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THE PROBLEM WITH TYPICAL FOREARM WORKOUTS

It only takes one look at the forearms to realize there’s a lot going on here!

The forearms are made up of lots of muscles, all of which are influenced by the wrists, hands and elbows.

So… why do we think a few sets of wrist curls and extensions are all we need?

They’re not.

(And neither is that other ‘forearm exercise’ you do on your um… ‘free time’!)

I’ll show you why and what to do!

Not only do Wrist Curls and Wrist Extensions train just a fraction of the forearm muscles and functions, many people do these exercises in a way that is ineffective and can cause injury.

The Perfect Forearm Workout should consist of exercises for not just wrist extension and flexion but other important forearm actions as well. That said, even that’s not enough to make the forearm workout complete. You’re going to need to fill in the gaps of what is lacking, and even causing injury in the most popular forearm exercises.

Not only do Wrist Curls and Wrist Extensions train just a fraction of the forearm muscles and functions, many people do these exercises in a way that is ineffective and can cause injury.

I’ll show you what I mean as I’m explaining how I structured the Perfect Forearm Workout, but first I wanted to provide you with an illustration of which muscle groups make up the forearm and the variety of functions the forearm is involved in.

forearm muscles anatomy including flexors brachioradialis and extensors

the 5 FUNCTIONS OF THE FOREARM

There are 5 important movements that the forearm muscles are responsible for.

I’ll demonstrate the different types of forearm movements so you can visualize how these muscles work and you’ll see that I chose exercises for my Perfect Forearm Workout that target each of these important forearm functions.

ULNAR DEVIATION

Movement in this direction with the pinky finger moving toward the outside part of the forearm is called Ulnar Deviation.

RADIAL DEVIATION

Movement in this direction with the thumb moving toward the inside part of the forearm is called Radial Deviation.

WRIST FLEXION

You can see that if I flex just my wrist, I get a certain level of activation in the forearm.

FINGER FLEXION

The finger flexors create a different type of forearm activation.

PRONATION

In pronation we get a response from yet another area of the forearm.

THE best FOREARM WORKOUT: step by step

For each of the elements on this Perfect Forearm Workout, I’m going to show you some of the most commonly done forearm exercises and why they’re problematic.  Then I’ll show you a better way to work the same forearm function that will help you make better gains and avoid common injuries.

1. WRIST FLEXION AND ENDURANCE: prone wrist curl and farmer’s carry

The typical forms of the Wrist Curl can cause elbow problems and prevent you from maximizing your forearm gains.

Let’s take a look at two main problems that typical wrist curls can cause. Then we’ll look at a better way to do this exercise, and we’ll cover ways you can do this exercise both in the gym and at home.

There are two major issues with this common variation of the Wrist Curl.

  1. We all know our bodies are masters of compensation.  So when you begin to fatigue, your biceps begin to take over, which isn’t what we want if we’re trying to build our forearms.
  2. The gravity loaded nature of the wrist curl strains the distal finger tendons and is one of the most common causes of medial elbow tendonitis and flare ups.

The biceps can begin to dominate in the typical wrist curl. It can also cause elbow problems because of the loading in the distal finger tendons.

As we begin to fatigue we’re allowing the bar to sink down into the distal metacarpals of our fingers. That is a lot of load for those distal finger tendons and it’s the number one cause of medial elbow pain that we deal with.

This is even the case when we grip the bar during rows, but it gets magnified when we do forearm work. Since many of us train forearms three to four times a week, this problem is even worse especially if they’re a weak point of ours.

As we begin to fatigue we’re allowing the bar to sink down into the distal metacarpals of our fingers. That is a lot of load for those distal finger tendons and it’s the number one cause of medial elbow pain.

When we fatigue in the Wrist Curl, the bar sinks down to the distal metacarpals and can strain the finger tendons, causing medial elbow pain.

