Legs aren’t up to par? Put on a set of pants. Abs still lagging? Keep your shirt on. But unless you live in frigid, northern climates that require sleeves in lieu of frostbite, your forearms are likely exposed most of the time, passively laying bare the dirty little secrets of your physique and training habits.
Smaller, less developed forearms are likely indicative of lower proficiency in key mass-building exercises like the deadlift, barbell row and pull-up — after all, you can’t pull what you can’t hold. The opposite is also true: Skipping out on key pulling moves in favor of yet another set of presses will likely result in a set of Kelly Ripa–like forearms, not to mention a handshake like a dead fish.
Put plainly, a strong, purpose-driven set of forearms can make you a more effective lifter while also helping you look like a monster in your polos. The road to meatier forearms and a manlier grip starts with the routines and tips that follow.
GRIP GONE SOFT
It used to be that a bulbous set of forearms was as championed as a well-peaked set of biceps. But somewhere along the way, we became less enamored with them, abandoning raw, heavy pulls for all manners of grip aids such as straps, textured hand pads and gloves, and other gimmicks designed to make you less reliant on, literally, pulling your own weight.
Such accessories allow lifters to train past the point of grip failure, producing extra reps on big pulls but always at the expense of forearm development. We aren’t advocating a wholesale elimination of these accessories from your training repertoire, but if you are using them, you should definitely consider some dedicated forearm training in addition to your grip-aided pulls.
Training sans grip aids will help your forearms maintain pace with your overall strength curve on other lifts — keeping your gains primal, raw and true.
As with any other bodypart, your forearms will benefit greatly from more attention. Happily, your forearms are composed primarily of slow-twitch muscle fibers and can handle more volume and training frequency than you might think. By simply adding two workouts to your training week and recovering like a boss with the proper nutrition and supplementation, you could easily see a ½ inch of growth (or more) on your forearms in six to eight weeks.
Your forearms are also more versatile than you give them credit for. Forearm curls and reverse wrist curls are great for direct-targeting those forearm flexors and extensors, but your wrist is a gliding joint that is capable of moving in multiple planes. So why not take advantage of this freedom of movement by moving more freely (but against resistance)?
When was the last time you trained your forearms for ulnar or radial deviation? Radial deviation zeroes in on the brachioradialis, while ulnar deviation hits your wrist flexors from a slightly different angle. Both motions strengthen the small muscles and connective tissue surrounding your wrist joint, which hold tremendous value for grip strength and endurance, not to mention injury prevention.
With greater diversity of exercises comes an expanded lineup of training tools. Non-barbell implements such as towels and clubbells can greatly diversify your training. Including new equipment and movements will help stimulate new growth while strengthening smaller, underused muscles in your hands and forearms.
SPLITTING FOR STRENGTH
This training split represents a possible arrangement of bodyparts and is based on a classic, bodybuilder-oriented setup. In this split, you’ll train forearms twice per week with one workout consisting of more traditional weight-room practices and equipment, while the other is designed to provide some more unorthodox-but-beneficial methods and implements.
Since the forearms will likely be fatigued from your pulls already, it makes sense to finish them off with some direct work. On Day 6, you’ll barrage your forearms with some high-volume work that serves as a departure from the norm.