- The best way to build your forearms is to get as strong as possible on a handful of compound exercises.
- If that doesn’t get the job done, you can also do forearm-specific exercises like barbell holds, hand exercisers, plate pinches, oversized grips, and dumbbell farmer walks.
- If you want to grow your forearms as fast as possible, use oversized grips on your push and curl exercises, end one of your weekly workouts with 2 to 3 sets of barbell holds and another with 2 to 3 sets of plate pinches, and do 6 sets of the hand exerciser per week.
The forearms are the calves of the arms.
Strong and muscular forearms are good for more than just vanity, too.
Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.
Trained forearms can even help you progress faster in your chest and shoulder pressing as well, which require a strong grip to stabilize the barbell.
The bottom line is that the stronger your forearms are, the more progress you’ll make in your weightlifting.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to directly train your forearms a few times per week, though.
You may need to target your forearms in your training, but if you’re doing everything else right, they may get plenty big and strong without it.
And in this article, I’m going to break it all down and show you exactly what you need to do to get forearms that would make Popeye jealous.
So let’s get to it.
Understanding Forearm Anatomy
Your forearms are comprised of many small muscles, each of which performs a slightly different physiological role.
Instead of looking at each muscle individually, we can simply divide them into two broad categories:
Think of pronation and supination this way: With your hands at your sides, your hands are pronated when your palm is facing backward, and supinated when your palm is facing forward.
Here’s how the flexors look, which are on the inside of your arm:
And here’s how the extensors look, which are on the outside:
We could dive deeper into the muscular minutiae of the forearms, and talk about the various superficial, intermediate, and deep muscles, but it’s not necessary for our purposes here.
All you need to know is one set of muscles flexes the wrist and fingers and pronates the arm and another set extends them and supinates the arm.
Summary: The forearm is comprised of many small muscles that work to flex and extend the wrist and fingers and pronate and supinate the lower arm.
The Simple Science of Effective Forearm Training
Building big, strong forearms is fairly straightforward.
- Do a lot of heavy pushing, pulling, and curling.
- And if that doesn’t get the job done, do a handful of additional forearm exercises as needed.
Most people find that #2 is unnecessary—that heavy chest, back, and arm training alone is enough to build big, strong, proportionate forearms.
Some, however, find that grip weakness limits progress on #1 and can use forearm training as an easy fix.
While your grip strength will naturally improve with a proper weightlifting program, there are quite a few forearm exercises that you can do to speed up the process.
I used to do a handful of these exercises to improve my grip strength, mostly so I could pull and row more weight, and it worked a charm.
It was pretty simple, too—it works in more or less the same way as training any other muscle group in your body.
Accordingly, the most important principle you must observe to get the most out of forearm exercises is progressive overload.
Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, and the most effective way to do this is by progressively increasing the amount of weight that you’re lifting.
In other words, even when training smaller muscles like the forearms, the primary goal is to get stronger over time.
Your whole-body strength will also affect your forearm size because as you add weight to your bench press, deadlift, and curls, you’re not just overloading your chest, back, and biceps.
You’re also overloading a number of other muscles in your body, including your forearms.
This is why many people find forearm-specific exercises unnecessary—their forearm size and grip strength more or less keeps pace with the rest of their body.
Thus, if you want bigger, stronger forearms, you also want more whole-body strength and size, and to do that, you need an effective weightlifting program.
Check out this article to learn more:
Summary: The best way to build your forearms is to get as strong as possible doing heavy, compound exercises. If that isn’t enough to build your forearms, you can also do forearm-specific exercises (which you’ll learn below).
The Best Forearm Exercises
Given the function of the forearm muscles, the exercises that train them best are the exercises generally used to increase grip strength.
Let’s take a look at each.
The barbell hold is a brutally simple forearm exercise that’s easy to include at the end of a workout.
Here’s how to do it:
Set up the barbell in a squat rack or on the floor as if you’re going to do a Romanian deadlift.
Hold the bar (without straps) for 10 to 20 seconds or as long as you can, then rest 1 to 2 minutes before doing another set. Increase the weight by 10 pounds once you can hold it for 20 seconds or more.
Work with the new weight until you can hold it for 20 seconds, increase it again, and so forth.
An extremely effective way to train your forearms is to train your “crush grip.”
This involves nothing more than hand flexion—closing your hand around an object and squeezing—but it’s great for building strong forearm flexors, wrists, hands, and fingers.
One of the easiest ways to improve your crush grip is to use a hand exerciser . . . if you use it properly.
The key is you need enough resistance to allow for a full range of motion—no partial reps!—but not so little that it barely challenges you.
Here are the two hand exercisers that I like most and recommend:
The Gripmaster is a good place to start training your crush grip.
It comes in several tension levels (I started with medium and worked my way up to black) and I also like that it allows you to train each finger independently. This is great for strengthening the weaker links in your grip like the pinky and ring fingers.
Once you’ve defeated the black Gripmaster, you’re ready for the big-leagues.
And in grip trainers, that’s the Captains of Crush gripper.
They’ve been on the market for about 15 years now and are quite popular in bodybuilding, powerlifting, and strongman circles.