Some people believe that if you do the wrist curl standing behind your back it solves the biceps problem, but you can see that the distal finger tendons are still strained against gravity, putting you at risk for elbow problems.

Doing wrist curls behind the back doesn’t solve the issue of too much load on the distal finger tendons.

Other people will say that doing wrist curls on the bench is better, but you can see that once again, those finger tendons are being stressed and you’re on your way to an elbow injury.

Doing wrist curls on the bench may take your biceps out of the equation but with the load in your distal finger tendons, you’re still at risk for elbow injury.

To counteract this problem, use a cable instead and turn the hand over to perform a Prone Wrist Curl. Not only does this eliminate the contribution of the biceps to the exercise but it also prevents strain on the elbow.

prone WRIST CURL

The Prone Wrist Curl done with a cable helps the biceps avoid dominating during the exercise and prevents elbow strain.

I’ve bent my elbow here and am taking the biceps out of this movement.  Also, as I’m pushing away I’m getting a more intense contraction of the forearm muscles with this variation.

You can see the forearm muscles contracting more intensely in the Cable Wrist Curl variation.

If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can replicate the same movement using a resistance band.

A Prone Wrist Curl done with a resistance band allows you to get the same benefits as the cable variation without the need for gym equipment.

The handle is sinking deeper into my palm as opposed to my fingers, helping take all the stress off the medial elbow.

The handle sinks into the palm instead of the distal metacarpals during the Banded Wrist Curl which helps avoid that risk of elbow issues.

You can do one of these two variations three to four times a week to train the forearm without those negative side effects to the elbow.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform 2 sets of 10-15RM of either the Cable Prone Wrist Curl on the Banded Prone Wrist Curl with a set of Farmer’s Carry after each set (see below).

In between all sets of this Perfect Forearm Workout you are going to do one of the best slow twitch forearm muscle activators – the Farmers Carry.

You’re going to be doing a lot of them and there’s a reason for it. The forearms need to have endurance capabilities to grip and hold for a long period of time. Not only do we use them constantly throughout the day, but they could completely save us in a survival situation.

FARMER’S CARRY

The Farmer’s Carry is the ultimate exercise for activating the slow twitch forearm muscles and challenging forearm endurance.

We’re going to train the forearms with a set of carries in between every, single exercise we do in this workout today.

EXERCISE NOTES: Grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and walk one lap around the gym back to the starting point after each set of every exercise in this workout. If you are just starting out you can perform just one carry per exercise when you are splitting up right and left sides to ease into the overall volume.

2. WRIST EXTENSION

Moving over to the opposite side of the forearm, wrist extension is a critical function we need to train.

But there is a major problem with typical Wrist Extension exercises!

They take tension off the forearm as we get closer to the top which prevents us from getting the activation we’re going for.  Let’s look at this problem in more depth and see what we can do to fix it.

When we perform the Wrist Extension on the edge of a bench, it removes the tension from the forearms in the peak contracted state (not what you want to do if you are trying to build bigger forearms).

When we look at the physics of the performance of this exercise, we can see that when the hand gets up to the top into full extension, gravity is acts down through the wrist. There’s less force here than there is when gravity is acting perpendicular to the wrist, so the closer we get to the top, the less tension on the forearm.

The typical Wrist Extension variation doesn’t maximize the action of your forearm due to a decrease in tension on the forearm the closer we get to the top of the movement.

We could fix the issue by performing the Reverse Wrist Extension standing with an opposite roll. You can see that even at its peak into full extension I’m still completely perpendicular to the force of gravity.

This means my forearm is doing a lot of work to hold this, which is what we are looking for.

reverse WRIST EXTENSION

The Reverse Wrist Extension with an opposite roll maximizes the tension in the forearm by maintaining your wrist perpendicular to the force of gravity.

When done in standing, I like to do the Reverse Curl with opposite roll aired up in ladder style with a Reverse Barbell Curl to hit the brachioradialis (another prominent muscle in the forearm).

