Skull Crusher Alternatives (10 Substitutes For Garage Gyms)

The triceps make up 60-70% of your upper arm, so if you’re looking to have T-shirt popping arms, you need to work your triceps. One of the best ways to develop your triceps is to perform 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

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.

Suggested Equipment - 7 Best Cable Crossover Machines

How to do it: 

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

2. Parallel Bar Dips

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.  

See Also - How To Use A Dip Belt

How to do it: 

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

3. Bench Rolling Triceps Extension  

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.

How to do it: 

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

4. 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.  

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

Read More - Close Grip Bench Press Alternatives

How to do it: 

  • Lie on a bench and grab the barbell with a narrow (shoulder width) grip.  
  • 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.  
  • Press the barbell back to the starting point.  
  • Repeat the movement and complete your set.  
Close Grip Bench Press

5. Straight Bar Pushdowns 

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.

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

How to do it: 

  • Attach a straight bar handle to a cable machine. 
  • Hold the bar with both hands using an overhand grip.  
  • Bring the bar to chest height and tuck your elbows into your sides.  
  • Push the bar toward your hips and straighten your arms.  
  • Slowly bring the bar back to your chest height.  
  • Repeat the movement. 
Straight Bar Pushdowns

6. Reverse Dip

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. It’s a good alternative as it places your triceps through a full range of motion. 

Suggested Equipment - Best Dip Bars For Home Use

How to do it: 

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

7. Diamond Push-Ups 

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 the movement uses only your body weight, some gym-goers struggle to perform a push-up, so it’s not suitable for everyone.  

It’s worth noting 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.

Read Also - Diamond Push Up Benefits

How to do it: 

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

8. 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 exercise is one you need in your workout routine.

How to do it: 

  • Pick up a dumbbell and stand up tall.  
  • Press it overhead and bend the elbow, bringing the dumbbell behind your head.  
  • When the tricep is at maximum stretch, push the dumbbell back to the starting point.  
  • Repeat the movement and swap arms.  
Overhead Tricep Extensions

9. 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.  

Related Article - 20 Single Dumbbell Exercises

How to do it: 

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

10. 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.

See Also - How Long Do Resistance Bands Last?

How to do it: 

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

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 Substitute 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. 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. 

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.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Whats the difference between skull crushers and lying tricep extension? 

They are pretty much the same exercise, and often the name is interchanged between gym-goers. If it wasn’t confusing enough, the movement is sometimes called the French press or French extension.

Some argue the name change refers to the various placements of the barbell at the bottom of the movement, e.g., behind your head, to your nose, or forehead.  

Do skull crushers work the entire tricep? 

During the skull crusher exercise, the entire tricep is put to work, but the main area worked is the long and lateral heads of the triceps.

Why do my elbows hurt while doing Skull Crushers? 

Skull crushers place stress on your elbows and wrists, but you can make a few adjustments to help negate any elbow pain, such as lowering the barbell past your head, focusing on lightweight and high reps, or switching from a straight bar to an EZ bar.


Conclusion

The skull crusher is a brilliant triceps exercise many gym-goers love to perform. It helps develop fantastic looking triceps and helps increase your lockout performance on other lifts.

However, if you can’t perform skull crushers, then you should check out the skull crusher alternatives on the list above. They give you everything you need to hit all three heads of the triceps, giving you the horseshoe-shaped muscle everyone’s after.

Paul J