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How To Perform French Curls / Skull Crushers Correctly

My favorite tricep exercise in the world! I love French curls.

They’re also incredibly effective for building massive triceps.

This video tutorial will guide you through the principles of optimized form as they relate to French curls. It may be a little different from what you’re used to but if you don’t have the triceps you want, then that should be a welcome change, right? 😉 .

Trust me, if you’re used to performing a skull-crusher-to-the-forehead type movement, try this and you’ll NEVER go back – I promise!

Firstly, let’s state that building your triceps is extremely important. There’s no point in building big biceps and having a skinny rear portion; it just doesn’t look impressive. French curls will definitely help take care of this for you.

Equipment you need:

Have the bench in the flat position. Also, you want to be grabbing the curl bar in the most comfortable position possible. For me, that’s a narrow grip like so.

You may also want to grab the bar at the second bend like below.

Remember, comfort will dictate your strength on any given set. Experiment and get it right.

Check out the video of me performing French curls (some people call them skull crushers), then read the instructions below…

  • Lie flat on the bench and make sure that your head is hanging slightly off the edge of it
  • Also ensure that your feet are planted on the floor, NOT up on the bench
  • Start by lowering the bar down slowly and smoothly. Make sure you are in control of the weight on the negative part of the rep.
  • Lower to the lowest point possible behind your head. There should be no discomfort in the joints.
  • Typical Skull Crushers are lowered to the forehead. This is undesirable as it severely limits the range of motion and feels unnatural compared to this type of movement.
  • Now drive the weight back up to the starting position.
  • The negative part of the rep should take about 2 seconds, and the positive about 1 second.

If your lower back lifts off the bench slightly while lowering the weight, don’t be concerned. This is not wrong and is totally natural. Trying to avoid this works against your own biomechanics and may lead to injury. However, don’t actively pursue an arched back either.

Note: In my opinion, a curl bar is preferable to a straight bar because it holds the wrists at a natural angle while lowering the weight behind your head. This not only means you’ll be stronger, but you’ll also avoid injury.

I can’t encourage you to incorporate French curls into your routine enough. They really are awesome! I’m convinced you’ll notice an acceleration in tricep growth if you’ve never performed them before (or never performed them as I have demonstrated here).

This Exercise Execution Series will show you how to MAXIMIZE your results by working in harmony with your body’s biomechanics, not against them – no barbell curls with a poker-straight back at MuscleHack thank you very much 😉 .

Stay Strong!

Mark McManus

P.S.Sorry about the poor video quality, this was shot in the evening in a pretty dark & cold garage! The things I do for you guys, eh? 😉

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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Philip January 26, 2009, 10:38 pm

    Thanks Mark!

    Hope you didn`t freeze.. 😀

  • Mark McManus January 26, 2009, 10:47 pm

    I actually brought an electric heater out there with me, it was sub-zero temperatures when filming. I survived!

  • Philip January 26, 2009, 11:19 pm

    Ha ha… how do you excercise then if it`s cold? You really endure a lot for us. 😀

  • Eugene January 26, 2009, 11:24 pm

    Mark, these were and are my absolute favorite exercise. There is just something so pleasing about them.

    When I first started working out, all I could do was 10 lbs. Then a few months later I had upped that to 60. So satisfying.

    P.S. Don’t freeze. It was 70 here in Austin today.

  • Mark McManus January 27, 2009, 12:05 am

    @ Philip. Doesn’t matter how cold it is, I never miss a workout. This wasn’t shot during an actual workout though, I just did a light set to demonstrate the form.
    @ Eugene. Sounds so good man, we’ll not be up in the 70’s for a few months yet :( French curls rock!

  • blackjaw January 27, 2009, 1:57 am

    I’ve been doing decline tricep extensions with a tricep bar. Should I do the french curls in addition to or instead of the decline tri extensions?

  • fatboymuscleman January 27, 2009, 3:39 am

    Mark, instead of my usual skull crushers, I did these tonight (with dumbbells though), and they totally kicked my ass!

    I haven’t felt that stretch in my triceps, ever!

    If I ever have another kid, I’m naming him Mark! :)

  • Bill January 27, 2009, 4:30 am

    I agree – these are exactly what I do and the way I do them. I can see I sometimes get looks like I’m “doing them wrong” – mostly from guys with smaller triceps!

  • Mark McManus January 27, 2009, 6:04 am

    @Blackjaw. Switch it up between the 2 exercises. So, for 1 THT cycle do tricep extensions with the tricep bar for 2 or 3 sets and switch to french curls on your next cycle. Alternatively, if either 1 yields better results, you can stick with it. I’ve been using french curls for the past 2 cycles (20 weeks).
    @FatBoyMuscleMan. LOL! ‘Mark’ will work, just don’t call him Musclehack! That’s exactly why I love French curls, nothing else can provide that range of motion and really target the triceps. Enjoy the new arm growth!
    @Bill. Yeah, feel safe ignoring these guys. You’re performing a KILLER tricep exercise!

  • Yavor Marichkov January 27, 2009, 7:44 am

    Glad you are making this point about the bio-mechanically optimized form. You simply don’t lift like a robot when doing isolation exercises.

    Now, when doing multi-joint exercises, which also have their place, there is a stricter groove.

  • WHO AM I January 27, 2009, 8:41 am

    Hi Mark, I’m starting a new cycle this Thursday and was planning on doing three sets of these and three sets of seated dumbell extensions for my Triceps, do you think that will give a good workout with proper form or should I go for six sets of tricep french curls for better results?

  • Mark McManus January 27, 2009, 4:39 pm

    @Yavor. Just a note – I consider this a compound movement, just like I consider barbell curls a compound movement i.e. if they’re done using biomechanically optimized form. See point 4 on this post for more
    This is in agreement with Jeff Willet who defines ‘compound movement’ in the same manner. However, most people hold to the traditional definitions i.e. squats are compound, bb curls are isolation.
    @WAI. Your first idea sounds good but if you can get some cable work in, go for it. Tricep cable push downs would be a good choice for your final 3 sets.

  • ode June 3, 2009, 5:15 am

    hi mark im a beginner so the total anabolism the T.H.T. suits for me? thnks