We’ll pair the Reverse Wrist Extension with opposite rolls, with the Reverse Curl in a ladder format.

EXERCISE NOTES: Do one second of Reverse Wrist Extension with opposite roll followed by one rep of a Reverse Curl. Then do two seconds of Reverse Wrist Extension followed by two reps of a Reverse Curl.  Work your way up a ladder as high as you can until you reach failure.  Then do a Farmer’s Carry around the gym.

3. RADIAL AND ULNAR DEVIATION

Radial deviation and ulnar deviation are the two ways the wrist bends in the frontal plane.

These represent two more functions of the wrist which activate the forearm muscles, and you don’t want to neglect them in your training.

Radial deviation is when we bend the wrist toward the radius, or the top side bone in our forearm.

Ulnar deviation is when we bend the wrist down toward the ulna, or the underside bone of our forearm.

You may have seen people recommend using a sledgehammer down at their side to work on radial deviation and ulnar deviation.

What’s the problem with this?

Well, you might not have a sledgehammer handy!

Some people work radial and ulnar deviation using a sledgehammer, but this can be a bit impractical.

We can do something to work radial and ulnar deviation in the gym with a rope, which most people DO have access to. To work ulnar deviation you’ll stand close and put your hand down at your side, going from neutral (or a little bit of radial deviation) down into ulnar deviation.

rope RADIAL AND ULNAR DEVIATION

Using the rope at the gym is a practical way to work ulnar deviation.

Then you move to Radial Deviation and perform a similar movement but pushing with the pinky side of our hand into radial deviation.

You can also use the rope to work radial deviation.

EXERCISE NOTES: Do a set of of Ulnar Deviation using the rope followed by a set of Farmer’s Carry and repeat on one arm.  Then perform the same sequence on the other arm.  Then do a set of Radial Deviation using the rope followed by a set of Farmer’s Carry and repeat on one arm.  Then perform the sequence on the other arm.

4. SUPINATION AND PRONATION

Supination and pronation are the twisting movements of the wrist and yet another function of the forearms.

The exercise some people use for working supination and pronation just isn’t very effective. Let’s take a look at why that is and explore a much better way to get activation in these positions.

You’ve probably seen some people at the gym doing these dumbbell twirls to try to work pronation and supination.  The problem with this is that you’re falling into pronation and supination instead of resisting the motion, which isn’t good for building forearm strength.

This type of dumbbell twirl causes you to fall into pronation and supination instead of resisting.

Again, we can use the rope at the gym to work pronation.  I’m pushing my fingers into the rope to pronate my forearm. From a supinated position, turn the forearm over, and push out with this finger into the rope, and you’ll get that resisted pronation on every, single rep.

rope SUPINATION AND PRONATION

You can work on pronation of the wrists with a rope at the gym using this movement.

You can see how the underside of the forearms are working hard as I go down into pronation.

You can visualize the muscles of the bottom side of the forearm working in this Pronation exercise.

To work Supination with the rope I’ll take my hand to the side and position myself facing out, back toward the machine.

You can work on supination of the wrists with a rope at the gym using this movement.

Now, we know that the bicep is obviously a supinator, but it’s not the only one. We’ve got a supinator muscle in our forearm that you can see working to accomplish this.

You can visualize the muscles of the top of the forearm working in this Supination exercise.

These particular muscles are almost never trained with resistance, so they’ll respond pretty quickly to these exercises to add size to your forearms.

EXERCISE NOTES: Do one set of Pronation to failure and then a set of Farmer’s Carry around the gym.  Then return to do a set of Supination to failure and another set of Farmer’s Carry around the gym.  Repeat on the opposite arm.

5. INTRINSIC HAND STRENGTH/GRIPPING

We now want to work those intrinsic hand muscles that I talked about. You’re probably wondering, “Why does that really matter? We’re talking about my forearm, Jeff.”

