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Wide grip skull crushers vs close grip skull crushers

Learn all the differences between wide grip and close grip skull crushers and find out which one is best for you.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 3rd September 2021
A man doing a close grip vs wide skull crushers comparison to show the differences

Wide-grip skull-crushers train all three heads of the triceps and, if you lower the bar behind your head, give extra emphasis to the long head of the triceps because this head performs shoulder extension as well as elbow extension.

The downside is that wide grip skull crushers are more like wide grip shoulder crushers for some people due to the strain that they often put on the rotator cuffs.

That said, depending on your anthropometry, wide grip skullcrushers can actually be an excellent exercise for training the triceps.

Related: Reverse grip skull crusherAlternating skull crushers

Wide grip skull crusher exercise details

  • Also Known As: Wide grip nose crushers
  • Main Muscles: Triceps brachii muscle
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: EZ bar, weight plates, bench

How to do wide grip skull crushers

A man performing wide grip skull crushers
  1. Grab a loaded EZ bar with a wide grip or, for more convenience, use a preloaded bar.
  2. Lie on a weight bench and press the bar up so that it’s positioned directly over your forehead.
  3. Break at your elbows and lower the bar behind your head while allowing some backward shoulder movement.
  4. Descend until you feel an intense triceps stretch (most likely when your forearms press up against your biceps).
  5. Reverse the motion by extending your elbows and flexing your triceps until your arms are fully locked out.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Close grip vs wide grip skull crushers

A man doing a narrow vs wide skull crushers comparison to demonstrate the differences

Close grip skull crushers, which is to say regular skull crushers where you grip the bar just inside shoulder-width, typically put less stress on the rotator cuffs than wide grip skull crushers.

But to get to the heart of the differences, we need to define wide in the context of skull crushers.

Grabbing the bar slightly outside of shoulder width is just fine and likely more comfortable than holding it close if you have a particularly large build.

On the other hand, holding the bar at its very ends can strain your shoulders and clearly falls into the excessively wide category, which is why wide grip skull crushers often get touted as a dangerous exercise.

So under the right conditions, the wide grip skull crusher is not better or worse than the narrow grip skull crusher. Whichever grip feels most comfortable for you (i.e., for your shoulders, elbows, and wrists) is the one that you should stick with.

Using an excessively close grip for skull crushers can actually place a lot of strain on your wrists, especially when you’re lifting heavy, so don’t grab the bar with your hands together.

Like many things in fitness, the middle-of-the-road grip-width for skull crushers is likely to be the sweet spot for most lifters.

Read More: One arm skull crusherThree way skull crushers

What’s the verdict on wide grip skull crushers?

Many people bash wide grip skull crushers because the exercise hurts their shoulders. However well-intentioned these condemnations may be, many lifters often use an excessively wide grip rather than a comfortably wide grip, and therein lies the problem.

Not everyone uses the same definition of wide.

As long as you’re not gripping the bar at its very ends, you likely won’t strain your shoulders during wide grip skullcrushers.

There is, of course, no advantage to using a wide grip, either.

Some people believe that wide skull crushers encourage a higher degree of elbow flare, but in my experience, the opposite is often true—gripping the bar too closely can cause you to overcompensate by flaring your elbows out.

So, in the final analysis, try a range of non-extreme grip widths and see which one feels the most comfortable for your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. You can also perform DB skull crushers with pronation if you want to hone in on each of your triceps to make sure that they’re both receiving similar amounts of work.

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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