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 to get massive forearms?
(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.
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.
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 to build your forearms target each of these functions.
THE best FOREARM WORKOUT: step by step
For each of the elements in 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 function that will help you build stronger forearms 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 it both in the gym and at home.
There are two major issues with this common variation of the Wrist Curl that can cause injury in the wrists and fingers:
- 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.
- The gravity loaded nature of the wrist curl strains the forearm flexors and distal finger tendons and is one of the most common causes of medial elbow tendonitis and flare ups.
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 (finger flexors) 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 per week, this problem is even worse especially if they’re a weak point of ours.
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.
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.
To counteract this problem, use a cable pulley instead and turn the hand over to perform a Prone Wrist Curl. Not only do these cable curls eliminate the contribution of the biceps to the exercise but they also prevent strain on the elbow.
prone WRIST CURL
Start position for the the Prone Wrist Curl is grabbing a cable handle attachment with an overhand grip, palms facing away from you. 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.
If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can replicate the same movement using a resistance band.
The handle is sinking deeper into my palm as opposed to my fingers, helping take all the stress off the medial elbow.
You can do one of these two variations three to four times per 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 this farmers walk exercise and there’s a reason for it. The forearms need to have endurance in grip strength to be able to 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. Additionally, having good grip strength will benefit us in our arm workouts and pretty much any upper body movements. The Farmer’s Carry is simply the best exercise to improve grip strength.
We’re going to train the forearms with a set of carries in between every single exercise we do in this workout today to develop that strong grip.
EXERCISE NOTES: Carry heavy 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.
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
When done in standing, I like to do the Reverse Curl with opposite roll paired up in ladder style with a Reverse Barbell Curl to hit the brachioradialis (another prominent muscle in the forearm). Stand with feet shoulderwidth apart and take an underhand grip on the bar with palms facing away from with a shoulder-width grip on the bar. Alternate flexing the weight back toward you in a rolling motion.
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.
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!
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, starting position is standing close to the cable pulley with your hand down at your side. Slowly lower the wrist, going from neutral (or a little bit of radial deviation) down into ulnar deviation, then return to the starting position and repeat.
rope RADIAL AND 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.
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 most common exercise for forearm that 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 wrist 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 strong forearms.
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 see how the underside of the forearms are working hard as I go down into pronation with the weight.
To work Supination with the rope I’ll take my hand to the side and position myself facing out, back toward the machine.
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.
These particular muscles are almost never trained with resistance, so they’ll respond pretty quickly to these dedicated forearm exercises to add size and strength.
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 (finger flexors) and muscle bellies run down through the forearms into our fingers.
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.
Squeeze the clip with a tight grip. 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
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 on the pull-up bar.
You already probably know how much of a fan I am of this exercise. What we’re doing here is trying to hold on to the pullup bar 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 the pull-bar bar hang 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
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.
So here is the entire Perfect Forearm Workout, step by step, all sets, all reps for you guys to follow.
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.
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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- 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.
- 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.
- 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.