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June 01, 2023
Having massive forearms screams strong AF. Often overlooked or hit with little dumbbell curls, most don't appreciate what bigger forearms do for their aesthetics, health, and performance.
And when you make forearm training an afterthought, you miss out on all the benefits of forearm size. Don't make that mistake.
Unsure where to start? Use this guide to learn how to get bigger forearms.
Table of Contents:
The "forearms" are part of your lower arm that stretches from your wrist to your elbow. As they connect your upper arms to the hand, their primary function is to manipulate your hands and generate grip strength.
To better understand how to get bigger forearms, let's go over the musculoskeletal anatomy that you'll be targeting.
The forearm comprises two prominent bones; the radius and ulna. The radius is located on the lateral part of the forearm, meaning when the palm is facing forward, it's on the outside of the arm. At the wrist, it connects to the distal radioulnar joint while connecting to the proximal radioulnar joint at the elbow.
The ulna sits on the medial side of the forearms meaning when the palm is facing forward, it sits on the inside of the arm. It's the largest of the two forearm bones, being a bit thicker and longer. At the wrist, it also connects to the distal radioulnar joint while joining the humerus trochlea and the elbow's radial notch.
What's known as "the forearm" is composed of multiple, individual muscles that work in unison together, each with a specific duty.
For example, the abductor pollicis longus' primary function is to abduct the thumb at the wrist. There are around 20 or so different muscles, as this is what's required to allow so much dexterity in the wrist and hands¹.
With that in mind, we're not going over every single one. Instead, let's narrow the forearm muscles down into three main muscle groups:
Outside of looking great, what do your forearm muscles actually do?
While huge glutes and lats produce an impressive amount of force, what's even more impressive are the smaller muscles that control finesse movements such as picking up a penny or playing video games.
Our forearms allow us to control our hands, making our forearms "hand muscles." Over 20 muscles in each forearm have to fire in rapid succession to control tiny movements like writing or typing. If you think about that, you'll truly appreciate the awesomeness of your forearms.
With two major muscle groups bearing their names, wrist and finger extension, specifically flexing and extending the wrist, are the primary forearm responsibilities. In addition, these muscles control dexterous movements such as writing, typing, or cooking, and both are key to all throwing sports.
Supination is when the arm rotates externally so the hand is face up, while pronation is when the arm rotates internally so the hand faces down. The forearms perform both of these tasks.
Your biceps aren't the only muscles involved in elbow flexion. The brachialis is your elbow's primary flexor, but several muscles in your forearms assist as well, such as the brachioradialis and pronator teres.
To get more forearm activation during movements such as the biceps curl, use either a pronated or neutral grip. The biceps are only strongest in the supinated grip.
As the arm is taken out of this position, the biceps lose the ability to help pull, leaving the work for the brachialis and your various forearm muscles.
When high force is required to grip something, your forearms perform strong isometric holds.
We generally associate grip strength with our forearm flexors, which are 100% involved. However, the extensors also play a considerable role during isometric holds.
When the forearm flexors contract, they close the fist and curl the wrist. To stop this from happening, the extensors must also contract to counteract wrist flexion². Therefore, forearm extensors fire during grip training to meet equal forces from the wrist flexors, creating a solid wrist.
Training your forearms isn't that difficult, as they're the same as basically every other muscle. However, to optimize the forearms' muscle growth, strength, and function, be sure to incorporate these tips.
As we just went over, your forearms do a lot, so you must use a mixture of grips to optimize your forearm training. This includes:
Use at least one of these every pulling session, and you'll be good. As you likely predominantly use underhand, you'll probably need to focus on using an overhand and neutral grip.
Like all your other muscles, you'll do good using a wide range of loads. When most people train their forearms, it's almost always with very high reps to "feel the burn." That's great for muscle endurance, but you must also produce higher force production.
The problem with heavy loads is that it's hard to do any movement involving actual extension or flexion. The only way to load the forearms with heavy resistance is through intense, isometric holds during carries. If you're unsure what weight to use, think of a load you can't hold for more than 10 seconds.
Due to the anatomy of the forearm, it is not uncommon to see muscle imbalances, which can lead to injuries. In fact, the extensor muscles require a greater proportion of maximal activation to balance the flexor moment and stabilize the wrist.
When most people train their forearms, they almost always perform wrist curls or other exercises that train the wrist flexors.
As a result, the extensors are almost always forgotten, leading to elbow problems. Again, weak extensors are one of the main reasons for an elbow injury, so make sure to train the wrist extensors as much as the flexors, if not more.
Just as the title says, use progressive overload!
Most people wondering how to get bigger forearms are training in a very nonchalant manner. They'll do some reps until it burns too much, then call it a day. While this is okay to do occasionally, if you want forearm growth, use the same programming setup as you do with all your other muscles.
By this, we mean tracking your weight and implementing progressive overload. Without this crucial factor, you're just randomly pushing weight around and hoping you get in enough volume for muscle growth. You may not need to do this for every single isolation exercise, but it's a must for your heavier, compound movements like carries.
Avoid these three mistakes if bigger forearms are your goal.
We're now going to look at some of our favorite forearm exercises. Again, not all these exercises are forearm-specific but rather slight variables of other exercises to challenge your forearms to a greater extent.
Our #1 exercise to train the forearm muscles. If you want to get bigger, stronger forearms, the farmer's walk should be a part of your regular training program. Plus, they're a literal one-stop, full-body exercise. For carrying implements, you can do the following:
The suitcase carry is performed exactly like the farmer carries but with one hand. For your forearms, there won't be much difference, but they'll activate your core more due to being off-balanced.
