You walk into any gym in the world on any given day and you will see most guys training arms as any lifter be it a bodybuilder, powerlifter, cross fitter or your weekend warrior wants bigger more muscular and vascular arms. Now while bulging biceps and striated triceps get the most attention what looks more impressive is a pair of thick set developed impressive forearms. The guys you see in the magazines with those impressive vascular set of biceps and triceps all do have one thing in common….just as impressive forearm muscles. Plus what muscle group is more visible than any other all year around – yes the forearms!
What do I see in most gyms – people training arms and missing the obvious link and here it is. To get those arms you desire unless you are incorporating forearm training in your training protocols be it through compound movements or specific isolation work you will struggle to achieve the dream.
It’s also important to mention grip now and the hand muscles as training your forearms without training your grip is neon impossible. The stronger your grip is, the more weight you can control, and this leads to more growth.
Not only do well developed forearms make you look manlier, the muscles have a huge functional strength importance. For many sports the last link between you and your opponent or equipment is your hands and if this can be a vital link to improving performance. Take a look at any grappling sports such as wrestling or judo to even recreational sports to tennis and cycling/bike especially off road where you need the forearms muscles to stabilise the bike.
So if you want to get ahead of the competition training forearms are a sure fire way to get there and often under rated and underutilised.
1. Thick Bar Shrugs
Execution: You need a thick bar for this one or even better a pair of fatgripz which are a great tool to have in your gym bag. Ideally you want the bar to be 2-3 inches thick to get maximal results then any exercise you do will soon become a potent mass builder for the forearms. Whether using DB’s or a bar make sure your core is ridged through out with a neutral neck with eyes looking down to avoid over extension of the neck. Soften the thoracic slightly to stop the load coming through the lumbar muscles in the lower back and shrug your shoulders straight up keeping the bar or dumbbell path as close to the body as possible.
Tip: You want to create as much metabolic stress possible to stimulate muscle hypertrophy in the forearms as you can as you shrug. Throughout the movement kinaesthetically grip as hard as you can, thinking about leaving finger indents on the bar/DB’s to stimulate forearm muscle growth.
Why you need this: Using thick implements in training will take care of developing tremendous forearms and grip strength both of which are often neglected and more of a hap hazard afterthought in most cases – besides that thick bar training will make you stronger through its increase in motor unit activation in the muscles.
Application: Go heavy and go thick – perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps with a controlled tempo even pausing at the top of the movement if you want maximum stress on the forearms and traps.
2. Hang Tough
Execution: Using a pull up bar take an overhand (palms facing away from you) grip roughly shoulder width, set yourself up with a bar melting grip and hang from the bar for as long as possible as if your life depended on it. Try different hand positions to add an extra stimulus to the body chin ups position (palms facing you), neutral grip (palms facing each other), false grip (palms facing away with thumbs on top of the bar) and finally working all the way up one arm hangs and then switching to arms.
Tip: Maintain a solid scapular position without the shoulders rounded – think about pulling your shoulders towards your ears while keeping your arms straight. This safeguard the stabilising muscles around the rotator cuff.
Why you need this: Most people’s limiting factor in pull ups or even either heavy deadlifts or high rep deadlifts is their forearm strength coupled with grip. Hang tough will fry those forearm muscles leaving them pumped and blood fuelled in a matter of minutes.
Application: Aim to work up to 2 minutes holding over hand before mixing grip and then finally working towards 30 – 60 seconds of switching from one arm to the other.
3. Pinch Plate Switch/Flip
Execution: Take a weight plate ideally a bumper Olympic bumper plate with a good thickness to it. Holding the plate in front of your waist in one hand, with your knuckles facing away and thumb on the side of the plate facing the body. Bring the plate up to chest height in the form of a one arm upright row, let go of the plate and before it drops to the floor catching the plate waist height with your other hand and then building up speed alternating hand to hand.
Tip: Pinch the plates as hard as possible to not only fire the central nervous system up (CNS) but switch on as many forearms muscles as possible, if you’re feeling confident and want more of a challenge flip the plate 180 degrees and catch the plate repeating hand to hand.
Why you need this: To develop thick impressive forearms it’s also essential to increase grip strength and this exercise will target both. Besides that juggling is cool but juggling weight plates is impressive.
Application: Work for time on this one and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself with a weight that may slip through your hands further switching that CNS on to ensure the plate stays in the hand
4. Wrist Roller
Execution: Hold the wrist roller out in front of you with straight arms with a weight plate hanging at the bottom of the cable. Knuckles facing upwards turn your wrists towards your body rolling the apparatus between hand to hand bringing the plate up till all the cable has wrapped around the wrist roller. Then in the same way lower down the plate slowly without letting the roller slip through your hands until the cable is straight again. If you do not have access to a wrist roller a man made one can be made using a thick resistance band looping it through a weight plate. Then wrap the band around a bar that is placed in a rack that can rotate around and manually twist the bar until the weight plate touches the bar.
Tip: Make sure your arms are straight at all times this will also hit the deltoids as well as the forearms and tag this onto the end your arm workouts to build into a routine that ensures that you never skip building vascular and full forearms.
Why you need this: To really develop impressive forearms its key that you hit wrist extensors and wrist flexors, there is nothing much more effective than specifically hitting extensors and flexors using the wrist roller.
Application: Aim for 1 full cycle of bringing the plate up and back down with keeping strict wrist turns working up to 3 sets of 2 up and 2 down. Start with a 2lb plate working up to 5lbs.
