The skull crusher may already be in your arsenal when packing muscle onto your triceps. In a video posted on his Instagram page on Aug. 10, 2022, the 4-time Mr. Olympia and bodybuilding icon Jay Cutler offered an alternative: the lying French press.
What is the French press? How will it help your triceps to grow? How does this exercise differ from the standard skull crusher? Before we dive into that, check out what Cutler had to say in the video below:
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While demonstrating the lying French press, Cutler pointed out that it can be executed using various types of bars. The goal, like the skull crusher, is a triceps extension.
“I can do this with either a straight bar, cambered bar, dumbbells, cables, you can kind of do any technique you want, but this is going to give us an extension on the triceps.” asserted the bodybuilding legend. “So, anytime you train triceps, you know we do a lot of pushdowns, or we do kickbacks, or we just do something that stretches, and this is going to be one of those stretching movements.”
What is the French Press?
The French press isolates the triceps so they can be fully extended to train in the stretched position. While holding an EZ curl bar, extend the hands over the shoulders, lowering the weight behind the head towards the top of the spine. The same results can be achieved by holding a single dumbbell and utilizing a triangle grip with both hands.
French Press vs. Skull Crusher
Like the skull crusher, the French press is designed to isolate and stretch the triceps. Traditionally, the French press is performed from a standing or seated position, whereas the skull crusher is executed while lying on a weight bench. Both exercises are a great way to focus the tension on the long head of the triceps to add muscle mass to your arms.
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Additionally, skull crushers hit the lateral triceps head since they are performed from a lying position. The French press involves a more significant stretch since the bar travels further, putting greater force on the long head. You can get the best of both worlds by adapting the French press and performing it from a lying position.
I am going to focus on 12 repetitions — 80-pounds (36.3 kilograms) — and I am going to use a cambered bar.
In the video, Cutler lies further up the bench so that the tops of his shoulders and his head are slightly lower than his back. This is where the move differs from the skull crusher — a greater range of motion is required to bring the bar down towards the forehead, making it more challenging. Cutler does not let the bar descend below the height of his forehead.
How to Execute a Lying French Press
Lie on a bench, face the ceiling, and grip the bar (or dumbbells) with either or both hands — palms should be facing upwards, shoulder-width apart.
To perform a French press rather than a skull crusher, move further up and then slightly off the bench until your head and the tops of your shoulders are lower than the rest of your body.
Raise the bar above the chest, lock the elbows, and bend the arms without moving the biceps or shoulders. Aim the barbell towards the forehead. Once the bar reaches the forehead, raise it straight back up. Again, try not to move your upper arms or shoulders during the entire repetition.
Regarding weight, less is more with any French press variation. Choose a weight you can comfortably perform three sets of 12 reps before increasing the load. It is essential to achieve a good, controlled technique with every rep.
French Press Benefits
French presses, whether standing, seated, or lying, are great for anyone looking to pack on mass on their arms. It requires the activation of stabilizers for the upper and lower body (bracing), which is beneficial for aiding with other lifts such as deadlifts and bench presses. Since French presses can add strength, size, and stability, they should be a strong consideration to add to your triceps programming.
Featured image: @jaycutler on Instagram