Dumbbell Pullover Vs Skull Crusher: How To,…

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Dumbbell pullovers and skull crushers are two different exercises but some people confuse them with each other. Find out the differences in areas like technique and muscles worked.

Both exercises require you to lie on a flat weight bench with a weight held above your head. However, from that point on, the movements are different.

In dumbbell pullovers, you typically use one dumbbell and lower it behind your head while keeping your arms slightly less than stretched. This mainly works your pectoralis major (chest) and latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back).

To do a skull crusher instead, you keep your upper arms in the same position while you fold your arms at the elbows.

This movement is also called a lying tricep extension which makes the technique difference between the exercises less confusing. As you can conclude from the name, this is a tricep isolation exercise.

Differences in technique

So in dumbbell pullovers, both of your arms move as one unit. In skull crushers, your upper arms stay in place but your forearms move up and down.

Below you can find the exercises described more in depth together with a video to be able to visualize the differences.

How to do a dumbbell pullover

As the name implies, most people use one dumbbell and a flat weight bench to do dumbbell pullovers. Once you have these, take the following steps to do the exercise:

  1. Lie on a weight bench with your head on the end of the bench. Hold a dumbbell on your chest.
  2. Grab one end of the dumbbell with both of your hands with your hand palms pointing upward. Extend your arms upward until they are slightly less than stretched and point them up.
  3. Slowly move back your arms as far as comfortable. Keep your elbows somewhat close to your sides, not pointing outward too much. Your arms stay slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
  4. Move your arms back to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.

One of the benefits of dumbbell pullovers is that you can do them in different ways to focus on different muscles.

By keeping your elbows close to your sides you focus more on your chest muscles. With your elbow out to the sides, you work your latissimus dorsi more.

How to do a skull crusher

For skull crushers you have a lot more freedom in terms of weights you can use. Some examples include dumbbells, an EZ curl bar, tricep bars, a barbell, a weight plate, etc.

Take the following steps to do skull crushers with dumbbells:

  1. Lie on the weight bench with the dumbbells in your hands. Use a wrist angle that is comfortable for you. Your upper arms should lean slightly more back than vertical and your lower arms with the dumbbells can hang down behind your head.
  2. Slowly raise the dumbbells by stretching your arms until your arms are fully stretched. Keep your wrists straight and your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion.

The muscles involved in skull crushers are not as strong as the ones in the dumbbell pullover. Due to the position of the weights, you preferably want to start lighter and build up from there.

Differences in muscles worked

By moving different body parts, dumbbell pullovers and skull crushers also focus on different muscles. One is not necessarily better than the other. What muscles you want to work on depends on your training goals.

As briefly mentioned before, in what ratio you engage the muscles worked with dumbbell pullovers depends on the position of your elbows.

With your elbows close to the center, this exercise will focus on the lower part of your pectoralis major (main chest muscle). Dumbbell pullovers with your elbows out to the sides will focus more on your latissimus dorsi.

On the other hand, skull crushers are a tricep isolation exercise. Your triceps are the muscles located in the back of your upper arms.

Keep in mind that your pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles are typically a lot stronger than your triceps. How much weight you should use in a skull crusher is a lot lower than in a dumbbell pullover.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.