Forearms are the neglected muscle group. And most people who train their forearms also train them incorrectly, or at least not completely. In this article everything about the importance of strong forearms and the best exercises for them in our opinion.
FOREARM MUSCLES: ANATOMY AND FUNCTION
Your forearm muscles, the muscles between your elbow and wrist joints, are responsible for flexing and extending your wrist. The muscles on the inside of your forearm for flexing, those on the outside for straightening.
In addition to the flexion and extension muscles in your forearm, you also have the brachioradialis, which is responsible for the bulk of the muscle mass in your forearms. This muscle helps your biceps bend your forearm and has nothing to do with your wrist joint. So you can’t train him with typical forearm exercises such as wrist bending and wrist extension.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG FOREARMS
Strong forearms are vital both in and out of the gym. As the last link in the chain, they are the limiting factor in heavy exercises such as deadlifts and heavy barbell rows. But they also determine whether you can open that jar of applesauce. The really strong people are the people with strong forearms and a strong grip. After all, what good is it if you can deadlift two hundred kilograms with straps, but can’t even do five reps with one hundred kilograms without straps (or can’t open that jar of applesauce)? That is what is meant by ‘gym strength’ versus ‘real strength’.
The muscles in your forearms, excluding your brachioradialis, are responsible for bending and extending your wrist, just as the muscles in your upper arms are responsible for bending and extending your elbow. You train your biceps and triceps by bending them (biceps curls) and stretching them (triceps extensions). That’s exactly what your biceps and triceps do in back and chest exercises, where they act as auxiliary muscles: flexion and extension.
How different is that for your forearms. In most exercises, your wrist joint hardly bends or bends. Not with deadlifts, not with barbell or dumbbell rowing. What they do do is hold or control that weight all the time. The muscles in your forearm largely determine your grip strength and are especially important for pulling movements. During most exercises there is no dynamic (concentric and eccentric) contraction in your forearm muscles, but static tension, or isometric contraction.
Most people train their forearms in a dynamic way, with wrist curls and reversed wrist curls. Great exercises for mass in your forearms – for bodybuilders that is – but not such a great exercise for (functional) strength. Although your forearms undeniably become stronger from all that bending and stretching (after all, strength gains precede muscle growth), they are not very useful from a functional point of view. The dynamic contraction of these exercises and the isometric contraction seen in deadlifts and rows, for example, are two different things.
In our opinion, functional forearm training consists of a mix of dynamic exercises and static exercises for your forearm, with the emphasis on the latter. The muscles in your hands and fingers should not be overlooked either!
A complete forearm workout consists of:
- auxiliary exercises;
- exercises for the brachioradialis;
- ‘squeeze exercises’;
- bending and stretching exercises;
- pronation/supination exercises.
The most important exercises for your forearms are incorporating compound exercises such as deadlifts, barbell rows and dumbbell rows without wrist straps into your training.
What we always do with single rep deadlifts (deadlifts where you put the weight back on the floor after the ‘lift’) or during the last repetition of a series is hold the bar for an extra long time after we have lifted the weight off the floor, until we can’t hold it anymore. We also always perform our lighter deadlifts with a double overhand grip and only switch to a mixed grip as late as possible (one hand overhand, the other underhand). Only in extreme cases do we use wrist straps.
What we also classify as auxiliary exercise are loaded carries. In other words: carrying heavy weights. A little-used, but extremely effective form of training for strength increase and/or strength endurance and/or muscle growth or fat loss. The most famous loaded carry is the farmer’s walk, where you take a walk with two heavy dumbbells in your hands. This exercise puts a heavy burden on your grip strength and therefore also on the strength in your forearms.
You can make these kinds of grip exercises with dumbbells or barbells extra difficult by increasing the circumference of the bar with a towel or so-called Fat Gripz. However, you can also easily and cheaply make your own pair of Fat Gripz from insulating material for pipes. With this you can also make regular exercises such as pull-ups and dumbbell rows more difficult.
EXERCISES FOR THE BRACHIORADIALIS
The brachioradialis is a forearm muscle that helps your biceps brachii and brachialis (the muscle below your biceps, so to speak) in bending your elbow. As mentioned, this muscle is responsible for the bulk of the muscle mass in your forearms. You can specifically train the brachioradialis by doing reverse curls and hammer curls. You may classify these exercises as biceps training, but the target muscles are actually the brachioradialis and the brachialis. The biceps only help a little. Although it does make your biceps look bigger, because the brachialis pushes the biceps upwards, as it were. Reverse and hammer curls (and if desired also the variant Zottman curls) are in fact indispensable for the development of your entire arm.
You mainly train the flexors of the forearm with exercises that provide finger flexion (grip) and wrist flexion. For finger flexion you can do so-called pinch exercises or ‘crush’ exercises.
A good squeeze exercise is holding two weight plates with your hands/fingers. No, not with your fingers through the special recess, but with stretched fingers. Instead of one disc of, for example, 20 kg, you can also try to clamp two discs of 10 kg against each other. You can also, if your hands are big enough, place a dumbbell upright and pick it up by the end with your fingers.
We are all familiar with the so-called ‘hand grippers’, available in different strengths. Perhaps the best-known grippers are the Captains of Crush (COC) Grippers from IronMind, which present a challenge to many serious strength athletes. You can even get a special certificate if you get a certain COC closed. Available in numbers 0.5 through 4 (and intermediate 0.5s), the average gym goer will have a hard time closing the number one. Fortunately, there are also three grippers under 0.5, as a prelude to the lightest gripper. The number 4 requires about 166 kg of pressure. Worldwide, only five people get it closed, including Swedish strongman Magnus Samuelsson.
BENDING AND STRETCHING EXERCISES
For wrist flexion there are the well-known bending and stretching exercises. Although we may have spoken disdainfully about this popular form of forearm training, flexion and extension exercises should not be missed.
You simply perform wrist curls by placing your forearms on your thighs or on a bench, with your palms up, holding a dumbbell or barbell (depending on whether you want to perform the exercise with one or two arms) and bend your wrists and stretch, rolling the bar, as it were, from the palm of your hand to your fingers.
You guessed it, reverse wrist curls are performed in reverse, so with your palms down.
There is also an exercise that combines wrist curls and reverse wrist curls, or bending and extending your wrist. A dynamic exercise, which also has a static character due to the constant tension on your forearm muscles: the so-called ‘wrist rolls’.
With wrist rolls, you take a dumbbell bar or place a barbell in a rack and attach a rope in the middle, weighted with some lighter weight plates, a dumbbell or preferably a kettlebell. By alternately bending or stretching your left and right wrists, you roll up the rope.
And finally the pronation/supination exercises. You perform this with a light clubbell, an adjustable dumbbell that you have weighted on one side, or a hammer or hand axe. For example, grab the hammer, stretch your arm out in front of you and, with an overhand grip, turn your forearm, not your whole arm, outwards, thus moving the hammer from a horizontal to a vertical position. Or grab the hammer as you normally would a hammer, keep your arm at your side and move your hand up and down. Do this also in reverse, so with the hammer pointing backwards.
You see: there is a lot more to strong forearms than doing wrist curls and reversed wrist curls. There is a whole range of exercises for bigger and stronger forearms and strong grip strength. A strong grip means you get stronger overall. Not only does a strong grip allow you to perform exercises more heavily, the harder you squeeze the bar, whether it’s bench press or barbell row, the greater the power transfer to the rest of your body and your other muscles. So power starts and ends with your grip strength. Just think about that.