Last Updated: September 15, 2016
If you want to know the best forearm exercises and how to create forearm workouts that really work, then you want to read this article.
The forearms are the calves of the arms.
You can have everything working up top but it’s a shame if it tapers off to spindles.
Forearm training serves a purpose greater than vanity, too.
To see why, hold your arm out in front of you and squeeze your hand into a fist as hard as you can.
Notice how all the muscles in your arm and your shoulder engages?
Well, in this way, training your forearms with the exercises in this article will also train your arms and shoulders.
The bottom line is the bigger and stronger your forearms are, the better your arms are going to look and the better you’re going to progress in your weightlifting.
And in this article, I’m going to show you exactly what you need to do to get forearms that would make Popeye jealous. 🙂
So let’s get to it.
Understanding the Forearm Anatomy
Your forearms are comprised of several smaller muscles, which are divided into two groups:
(Flexion is a bending movement and extension a straightening one.)
(Pronation at the forearm is rotation that places the palm facing down and supination is rotation that places it facing up.)
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 musculature and talk about the various superficial, intermediate, and deep muscles, but it’s not necessary.
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.
The Simple Science of Effective Forearm Training
Building big, strong forearms is fairly straightforward.
- Do a lot of heavy pushing, pulling, and curling.
- Do a handful of additional forearm exercises as needed.
In fact, some people find that #2 is unnecessary–that heavy chest, back, and arm training alone is enough.
Many others, though, (including me) find that grip weakness limits progress on #1 and forearm training is an easy fix.
So, while your grip strength will naturally improve through a proper weightlifting program, there are quite a few grip exercises that you can do to speed up the process.
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.
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.
You need enough resistance to allow for a full range of motion but not so little that it barely challenges you or so so much that you can barely budge it.
Here are the two hand exercisers that I like most and recommend:
Gripmaster Hand Exerciser
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.
“Captains of Crush” Hand Exerciser
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 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:
Shoot for a hold time of 10 to 20 seconds per set and once you hit 20 seconds, raise the weight by 10 pounds.
Work with that weight until you can hold it for 20 seconds, raise, and so forth.
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”…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).
Dumbbell Farmer Walk
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 Ultimate Forearm Workout Routine
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 and when you warm up for heavy pulling.
- 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 the 2 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
The Bottom Line on Forearm Workouts
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 strength is lacking, this article can help.
Like abs, you don’t need to get fancy to build your forearms. You just need to get stronger in the handful of simple exercises outlined above.