As you saw earlier, the activation of our fingers dramatically influences what goes on in our forearms because all of those tendons and muscle bellies run down through the forearms into our fingers.

The activation of the fingers directly influences the activation and strength of the forearms.

We can work intrinsic hand strength by doing some hand squeezes with a clip from the gym. We’re taking our fingers and moving them from a straight to a flexed position to get activation of the forearm.

CLIP SQUEEZES

Doing squeezes with a clip is one of the best ways to work intrinsic hand strength.

I do a set to failure and then back off the tension a bit and begin to move the wrist into extension and flexion to work these two functions.

CLIP SQUEEZE WRIST ROCKS

You can work extension and flexion by backing of the tension on the collar a bit and working to extend and flex the wrists.

I’m shortening the flexors in my forearm as I do this, and it gets hard to maintain tension here in flexion, but that’s what I’m trying to work on. I’m trying to maintain the ability to contract and generate force, even in a shortened state.

EXERCISE NOTES:  Perform the clip squeezes until failure and then go back and forth into extension and flexion at the wrist until you can’t control it anymore. Do this on each side with a set of Farmer’s Carry in between each one.

6. FINISHER: DEAD ARM HANG TEST

We’ve got one final grueling test to put the finishing nail in this coffin. It’s the Dead Arm Hang.

You already probably know how much of a fan I am of this exercise. What we’re doing here is trying to hold on for as long as we can. When we’re fresh, 1:40 is a good average time. But we’ve exhausted our forearms at this point. So, what I’m looking for here is to see if you can hold for one minute.

The bar is going to start to slide into your fingers. Try not to let that happen because of the strain on the distal fingers metacarpals we talked about earlier and the stress it puts on the elbow.

DEAD ARM HANG

Do the Dead Arm Hang at the end of this workout for one final minute.

EXERCISE NOTES: Try to do the Dead Arm Hang for one complete minute as a killer finish to this Perfect Forearm Workout.  Really squeeze, hold and activate the forearms.

THE WORKOUT

So here is the entire Perfect Forearm Workout, step by step, all sets, all reps for you guys to follow.

perfect forearm workout

**IMPORTANT NOTE: INTERSET EXERCISE – DB FARMER’S CARRY (ONE LAP)

1. PRONE WRIST CURLS – 2 x 12-15RM **

2. WRIST CURL LADDER – 2 x LADDER TO FAILURE **

      A. REVERSE WRIST ROLLS x 1,2,3,4, etc. seconds

      B. REVERSE BARBELL CURLS x 1,2,3,4, etc. reps

3. RADIAL / ULNAR DEVIATION – 2 x 12-15RM **

4. SUPINATION / PRONATION – 2 x 12-15RM **

5. CLIP GRIP COMBO – 2 x SUPERSET TO FAILURE **

      A. CLIP GRIP SQUEEZES TO FAILURE (SUPERSET WITH B)

     B. CLIP SQUEEZE WRIST ROCKS TO FAILURE

6. DEAD ARM HANG BURNOUT x 1 MINUTE

When you put our forearm workout together in the format as I’m suggesting here, you not only now hit the forearms through their full range of motion, but you hit every function of the this multi-joint influenced muscle group as well.

athleanx
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL:
THE PERFECT FOREARM WORKOUT

  1. The forearms are made up of lots of muscles, all of which are influenced by the wrists, hands and elbows. Doing wrist curls and extensions alone is not enough.
  2. There are five major functions of the forearms that the Perfect Forearm Workout should cover: ulnar deviation, radial deviation, wrist flexion, finger flexion and pronation.
  3. There are major problems with the typical forearm exercises done by most people. This Perfect Forearm Workout teaches you why they’re problematic and better ways to more effectively work all of the major forearm functions.

This is just one example of how to apply science to your forearm workouts.  If you want to train like an athlete and you want to put science back in every workout you do check out our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and get started right away on building a ripped, muscular, athletic body.

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