They’re one of the most important muscle groups in your body, responsible for everything from your ability to hold heavy objects without pain or discomfort to your ability to lift heavier weights in the gym. But they’re also one of the most visible; even when there’s no sun these guns will be out.
Forearms are one of the most under trained body parts - we guarantee that you’ve never heard anyone say “I want a great pair of forearms!” But strong and healthy forearms can not only give you more athletic-looking arms, you’ll also benefit from a better grip and improved muscular endurance. Why is it then that so few people make any effort to train them at all?
It is a fear of developing arms like Popeye? A lack of awareness about the huge impact that grip and wrist strength has on your ability to train your upper body? Or is it just a lack of interest?
If you think your forearms are a weak point, then you really need to read on...
Why are forearm exercises important?
Ask a dozen different fitness enthusiasts for their favorite body parts to exercise and rarely will you hear the forearms mentioned. Because strong forearms aren’t obvious, they often get ignored in favour of chiselled abs or big biceps.
Just as you should never skip leg day, ‘forearm day’ is just as important, as our resident health and fitness expert, Carly Tierney, explains:
“They’re not the most aesthetic part of the body to train, and as such, forearms are often neglected. But what people fail to realise is that forearm and wrist strength allows us to perform other exercises more effectively, particularly those that work biceps, chest, delts, and back.
“They might be a less obvious body part, but if you do the work and make the time, you WILL notice results in your upper body.”
On a day-to-day basis, you’ll notice the benefits of strong forearms when you hold shopping bags, backpacks and other objects without your arms feeling tired.
In the gym, you’ll notice the benefits of stronger forearms when your barbell rows, deadlifts and other grip-focused exercises no longer feel as difficult. You might even notice your one rep max increasing, since grip strength is a common weak point for lifters.
From an aesthetic perspective, forearms round out your arms and complement the triceps and biceps that make up your upper arms. Since they’re always visible in a t-shirt or polo, a pair of toned, trained forearms can show people that you take fitness seriously even when the rest of your physique isn’t visible.
Why don’t many people train their forearms?
One of the most common reasons people don’t exercise their forearms is that they believe their forearms are already worked out during other exercises. This isn’t totally wrong - after all you do train your forearms during any exercise that involves holding a barbell or dumbbells, or during bodyweight exercises like pull ups and chin ups.
The key difference is intensity and focus. During an exercise like a deadlift or row, your forearms play a supporting role. Their job is to grip the bar or dumbbells while other muscle groups pull it up from the ground.
Focus on heavy pulling exercises like deadlifts and rows and over time, you’ll develop a strong pair of forearms. The only problem is that your other muscle groups will develop faster, leaving you with forearms that are bigger and stronger than before, but still lagging behind.
If you isolate your forearms with a specific forearm exercise, they no longer play a small role in a big motion. Instead, they’re the only muscles in use, meaning you can train them to their limits to improve their strength and appearance.To help you out, we asked Carly for her top exercises on improve both the flexibility and strength of your forearms. Here’s what she had to say...
How to improve your forearm and wrist flexibility
Just like any other muscle group, your forearms benefit from regular stretching. Stretch out your forearms often and you’ll increase their flexibility, giving you more control over your upper body in a workout and reducing your risk of injuring yourself through overtraining or hyperflexion.
You’ll even feel less tightness in your wrists when you do weight-bearing upper body exercises like bench press and push ups, both of which can hurt your wrists if your forearms are tight and inflexible. The exercises below are designed to increase your forearm and wrist flexibility, enhance your mobility and reduce the pain that’s all too common for people with tight, undertrained forearms.
Exercise 1: Finger/Fist Stretch
This simple stretch will improve flexibility throughout your forearms, wrists and fingers, helping you to avoid discomfort during exercises like bench press and push ups.
Start by extending your arms with your elbow and wrist straight. Form a tight fist and hold it for 30 seconds. Next, relax the fist and fully extend your fingers and thumbs. Hold for 30 seconds, then form a fist again.
