Unfortunately, many isolation exercises for the triceps cause elbow pain. The classic skullcrushers do not make an exception.
The number one reason why skullcrushers give you elbow pain is that they are an open chain exercise.
Open chain exercises are movements during which the hands or the feet can move freely.
An example of an open chain exercise beside skullcrushers would be leg extensions. Conversely, the squat is a close chain exercise. During close chain exercises, your whole body forms a circuit.
Open chain exercises do not allow the lifter to move a lot of weight because they revolve around isolation. Many people disrespect this principle and load the bar with as many plates as possible. The end result are wrapped elbows and chronic pain.
Ultimately, skullcrushers give you elbow pain because of the large lever. It’s worse if you have long arms because that makes your elbows an even weaker point.
Additionally, most people don’t even know how to do skullcrushers correctly. They sit on the bench and start muscling up the weight. This increases the stress on the elbows even more.
There are different ways to avoid elbow pain during skullcrushers. The most popular is to do the exercise on an incline or a decline bench. The different angles often reduce the pain.
Unfortunately, giving up on skullcrushers may be required for your elbows to heal. This should not be a problem for you because skullcrushers are a largely inferior exercise. Much better movements for your triceps would be dips and closed grip bench presses. Both exercises will build more mass in the triceps and are less stressful on the elbow joint.
If you still want to do triceps isolation, you can try the so-called PJR pullover. You can see how the exercise is performed in the video below.
Unlike the regular skullcrushers, the PJR pullover requires you to move the dumbbell behind your head. As result, the angle formed between your armpit/upper arm and torso is larger than 90 degrees. This keeps constant stress on the triceps. If you do the exercise correctly, you will experience a superb pump in the triceps without elbow pain.