By Greg Merritt Flex
We regularly make the point to hardgainers that, since you’re not a pro bodybuilder, you shouldn’t train like one. Nowhere is the truth of this maxim more evident than in the flesh between the wrists and the elbows. Many Mr. Olympia competitors don’t directly train forearms; some never have. They rely instead on superior genetics and the indirect stimulation of gripping during back and biceps exercises. Forget what they don’t do, and focus instead on what you should do — train your forearms as frequently as your deltoids, and guard against complacency. Why should your lower arms grow if you merely pump out the same lackluster sets of wrist curls at the end of every arm routine?
Our four strategies for revitalizing your forearm training will give this very visible area the intensity and variety it needs for continuous expansion.
Forearms, like calves, tend to respond well to occasional doses of very high reps. One shocking way to do this is to use a barbell for wrist curls with which you’ll reach failure at around 25 reps. Do as many reps as you can, set the bar down for 10 seconds and then begin again. Repeat this pattern until you reach a total of 100 reps. Include a similarly patterned mega rest-pause set of reverse wrist curls in the same workout.
MEGA REST-PAUSE ROUTINE
Exercise: Barbell wrist curls, Sets: 1, Reps: 100 rest-pause
Exercise: Reverse barbell wrist curls, Sets: 1, Reps: 100 rest-pause
In one sense, static holds — during which the resistance does not move — are the opposite of mega reps. After all, you’re resisting the completion of a single rep as opposed to doing many reps. When it comes to the pain, however, both are endurance tests won by withstanding the agony as long as possible.
Dumbbell wrist contractions: While seated, grasp a heavy dumbbell (a weight you could normally wrist curl for only five reps or less) in each hand and keep your arms straight down with your palms facing your sides. Curl your palms toward your inner forearms and hold the contraction for as long as possible.
Reverse dumbbell wrist contractions: This is the same as the previous exercise, except you raise the backs of your hands toward your outer forearms and hold for as long as possible. Resist the urge to let your hands drop even slightly.
Plate pinches: Grasp two barbell plates between the thumb and fingers of one hand so that the plates’ flat sides face out. With your arm and wrist straight down at your side, pinch the plates for as long as possible. If you can hold them for 90 seconds, increase the resistance (weight) for the next set. You can alternate hands or work both simultaneously. Start with 10-pound plates.
STATIC HOLDS ROUTINE
Exercise: Dumbbell wrist contractions, Sets: 2, Reps: 1 static hold
Exercise: Reverse dumbbell wrist contractions, Sets: 2, Reps: 1 static hold
Exercise: Plate pinches, Sets: 2, Reps: 1 static hold
Due primarily to the wrist’s short range of motion, you probably think of forearms as small and simple muscle groups. Actually, each forearm contains 20 separate muscles and, due to the complexity of the human hand, forearm muscles have a greater variety of functions than any other muscle group. This makes them excellent candidates for compound sets. A giant set can stress most, if not all, of the 20 muscles. Choose four diverse exercises, such as those in our sample routine.
GIANT SETS ROUTINE
Exercise: Cable reverse wrist curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15
Exercise: Cable wrist curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15
Exercise: Hammer wrist curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15
Exercise: Barbell reverse curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 10-12
*NOTES: These exercises are performed one after another (one set of each) for three rotations. Rest only after each rotation. Hammer wrist curls are explained under “Unique Lifts.”
Although the forearms are complex, many trainers work them with only wrist curls. Even those who regularly do more thorough training seldom do more than wrist curls, reverse wrist curls and reverse curls — all with a barbell. Just as there is a great deal of diversity in the 20 forearm muscles, there is a wide variety of effective forearm exercises. Replace a stale exercise in your current routine with one of our fresh alternatives, or try our unique lifts routine of four forearm forgers.
Hammer wrist curls: Grab a light dumbbell and rest your forearm on a flat bench with your hand off the end, your thumb facing up and your pinkie facing down. Pull your thumb toward the side of your wrist as far as possible. When you lower the dumbbell, let your pinkie go as far as possible toward the other side of your wrist.
Reverse preacher curls: Use a preacher bench to perform reverse curls with a barbell, dumbbell(s) or cable — the position on the bench locks your arms in place to prevent cheating. These exercises work the meaty brachioradialis at the top outer area of the forearms, as well as the brachialis and the biceps.
Standing wrist curls: These can be done behind the back, but you may find it more comfortable to keep the bar in front of your legs. Stand and hold a barbell (or a handle attached to a low cable) with your arms straight down and palms facing your thighs. Lift your palms toward your inner forearms as high as possible. By starting with the tops of your hands pulled back toward your outer forearms for a maximum stretch, you can work both your extensors and your flexors.
Wrist rolls: Many gyms have a wrist-rolling machine or apparatus. If your gym doesn’t, you can make an apparatus by tying a rope to a short handle or bar (such as a section of broom handle) and tying the other end to a weight plate. While keeping your forearms steady and parallel to the floor, roll the handle (thus wrapping the rope around the bar and lifting the weight) by alternately pulling one hand toward its forearm and then the other. Bring the weight all the way up, then reverse the motion, unrolling it slowly, or let the weight unroll.
UNIQUE LIFTS ROUTINE
Exercise: Standing wrist curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15
Exercise: Hammer wrist curls, Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15
Exercise: Palms-down wrist rolls, Sets: 2, Reps: 1 roll up
Exercise: Reverse cable preacher curls, Sets: 2, Reps: 10-12
Although it’s more than most champs do, it’s not enough to merely train forearms on a regular basis. If you pitch in only a few low-intensity wrist curls at the end of your arm workout, then you may as well skip it. Focus as much on your forearm training as you do your chest workouts. Use progressively greater weights and shock complacent muscles with our four fresh strategies, and your forearms will grow, regardless of your DNA.