By Ken "Skip" Hill
The title may be a little misleading in that you always have to train a muscle to get it to grow. That doesn’t mean however, that building bigger forearms needs to entail endless sets of uncomfortable wrist curls using “grippy things” or some other exercise that makes the Shake Weight look normal. What you need to do is be more efficient with the training you’re already doing.
Most people tend to gravitate to the bigger guys in the gym for answers to their training questions. I don’t know how many times I have seen someone’s lips moving and had to take my ear buds out to hear: “how did you get your forearms so big?” I’m not a terribly huge guy by today’s bodybuilding standards but I clearly look like a bodybuilder. I can win a weight class here and there when a mediocre field shows up, but when you see me in the gym your jaw isn’t going to drop like Chris Griffin when he sees boobs. However, I do have a pretty impressive set of forearms. In fact they are so good that I often wonder if God thought he was being funny by giving me such a great set of calves and forearms and shitty genetics everywhere else. Maybe he did it so that people would think I was a badass…until I took my shirt and sweats off. Yeah, that’s real funny.
Don’t you hate it when you walk up to someone in the gym and ask them how they got X body part so big and they give you an answer that you swear is flat out bullshit? That is exactly what happens every time I answer questions about how I got such big forearms. You are probably going to think the same thing when I lay it out but bear with me – I don’t bullshit. (Well, I might if I was holding suited-connectors on the button but that is for another article at another time.)
Ready for the secret? There isn’t one. You are basically, RIGHT NOW, doing more than enough forearm work to have very good forearms and you don’t even know it. The only thing you are doing wrong is using a workout staple that is taking away a large part of your potential forearm development. If you get rid of it great things are going to happen and you are going to see better forearm growth almost immediately.
Get Rid of Your Wrist Straps
Say what? And give up my man card, too? How am I supposed to train in beast mode on back day without straps? My back will get smaller and my friends will think I’m a pussy! (They already do, trust me).
Straps have become a training bag mainstay for ninety-percent of people in the gym and they are misused most of the time. I understand when some people argue that they help keep their hands from sliding off the bar. If that is the only reason you use them, then it is time to consider this stuff called “chalk” that you can use or these other things called “gloves”. If gloves aren’t beast mode enough for you, you can always go old school and do the Roy Callender thing and use sponges. You don’t know what a good grip is until you use sponges but that is another article for another time. (Boy, I am really racking up material for future articles today, huh?).
When you do barbell rows, chins or almost any other back movement including shrugs and stiff-legged deadlifts, your forearms are getting blasted with big weights. I am talking weights that make forty-pound wrist curls feel like nothing. And remember: big weights build big muscles, right? Drop the isolation crap for the big-boy weights if you want bigger forearms.
Straps should be used for your top, heavy sets or when your grip starts to give out before your back does. You aren’t supposed to use them for every set. Straps do nothing more than provide you with the ability to move more weight than your grip can hold. That might be good for back development but it is terrible for grip strength and forearm development.
You can’t just all of a sudden go from using straps on all sets to doing all of your back sets with no straps. What you can do is start by not using your straps for the last set of each back exercise and then as the weeks go by, you increase the non-strap sets by another set for each exercise. You will eventually get to the point where you either don’t need your straps at all or you will be doing more than half of your back exercises with no straps. That’s a lot of rowing and chinning with big weights that will blast your forearms hard and generate new growth.
A lot of what I preach when it comes to training emphasizes efficiency more than anything. Don’t do any more work than you need to and don’t train more frequently than you need to. Remember, you don’t grow while you are in the gym. If you run into muscle groups that aren’t growing as well as you want them to, don’t add more work to your workouts but instead look at the work you are already doing and see if you can make it more efficient. Train hard but train smart first.
Ken “Skip” Hill has spent 30 years in the trenches of bodybuilding. He owns TEAM SKIP Nutritional Consulting, where he specializes in conditioning for bodybuilders and high-level athletes. You can reach Skip through his website, TEAMSKIP.net and follow him on Twitter (@IntenseMuscle).