Training

How to Build Powerful Forearms

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Who the hell cares about having a big set of forearms? Damn near everyone, that's who.

Besides your face and hands, forearms are the body part most likely to make an appearance in everyday life.

Before Arnold and other bodybuilders popularized big chests and biceps, muscular forearms were the embodiment of strength  – just take a look at Popeye for proof.

I've talked to numerous women over the years about what part of a man's body they find most attractive. Of course, some like abs, others a big chest, but the most common answer kind of surprises me.

The most frequent response, by far, goes something like this. “I like a guy with nice forearms. I'm not really sure why, but I find them really sexy.”

Women may not know exactly why they feel this way, but I can take a pretty good guess.

Forearms are the result of utilizing brute force. They aren't developed by rapidly pressing X, Y, X, Y on your Xbox controller. Forearm development can't be faked.

Muscular forearms are a sure sign that you're a strong man. It doesn't matter if you're genetically blessed or developed them through weightlifting or manual labor. The message is the same.

So how do we develop this body part that women find irresistible?

Below is my four part system to develop this stubborn body part.

Part 1: Take your back workouts seriously

I know you can't see it in the mirror, but working your back is just as important to building a good physique as your chest and arms.

The main function of the forearm is to grip. And while you do grip the bar during pressing movements, the weight is resting in the palm, not fighting to open your fingers like during pulling movements.

Giving your back the attention it deserves requires a tremendous amount of effort on your forearm's part.

Both high and low rep sets can strengthen your grip, but you must be working close to your limits. This means heavy deadlifts, chin-ups, and rows.

Lighter weight can also work but you need to be pushing the sets until you have a skin-tearing pump to elicit a growth response in the forearms.

Part 2: Never use wrist straps

Unless you've worked your way up to deadlifting four plates on each side, you have no business using wrist straps. If your grip is weak, the only way to fix it is to work on it.

You can solve the problem by using more volume instead of working to failure.

Let's say that you can perform 10 pull-ups with straps but without, your grip goes at 6. Instead of doing 3 sets of 10 with straps (robbing forearm gains), perform 7+ sets of only 5 reps. Your total volume will increase, but the shorter sets will allow you to nix the straps. Your grip won't give out and you'll strengthen your forearms.

Sure, there are some guys who progress so quickly in back strength that their forearms cannot keep up. But for genetically typical people, you'll never need straps if you don't start the dependency in the first place.

I've never used them in my life, and as a result, have never been limited by grip strength.

Part 3: Switch your grip for curls

Of course, the biceps are the superstars of the gun show, but the forearms are also involved.

When your palms are facing the ceiling the biceps are doing the bulk of the curling work.When you pronate the wrist (like pouring a pitcher of water), as you would in hammer or reverse curls, the biceps are in a disadvantaged position.

Curling in this manner allows more muscles of the forearms to step up to the plate (more on the individual muscle groups below).

Part 4: Train your forearms directly

It's absolutely true that it's possible to grow a pair of gigantic forearms without any isolation work. Well, it's true if you see a 500 lb deadlift in your future.

Skipping isolation exercises only seems to work for those gifted enough to develop huge biceps and triceps from pressing and rowing alone. Great for them, but not for us regular guys.

If mind-blowing strength doesn't seem to be in the cards for you, you'll need some additional stimulation to get the results you want.

This isn't an excuse to skimp on the big compound lifts, though. You still need to respect the basics of bodybuilding. You could perform wrist curls alone until you're blue in the face and will get nearly zero results unless they're accompanied by total body development.

The Golden Era of Bodybuilding guys used to directly train forearms daily and had bowling pins from the elbow down to prove it.

Forearm Anatomy: Layman's Terms

Before detailing my recommended exercises, it'll be helpful to do a brief review of the three main muscle groups of the forearm.

Forearm flexors – These make up the “belly” of your forearms. The group is made up of a bunch of different muscles, but it's not important to single them out. Just know that, as a group, they're responsible for flexing the forearm (bringing your palm towards the pale part of your arm) and flexing the fingers (gripping).

The forearm flexors are the largest of the three muscle groups and have the greatest potential for growth.

Forearm extensors – These are the muscles on the top of the forearm that writhe about when you wiggle your fingers.  These muscles are worked by extending the wrist and also by curling with palms facing the floor.

Developing the flexor group won't add a ton of mass to your forearms, but it'll result in a high degree of definition and separation, creating the appearance of being much larger.

Brachioradialis – If you position your arm like you're holding a hammer, this is the muscle that pops up on top. The main function of this muscle is to flex the elbow (like the bicep's function), but is most active when the hand is in this semi-pronated position (hammer grip).

The brachioradialis is a fairly large muscle and has some good potential for growth. Its strong point, though, is its ability to add height and dimension to the forearm. Similar to the way a cobra creates the illusion of greater size.

Forearm Exercises

(1) Wrist curls

Grab a barbell and rest your forearms on your thighs with palms facing up.

Let the weight slowly roll out to your fingertips.

Lift the weight by closing your fingers and finish by curling the wrist towards the ceiling.

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(2) Reverse wrist curls

Grab a barbell and rest your forearms on your thighs with palms facing the floor.

Let your wrists relax and let the weight hang.

Extend the wrists to lift the weight by bring the knuckles closer to the ceiling.

Note: You will not need much weight for this, an empty barbell may be enough.

alt="forearm reverse wrist curl"

(3) Hammer curls

I know I don't need to tell anyone how to curl. Just keep your hands in the hammer position throughout the entire range of motion.

I feel these the most on the negative portion of the lift. I'll typically get a little ambitious with the weight, cheat them to the top, and lower them under control for a three-count.

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(4) Reverse curls

Performed just like regular curls, but with an overhand grip.

