The forearms are one of those body parts that often get neglected by lifters in favor of the bigger muscles in the arm, until somebody (rudely) points out to you that your forearms look tiny in relation to your upper arms, and then suddenly forearms are the most important muscle in the body. This phenomenon also occurs with calf muscles.
There are hundreds of exercises that can strengthen your forearms and help them to grow, but so many of them are boring! For example, dumbbell flexion and extension exercises which involve sitting on a bench with a tiny dumbbell in each hand curling your wrists towards and then away from your body.
Sure, there are people who will have no problems wasting 20 minutes of their lives in this way, but hopefully you dear reader are not one of those people. In this article we will identify five great exercises for building killer forearms, and as a bonus all of these exercises will also work other muscles. Because dedicating a large part of your training session to just your forearms is insane!
Exercise #1 Preacher Bench Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are a fantastic forearm exercise, and they also work your biceps really well. But the preacher bench variation is in our opinion even better. This is because hammer curls are very susceptible to cheat curls, where you use your body’s momentum to make the exercise easier. Using a preacher bench can eliminate any cheating and make it all about the forearms and biceps.
Place your arm over a preacher bench so that your elbow is right at the bottom of the pad and hold a dumbbell. You should be using a neutral grip, meaning that your palm is not facing you but instead looks like you are about to bump fists with someone (while holding a dumbbell).
Keeping your shoulders and body still, curl the weight up toward your shoulder and pause when it reaches the top. Then slowly really slowly lower the weight back down again. You will really feel it in your forearm as gravity begins to pull the weight down.
If you don’t have a preacher bench you can use an incline bench, or alternatively you can stand upright and perform a normal hammer curl.
Exercise #2 Reverse Curls
Reverse curls are a truly great forearm exercise, and to the untrained eye they look remarkably similar to hammer curls. There is however a difference, instead of using a neutral grip you would use an overhand grip. Think of a regular dumbbell curl grip but with your hand turned upside down.
The reverse curl works the forearms a lot more than a regular bicep curl or even a hammer curl, so you really need to use a lighter weight. Start in an upright position with a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip. Then curl the weight up towards your shoulder like you would in a normal bicep curl, you’ll notice that the dumbbell won’t go as far. Pause at the top of the movement and then very slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position, the slower the better.
If you want you can perform a variation of this exercise where you curl the dumbbell up using a traditional underhand grip but when you get to the top of the movement you turn your hands over and perform a reverse curl for the way down. You can also perform this on a preacher bench if you want to really make the exercise difficult!
Exercise #3 Farmer’s Carry
Also known as farmer’s walks, this exercise is used for many things, it builds grip strength, helps strengthen your trapezius muscle, improves core strength, and is a great calorie burner. But it is really good at building your forearms.
The exercise is as simple as you could want, all you have to do is grab a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright with chest out and then walk forward until you get tired. Simple huh? Choose a weight that is heavy enough so that you struggle and consider picking a good song to listen to as this exercise is quite attritional and you’ll want something to take your mind off it.
Exercise #4 Shrugs
Shrugs do not specifically target the forearms, they are predominantly a trap building exercise, but because you are using such a heavy weight your forearms get a better work out here than with almost any other exercise! You can perform shrugs with either dumbbells or barbells, but for pure forearm work we recommend the barbell as you can lift more weight and it puts more pressure on your forearm muscles.
Get a rack and place a barbell on it, using a rack-pull technique lift the bar off the rack and move backwards with it so that it is clear of the rack and you can shrug without being impeded. Keeping your arms straight shrug the weight up, pausing at the top of the movement and then slowly lowering the weight back down again.
Exercise #5 Barbell Bent Over Row
Of all the exercises on this list, the barbell bent over row is the least forearm related. It’s an upper-back exercise that also works the forearms. However, it really is a great exercise and you’ll be surprised how well this hits the forearms – as do almost all rowing exercises (T-Bar row, seated cable row, single-armed dumbbell row).
Grab a barbell and stand upright while holding it using an overhand grip. Bend your knees slightly and then bow forward so that your chest is almost facing the floor, your back should be completely straight. If not, push your chest out more and pull your shoulders back. The barbell will now be directly below your ribcage.
Take a deep breath and then row the barbell up towards your ribs, pausing when the bar is almost touching. Then slowly lower the bar back down again, you should feel the tension in your forearms as you do this.
So, there you have it, five exercises that will strengthen your forearms as well as building your back and arms. Whoever told you that training your forearms is boring has clearly never thought outside the box like we do!
Remember, for hypertrophy you want to perform many different rep ranges. You could perform low reps and heavy weights on the barbell row one week, and then switch it up and perform high reps using a low or medium weight the next. Just be consistent with your training and you’ll soon see a marked improvement in your forearm muscles. Then you can concentrate on your tiny calves instead!