By Lee Boyce
From a purely cosmetic angle, lagging forearms can kill the overall look of your arms. Sure, there are certain bluffs that can be employed to offset that imbalance like wearing sleeveless shirts and tank tops as often as possible. However, up here in the true north, those with poor forearm development are eventually left with a choice – look like a fool and get hypothermia in December or do something about it.
From a performance angle, both in and out of the weight room, grip and forearm strength can do a lot of good. Whether you’re a domestic worker, or a mixed martial artist, having claws of death puts you one step ahead when carrying loads, grappling with an opponent or performing submission holds. All this being said, here are a few tricks that are sure to make your forearms more impressive in terms of both looks and functionality.
1. Loaded Carries
Most trainers would agree that forearm training for development is usually most effective when the muscular endurance and time under tension is maximized. Exercises like farmers walks, fireman’s carries, and other dynamic movements that involve isometric grip holds are key. Keep in mind that you can only lift as much as you can hold. The progression you see through these exercises will also be an indicator that your grip strength has improved. This has a huge carryover to your deadlift, weighted pull-ups, and rows. Don’t be afraid to use a “pinch grip” in your loaded carries with lighter weight too. Simply hold the weights between the fingertips, and not within the palm of the hand.
2. Hammer Grip
Using a hammer grip (palms facing each other) when performing your sets of biceps curls and chin-ups can prove effective simply because the neutral palm position allows the brachioradialis – one of your beefiest forearm muscles – to get involved. This lesson is a simple one: ditch the standard curls and wide grip pull-ups, and use a palms facing in (or even reverse) grip where you can. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Make it a Challenge
When performing basic movements, don’t limit yourself to typical barbells and dumbbells – change it up! Give your grip and forearms a challenge by forcing them to really clutch something tight. By this point in time, you’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of tools like Fat Gripz which are used to increase bar thickness and subsequently train a lifter’s grip strength. You’ll really have to squeeze tight to get a good hold on a fatter bar, which creates a workout within a workout. As my man John Gaglione likes to point out, with a “crushing” grip you’ll create more tension and subsequently have a better connection and more stable set-up.
4. Start Doing Strongman Stuff
You’re off to a good start with the loaded carries. I’m not saying you have run out and enter a strongman competition with the intention of setting a new meet record. However, depending on your gym, you may have access to some thick ropes to climb or pull, tires to flip, or stones to carry (those are little bit tougher to get a hold of). If so, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your training as an auxiliary exercise. One strongman workout and you’ll be going home with your hands fixed in a “perma-claw”.
The 15 Minute Forearm Finisher
At the end of a good back workout of your choice, add this mini-workout to give your
forearms the pump and added training volume they need for growth and development.
1. Farmers Walks (40 metres)
- Use the heaviest dumbbells you can walk with, and add Fat Gripz if available.
2. Hammer Curls (12 reps / arm)
3. Chin-up Iso-hold To Failure (neutral grip)
- Hold at fully flexed position (eyes above bar) for as long as possible. Use Fat Gripz if available.
* Perform 3 rounds of this tri-set
The truth is, making a muscle stronger and more developed, doesn’t necessarily mean training that muscle specifically for your typical reps and sets. Strongmen and their crushing grips will attest to that. Loaded carries, some extra sweat and a pinch of strongman training could be just what the doctor ordered to see the forearm gains you’ve been dreaming of. Give these methods a try and soon you’ll be needing that sleeveless shirt simply because your arms won’t fit into anything else!
Lee Boyce is a sought after Toronto based strength coach. He works with clients and athletes for strength, conditioning, and sport performance. He’s a contributor to many major magazines including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness and TNATION, and is the fitness expert on the nationally televised morning show First Look. While attending York University he studied Kinesiology and competed as a varsity sprinter and long jumper at the national level. Visit his website for more articles at leeboycetraining.com and be sure to follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce.