French press or lying barbell triceps extension is an excellent exercise for developing muscle of the triceps. It is also known as a skull crusher because of the possibility of dropping the weight on your forehead. However I don’t consider it dangerous and I’ve never seen anybody hurting himself during it.
French press is an isolation exercise. Done correctly, hits extensors of the upper arm – all three heads of triceps. There are also few muscles stabilizing the weight involved but they don’t do any significant work, therefore are not worth to mention.
You can perform it with the easy-curl barbell or with the straight bar however I think the first one is more comfortable.
To perform french press correctly:
- Lye back on a flat bench holding a bar above the top of your chest on fully extended arms. Use a close grip. Your arms should be locked out, parallel to each other, pointing the ceiling and perpendicular to the floor.
- Keeping upper arms stable bend your elbows and bring the barbell down to the top of your forehead. Stop just before it touches your scull.
- Flex the triceps to press the weight back to the starting position – fully extended arms above your neck.
Remember: shoulders and elbows have to be locked in one position. Only forearms are allowed to move and therefore triceps does all the work.
Although small movement of elbows is allowed, it meant to be really minimal. It’s not possible to do certain exercises so strict.
Some people perform this exercise a bit different. Rather than lowering the bar to the forehead they drop it behind their head. In the top or starting position arms and elbows have to be kept a bit higher – above the head rather than perpendicular to the floor.
This version keeps constant tension on the triceps (weight is not resting on fully extended arms) and is often preferred over standard french press. It’s also safer and many people find it easier on their elbow joints. It’s probably a bit harder but as much effective if not even more. Which one you will choose it’s up to you.
You can do skull crushers on slightly decline or incline bench and also standing or seated – by changing the position of the body we can work triceps at the different angles than with flat bench version.
French press can be done with dumbbells – it increases the range of motion and works our arms separately. It is safer – dumbbells have to be lowered to the top of shoulders rather than head.
Using cable for this exercise provides constant tension during whole movement. Simply bring a bench to the low pulley and attach a bar. You can also use a rope and try to spread your hands in the top position to stretch the rope to the sides. It increases the range of motion even more and works triceps to the full.
French press is great for developing all three heads of triceps muscle. However it’s an isolation exercise and it should be more of an addition to the best mass builders like close grip bench press or dips. Although it’s not a primary movement for this muscle group it is very effective. If you find discomfort or pain in your elbows try different variations of this exercise and of course watch out to not crush your scull ;).