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March 13, 2021
Forearm exercises are often overlooked as an “accessory” movement but they shouldn’t. A well-developed set of forearms is one of the first indicators that a trainee has spent some serious time throwing around some heavy barbells and dumbbells. Strong forearms can also improve many sports’ athletic performance (ANYTHING with gripping) and mitigate the chances of developing elbow pain. Plus, big forearms look impressive! This is why you need to include these 10 forearm exercises into your training program.
Who wants forearms when you can have “fivearms”? (cheesy joke)
The “Forearm” isn’t actually a muscle; it’s a designated area of the body similar to “upper leg” or “lower leg”. It refers to the area of the arm between the wrist and elbow: front and back.
This means that there are quite a few different muscles that make up the forearm—actually, a lot.
The forearm is comprised of around 20 different muscles that work together to manipulate the hand, wrist, and lower arm. There are so many muscles because the forearm needs to control the hand and wrists with finesse OR power; whichever is required. This can be anything from using your finger to say “come here”, crushing the bar on a deadlift, or hanging on a ledge with your fingertips
The forearm muscles control numerous actions including:
You see, the forearm muscles can be used from the very subtle action of knitting all the way to holding on to a 600lb deadlift. Simply put, they are a very useful set of muscles.
While the forearm muscles don’t have full control over each individual finger, you can’t even manipulate the fingers without them. For example, hold out your hand with your palm up. Feel the anterior side of your forearm (the side of your palm) and perform the “come here” movement with your index finger. You will feel your forearm muscle flexing as well. That is because they are acting as an agonist (working muscle) when pulling your finger closed AND antagonist muscle (opposing muscle) to prevent your wrist from extending too far back when you extend it.
As mentioned above, there are around 20 different muscles that make up your entire forearm. While there is no need to know every single muscle (it’s impossible to train them all individually anyways; and unneeded), they can still be broken into three main groups based on their function.
1. Brachioradialis: The brachioradialis muscle is the primary forearm muscle that works in conjunction with the bicep muscles (brachialis, biceps brachii) to flex the forearm
2. Wrist Flexors: There are a total of six muscles in the forearm that are responsible for flexing the wrist. All of these are located on the anterior compartment of the forearm (side of the palm). Together, these muscles main job is to:
3. Wrist Extensors: There are a total of twelve different muscles located on the posterior component of the forearm (backside of the hand) that are responsible for:
Some of these muscles are short, while others extend from the fingers, all the way across the elbow joint. These muscles that cross the elbow joint give rise to another fundamental structure of the forearms—the tendons.
There are two main tendons of concern when speaking about the forearms:
1. Common Extensor Tendon
The common extensor tendon attaches the extensor muscles to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. This is the bony structure on the outside of the elbow (palms facing forward).
2. Common Flexor Tendon
The common flexor tendon attaches to the medial epicondyle of the humorous. This is the bony structure of the elbow on the inside of the elbow (palms facing forward)
Both of these tendons take a lot of stress during daily activity and especially when training. Every gripping action or move of our hands, these tendons receive all the force. This is why they are important to strengthen them as they are susceptible to overuse injury (we will address below).
Training your forearm for both strength AND size can bring some serious benefits to your life. We love a good dumbbell forearm workout for many reasons.
1) Look Jacked
Having small forearms is the equivalent to having small calf muscles; it can drastically decrease the aesthetic quality of a limb or entire body. On the contrary, having big thick forearms can exponentially increase how big and strong your look.
2) Decrease Elbow Pain
There is a good reason why the tendons were mentioned above. Elbow pain is a common injury that can occur in athletes, weight lifters, or the general population. One of the most common culprits is tendinopathy of the elbow. Two main types of tendonitis can occur:
If you are suffering from one of these ailments, both can be fixed by allowing some recovery and then strengthening your forearm muscles. Keep in mind that if you suffer from tennis elbow, you’ll want to focus more on strengthening the extensor muscles while those with golfers elbow need to strengthen the flexor muscles.
If you don’t have any pain, that’s great! And you want to keep it that way by integrating forearm specific movements into your program.
3) Can Improve Your Workout
Grip strength can be the limiting factor for many movements. This means that your grip gives out before you can fatigue the muscles, which does basically nothing. You could just wear wrist straps, but that’s not going to increase your grip, which is what is needed. (And you don’t want to be that guy wearing straps for 40lb dumbbell rows) Therefore, adding in specific grip strengthening exercises will increase your grip strength and allow you to work out with more weight and reps.
4) Improve Athletic Performance
Grip strength is needed in a wide range of sports and increasing it can directly affect your performance. Grip strength is obviously critical in grappling combat sports such as wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and correlations have been found between the athlete’s level and the strength of their grip.
As spoken above, if you play sports such as tennis or golf, which requires repetitive motions, strengthening your grip is going to drastically reduce your chance of injury
5) Grip Strength Is A Strong Indicator Of General Strength, Health, And Longevity
I’m sure you have heard how important it is to give a good, strong handshake when meeting someone. Well, there might be something more to that psychologically than we realize. Grip strength has been a strong indicator:
While the correlation is not fully understood, grip strength is probably more an indicator of a healthy lifestyle than what actually drives away heart disease. However, it is still interesting to ponder why your forearm muscles’ strength is such a strong indicator of overall health.
