By Joe Musselwhite
In this article I will cover some methods and strategies to gain some muscle mass (hypertrophy) in one’s forearms without compromising joint heath, have functional carry over and not impose on regular workouts. This suggested training routine can be done 2 -3 times per week and I strongly suggest performing these exercises at the end of your workout so the grip and forearms are not so fatigued as to interfere with regular training.
Before getting into the specific exercises, I would like to say that if there was any one thing that a person could add to their regular workouts that would benefit their forearm size and strength with significant carry over to other areas, it would have to be the addition of thick bar training or incorporating some type of thick grips to your regular barbells/dumbbells. If you go back in time and look at many of the old-time strongmen, there is a reason why they all had great forearm development. It’s because they used thicker bars than what is considered standard today. Some old school iron legends, for example, would be John Marx, Louis Uni (Apollon), Warren Lincoln Travis, Thomas Inch, Hermann Goerner, Alexander Zass, Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon and many more. Below is a picture of 3 different diameters thick grips from Tyler Iron Bull Grips. From left to right you have 3”, 2.5” and 2” diameters. This is the brand I prefer but any of the various brands of thick grips will work just fine!
Now for some specific exercises that will help add size to your forearms if used consistently and progressively over time. Band Resisted Wrist Curls is first up!
You are probably thinking at this time I will be suggesting barbell or dumbbell wrist curls? If so, you’d be wrong! I would like to drift away from the common methods and suggest some exercises that are just as effective and without a doubt easier on the joints and ligaments. My first recommendation is to start incorporating and using bands when doing wrist curls of any type or style. At this point, I want to add one crucial difference in the setup as opposed to doing these with a barbell or dumbbells. Instead of having the weight hanging over the edge of your knees when doing the seated version of wrist curls, use bands that are attached parallel to the floor where the lines of pull are in line with the muscles. This prevents the shear forces you encounter when performing wrist curls with weights hanging over your knees. Once you try these you will be surprised at the pump (blood flow) you get in your entire forearm rather quickly. Concerning sets and reps. When it comes to increasing muscle size you want to stay with higher reps and sets (more volume). A good starting point would be 3-5 sets of 15-25 reps with a band resistance of anywhere from 40-90 lbs. depending on your current strength levels. Below are some picture sequences of the various hand positions one can perform seated wrist curls with bands. Bands can be flat bands or tubular bands. Notice in the pictures I show both handles for bands or a continuous loop flat band looped around a standard barbell. In the first picture sequence with handles starting from the left you have the palms up (supinated grip), neutral (hammer grip) and the palms down (pronated grip). The next sequence is palms up with a bar and then last is palms down with a bar with a band being used as the resistance instead of weights.
Next exercise I would recommend is Towel Roll Ups for those that have no access to bands but they can always find a gym towel or perhaps they carry one with them. This exercise is simple to perform but becomes challenging very quickly. To perform this exercise, take your gym towel and fold it 2-3 times so that you have a length of about 12-14 inches. With the length of the towel now suspended from your hands with your arms extended in front of you begin to roll up the towel just like you would with a wrist roller. What is cool about this exercise is as you began rolling the towel up the towel becomes thicker and more challenging to roll up. If you have never tried this seemingly simple exercise, give it a go beginning with 5-10 sets of roll ups and let me know how your forearms feel afterwards. This one will have you screaming! Below is the picture sequence beginning from full length, to half way to rolled up completely. Then repeat for desired number of sets.
Next is a self-contained wrist roller. Let me start off by saying that I can’t recommend highly enough how effective one of these BEAST are in actual use! This wrist roller is called a SideWinder Pro Extreme and it’s the ultimate in wrist rollers. This resistance is from zero to indefinitely hard! So hard that you could set it to where no human could turn it so the adjustable resistance is a huge advantage but the biggest advantage is portability. Below is a picture sequence of the different hand and arm positions one can use with this unit. This is perfect to finish off your arm workout and a good starting point is to start with 3-5 sets of 100 reps. Each workout you can gradually increase the resistance (by turning a knob on the end) for a nice, steady progression over time. This one pays off BIG time when one is after size alone!
Next up is Dead Hangs from a chinning bar with the addition of thick grips. You can do these for timed holds or you can swing back and forth to intensify the effect and make it more challenging on your grip. I would recommend starting with 2” diameter on this exercise until you develop a fairly solid foundation of grip strength. You can do these as an exercise in and of itself or you can use this one as a finisher to your workout by hanging on long as you can. Once you progress you can use various diameters throughout your sets to really take your forearm size and strength to the next level. Again, joint friendly and no shear forces! This is a very important factor to consider over time. Many injuries result from cumulative trauma where damage is taking place on a microscopic level and over time it results in a full blown injury.
Last up is a favorite among old timers and was made popular by Sig Klein and John Grimek, it is called “muscle cramping”. This is the ideal finisher and an ideal warm-up exercise as well. It’s effectiveness has to be experienced to be believed! Basically, you make a fist and then flex your wrist inward and away from your body as you contract the muscles in the belly of your forearm. Hopefully the pictures below will convey what I am trying to describe. The key point here is to not only flex at the wrist while making a fist but to also turn your fist away from your body as in a gooseneck position when one poses their forearm size.
It’s my hope in writing this article that you will change up and give these exercises and an honest go and incorporate them into your current training program and watch your foearms grow and thicken! In the future I will cover many, many more exercises that are unique and different and some ideas and concepts that I have tested and experimented with that will help you achieve your goals in your pursuit of Grip Strength! Hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it! Thanks for your time!
Joe Musselwhite, Grip Strength Expert
Visit Joe’s website http://musselwhitepapers.blogspot.com/