You'll likely need to use less weight than with normal curls.

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Massive Forearms Workout

Sets and reps are up to you, just make sure you're pushing yourself.

  • Deadlift or a variation
  • Vertical pull – Chin-ups, pull-ups, or lat Pulldowns
  • Horizontal pull – Barbell, dumbbell, or cable row
  • Curl – Barbell, dumbbell, incline, or preacher
  • Curl variation – Hammer curls with dumbbells, hammer bar, or cable attachment
  • Flexor work – Wrist curls performed standing, seated, behind the back, or on a preacher bench
  • Extensor work – Reverse wrist curls or reverse curls

Extra credit – After you've thrashed your forearms, try picking up a pair of heavy dumbbells for a predetermined time, about 60 seconds should do the trick. They'll get so pumped that you'll strongly consider gnawing them off at the elbow.

Implementation

Training forearms properly doesn't require a radical change to your current routine. Just work hard on your back exercises, avoid wrist straps, and add a couple isolation exercises at the end of your workout.

Now all that's left is to go out and get a pair of sweet anchor tattoos.

All the best,

Nate

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Scott
    March 16, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Great read, forearms are the forgotten muscles

  • Reply
    joe
    March 17, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Good looking site.. Lots of good stuff here. Wish you well

  • Reply
    PM
    March 17, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    Part 2 is so true. I see so much guys at my gym using straps with everything. What makes me smile the most is when I see someone using straps on lat pulldown, I mean come on, work your damn grip.

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      I know. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly “I saw a big guy using these and I want to be just like him.” Similar to the out of shape recreational cyclists dressed head to toe in neon spandex and an aerodynamic helmet so he can tear the bike path on the weekends.

  • Reply
    Alex
    March 19, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    I used a weight strap the other day and while it did help with my grip on deadlifts, something felt off-putting about using them. I couldn’t understand why until I read this, that they essentially give you an unneeded (and maybe even harmful) shortcut. I do not go to the gym for shortcuts. Thanks for sharing your great insights here Nate.

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 20, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      You’re absolutely right Alex. They do allow you to lift heavier weights but should only be utilized by advanced lifters for their heaviest sets. You point out the potential harm of using straps. In the case of deadlifts, your grip is like a fuse in an electrical circuit. If you can’t hold the weight in your hands the set is over. If you use straps they’ll allow you to put a strain on your spine that you’re probably not conditioned to handle. Very good observation!

  • Reply
    Chase Power
    March 22, 2015 at 12:23 am

    Hey bro, nice article and blog. And I agree, the forearms really are a neglected body part. In terms of wrist straps I also agree with what you said pertaining to deadlifts. Once a lifter can deadlift 405 pounds with a hook grip for reps THEN, the straps can be implemented to push deadlift volume. But until then a new lifter wont benefit from straps. Also I love Hammer curls for bench press accessory too

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Yep, it’s all about not developing dependancies. I see the heavy benchers doing reverse and hammer curls all the time. I’m guessing this is to stabilize the forearms?

  • Reply
    Chris
    March 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Agree with everything here. I want to add that I’ve always gotten the best results as far as grip and forearms go when the focus was on “control.” Even when I’m doing db bench press, If I maintain complete control over the path of the weight(not just trying to beast through the rep) I get a massive pump in my forearms going heavy. Also IMO best bang for your buck grip exercise farmers walks.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 1, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      You’re right. Lifting under control helps put your mind in your muscle but it also usually extends the time of the set for a little more forearm torture. Farmers walks will do wonders for your grip, traps, core, and calves. I like to do them at the end of a workout when everything is exhausted.

  • Reply
    Connor
    April 24, 2015 at 1:13 am

    Good article mate, It still amazes me how so many gym goers neglect forearms – They all need a link to this article.

    And just to add onto good exercises for the forearms, here’s three I’ve found that are great:
    1) Deadlifts with Fat-Gripz (double overhand grip)
    2) Farmers Walks
    3) Weighted hangs (go for 30-60 seconds per hang)

    Keep it up man.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Feel free to pass it on, Connor! Those are all great exercise recommendations. I’ve done chin-ups with Fat-Gripz, but I can’t even imagine how brutal deadlifts would be.

  • Reply
    Jacob S.
    April 30, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Nate,
    Great post, this is really informative! I have always used the hammer curls and they work very well. However, I will start using the wrist curls.

    The rest of the site is really fantastic. I think the layout for your site is well presented and received. Definitely enjoy your writing style too!

  • Reply
    Stephan Raczak
    May 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Just slap FatGripz on every barbell and dumbbell you handle. Especially, doing pullups (with palms facing each other) will destroy your brachialis.

    After using the FatGripz for several months, you will just fucking crush normal barbells with the srength you have gained.

    • Reply
      Nate
      May 28, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Using FatGripz on pull-ups is not for the faint of heart. Excellent suggestion.

      Have seen the super fancy dumbbells that Charles Poliquin uses? They’re thick handles and the plates rotate like an olympic bar. He mentioned them being over $25,000 for a complete set, so I think FatGripz are the better choice, haha.

  • Reply
    Stephan Raczak
    May 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    I have seen Charles’ stuff before. Actually, my university gym here in Copenhagen has a dumbbell set with thick handles and rotating plates, too. The heaviest thick-handled dumbbells go up to 88 kg – ridiculous !! :)

    • Reply
      Nate
      May 28, 2015 at 6:31 pm

      That’s awesome! I’ve always worked out at gyms with bent dumbbells and there always seem to be a few missing.

  • Reply
    Stephan Raczak
    May 28, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    I should mention those dumbbells are from ELEIKO. Can’t beat the Swedes in that regard.

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