You have 11 strength options to choose from, ranging from 60 pounds to an incredible 365 pounds, and a good place to start if you’re coming off the Gripmaster is 60 or 80 pounds.
If, however, you’re an experienced weightlifter that can overhand deadlift 300+ pounds without straps, you can probably start with the 100-pound model.
How to Use the Hand Exerciser
The first thing you need to know to use a hand exercise is how to set it properly in your hand.
Here’s a video that shows this:
Next you’ll need to know how to build a “workout” with a hand exercise and how frequently you should use it.
Here are the basic guidelines:
Use Proper Form
If you’re an experienced weightlifter, you know how important proper form is.
The difference between doing an exercise correctly and incorrectly can be night-and-day in terms of progress and results.
As silly as it may sound, hand squeezes are the same way.
Full squeezes are far more effective than partial squeezes. And no twisting your arm or body to gain additional leverage!
How to Structure Your Hand Exerciser Workouts
A hand exerciser workout is fairly simple:
- Do 5 to 6 sets of squeezes per workout and shoot for 8 to 10 reps per set.
- Rest 1 to 2 minutes in between sets.
- Ultimately, your goal is to successfully do 5 to 6 sets of 8 to 10 squeezes per set.
- Once you can do this, you’re ready to move up to the next level of resistance.
- You can also increase the difficulty of your sets by including “squeeze-and-hold” reps.
You do this by fully squeezing the hand exerciser and holding it closed for 10 to 20 seconds (start with 10 seconds and work up from there).
Many people like to end their sets with one squeeze-and-hold rep.
The plate pinch is another simple forearm exercise that only requires a couple weight plates.
Here’s how it works:
Start with two 10 pound weights and, like the barbell hold, go for a hold time of 10 to 20 seconds per set, and once you hit 20, add weight to the pinch.
The most common way to do add weight isn’t to jump up to a 25 pound plate, though—it’s adding another 10 pound plate to the pinch (for a total of 30 pounds).
You can stack 10 pound plates like this until you run out of hand room and then move on to heavier plates.
Thick bar training has been “a thing” for decades and oversized grips are an easy way to incorporate it into your training.
They’re popular because you don’t have to add or change anything about your workout routine—you simply snap the rubber grips onto the barbell or dumbbells and you’re ready to go.
That said, the marketing tends to be hinky, so take it with a grain of salt.
No, oversized grips aren’t “powerful muscle builders” as is often claimed . . . but they are a cost-effective way to train your forearms and grip.
I’ve used them quite a bit and found that I like them best on my pushing and curling but not my heavy pulling.
The reason for this is simple: you can’t pull nearly as much weight with them than without, and the amount of weight you have to strip off the bar just isn’t worth it.
You can, however, use them when you warm up for heavy pulls (and then take them off when it’s show time).
The downside of that, of course, is that your grip is more fatigued for your heavy sets, so you still probably won’t be able to pull as much as you would otherwise. That’s why I recommend you just stay away from oversized grips for heavy pulling.
This is an old school strongman exercise that will never lose its place in the pantheon of forearm builders.
Here’s how it works:
Shoot for 30 to 40 feet walked per “set,” and once you’re able to move a given weight for that distance, move up.
The forearm muscles are very resilient, but training them too frequently becomes counter-productive. And especially if you’re also doing a fair amount of heavy weightlifting as well.
That’s why I recommend you follow these guidelines:
- Use oversized grips on your push exercises and curls.
- End one of your regular workouts with 2 to 3 sets of barbell holds. Personally I did these after my weekly back workouts.
- End one of your regular workouts with 2 to 3 sets of plate pinches. Put a couple days in between these sets and the barbell holds. I did my plate pinches after my weekly leg workouts.
- Do 6 sets of the hand exerciser per week. I did these on the two days per week that I don’t lift weights.
And just so it’s clear, here’s exactly how I laid my routine out:
Chest with oversized grips
Back and barbell holds
Arms with oversized grips
Shoulders with oversized grips
Legs with plate pinches
Rest and hand exerciser
Rest and hand exerciser
In many ways, forearm training is like ab training.
If you follow a sensible weightlifting routine and have good genetics, you may never need it.
If, however, you’re struggling to gain size in your forearms and your grip is wanting, you can benefit from including forearm-specific exercises in your workouts.
The primary muscles you’re trying to train are the forearm flexors and extensors, which bend and straighten your hands, respectively, as well as rotate them.
The single best way to build your forearm size and strength is to progressively overload your forearm muscles with heavy, compound lifts like the bench and overhead press and deadlift.
Isolation exercises like barbell curls train the forearms, too.
If that doesn’t give you the forearms you want, however, you can also do forearm-specific exercises like these:
- Barbell Hold
- Hand Exercisers
- Plate Pinch
- Oversized “Fat” Grips
- Dumbbell Farmer Walk
If you want to include these exercises in your workout routine, use oversized grips on your push exercises and curls, end one of your regular weekly workouts with 2 to 3 sets of barbell holds and another with 2 to 3 sets of plate pinches, and do 6 sets of the hand exerciser per week.
Do that, eat your spinach, and you’ll get forearms that pop(eye).
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