5. Towel Pull ups
Execution: Wrap either one or two hand towels around a pull up bar, and holding the towel/s in the hands execute pull ups essential mimicking a neutral grip chin up. Keep your feet straight as you pull up bracing the core to keep the movement controlled.
Tip: Vary the position of the towel’s with the closer your hands the more emphasis on forearm development and the wider targeting the lats.
Why you need this: Nothing looks more Rocky Balboa than performing strict towel pulls, you will physically feel the forearms swell with a blood fuelled pump. There is a real element of fight or flight as you will be holding on increasing your grip tighter as you slip down the ropes.
Application: Work towards completing 10 strict pull ups focusing on the eccentric phase of the movement lowering down under control to maximise full forearm muscle recruitment
6. Indian Clubbell Tick Tock
Execution: Hold the clubbell at the bottom with a tight fisted grip with your arm out straight in front of you. Imagine there is a clock directly ahead and the clubbell should be in line with 12 o’clock, slowly not allowing your arm to deviate turn the clubbell internally 90degress until it Is in line with 9 o’clock with your hand pronated pause for one second before turning the wrist externally until the clubbell is in line with 3 o’clock with your hand now supinated.
Tip: Like kettlebells turn will up the nervous system making sure your grip is vice tight. If you do not have access to a clubbell use a hammer or sledges hammer.
Why you need this: Clubbell training like kettlebells has been around for centuries for developing shoulder strength; mobility and stability were allegedly used in WW1 by the US military as part of their basic training. By no means a Gimmick clubbell training with its leverage factor and distribution of weight throughout the club is the real deal when prescribed correctly. The clubbell allows a range of motion that no Kettlebell or dumbbell can offer really targeting the forearm and grip.
Application: Perform the exercise slowly not allowing momentum to take over – start off with 60 seconds each arm working up to 120 seconds. When this is achievable increase the load.
7. Rope climbs
Execution: First of all make sure you are using a good quality stable rope that is designed to be climbed on. Also whenever you rope climb with any technique used the legs should always contribute for safety that being said this is a beast of an upper body and forearm workout so be you have been warned. Reach up the rope clamping on with your hands pulling up your bodyweight up, bring your feet with you with the rope between your feet – reach up and repeat, use the same technique to lower yourself down.
Tip: Start slowly gaining confidence and if you’re not ready a great prerequisite is the towel pull up, also work on your technique of locking the rope between your feet.
Why you need this: There is nothing more man like than being able to climb up a rope like a navy seal, climbing a rope will sculpt your body all over as it has a huge core component and will build functional strength from head to toe.
Application: Rope climbs can be integrated into your strength or conditioning workouts, completing 1-2 rope climbs per set completing 4 sets in the workout. Ensure the rest between climbs is sufficient (3 mins) due to the high recruitment of fast twitch muscles fibres and the complexity of the movement.
8. Pinch Grip Farmers Walk
Execution: Take a weight plate in each hand with a pinched grip, hands should be by your side with straight arms. Clear a path in front of you and walk keeping a pinched grip on the weights set a target to hit ideally a minimum of 10 meters and once you have hit that turn around completing at least two laps.
Tip: Take short steps to conserve energy and push your heels into the ground to fire up the glutes and take any pressure off the lower back. Aim to keep the hands by the side of your body with minimal swing as you walk.
Why you need this: Like a traditional farmer’s walk, the lifted carry in this case pinch is not just phenomenal and improving grip which is essential for forearm strength and development. It will also have positive carry over effects to all of the big lifts as it will help in developing powerful glutes and hips, a strong and stable back and a rock solid core.
Application: Don’t just think about weight pinched and carried, have some fun with it think about covering distance and pinching thicker plates to really pack on forearm mass.
9. Seated Zottman Curls
Execution: Seated with a neutral torso with a dumbbell in each arm, arms relaxed by your side with palms facing directly forward. With elbows tight to the body contract the biceps and curl the dumbbells together and pause at the top of the curl briefly with your hands supinated. Internally rotate your hands so that your hand is now pronated and maintain elbows tight to the body lower the arms together eccentrically slowly until your arms and now straight and lowered. At the bottom rotate the elbows until your palms are again supinated and repeat.
Tip: If there is an imbalance between arms with one hitting fatigue before the other finish the set off with alternating arms.
Why you need this: Devised by a strongman of yesteryear George Zottman in the 1880’s, the Zottman curl is a sure fire way to build bigger forearms and biceps through its heavy recruitment of the brachioradialis.
Application: Add into a tri-set of biceps work to really pack some meat onto the forearms, with reverse curls and hammer curls. 3-4 sets of 12 reps with 2 minutes rest.
10. Bottoms up KB Press
Execution: Using a kettlebell hold it upside down so the ‘bell’ of the KB is in the air, stabilise the wrist keeping the KB still and press above head like a simple DB military press. Lower the weight down keeping the KB upside down.
Tip: When pressing and lowering the weight think about ‘packing’ and firing the lats and pulling the weight down with your elbow close to the body rather than just lowering. This will keep the scapula in a shoulder friendly position.
Why you need this: As soon as you take a pistol grip (bottoms up) of a KB it turns any of the traditional KB exercises into a forearm melting workout. The body is a very adaptable tool and mastering the pistol grip will keep the body guessing and add more tools to your training armour.
Application: Start light and use your non lifting hand as a catcher in case the KB drops. Pick the heaviest load you can handle, complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps with 1-2 minutes rest.