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How to perform skull crushers on a stability ball

Learn how to tighten your triceps and strengthen your core with stability ball skull crushers.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 18th September 2021
A man performing a stability ball skull crusher

Stability ball skull crushers challenge your triceps, abs, obliques, and even your quadriceps. While bodybuilding purists may prefer exercises that completely isolate their triceps, stability ball skull crushers are the ideal tricep training drill for tightening your arms and strengthening your core.

This exercise ball tutorial shows you the proper skullcrusher form so that you can tone your triceps while keeping your elbows safe.

Stability ball skull crusher exercise details

  • Also Known As: Exercise ball skull crushers, stability ball tricep extension
  • Main Muscles: Triceps muscle
  • Secondary Muscles: Abdominals, obliques, quadriceps
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, exercise ball

How to do skull crushers on a stability ball

  1. Grab a pair of relatively light dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  2. Sit on a stability ball and then slide down the ball into a lying position: Upper back in contact with the ball, feet hip-width apart and out in front of you.
  3. Press the dumbbells up so that they’re positioned directly over your head.
  4. Lower the weights to the sides of your head by breaking at your elbows.
  5. Keep going until you feel an intense triceps stretch.
  6. Reverse the movement by extending your elbows until they’re completely locked out.
  7. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Benefits of doing skull crushers on an exercise ball

Performing skull crushers on an exercise ball rather than on a bench has some exciting benefits that you don’t get with other tricep drills. We’ve discussed each advantage in detail below so that you know what to expect when you give this exercise a try.

Increased core activation

A man performing skull crushers on a stability ball

Like the bodyweight skull crusher, the stability ball skull crusher activates your abs and obliques to a much higher degree than ordinary skull crushers because you’re lying on an unstable surface.

So while the movement might not isolate your triceps quite as well as regular skull crushers, it’s undoubtedly the better choice for strengthening your core.

The extra core strength that you’ll develop by training on unstable surfaces is helpful for all manner of other exercises and everyday activities. After all, when you’re lifting objects and performing compound movements, you don’t just use your triceps; you rely on your surrounding muscle groups as well.

As such, exercises like TRX skull crushers that require a higher degree of balance and coordination have more carryover to your other exercises and can help to develop systemic strength across your entire body.

Ideal for supersets

A man doing a skull crusher on an exercise ball

After performing a set of lying dumbbell skull crushers on your exercise ball, why not work the other side of your arms—your biceps—by doing a set of curls?

This superset training method saves you time and really gets your heart pumping. Best of all, because you’re working opposing muscle groups, the exercises don’t interfere with each other on a local level (though you may still feel a bit out of breath at first).

To do the curl, you simply place your stomach on the top of an exercise ball and then brace your elbows against one side of the ball. From there, you just lift the weights toward your shoulders, squeeze your biceps, and then lower the dumbbells back down in a controlled manner.

If you really want to improve your core strength, then you can pair stability ball skull crushers with crunches instead to focus more on your abs. Just make sure to rest for a minute or so after this pairing, though. Otherwise, your abs will be shaking, and you won’t be able to focus properly on training your triceps!

It doesn’t require a bench

A man doing a dumbbell skull crusher on a ball

Weight benches are often bulky and expensive.

Exercise balls, on the other hand, are cheap, light enough to carry around, and easy to deflate once you’ve finished your workout.

So if you have a limited budget for exercise equipment and/or don’t have a large training space, then basing your routine around stability ball exercises like skull crushers makes a lot of sense.

Similarly, by choosing a stability ball over a weight bench, you don’t have to venture into the free weight area at the gym if that’s something that you’re not comfortable with.

Stability ball skull crushers sets and reps

A man doing skull crushers with a stability ball

Since skull crushers of all kinds can be pretty harsh on the elbows—especially when performed heavily—your best bet for keeping your joints and connective tissue structures healthy is to stick to sets of 10-20 reps.

This moderate to high rep range provides plenty of training volume to stimulate muscle growth without venturing into the 30+ rep endurance territory.

It’s recommended to perform stability ball skull crushers 1-3 times per week, depending on your level of advancement.

Doing the exercise more frequently will allow you to perform more total training volume.

Or, to say it another way, if you do 3 sets 3 times per week rather than 9 sets in one go, you’ll be stronger on the subsequent sets (and thus able to perform more reps with heavier weights) because you’ll be less fatigued.

Conclusion: Who should do stability ball skull crushers?

If you want to boost your core strength while toning and tightening your triceps, then stability ball skull crushers are an excellent exercise for the job.

They’re a remarkably accessible exercise that you can perform—virtually anywhere—with minimal equipment. All you need to start getting stronger abs and triceps is a pair of relatively light weights and an exercise ball, both of which often come cheaper than a month’s gym membership.

James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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