your strength, you might find you can’t do them, e.g., the diamond push-up.

Many skull crusher alternatives work all three tricep heads, which is essential for arm mass and strength.

The advantages of performing the skull crusher alternative exercises are: 

  • Improved upper body strength and tricep development.  
  • Allows you to isolate the triceps to stimulate muscle growth.  
  • Strength carryover to other lifts such as bench press and shoulder press (improved lockout strength) 
  • They’re simple to perform, and there’s something for all levels of experience on the list above.  
  • The skull crusher alternatives are a mix of bilateral and unilateral movements so that you can train your triceps in a versatile way.

What Muscles Do Skull Crusher Type Exercises Work?

  • Triceps Brachii
    The triceps allow your elbow to extend, a major part of most pressing movements such as dips, bench press, push-ups, and more. The skull crusher and its substitutes help to isolate the triceps brachii.[2] All three heads are activated during the movements, particularly the long head.
  • Shoulder Stabilizers
    Even though the shoulders aren’t directly activated, they are required to keep your arms stable during the skull crusher alternative exercises. Your scapula stabilizers and deltoids need to work hard to keep the shoulder joint in a fixed and stable position throughout the movements on the list above.[3

Tips For Mastering Skull Crusher Alternatives (Mistakes To Avoid)

No Arch

To help create stability, you want to maintain an active core and flat back. If you arch your back during the skull crusher movement, you’ll struggle to find the right angle for your triceps to feel the exercise.

Shoulder Position

Your shoulders play a huge role in your upper body’s stabilization. During the skull crusher, you should drive your shoulders into the bench while using a 92-95 degree angle in your arms to maximize tricep activation.

Elbows Tight

Tucking your elbows tight to your body helps emphasize the triceps. Flaring your elbows is a quick way to injure yourself.

One Lever Only

The skull crusher is a single joint movement, and this means your elbow should be the only joint that moves. If you find yourself rolling your shoulder joint, you’re removing some of the stress from the triceps and using your lats.

Skull Crusher FAQs

What’s the difference between skull crushers and lying tricep extension? 

The difference between skull crushers and lying tricep extension is where the barbell finishes. During the skull crusher the barbell stops at your forehead, while with lying tricep extensions, it finishes behind your head.

Do skull crushers work the entire tricep? 

Yes, skull crushers work the entire tricep, but the main area worked is the long and lateral heads of the triceps.

Why do my elbows hurt while doing Skull Crushers? 

Your elbows hurt during skull crushers because they stress on your elbows and wrists, but you can make a few adjustments to help negate any elbow pain, such as swapping to an EZ bar.


Choose 2-3 skull crusher alternatives from the list above to hit all three heads of the triceps, giving you the horseshoe-shaped muscle everyone’s after.

Don't be afraid to experiment and find the alternatives that work best for you. Remember, consistency and proper form are key to achieving your tricep goals.

Keep challenging yourself and enjoy the progress on your fitness journey.





Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.