Before you learn what exercises to do, here is one common practice that occurs WAY too often in the gym that affects your grip strength.
STOP USING STRAPS FOR EVERYTHING!
If you train regularly using barbells and dumbbells, your grip and forearms SHOULD be relatively developed. It is impossible to perform half the movements in the gym without using your grip. However, too many trainees use wrist straps for every single rep on every single exercise. It’s no surprise their forearms are underdeveloped, and their grip sucks.
Wrist straps are great tools when used appropriately but performing sets of 12 on the lat-pulldown is not one of those times. If you’re guilty, stop, and your grip will skyrocket.
These are going to be all you need to turn your tiny forearms into some massive “fivearms” (It’s the only forearm joke there is). You will notice that these exercises fall under three main categories:
1. Grip Strength Training
Grip strengthening exercises are going to be the foundation for building your forearms. Remember, gripping is the main movement performed by the forearms, AND it is the most specific to functional use in an athletic environment. Plus, you are able to generate the highest amount of forces on the muscles with these movements.
Grip strength is really the combination of the flexors and extensors working together. While the flexors are responsible for closing the hand, the extensors must fire heavily to keep the wrist straight and prevent it from curling. Squeeze your fist and BOTH sides of your forearm will grow.
2. Wrist Flexor Training
Wrist flexor exercises are those that focus on the muscles that flex your wrist. There is a good chance you already get a decent amount of this because every time you do bicep curls, your wrist flexors must fire to keep your wrist from falling back.
3. Wrist Extensor Training
Wrist extensor training use exercises that focus on strengthening your wrist extensors. These are often overlooked in favor of wrist flexor exercises. This may be why tennis elbow is more prevalent, as it is caused by weak extensor muscles.
The good thing about forearm training is that you can train them multiple times during the week with different body parts. This list will start with the biggest forearm exercises (those you can load with the most weight), which will include more of your grip training. It will then move down with some more isolation-type movements at the bottom. Further, the list will also include what training days you could include these in.
Note that these exercises vary widely and utilize many different apparatuses. This means that it’s difficult to give a specific rep scheme for them because that is not how they are all measured; some are measured by distance or time. Therefore, each exercise will also have individual recommendations on how you should load them.
First, start with this preface: You should be doing farmer’s carry regardless of your grip strength. They are one of the BEST movements you can do to increase overall strength, increase muscular endurance, and improve your conditioning.
Now that’s out of the way… farmer carries are one of; no, they are THE most basic exercise there is. You pick up some dumbbells and walk with them. While you need to pay attention, not some form issues, that’s basically it. However, they will train literally every muscle in your body, targeting the upper back, core, and (you guessed it) your grip.
The grip is almost always the limiting factor for this exercise, meaning that farmer carries push you to your limit. Plus, having a “finish line” to cross can really motivate trainees to hold on a little bit longer than they usually would.
Use heavy dumbbells or kettlebells when you first start. However, you will most likely grow out of these fast (unless your gym has very heavy ones). Therefore, you can use specific farmer carry bars if you have access.
You can also use a trap bar if you need. The main difference with using this is it will make the movement a bit more stable as you use one solid implement. This will take off some stress from the core, but it’s still a great option.
How To Perform Farmer Carries
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Farmer Carries
There are basically two ways to quantitatively measure your progression with farmer carries;
a) Time- Time will be your best bet when focusing on grip strength. This is because holding the weight for a specific time puts a particular amount of stress on your hands. Compare this to a distance where you can walk or run, which will demand more or less grip endurance.
You can implement progressive overload by either aiming to hold the same weight longer, or hold more weight for the same amount of time
b) Distance- Carrying for distance is still a great option but will put more of a focus on your conditioning, lower body strength, and core stability. You can either aim to hold the same weight for a longer distance or carry more weight at the same distance.
Train 3-5 rounds with a weight that you can carry for at least 20 seconds
Best Training Day To Add Farmer Carries
These are just farmer carries without walking i.e. static. You stand up and hold weight for as long as you can.
How To Perform Static Holds
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Farmer Carries
Since you’re not moving, time is your only way to measure the progression with this move. You can either aim to hold the same weight longer or hold more weight for the same time.
You should start with a weight that you can hold for at least 20 seconds.
Best Training Day To Add Static Holds
These can be trained at the end of virtually any day
Dead hangs are another straightforward yet effective exercise to improve your grip strength. However, it also offers a few other benefits, including:
How To Perform Dead Hangs
*** Beginners can opt to keep their feet on the ground to take some of the weight if needed
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Dead Hangs
These are easy to progress on. Start with hanging for time. For example, once you can comfortably hang for 30 seconds, you can add some weight. Work back up to hanging for 30 seconds, then add a little more.
You can also try one-arm hangs once you get strong enough.
