A set of giant forearms instantly lets people know that you lift. If you’re lucky, you’re able to grow your forearms through only indirect work like lifting and holding barbells and dumbbells while arm training or doing deadlifts and rows. If not, you’ll definitely benefit from forearm work– not just to increase grip strength (which is nice on its own), but also to add some serious size to your arms.
The benefits of having muscular forearms and a strong grip go beyond giving Popeye a run for his money. A strong grip can translate into larger biceps and also more power on other exercises.
But, as with any other muscle, your forearms aren’t going to get bigger and stronger by doing one simple exercise. In other words, you’re going to have to do a little more than add a few wrist curls to the end of your workout.To help, we’ve put together our top 5 forearm exercises so that you can start building the menacing set of forearms and handshake-crushing grip you seek:
- Wrist Roller
The wrist roller is like the squat of wrist exercises. No doubt at some point during your lifting career you’ve tried them. But you’ve likely done them inefficiently, too. It’s not your fault – nearly every exercise book or magazine shows a model holding the wrist roller out in front of them, mimicking the end position of a front raise. This turns the exercise into “how fast can I roll this weight up before my front delts give out” instead of being an exercise that is 100% focused on your forearms.
Instead, try performing this exercise with the roller down in front of your waist instead of held up at eye height. Stand on a bench or box to make up for the height difference. Perform 3-5 sets somewhere in the 15-30-rep range. Starting at 10 lbs. might be a challenge; however, most advanced lifters should be able to do 25 to 50 lbs. after a few weeks of training.
- Lever Lifts
Lever lifts are a preferred forearm-strengthening exercise of arm wrestlers. These guys have some of the biggest and strongest forearms of any athletes, and they pay extreme attention to their grip and forearm work.
For our purposes, we’ll focus on Front Lever Lifts and Rear Lever Lifts. Front Lever Lifts are performed by gripping a sledge hammer or similar weighted pole at its unweighted end, dangling it so the weight is facing down by the side of your body and repeatedly raising and lowering it without bending your elbow.
For Rear Lever Lifts, the weighted end should be behind you and the non-weighted end should be gripped like a ski-pole.
Perform 3 sets of 20 for both Front and Rear.
- Reverse Curls
Though they’re often overlooked, reverse curls will help add some serious size to the wrist extensors. And because of the pronated grip, they maximize the tension on the brachioradialis (outer forearm). This exercise is a lot more difficult than doing a regular curl, so expect to go down in weight.
Try doing 3 sets of 6-8 of standing reverse EZ bar curls another 3 sets of close-grip reverse cable curls.
- Thick Bar Lifts
Old-time strongmen knew the value of a thick bar for making hands, fingers and forearms bigger and stronger. Thick bars stimulate more muscle activation not just in the hands and forearms but also in the upper arms.
There are several ways you can increase the thickness of a barbell or dumbbell. One is to simply wrap a towel around the handle. Another is to use a specific grip adapter, like Fat Gripz. Both work great. If you’re lucky enough to train at a gym with thick bar dumbells, even better!
In general, try using the thick bar/grip primarily for high-rep back exercises like dumbell rows or barbell shrugs; however, you can ultimately use them for bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups, pull ups, rows, deadlifts, curls and tricep extensions. For some exercises you’ll need to reduce the weight (in some cases significantly), but after a few weeks of using thick bars, it’s possible to not just come back to your previous weight, but go beyond your previous training weights.
- Heavy Static Holds
Heavy Static holds include the farmer’s walk and static holds of 20-60 seconds in length. These holds allow for very heavy weight and force significant blood flow into your forearms for some pretty intense pumps. Aim for the heaviest weight you can hold for 20-60 seconds. If you’re not (literally) dropping the weight at the one minute mark, increase the weight. You can perform farmer’s walks or static holds with dumbbells, kettlebells or even two barbells.
Tip: To increase the challenge, you can also perform heavy static holds or farmer’s walks with a thick bar.