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.
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.
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.
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.
Team Beast athlete Rob Riches gives us another great workout to build a bodypart, with this one focused on the triceps. It's the key part to arm growth and a bigger triceps equals a bigger arm. Check it out!
When I started weight training in my teenage years, it was in part due to the attraction of wanting big arms. I focused on numerous bicep exercises in the hope that they would grow into sleeve-busting arms. No matter how many sets I did, they simply didn't respond the way I wanted.
It wasn’t until several months later, after I had amassed a greater understanding of weight training and anatomy, did I realize that to get my arms to the point where I wanted, I would need to put some serious time into training my triceps. They make up about 2/3 of the mass of the arm, and a few pushdowns after countless curls wasn’t going to cut it.
This routine below is a homage to the routine I developed that finally gave me the mass, shape, and size in my arms I wanted. I’ll train my triceps as a separate muscle group* (like in this routine), once every 7-10 days. I will also combine them with another muscle group, such as biceps or chest, somewhere in the middle.
*Adding a forearm or abdominal circuit on the end of this routine would make for a great pairing.
The Warm Up
I learned over the years that properly preparing the muscles (and joints & tendons), prior to the workout itself, will not only lead to greater fiber involvement and a bigger pump, but also gives you feeling of everything working like a fine-tuned machine. My recovery post-training is shortened and with less muscle soreness.
This warm-up doesn’t require any weight, although there is resistance placed upon the muscle via various resistance/pull-up bands. If you don’t have access to any of these, I highly recommend buying some. They’re relatively inexpensive and can be used for a whole range of different applications.
The warm up circuit takes about 5-8 minutes, and can be broken down as such:
Low Band Tricep Stretch: Secure one end of the band to a fixed point. Insert your hand into the other end of the band, gripping the outside. Keep the upper arm pointed up high, so the bicep is right next to your ear, and hold for 20 seconds and take two big deep breaths. Repeat with the other arm. You may want to perform a second set of these as you feel the muscle fibers begin to open up, or perform all movements first, repeating them for a second time as you return for another circuit.
Barbell Self-Myofascial Release: I’ve been using foam rollers for SMR for years, but have only recently started incorporating the same practice with a barbell. Hold your arm stretched out on the barbell, triceps pushed into the bar, and rotate the bar forwards with your free hand as you pull your arm back across the bar. Rotate it from side to side, applying a little more pressure onto the bar when you feel a tight spot. I also love this for working the spot just below my elbow, getting deep into all the sinu-tendons that you feel when performing the likes of barbell skull crushers. Use your free hand to rotate your forearm/wrist in circular motions as you continue to apply force downwards on the bar. Perform for 30-60 seconds for each arm separately, spending longer if you feel the need to.
Banded Pull-downs: This movement can be replaced with cable pull downs (using a light weight) if you don’t have access to any resistance bands. I prefer to use the bands for warm ups whenever I can. The resistance increases the more the band is stretched, allowing me to gauge how much stress I want to place upon my triceps. This allows me to progressively get into deeper, more forceful contractions. Twenty repetitions here is usually sufficient.
Bench Dips: These, along with the previous banded pull-downs, are the only two movements that work the muscles through a concentric and eccentric motion. Both work the triceps from a different angle, with a different emphasis on the 3 main triceps heads. Do 15-20 repetitions on here.
I’ve been a fan of supplementing my diet and training with the right products since I started competing on stage.
I mix 1 scoop of Beast Mode Black Pre-workout with water and sip on this throughout the first half of my workout. Many may prefer to ingest this before arriving at the gym, but I’ve found it to be more synergistic to my training when I sip it during training. Toward the mid-point and end of the workout, I’ll mix up some BCAA’s to drink, and follow that with a protein blend after finishing my training.
Triceps Superset Combos
The routine below and in the video is comprised of three paired movements. Each superset has two exercises that are performed back-to-back for a total of 3-4 sets and for the prescribed number of reps. This approach to training – especially for a smaller muscle group such as the triceps - allows blood concentration to be kept high in the muscle, keeping oxygen and nutrients close to the working muscles. It keeps intensity high without needing to use a high amount of weight. I’ve experimented with both options and definitely prefer this approach than straight sets with the heaviest weight I can manage.
Superset 1: Skull Crushers and Incline Bench Rope Pull-downs
4 sets total: 15-12 reps on each exercise. Only small increments in weight for each set
Skull Crushers: The skullcrusher is to Triceps as the barbell curl is to biceps for mass. It’s a great movement to move a lot of weight, provided you perform the exercise correctly. Keep the elbows from flaring outwards so that the stress of the weight spreads across the width of the triceps and limits shoulder involvement. I perform this using an Olympic barbell with my hips off the edge of the bench. This is simply because I feel more stable with my lower back and shoulder blades firmly pressed into the bench. The Olympic barbell places the weight further apart, which also helps with balance.
I also prefer to angle my upper arms about 30-40 degrees back from the standard upright/90-degree angle to the floor, and lower the bar just behind my head as opposed to my forehead. Besides the obvious safety benefits of not hitting your forehead with the bar, the angle of the upper arms also means that tension is always kept on the triceps throughout. If the upper arms were always kept upright then when the weight was in the top position, it would essentially be resting on the arms and not working the triceps as hard.
