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Form: Dumbbell Skullcrusher
Most triceps moves like overhead extensions and kickbacks tend to target a specific triceps head. Skullcrushers, however, hit all three equally by placing the arm at a 90-degree angle to the body. This creates the optimal length-tension relationship to carve that sexy horseshoe shape into your upper arm while also tightening up that infamous bat-wing area.
While a straight bar requires that your wrists and elbows rotate outward to gain a firm grip, which can be uncomfortable, holding a set of dumbbells in a parallel (hammer) grip reduces this stress. It also allows for equal resistance on each arm so your dominant arm can’t take over.
Lie face-up on a flat bench and hold the dumbbells straight above your chest. Some people like to angle their arms back over their heads to cause a greater stretch. However, this shifts some of the focus to your chest, lats and serratus, detracting from, rather than adding to, the focus of the exercise.
Ideally, your feet should be planted firmly on the floor to create stability and total-body tension while also maintaining a neutral curve in your lower back.
Lock your upper arms into place by consciously pulling your shoulder blades together underneath you so no visible movement occurs at the shoulders. Then lower the weights slowly in unison toward your ears by bending your elbows while keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
Keep the motion controlled so that your arms stay an even distance apart and your elbows are pointing toward your feet. If you let your elbows flare out, your chest and shoulders get involved, which could compromise your shoulder joints if you lose control.
Lower the dumbbells just enough to feel tension and a good stretch in the triceps — then stop. Overstretching the triceps with a load can pull and strain the tendon that inserts into the ulna (the bony part of your elbow), causing pain and inflammation.
Extend your elbows to press the weight back to vertical — going for full extension but not hyperextension — and squeezing your triceps hard at the top.
Use skullcrushers after multi-joint moves like dips, triangle push-ups or close-grip bench presses, and keep the weight light to moderate to be kind to your elbows. When using it as a finisher, get a partner to spot you. If your triceps are overly fatigued from previous moves, you might discover how this exercise got its catchy name.
Function: Med-Ball Soccer Throw
When you push, press or throw, your triceps act in concert with your shoulders, chest and trunk, and they are one of the last links in the kinetic chain that transfers the power from the lower body and core out through your arms, elbows and wrists. This move uses a medicine ball to mimic an overhead throwing action, using your total body from your calves through your glutes to the hip flexors through the core to the lats, pecs, shoulders and finally the triceps.
Choose a lighter medicine ball — about 6 to 8 pounds. Since this move requires a whipping action from the upper body, too much weight could mean a muscle strain. Then stand 10 to 15 feet away from a wall, ensuring there is enough room for the ball to hit the wall and bounce back to you.
Hold the ball in front of your chest and assume a wide split-stance position with your back foot up on your toes. Begin with your weight over your front leg, then quickly and smoothly shift it back to your rear leg as you lift the ball overhead and bend your elbows to lower it behind your head.
Exhale as you quickly shift your weight forward once more, pulling the ball forward, contracting your abs, and powerfully extending your shoulders and elbows to throw the ball against the wall in a whipping action.
While you want to create enough tension to generate that whip-like action, don’t become so tense that you shrug your shoulders or tighten your lower back and core, which will cause you to decelerate rather than accelerate through the move.
Release the ball just above eye level, flicking your palms away from you and following through with your arms to release your power. If you try to stop short, it could negatively affect your joints and connective tissues.
Catch the ball as it returns to you, then switch your forward foot and repeat. Changing your stance will prevent overuse injuries and promote muscular balance between your two halves.
Incorporate this move into programming that includes additional pressing and pushing moves or upper-body plyometrics to get the most out of your triceps.