When asking how to get bigger forearms, you can't do enough carries. The pinch carry moves the grip outside of your palms and into being pinched by your fingers. Due to size and shape, weight plates are generally your best option, but you could also pinch one end of the dumbbell head.
Pinch Grip Carry Demo on YouTube
Kroc rows are dumbbell rows performed with extra heavy weights. Using body sway to help, you will powerfully jerk the weight up, followed by a controlled drop. Again, due to the heavy weight and high reps, these will work your forearms until they scream.
Rope hammer curls are one of our favorite forearm exercises as they utilize two variables to hit the forearms: a neutral grip (partially pronated) AND a rope. Grab the rope an inch below the ball on the end to ensure optimal forearm activation.
Reverse curls suck, but in a good way.
You can perform reverse grip barbell curls or use an EZ-curl bar, but keep your wrists straight. As your extensors are likely relatively weak right now, don't get down if you can't use a lot of weight.
Instead, spend some time training them, and once you get your bigger forearms, you'll be the one everyone is asking for advice.
To perform a dead hang, all you do is hang from a bar for as long as you can. Trust us, it's harder than it sounds. We sometimes use this during our warm-up for a back exercise with an active hold, meaning our scapulas are pulled back.
A fatter grip is extremely tough, but they're so, so good for your forearms. To widen the grip of barbells and dumbbells, you can use "fat-gripz," which are rubber-molded cuffs that go around a handle.
We recommend the Fat Gripz Xtreme, which makes your bar thicker, making your grip muscles work even harder.
A cheaper option is a towel or rag wrapped around the handle. We like using these in our warm-up sets before tackling the main exercises.
Pull-ups and chin-ups are great lessons in how to get bigger forearms. To make them more grip specific, use a rope for grip OR simply throw a towel over the bar. Grab each end, then do pull-ups until your heart's content... or your forearms give out.
Bigger forearms will give you much more than a complete physique, so here are some of the most important reasons to increase forearm size.
When you go to the gym, it's common to see guys using wrist straps for exercises they shouldn't need. Rather than strengthen their forearm muscles, they continue to work past their forearm strength, furthering any discrepancy between muscles.
There are times when wearing wrist straps can be helpful, but for the vast amount of lifts, it should never be a necessity. If you can't get through a set of 8 lat pull-downs because your forearms are too weak, you need to strengthen them. Training your forearm muscles will diminish the need for straps, and lifting weights will be easier.
Since both your forearm extensors and flexors connect on either side of the elbow joint, a lot of elbow injuries are caused by weak forearms.
The forearm extensors attach to the outside of the elbow and are responsible for what's known as tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. Inflammation of the flexors, on the other hand, leads to golfer's elbow, AKA medial epicondylitis, due to its attachment point.
These overuse injuries often happen when one set of muscles overpowers the other, and the stronger, tighter muscle group causes the weaker to work overtime. With enough repetition, it's too much for the muscle to handle, and viola! Elbow pain³.
To prevent this from happening, ensure that both muscle groups have similar strength levels.
This one deserves some nuance, as we think many people have twisted research findings. For example, new research has shown that better grip strength is associated with a ton of positive health variables, such as total body strength, upper body strength, risk of mortality, risk of disease, and quality of life⁴.
For all these reasons, it's quickly becoming one of the primary indicators physicians use to assess the health of individuals, mainly the elderly. The likely association is that grip strength demonstrates both overall strength and neuromuscular control, so sitting in bed all day with hand strengtheners won't do much.
You may start seeing some changes after 2-4 weeks, but for most, it will take up to 3 months to build muscle in the forearms. Still, it's impossible to give an exact time frame due to the numerous variables involved. Just know that the muscle fibers on your forearms grow like all muscles - with time and discipline.
Here are some of the more frequently asked questions about forearm-specific growth.
Nope! As long as they train them with intent and follow the same training principles as any other muscle, primarily progressive overload.
We haven't seen any specific studies on this, so we need to go with what we know: Train your forearms twice a week with specificity. By specificity, we mean carries, grip strengthening, a wrist curl, and more. Your forearms will get a lot of stimuli naturally when you train, but adding more specificity can be helpful in forearm growth.
There can be two reasons why a particular individual has bigger forearms. One is their genetic makeup. Some people are born with a natural bone structure, allowing a larger and wider forearm. Two, they've been following the advice in this article and training properly!
Yes! However, remember that you may be genetically disposed to thinner forearms, similar to "no calves." So while you can make them bigger, it can be more challenging for some people.
If you really want to know how to get bigger forearms, start doing heavy grip exercises. For some, this may simply mean you stop wearing straps. For others, it may mean piling on a load for carries. Wherever you are in your fitness journey, start applying progressive overload to increase muscle mass.
Now you know how to get bigger forearms. Forearm muscle mass and strength go a long way toward health, performance, and aesthetics, so if you've forgotten them in the past because they're not traditional show muscles, it's time to remember.
Once you improve forearm muscle growth, you'll have a physique detail only the best have. And people will definitely notice you carrying your body weight down the track... in each hand.
Looking for great exercises to grow your forearms? Check out these 7 Best Dumbbell Exercises For a Forearm Workout and the 10 Best Exercises to Build Crazy Powerful Forearms.
Ready to improve your grip strength? These 7 Best Grip Strengtheners will help!
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