Team BEAST athlete Rob Riches presents a forearms focused workout to have them grow like Popeye!
Every time I hear people speak about their training goals and focus on muscle groups, it’s usually a mixture of abdominals, chest, or arms. Few times have I heard anyone say “I want to have great forearms." Similar to calves and the upper legs, they are typically an afterthought for training.
Sure, having well-defined biceps and triceps is always an aesthetic goal. But balance and symmetry go well beyond just the upper arm. Having strong and powerful forearm muscles make your whole arm look better. They also mean greater grip strength, allowing you to lift more, especially with the back.
In this article I devote to some of my favorite and most beneficial forearm exercises. Like all the past workouts, I begin with a specific stretch and mobility warm up routine.
The Warm Up
If you watched other videos within this series, you’ll know I set aside at least 10 minutes to mobilize the joints and warm up the muscles. This prepares them for the workout ahead, and the forearms are no different.
I roll out the forearm over a barbell, which acts much like a self-myofascial release of all the muscle fibers. By rolling my forearm across the barbell as I rotate it with my other hand, I apply pressure downwards. I slowly flex and extend at the wrist and rotate the arm slightly to the left and right.
The next movement really allows you to get deep into the fiber. Kneel in front of a bench with a massage ball under the forearm and a smash ball on top of the arm, and apply pressure downwards. Focus on passing the forearm back and forth in a slow and smooth fashion.
The following movements involve a resistance band. One end loops around a fixed pole and the open end hooks around your elbow. Walk away from the fixed end to create tension in the band. Then plant your hand down on the floor with the knee of the same side resting on the floor. Keep the arm straight, then slowly tilt forward to feel a stretch at the wrist. Then, keeping in the same position on the floor, move the band down to your wrist and turn around. With the palm of the hand planted into the floor, tilt forwards until you feel a stretch within the wrist.
You’ll see in the video, I used the massage ball to roll out the muscles in the hand by planting my hand on the floor with the ball underneath it. With an open palm, I apply pressure downwards as I move my hand over the ball. This is great for opening up the wrists.
Like other training programs within this Beast Series, I used supersets. This helps reduce overall workout time, but also helps keep blood volume high within a particular region. It also keeps oxygen-rich blood present in the muscles, and helps shuttle away toxins that are a byproduct from intense training. This is especially beneficial for a forearm-focused routine.
These muscles typically respond best to higher volume and intensity. If growth is your goal here, overall weight is important. But perhaps not as much as keeping tension high by super-setting complimentary movements back and forth.
Superset #1: Seated Barbell Curls & Pronated EZ-Bar Curls
3 Sets total. 15-20 reps per exercise.
If the barbell curl is the king of bicep training, then seated barbell wrist curls take the title for the best forearm exercise. This movement allows you to move the most amount of weight for any given forearm exercise. It also works the larger muscles within the forearm.
Sit on a bench in a tripod position: hips pushed back and leaning forwards so the shoulders are above the knees. With your forearms resting along the bench with the wrists just off the edge, pick up a barbell with an underhand grip. Your hands should be about 6 inches apart.
I find this particular exercise requires a little more finesse than most to really feel the forearm muscles get worked. As you lower the barbell down, extend at the wrists so the knuckles start to point towards the floor. Open up your grip so the barbell rolls to the ends of your fingers. Stretch the forearms, and then close up your fingers, allowing the barbell to roll back into the palm of your grip. Flex at the wrists and curl up your hands as high as you can, contacting the forearms as you do so.
If you’ve ever changed your grip from supinated (underhand) to pronated (overhand) during curls, you’ll no doubt feel the focus shift from your biceps to a little lower down. This is the brachialis muscle and it protrudes from beneath the biceps into the upper region of the forearm.
It's not a direct forearm muscle, but does help contribute much of the forearm movement, especially when the elbow is flexed. Perform using either a standard straight barbell or the EZ-Bar. With the EZ-Bar you lessen the strain at the wrist and feel it more intensely within the forearms.
Keep your grip no more than shoulder-width apart. Try to keep elbows tucked by the side of your body. As you raise the bar up, your elbows should remain fixed at the side. You should also keep your wrists straight. This ensures that the majority of the work is done by the brachialis muscle.
Focus on a full range of motion. Lift the bar to mid-chest height, and lower it all the way down to your thighs to work the muscles through a fuller range of motion.
Superset #2: Seated Pronated Dumbbell Wrist Curl & Plate Extensions
3 Sets total. 15-20 reps per exercise.
These next two movements primarily focus on flexing the wrist. This helps strengthen and develop the forearms.
We begin with pronated dumbbell wrist curls. I find these are best done with each arm separately, and the forearm rested across something that is mid-torso high.
This is a relatively small muscle not used to working with heavy weight. So, start with a light dumbbell (5-12 lbs should be adequate).
In much the same way you performed the seated barbell wrist curls, the movement is reversed. All the movement originates at the wrist, with each repetition performed at a smooth and controlled cadence. If reaching the 15-20 rep mark on each arm feels too much at first, perform 10 on each arm, and then repeat.
For this next movement, I wanted to mimic that of the old-school Wrist and Forearm Developer. It consisted of a handle with a cable attached at the center and a weight at the bottom. You rotated the bar at arms length, pulling the weight up and lowering it.
Given that the majority of gyms don’t offer this great piece of training equipment, I wanted to show something that mirrored the same movement.
Pick up a weight plate, ideally one that has holes around the edges so you can grip it better. Hold it at arms length a few inches away from your thighs. Refrain from flexing the elbows as you flex at the wrists to curl up the plate. Your arms should remain fixed. The goal here is 15-20 repetitions of slow and controlled plate lifts.
Another alternative for this exercise is performing it on a low-cable pulley with a short length handle that ideally rotates back and forth. Stand back with your arms extended straight and parallel to the floor. Repeat the same flexing at the wrist to lift the weight up and down.
Superset #3: Standing Pronated Cable Curl & Behind-The-Back Barbell Wrist Curls
3 Sets total. 15-20 reps per exercise.
The final superset looks somewhat similar to the first two movements. But it actually works the muscles in a slightly different way.
First up is the single-arm cable curl using a pronated (overhand) grip. By performing this exercise one arm at a time, you stand at an angle so your arm crosses your body. This shifts the emphasis on the muscles involved. Although a subtle change, you’ll certainly feel the difference.
Remember to keep the wrist locked out straight, and raise the handle as high as you can until just before the elbow begins to pull forward. There is also an added benefit of working with cables. There is often much less of a sticking point than with free weights as the stacked-weight pulley system. This means tension is kept consistent throughout the full range of motion.
The final exercise of this routine is a standing version of the first exercise. But with the barbell behind the body and arms kept straight, allowing for a full flexion and extension at the wrists.
With gravity now working constantly against you, work with a lighter weight to get the optimal muscular contraction within each rep.
Allow the barbell to roll down palm to the fingertips, before closing it back up and flexing at the wrist to curl the bar upwards.
Forearms are a muscle group I’ll often focus on within one workout, and often during an active recovery where I’m giving my larger muscle groups a day off. I find they also pair well with either a back or arm workout, providing that you allow for enough time to commit to all the movements within this routine.