Repeat this stretch for two sets, each lasting for one minute. Afterwards, your knuckles and wrists should feel less tight and constricted.
Exercise 2: Wrist Flex
Perfect for improving wrist flexibility, this exercise will reduce the risk of injury during any pressing movements that put pressure on your wrists.
Start by holding your arm straight, with your elbow straight but not completely locked. Flex your wrist so that your forearm muscles are tensed for 30 seconds, then relax your wrist.
Exercise 3: Wrist Stretch
Hold your arm outwards with your elbow straight but not locked. Extend your wrist as far as it can move comfortably. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then relax your wrist for another 30 seconds to let your forearm muscles recover.
Repeat this stretch for two sets; a total of two minutes of stretching and relaxation. After you finish, your wrist joints should feel more relaxed and flexible.
How to develop stronger forearms and a tougher grip
Training your forearms for strength will give you a much tougher grip, making it easier for you to hold a barbell or carry a heavy bag.
If you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder, improving your forearm strength is a great way to increase the amount of weight you can lift for deadlifts, barbell rows, curls and other exercises that need a serious amount of grip strength.
Our four favorite forearm strengthening exercises, all of which you can do using a bench and a set of dumbbells, are listed below:
Exercise 4: Seated Wrist Hammer Curl
In a seated position with your back straight, place your forearms on your thighs with your thumb facing upward. Hold a weight in a hammer position (with the handle of the dumbbell vertical) and lift it back and forth in a controlled movement for three sets of 20 repetitions.
This exercises strengthens and develops your brachioradialis muscle, which flexes your forearm at the elbow. Since this muscle is located on the inner side of your forearm, it provides size and balance to your forearm as it grows.
Exercise 5: Seated Wrist Straight Curl
In a seated position with your back straight, place your forearms on your thighs with your palms facing upward. Hold a weight in a horizontal position (with the handle of the dumbbell parallel to the ground) and curl it by flexing your wrist upward.
This exercise is similar to the wrist hammer curl above, but works your flexor muscles instead of your brachioradialis muscle due to the different angle of the dumbbell. Make sure you hold your forearms against your thighs throughout this exercise for optimal stability and a full range of motion.
It’s best to perform this exercise for three sets of 20 repetitions. Make sure you take a 30 - 60 second break between each set to let your muscles recover.
Exercise 6: Seated Reverse Wrist Curl
Sit with your back straight and place your forearms on your thighs with palms facing towards the ground. Ideally, your wrist should be three to four inches away from the knee to allow for an optimal range of motion.
Grasp the weight and extend your wrist fully in a reverse curl movement. Just like the two other wrist curls above, repeat this exercise for three sets of 20 reps each, with a 30 - 60 second break in between each set.
Exercise 7: Finger Wrist Curl
In a seated position, rest your arm on your thigh with your palm facing upward and the back of your wrist on your thigh. Hold a small, light dumbbell in your hand and let it roll down until it sits near the end of your fingers.
Curl your fingers back into your hand, holding the weight securely. Slowly let the weight down, then repeat the movement. Make sure you keep the back of your wrist placed snugly against your thigh throughout this exercise to avoid generating any unnecessary pressure.
For reps and sets, it’s best to keep it the same as our other forearm and wrist curls - three sets of 20 reps each. Since this exercise works muscle groups that rarely get worked out, try to keep the weight on the low side for your first few workouts.
This exercise is great for improving your finger and hand strength, giving you more control when you hold weights, bags and other objects.
Are forearms a weak point for you?
Since your forearm muscles are responsible for your grip strength, neglecting them can put your entire upper body at a disadvantage. Luckily, they’re a fairly easy muscle group to train, and you can easily bring them up to par with a few months of focused, dedicated effort.
If you think your forearms are a weak point, add the seven exercises above into your current training routine and repeat once a week. Put in the time and eventually you’ll notice results that improve almost every aspect of your workout.