Workout of the Week: Build Lumberjack Forearms
Unless you’re genetically gifted with huge forearms, they can be slow to grow. But adding a few moves to your existing program is all it takes to developing forearms even Popeye would envy.
By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS
Extreme forearm development is intimidating and impressive. A legitimately strong individual proudly wears well-developed forearms like a knight wears armor. A solid grip is a badge of honor, and well-developed forearms shout functional power.
The lucky ones have impressive forearms without doing any direct forearm work; the rest us will need direct training to maximally develop the forearms.
Powerbuilding legend Anthony Ditillo had this to say about his massive increase in forearms size and how he trained his forearms in 1969: “I train my forearms four times per week—twice at the end of my upper-body training days and again twice at the onset of my lower-body training days. I perform the reverse curl first, doing 5 sets of 10-8-6-4-15 repetitions, using progressively heavier weights each set (with the exception of the the last). I then perform the seated wrist curl, palms up, for 5 additional sets of 20 repetitions using the same weight, increasing it whenever possible. I also followed proper diet principles.”
In the tradition of Ditillo we will train our forearms four days a week, using low and high reps and variety of exercises. These workouts can be done as an addendum to current training sessions or in separate workouts.
We are kicking things off with a functional exercise. A grip like a vice is straight-up bad-ass and serves anyone well in athletic and combative endeavors because these exercises don’t isolate the forearms; you have to go as heavy as possible. Drape a towel over the top of a squat rack, hold the bottom of the towel for 30 seconds; if this is easy, add weight—this should be very difficult. Unable to use a towel? Hang on a pull-up bar. Rest two minutes between sets.
Cheat Reverse Curls
Grasp a bar with shoulder-width overhand grip, letting the bar hang down at your waist. Curl the bar in an arc as far as you can toward your face. Hold at the top then slowly lower the bar to the start position. Go as heavy as possible, and use Fat Gripz if available. It’s okay to use momentum on the way up; the work is on the way down. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
Barbell Wrist Curl*
Sit and grasp bar with a narrow to shoulder-width underhand grip. Rest your forearms on thighs with wrists just beyond knees. Allow the barbell to roll out of your palms down to your fingers. Raise barbell back up by gripping and pointing knuckles up as high as possible. Lower and repeat. Keep form strict and emphasize a full range of motion.
Barbell Wrist Extension*
Sit on one end of a bench, holding the barbell, wrists against your knees, palms facing down. Raise the barbell up by extending your wrists and slowly lower it back down after a short pause. Keep your forearms pressed against your thighs throughout.
*Both exercises are done in a superset fashion. Rest one to two minutes between supersets.
Dumbbell Ulnar Deviation
Forearms do more than just extend and flex the wrist—they abduct (move away from body) and adduct (move toward the body). For complete development, we will work these functions.
Grasp a half-loaded dumbbell with the plate on the pinkie side of your hand. Using your wrist, move dumbbell toward the midline of the body; moving the little finger side of the hand toward the medial side of the forearm. Go as heavy as possible; use strict form this is an isolation exercise. Rest 60 seconds between sets.
Grasp a half-loaded dumbbell with the plate on the thumb side. Using your wrist, move the dumbbell laterally (away from) the midline of the body; moving the little finger side of the hand toward the lateral side of the forearm. Go as heavy as possible; use strict form this is an isolation exercise. Rest 60 seconds between sets
Captains of Crush Grippers
For six minutes straight we’re going to build function crush grip, while adding slabs of muscle to the forearms. Using a captain crush gripper or any squeeze grip machine—start off with resistance that could be performed for 15 reps. Perform six reps on your weaker side, getting a full range of motion; repeat on the stronger side for six reps.
When you can no longer do six reps on the weaker side go to five, when five is no longer possible go to four, when four is no longer possible go to three, when three is no longer possible go to two and when two is no longer possible go to one. If one is no longer possible, squeeze the gripper as hard as possible for five seconds, continually matching the strong side reps to those first accomplished on the weak side. No rest between sets.
Reverse Drag Curl
With a shoulder-width pronated grip on a loaded barbell, let the weight hang in your hands and slowly drag the barbell up your body as high as you can get it and then back down again. Want to increase the difficulty? Use Fat Gripz or wrap a towel around the barbell.
Huge forearms are part of the reason no one will defeat Flex Lewis for the under 212 Olympia crown anytime soon. And huge forearms make lifters look the part and functionally contribute to extraordinary feats of strength.
Time to hit the pig iron!