Kettlebell Skull Crusher – UPDATED 2022 – A Complete Guide
Kettlebells are great for many reasons. They burn fat faster than dumbbells and barbells while promoting better grip. Their biggest benefit however is their versatility. To use a kettlebell in an exercise, you need one free hand.
The kettlebell skull crusher is an exercise that demonstrates why kettlebells are so good at what they do. It’s simple, effective, and can be done quickly and cleanly while building muscle and stamina.
Interested in the kettlebell skull crusher? This is our complete guide to the exercise, including different adaptations and adjustments.
Kettlebell Skull Crusher – A Complete Guide
With a name like the kettlebell skull crusher, you might be more nervous than excited to try out this exercise. The name of the exercise is a little dramatic, but not inaccurate.
The kettlebell skull crusher involves lying on your back, then lifting a kettlebell from behind your head to above your head, and back down.
Imagining that motion, and remembering that kettlebells can weigh up to 100lb, you can see where the ‘skull crusher’ part comes from. If you were to drop a kettlebell anywhere on your body, you’d most definitely feel it. Dropping one on your head is a fast track to a concussion.
Luckily, the kettlebell skull crusher is completely safe thanks to another benefit of the kettlebell – the grip. Kettlebells have a thick handle, which is why they’re great at building your grip strength.
You have to hold on tight to get a comfortable grip on the kettlebell and holding on tight means you’re less likely to drop it. When it’s just a couple of inches away from your face, you’re going to want to make sure you hold even tighter.
Anyway, here is a step-by-step guide to the kettlebell skull crusher:
1. Place a kettlebell on the ground and lay down in front of it on your back.
2. Put your arms behind your head to grab the kettlebell at the sides of the handle. This should be an overhand grip.
3. Slowly lift the kettlebell until your arms are straight and the kettlebell is above your head.
4. Hold for 1 second, then return the kettlebell to its starting position.
5. Repeat as many times as desired.
Dumbbell Isolateral Skull Crusher
If you don’t have a kettlebell, or don’t feel comfortable using one yet, there’s a variation of the skull crusher you can do with dumbbells. This is called the dumbbell iso lateral skull crusher.
The idea is the same – lie down and lift the dumbbells from behind your head to above your head. There are some differences, though.
For starters, the dumbbell isolator skull crusher is not done lying flat. You should use a slightly inclined weight bench for this exercise. Not only will this give you better back support, but it will make it easier for you to lift the dumbbells from behind your head.
The dumbbell iso lateral skull crusher also focuses a lot more on your forearms and your biceps than it does grip strength. Because you’re on a weight bench, there’s more room for you to stretch your arms behind yourself, meaning that these muscles get more of a workout.
Standing Kettlebell Skull Crusher
Going back to kettlebells, you can also try a variation of the standard kettlebell skull crusher called the standing kettlebell skull crusher.
You don’t need to be a genius to figure out what the adaptation is here. Instead of lying flat while doing a kettlebell skull crusher, you’re standing up.
Some changes that standing will make to the kettlebell skull crusher are to do with the trajectory and angle of the lift. You’re doing a full kettlebell lift, but with your arms behind your head.
Reversing your arms puts more strain on your shoulders and your biceps and stretches them while you do the skull crusher.
By doing them while standing, the kettlebell skull crusher also becomes more of a back workout and a core strengthening exercise.
Seated Skull Crushers
If you can do skull crushers while standing, then it makes sense that there are also seated skull crushers. Again, the concept is the same as any other kind of skull crusher, the only change is your stance.
Seated skull crushers are traditionally done using a dumbbell, but not in the way that they’re designed to be used. For a seated skull crusher, you hold the dumbbell with both hands around the bottom weight. You completely ignore the grip of the dumbbell.
You then lift the dumbbell behind your head, back to above your head, and repeat. Seated skull crushers work out your back and can improve your posture as they require you to sit up straight.
And yes, you can do seated skull crushers with a kettlebell. It’s probably much easier, as a kettlebell is designed to be used as a singular weight. You just grip the kettlebell in the same way as during regular kettlebell skull crushers.
Single Kettlebell Skull Crusher
The traditional kettlebell skull crusher is more accurately named the single kettlebell skull crusher…which implies that there is a double kettlebell skull crusher.
The double kettlebell skull crusher has you lying down and doing skull crushers with one kettlebell in each hand. Two kettlebells are surely better than one, so why is the single kettlebell skull crusher more popular?
Something you need to keep in mind is that a kettlebell requires good grip strength to use. For a kettlebell skull crusher, you’re holding the kettlebell with both hands which makes it a lot more stable.
A double kettlebell skull crusher has double the weight, double the risk…and half the control, as each kettlebell only has one hand supporting it.
So yes, while true that it can build more muscle and burn more fat than a single kettlebell skull crusher, the double kettlebell skull crusher is not a recommended starting point. You should look at it as a progression of the single kettlebell skull crusher.
Kettlebell Skull Crusher – Closing Thoughts
That’s been our guide to the kettlebell skull crusher, along with its variations. There are even more ways to do a kettlebell skull crusher than those we’ve listed here, so try some for yourself and see what works for you.
For more ways to use kettlebells effectively, check out our kettlebell tips, guides, and exercises.