Best Training Day To Add Dead Hangs
This isn’t so much one particular exercise; instead, it uses a tool to widen the grip of implements. This can be used with virtually any exercise but is usually used with grip-specific movements or upper body pulling movements. You can easily find Fat Gripz on Amazon or you can just wrap a towel around the grip of your implement. These are usually made of rubber and can be placed securely around a barbell or dumbbell handle. The added width will significantly increase any exercise’s difficulty and require extremely high muscle activation in your forearms.
How To Perform Fat Grip Training
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Fat Grip
Since the focus is increasing forearm strength and endurance, Fat Grips are best used with moderate to high reps.
Best Exercise to Perform Fat Grip Training
Best Training Day To Add Fat Grip
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Using a towel during a pull-up will require you to rely solely on your grip to hold your entire body weight up. Plus, you get to do pull-ups, one of the best exercises there is for your back!
This means that you will still train your entire back and biceps in addition to increasing the muscle mass of your forearms.
How To Perform Towel Pull-Ups
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Fat Grip
Being that these are pull-ups, it’s going to largely depend on your ability to do pull-ups. If you cannot do at least 5 clean pull-ups, you’d be better at working on them and using a different grip strengthening exercise. Check out our article to learn how to increase your pull-ups!
Best Training Days To Perform Towel Pull-Ups
- Whatever day you train pull-ups
Similar to using Fat Grips, the rope attachment can be used for a multitude of exercises. This includes:
When using the rope attachment for grip training, you want to hold midway down the rope. DO NOT let your hand slide to the bottom and rest on the ball; the defeats the point. For most of these exercises, your grip should hold out ok so you will still get to adequately train the primary muscle group while easily getting in volume for your forearms.
How To Perform Rope Attachment Movements
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Rope Attachment Exercises
Similar to Fat Grip, it is best to use moderate to high reps (8-12+)
Best Training Day To Use The Rope Attachment
Kroc rows are a fantastic exercise to place some heavy load on your entire back muscles. They were invented by a crazy strong guy named Matt “Kroc” Kroczaleski to specifically increase his grip for pulling big deadlifts in powerlifting. And he pulls some huuuuuge deadlifts.
It involves taking very heavy dumbbells (much heavier than you would use for a normal dumbbell row) and performing high-rep rows (15+) with them. Their weight and high-reps involve using a bit of body momentum to explode them up. As for the eccentric portion, there’s not much. It’s more similar to the controlled eccentric of a heavy deadlift.
These will put some serious mass on your back AND increase your grip.
How To Perform Kroc Rows
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Kroc Rows
As explained above, these are done with heavyweight and high reps (15+)
Best Training Days To Perform Kroc Rows
Another very simple exercise for your forearms (you should realize that many exercises to train your forearms are simple. There’s no excuse to ignore them!). This forearm exercise is performed by pinching a thick weight plate (bumper plates work best as they are thick but light) and then carrying it or just holding it for time.
How To Perform Pinch Carries
*** There should be no indentation that allows you to grab onto. A little bit is fine but you want the plate as flush as possible
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Pinch Carries
Use the same rules as the farmer carries. You can go for time or distance.
Best Training Days To Perform Pinch Carries
Wrist rollers are a very cheap and effective tool to use to seriously increase your forearm’s strength and endurance. This simple piece of equipment consists of a piece of rope that hangs from a dowel. On the end of the strong, you attach some sort of weight. You then place your hands on the dowel and simply roll the weight up by spinning them down. The great thing about this tool is that you can train your entire forearm and emphasize either the anterior or posterior side by using a pronated or supinated grip.
You can buy a specific tool or you can make one by drilling a hole through a dowel and placing a piece of rope through. Both will put a serious hurt on your forearms.
How To Perform Wrist Rollers
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Wrist Rollers
This will largely depend on how long your string is. Ideally, it touches the ground. After 3 entire rolls, your forearms should be on fire. If not, add some weight. Remember to train both the flexors and extensors.
Best Training Days To Perform Wrist Rollers
Reverse curls are a great movement that can easily be worked into a day you train your biceps. The movement can be performed using either a straight bar or EZ-Curl bar. The main difference is that you will use a pronated grip (overhand) on the bar. This will cause the bar to want to curl the wrists, which will require the extensors to fire to keep the wrists straight. The extensors are often neglected in training, so this is a great movement to even out the training volume. Plus, you still train your biceps.
How To Perform Reverse Curls
Best Loading Scheme To Use For Wrist Rollers
The same rep scheme as your bicep exercises. 3 sets of moderate to lightweight with 8-12+ reps
Best Day To Train Reverse Curls
Let’s say that your forearms REALLY need some attention, and you want a whole training day to work on them. Keep in mind that not EVERY exercise needs to be forearm-centric. However, you can choose exercises that will require more use of them. Here is the ultimate forearm workout while STIL training other muscles
Dead-Hangs - 3 x 20-30 seconds
Your forearms should feel like they’re about to blow up after this. Also, realize you’re going to get a great back and bicep workout as well. The second best option is to start using Fat Grip and rope attachment often with your exercises.
The forearms are just like any other muscle so the best way to improve is to implement progressive overload!
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