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You do big, compound movements to hit all your major and supporting stabilizer muscles. You isolate your biceps, neck muscles, and calves to help build a balanced and ripped physique. However, you might be missing a group of 20 muscles that, if trained properly, could send your lifts to the next level. What muscle group could you have possibly missed? Your forearms.
Your forearms are made up of 20 small stabilizer muscles that control the forearms, wrists, and fingers.1 These muscles are responsible for your grip, wrist movement and stability, and even your dexterity. And while developing strong, muscular forearms and grip strength will help you to have an imposing handshake and enable you to take in all the groceries in just one trip, they’re also integral for meeting your full potential in the gym. Your forearm muscles help to stabilize your weights in exercises like the bench and dumbbell press, and a good strong grip allows you to more firmly hold on to your weights and put more power in the press.2 Grip strength is also what allows you to just hold on to heavy weights for an extended period, like during a grueling set of deadlifts.3 If you’ve found yourself struggling to stabilize heavier weights, find that your wrists fatigue before you can really exhaust your targeted muscle group, or just want to add more power to your lifts, concentrated forearm workouts may be exactly what you need. Read on to find out more about the best forearm workouts, and variations you can do with dumbbells, at home, and without weights.
Best Forearm Workout
Before you get started and send your forearm muscles into overdrive, it’s important to remember that these are small stabilizer muscles that are not meant to move the same kind of weight around as the big muscles in your quads and your back.1 That being said, using smaller, lighter weights so as not to tear the tiny muscles and tendons, it may take several reps per set to properly fatigue them.4
The best forearm workouts will include exercises for both wrist stability and grip strength. Forearms are prominent secondary muscles that are worked in many bicep exercises, so it’s common to tack forearm exercises to the end of a bicep focused workout.1, 2 By including your forearms in your bicep split, you also help make sure your forearm muscles get adequate rest between sessions to repair.1 In the next few sections, we’ll discuss different exercises to help develop your forearms in a variety of workout settings and preferences.
Forearm Workouts with Dumbbells
Forearm exercises with dumbbells are easily done in the gym, and can be incorporated into a regular workout routine.5
- Farmer’s Walk: In each hand, hold the heaviest dumbbell you can carry (using proper form to pick up the dumbbells). In quick, short steps, walk 50 – 100 feet while keeping hold of the dumbbells. For an added challenge, at the end of the walk hold on to the dumbbells for as long as possible.
- Wrist Curl: Sitting on a bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your forearms resting on your thighs, palms facing up, and wrists bent backwards over your knees. Flex your wrists to bring the dumbbells up, hold, and bring them back down. Do 3 sets of 12 – 20 reps.
- Reverse Wrist Curl: Sitting on a bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing down, wrists bent forward over your knees. Curl your wrists back so the dumbbell comes up, hold, and bring them back down. Repeat for 3 sets of 12 – 20 reps.
- Grip Crush: Sitting on a bench, brace your elbow against your thigh as if for a bicep curl, with a dumbbell in your hand. Release your hand slowly and let the barbell roll down to your fingertips. Then, slowly close your hand and complete the movement with a wrist curl.
- Zottman Curl: With a dumbbell in each hand, start with your arms hanging and palms facing you. Bring the weights up while keeping your upper arms in place, and turning the weights so your palms continue to face you at the top of the movement. Turn the weights so your palms are facing away from you, and slowly return to the starting position.
Forearm Workout at Home
If you have a varying set of dumbbells, you can do any of the exercises listed above easily at home. Most do not take up a lot of space to perform, and can be modified to fit the space you have. For example, if you don’t have a stretch of 50 – 100 feet to perform the Farmer’s Walk, simply walk back and forth across the room until you’ve covered the distance.
There are also exercises you can perform by manually applying the resistance or pressure you would normally get from holding a dumbbell if you don’t have the right weight at home6:
- Wrist Curls: Sitting on a chair, place one forearm on your leg palm up. Make a fist, and place your other hand on the knuckles of your curled fist, and press down. Curl your fist up using your wrist, and back down to the starting position. Repeat until your forearm is fatigued, then switch to the other arm.
- Wrist Extension: This will be the opposite motion of the wrist curl. Sitting on a bench, rest your forearm on your leg with your palm facing down. Make a fist, and place your other hand on top. While applying pressure, curl your fist down and back up with your wrist. You should feel the most resistance when you’re brining your wrist back up to the starting position.
- Hammer Curl: While standing, bend one arm at 90 degrees and create a fist out in front of you with palm facing inwards. Place your other hand over the palm side of the fist, and apply pressure. Your fisted arm should be fighting against the pressure from your free hand, contracting but not moving position. Hold the contraction for 10 – 20 seconds, and switch arms.
Forearm Workouts Without Weights
Along with the manual resistance exercises listed above, there are several other tools you can use to work out your forearms without weights. Spring loaded grip tools are easily found in sports stores or fitness departments. You can even find spring loaded tools that work on the strength and dexterity of each individual finger. Rubber tension balls also work to help strengthen the grip, and you can use rubber tubing or resistance bands to make some of the manual pressure exercises more challenging. Other exercises that don’t include weights are wringing motions that you can perform using a towel or any other flexible material. The most important thing to remember, whether using dumbbells, your own body weight, or specialized tools, is that your forearms, like the rest of the muscles in your body, need time to recover to build up stronger – so don’t overdo it!
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- 1 Bragg, N. (2017, September 11). How Often Should I Workout My Forearms? LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/476555-how-often-should-i-workout-my-forearms/. View link.
- 2 Cutler, J. (n.d.). Ask Jay Cutler: Why Are Big Forearms a Benefit in the Gym?. Flex. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.flexonline.com/training/arms/forearms/ask-jay-cutler-why-are-big-forearms-benefit-gym. View link.
- 3 Benjamin, D. (2017, September 11). Benefits of Hand Grip Exercises. LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/219978-benefits-of-hand-grip-exercises/. View link.
- 4 Ferruggia, J. (n.d.). How to Build Bigger Forearms. Jason Ferruggia. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from http://jasonferruggia.com/how-to-build-bigger-forearms/. View link.
- 5 Men’s Journal. (n.d.). The 20 Best Forearms Exercises of All Time. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/20-best-forearm-exercises-all-time/. View link.
- 6 Chinn, C. (2017, September 11). Forearm Bodyweight Exercises. LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved May 9, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/149402-forearm-bodyweight-exercises/. View link.