A fully ripped body just isn’t complete without focusing on how to get bigger forearms. Beyond mere appearance, there are many good reasons to work on forearm strength and muscle development. This is a part of the body most fail to consider when working out, but it’s important.
One reason we don’t often focus on forearm strength training is that a good, general program does hit most of the small muscles of this part of the arm. When you’re lifting
comprehensively, you’re doing a pretty good job of strengthening the forearm.
Of course, you can always do more. Focus on the forearm muscles will build strength and hypertrophy, improve overall strength, get better grip strength, and even manage or reduce hand, wrist, and elbow pain.
This important but often overlooked part of the body can be developed and strengthened like any other. So why focus on forearm size and strength? There are a few reasons that you shouldn’t overlook the forearms, and in some cases really put some effort into muscle growth:
One reason to focus on forearm growth is aesthetics, and there is nothing wrong with that. For your hypertrophy clients, those interested in bigger muscles and greater definition, skipping the forearms means an incomplete look. Picture bulky, impressive biceps, triceps, and shoulders, with skinny forearms. Building bigger forearm muscles completes the whole picture.
Another good reason to work on forearm strength is to develop overall better functional strength. The body is a kinetic chain, and all the muscles, big and small, plus connective tissue, joints, and bones, work together. By developing strength in all muscles, you move more efficiently and safely, minimizing injuries and pain.
No muscle should be overlooked in this process, including the forearms. There are more muscles in there than most people realize, and they connect to and impact movements in
the elbows, wrists, and hands. Strong forearms help with daily tasks, like opening jars and carrying heavy objects, and in sports like golf and basketball.
Grip strength is one of those functional movements that forearm workouts will improve. It helps with those practical things like lifting objects and opening jars, but grip strength is important in other ways. In the gym, good grip strength will allow you to lift more with weights and equipment, which in turn improves overall strength.
Researchers have also found a compelling health reason to work on grip strength. In a study of over 140,000 people, decreases in grip strength were associated with a decline in health. Every eleven-pound decrease in strength led to a 17 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease. The increased risk of dying from heart attack and stroke was seven and nine percent. (1)
Finally, there may be rehabilitative reasons to work on forearm strength. Pain in the forearm can result from injuries and accidents, overuse injuries, nerve damage, and arthritis. Strengthening the muscles involved can help manage pain and speed recovery from injury or surgery.
For the best results, do these exercises two to three times per week. Once per week strength training isn’t adequate to develop bigger, stronger muscles efficiently. Building forearm strength and size can take some time, so be patient. But, with focused efforts, you should see some results in a month or two.
Use a variety of these exercises in your forearm workout, some with machines, some with weights, and some with only bodyweight, to hit all the muscles of the forearms and around
the wrists, hands, elbows. You need the range of exercises to include all the way the wrist and forearm move and flex. And, by changing up the routines, you’ll challenge the muscles more and get faster results.
Yes, the best exercise for forearm training might be an exercise you already include. It’s important to understand that many of the exercises you’re already doing in the gym are improving forearm and grip strength: deadlifts, chin-ups, pull-ups, and others. Lifting heavy things, including your own body, using your hand grip, will build forearm strength.
A simple modification makes these workouts you’re already doing even more effective at building that strength. Make the barbell handle bigger with a specialist grip. A fat grip increases the width of the bar and forces you to hold with a stronger grip, working the forearm muscle group.
Another simple change that really develops strong, big forearms is to switch to a pronated grip. Hold the bar with the backs of the wrists facing up and palms facing down. This takes pressure off the biceps and transfers it to the forearms.
Use dumbbells to work on all the small muscles of the forearm. With just a few exercises, like variations of wrist curls, you can hit all the muscles and the ways in which the forearm moves:
Wrist flexion. Sitting on a bench, rest your forearms on your legs, palms facing up. The back of your wrists should be right on the kneecaps. Holding on to a pair of dumbbells, lift the wrists and squeeze. Only your hands should be moving, but you’ll feel this wrist curl throughout your forearm.
Wrist extension. Do the same basic exercise as above, but with the palms of your hands facing down. Lift at the wrist and squeeze. This reverse wrist curl works the forearm extensors.
Reverse biceps curl. Perform a standard biceps curl but with the backs of your hands and wrists facing up. This works out forearm muscles important for elbow flexion.
Zottman curls. This variation on curls takes some of the focus off the biceps and redirects it to the forearm muscles that attach to the upper arm. To do it, perform a regular biceps curl. At the top of the movement, rotate the palms until they are facing forward, then lower down to the starting position.
Grip and forearm strength are essential for carrying heavy objects, so try these simple but challenging loaded carry exercises to develop the muscles:
Farmer carry. This is a very simple exercise that builds up strength in the wrist and fingers while also engaging a lot of other muscles. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each and let the arms rest straight down at your sides. Your palms should be facing in. Walk in a straight line with good posture.
Trap bar carry. Do the same exercise but with more weight when you use a trap bar.
Pinch carry. Perform a carry exercise with weight plates to focus on grip and finger strength. Pinch your fingers together through the holes in two plates. Using two plates is important to really challenge the muscles here.
There are many ways to work the forearms using a pull-up bar and some of the weight machines in the gym:
Pull-ups. The pull-up is a challenging but important exercise for upper body and core strength. Do pull-ups with your palms facing in and then out to hit different muscles. If you can’t do these yet, start with hangs.
Pull-up bar hang. This
is as simple as it sounds. Just hang from a pull-up bar with palms forward and arms shoulder-width apart for a great forearm challenge. Modify this for a challenge and to hit different muscles. Hang a towel over the bar and hang while gripping each end of the towel.
Reverse cable curls. With your back to the cable machine, grip a lower pulley. Curl your arm forward and bring your hand up toward your shoulder, like a biceps curl.
Towel cable row. You can also use the cable pulley with a different grip to target forearm muscle. Pull a towel through the handle and hold each end of it with one hand. Pull back to do a row.
You can also use simple bodyweight exercises in your forearm workout. These are great for working out at home without a lot of equipment:
Fingertip Push-ups. To turn a regular push-up into more of a forearm exercise, do push-ups balanced on all ten fingertips. Start on your knees if necessary. This is great for building stronger forearms and wrists.
Crabwalk. In reverse tabletop position, keep your hands under your shoulders and
the fingers pointing towards the feet. Walk back and forth.
Developing massive forearms doesn’t have to limit you to lifting or simple bodyweight exercises. Those are great, and effective, but it can get boring. Rock climbing is an incredibly demanding sport that especially builds upper body strength, forearm strength, and grip strength.
If you have access to a climbing wall or gym, or the real thing outdoors, do a weekly session. It will improve strength all over and really put emphasis on forearms and grip, working every one of those little muscles.
For you and your clients, building forearm strength is something you can choose to do incidentally with a comprehensive strength training program. Alternatively, you can use some
of these strategies to really get ripped from elbow to wrist.
Learn about strength training, functional movements, building muscle, and so much more by enrolling in ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer course. ISSA will get you certified in just weeks and set you up for success with our job guarantee!
1. LeWine, H. (2016, September 8). Grip Strength May Provide Clues to Heart Health. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/grip-strength-may-provide-clues-to-heart-health-201505198022
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