Keep the movement slow and controlled. Focus on consciously contracting the triceps as you flex at the elbow to bring the weight back up.
Incline Bench Rope Pull-downs: The next exercise, performed as a superset, is another modification from a familiar exercise. The same principle applies here as with the first movement. Keep the arms at a fixed angle to ensure optimal tension and stress on the triceps. You can perform these as a standard pull-down. But due to the positioning of the cable pulley overhead, when your arms are fully extend and your squeezing the triceps with everything you’ve got, it’s all to easy to lock out the arms and have the bone structure basically support some of the weight and relieve the triceps from doing all the work.
By positioning an incline bench in front of the pulley, and sitting facing away from the pull-down motion , your triceps can be fully flexed without feeling like the tension is in any way relieved from the muscles.
Keep the upper arms fixed at the side. Focus on only flexing at the elbow with minimal-to-no movement at the shoulder. Try slightly externally rotating your elbows outwards, and feel the difference it makes on the triceps.
Superset 2: Behind the head Extensions and Dumbbell Kickbacks
3 sets total: 15-10 reps on each exercise. Keep the same weight for all sets
Behind The Head Extension: In an earlier article/video where I focused on biceps, I showed the different muscle heads worked when the arms were kept at the side of the body compared with in front of the body. We’re essentially doing the same thing with this exercise. We stress the muscles in a different way by performing a familiar extensor motion at the elbow, working the tricep. But with the arm extended and fixed laterally at the side of the body.
Holding on to the cable itself (or by using a rope attachment and holding on to one end), stand at a right angle to the cable pulley with the cable behind your head and your upper arm fixed parallel to the floor. Flex at the elbow and extend the arm so that it’s straight, contracting the tricep as you do so. Pause momentarily at the end of each rep and flex the muscles hard before returning to the start. It’s important to keep the upper in a fixed position to keep all the focus firmly on the triceps. Repeat on the other arm before moving on to the next exercise below.
Dumbbell Kickbacks: Dumbbell kickbacks are one of the most underused exercises I see. They are a great addition to any arm workout, and can help build and define the triceps in a way that few, if any exercises, can match.
I find that using a lighter weight and focusing on the quality of each repetition is far more beneficial than simply trying to move as much weight as possible.
Like with most tricep movements, the upper arm should remain fixed and free from any swinging during the motion. With a dumbbell in one hand (palm facing into you – in a semi-supinated grip), bend forwards at the waist. Use your free hand to brace yourself against something solid. Drive the weight up and behind, straightening the arm as much as possible. Pause momentarily at the end of the rep so as to eliminate any momentum from building. Force a deep contraction within the tricep. Slowly lower it in a smooth and controlled manner, and repeat. Then perform on the other arm, and return to the first exercise within this second superset.
3 sets total: 15-12 reps on each exercise. Keep the same weight for all sets.
*Final set (3rd), add in a set of push ups after the final set of reverse grip pull-downs, and perform until failure.
Tricep Dips: Dips are another highly beneficial triceps movement. I like to add additional resistance beyond my bodyweight by attaching plates to a chained dip belt or placing a dumbbell between my knees. Both of these also allow for additional drop sets upon reaching muscular failure. Just remove the weight and continue with your own body weight until you can no longer lift yourself up.
Keep your knuckles pointing down (which will help minimize stress on the wrists), and keeping your elbows tucked in. Lower down so that your shoulders don’t dip below the same height as your elbows.
Try to keep the motion smooth and controlled. Pause and flex at the top of the rep. If you struggle with this movement, you can perform this on an assisted dip machine. Or switch it out for bench dips with the arms positioned behind you.
Reverse Grip Pull-down: When training the triceps, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only using an overhand/pronated grip. The same goes with training biceps and typically using an underhand/supinated grip. There’s a great benefit to working the arms with an atypical grip. This reversed grip pull-down ensures the triceps work in a different way as other tricep movements.
Using a bent-shaped bar relives any stress on the wrists, and encourages the elbows to be slightly rotated outwards. This particular movement focuses on the smaller tricep head seen during a flexed bicep pose. Keep the upper arms slightly positioned forwards as well. This again ensures that tension is always high on the muscles.
Diamond Push-Ups: If the workout wasn’t already punishing enough on the triceps, you can add in push-ups at any time. I like doing diamond pushups. My hands are spared open and in a diamond shape (fingers and thumbs make a diamond-like shape). This keeps my elbows angled slightly outwards and again works the triceps from a different angle and motion.
After completing this routine, your arms will no doubt be full of blood and you’ll have a great pump. I’d recommend performing at least several minutes of cool down movements. It can mimic much of the warm up routine. Make use of the bands for stretching and the foam roller or barbell for the self-myofascial release work. It will be worth the time and help to flush out much of the toxins.
We're also giving you a great deal to go along with this article. Get 20% OFF the entire store when you use code BEAST20!