Runners don’t just need strong legs to perform well. Having a strong upper body helps you maintain your posture for longer stretches of time and really kick at the end of a race. An often overlooked muscle? Your triceps.
The skullcrusher is one of the best triceps exercises out there—a great way to add muscle and strength to the back of your arm, and it’s a versatile move you can overload with plenty of weight for even more muscle-building benefit. The downside? It doesn’t exactly travel well. Most arm exercises don’t travel well; almost all require you to use outside resistance to get the most out of them.
So what do you do when you want to incorporate triceps into your bodyweight workout? Or if you’re on the road and you still want to blast your triceps? Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. has created a sequence that will turn an arms workout to a full-body routine in just 15 minutes. The best part? Aside from a bench (and really, any raised surface, from a bench to a chair to a sturdy office coffee table will do), you don’t need any equipment at all.
“This is probably the best bodyweight method for training triceps,” says Samuel. “And it’s harder than you think. Things get a bit easier as you go, but overall, your triceps are never getting to rest.”
You’ll start with a challenging bodyweight skullcrusher variation, then progress to one that’ll push you to squeeze your triceps hard. You’ll finish with close-grip pushups, pausing at the bottom to challenge your tris some more.
How to do it:
- Get in plank position with your hands on a bench, hands shoulder-width apart, elbows tight. Keeping your elbows tight and your core and glutes squeezed, bend at the elbows, lowering your head as close to the bench as possible. Press back up, keeping your elbows tight. That’s one rep; do six to eight.
- Get in plank position, elbows below shoulders, shoulder-width apart, glutes and abs tight. Squeeze your triceps, straightening your arms. That’s one rep; do six to eight.
- Get in push-up position, hands slightly tighter than shoulder-width. Keeping your elbows close to your torso, bend at the elbows and shoulders, lowering your chest to within an inch from the ground. Pause. Press back up. That’s one rep; do six to eight.
- Rest one minute. Do three sets.
The key to the entire sequence, says Samuel, is form. “This becomes very easy if you don’t keep squeezing your abs and glutes,” he says. “And it’s easy if you let your elbows flare.”
You have to tighten your entire body to prevent those two things from happening. “And when you do, you create a strong, stable way to isolate your triceps while maintaining total-body tension,” Samuel says. “Focus ultra-intently on form—the moment you’re breaking at the waist, you're making the exercise much, much easier.”
[The best runners don’t just run, they hit the gym. The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training will teach you all the fundamentals to get the most out of your weight session.]
If you follow those steps, the exercise goes from a mere triceps move to a full-body workout that’ll challenge you more than you realize. It’s good enough to be a quick, on-the-road, triceps workout, says Samuel, so file it away for long road trips. But it can also function on arm day or push day, too. “This is a finisher,” says Samuel. “Use it that way whenever you want.”
Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He's logged training time with NFL athletes and track athletes and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men's Health in 2017, he served as a sports columnist and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.