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I have always been interested in big arms. At an early age, I took a special interest in forearm development. There is something about big, muscular forearms that make a person look strong and powerful. This is especially true because forearms are noticeable in normal clothing, and very visible to the general public. Over the years, I have discovered that certain exercises work better than others to develop superior forearms. Here are the top 5 exercises you should perform if you want to take your lower arms to new levels of development.
1. Barbell Wrist Curl - This is the basic standby for building massive forearms, because it works! Sit on a bench and rest your arms on your legs, letting just your wrists hang off the end of your knees. Take a comfortable grip on the barbell, and lean forward. With the barbell in hand, let the wrists extend down as far as flexibility allows, and then flex the wrists as far up as possible. For this exercise, I don’t recommend you let the barbell roll down to your fingertips, as it temporarily takes the contraction off of the wrist flexors. Choose a weight that will allow you to complete 15-20 repetitions, and expect a good burn. Because the wrists are fully supinated, you will most likely feel the majority of the resistance on the medial portion of the forearm. I recommend 3-4 sets to failure.
2. Behind The Back Barbell Wrist Curl - At first glance, this may seem very similar to regular barbell wrist curls, but the variation here is very important. Placing the barbell behind your back, be sure to stand upright and keep your core tight. The range of motion is slightly shorter, but now your wrists are in a pronated position, which stimulates the wrist flexors differently, and helps to emphasize the lateral portion. You may find that you are stronger in this position because the leverage is more favorable. I still recommend choosing a weight that allows you to complete 15-20 repetitions, and 3-4 sets is still optimal.
3. Dumbbell Wrist Curls - There are several different ways to perform dumbbell wrist curls, but I prefer standing up while holding a dumbbell in each hand. With your arms at your side, simply curl the dumbbells using only your wrists.There are two advantages to this exercise - first, you can rotate the dumbbells and either pronate or supinate the wrists to change the area of emphasis. In addition, the dumbbells do not lock your wrists into a fixed plane of motion, which allows you to safely go heavier on your wrist curls without risking damage to the relatively delicate tendons of the wrist joint. You can stick with higher reps or go down to 10-12 repetitions for more forearm strength. 3-4 sets is still recommended, and this is a great exercise to add into your program for a change in your routine.
4. Wrist Roller - Most of us have either heard of or used a wrist roller at one time or another. There are a few tricks to this exercise that will help you take your forearm development to a new level, however. Stand on an elevated surface when using the wrist roller, such as a plyo box or a sturdy bench. Let your arms extend in front of your body, and don’t try to keep them bent at 90 degrees. Keeping the arms bent puts a lot of tension on the brachioradialis, which isn’t what you want when trying to stimulate the wrist flexors. Roll the handle up, being sure to get a full contraction of the forearms with every turn of the roller. Then, eccentrically unroll the handle under control for and even greater overload to the forearm muscles. Be sure to repeat this process with wrist extension and don’t neglect the muscles on the top of the arm! This is one of the best exercise for the wrist extensors you can do, in my humble opinion.
5. Cable Reverse Curls - Finally, and exercise that focuses solely on the wrist extensors. Attach a straight bar to a low pulley attachment. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, and keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Curl the bar up to chest level and extend the wrists at the top of the movement. Lower the bar under control and repeat.The cable provides constant tension throughout the range of motion, and the wrist extension at the top of the reverse curl will stimulate all of the wrist extensors, not just the larger Brachioradialis. This is a great finisher on forearm day and will really light up those lower arms! Perform 3-4 sets of at least 12 reps.
So, those are my top choices for forearm exercises. Mix them into your routine and rotate different exercises for variety. I generally have my clients perform specific forearm exercises twice a week, usually after back training and on arm day. The forearm muscles are resilient, so it takes a lot of work to build them up. That being said, use caution in your training and start with a light weight to get your tendons and ligaments acclimated to the stress of forearm training. Also, be sure to thoroughly stretch the forearm muscles after training. Tis will not only prevent pain in the hands and wrists, but it will also help to stretch the fascia around the muscle and allow the forearms to grow!
Michael Christopher holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science, and is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.
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