Dips and skull crushers target the same muscle group, but the similarities end there. The dip is an advanced body-weight exercise, while the skull crusher is a beginner- to advanced-level strength-training movement. Which exercise you choose to include in your workout routine will depend on your strength level, fitness level and access to the proper equipment.
Dips and skull crushers target the triceps, a group of three muscles on the back of your upper arm which are responsible for extending, or straightening, the elbow. Elbow flexion and extension are the only joint movements that occur, and the triceps are the main movers for both exercises. However, if you lean forward during the standard dip exercise, this transfers the emphasis from the triceps to the chest.
To perform dips, you need access to dip bars. Most commercial gyms have dip bars and dip assist machines, which offer a boost if you cannot press your own body weight. In-home dip bars are also available. To perform the skull crusher exercise, you will need either a barbell, an EZ bar or dumbbells. An Olympic barbell weighs 45 pounds without any weight plates and may be too heavy for you to safely perform the skull crusher exercise. An EZ bar is a shorter, lighter barbell with angled grips that offer a more comfortable wrist position. Dumbbells offer the widest range of weight options, starting as light as 1 pound.
During the standard dip exercise, you press your entire body weight. Because the triceps are a relatively small muscle group, the dip exercise is most appropriate for advanced lifters. However, you can perform a modified version of the dip exercise by placing a bench under the bars and using your legs to assist you; you can also use a dip assist machine. Beginners through advanced lifters can perform the skull crusher exercise because of the unlimited range of resistance options.
The body position of the dip exercise places excessive pressure on the shoulder joints. The American Council on Exercise recommends limiting the range of motion to reduce the amount of stress on your shoulders. Stop the movement when your upper arms are parallel to the floor; do not lower past this point. Because you hold the weight directly overhead during the skull crusher exercise, have a workout partner spot you.
Based in Austin, Texas, Jolie Johnson has been in the fitness industry for over 12 years and has been writing fitness-related articles since 2008 for various websites. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Illinois.