Do you remember the cartoon Popeye and how he would get a popping forearm by eating a can of spinach? Now, I’m really showing my age. It would be great if it were that easy to get big and strong forearms because the rest of us mere mortals have to work for it.
Forearm muscles are hard to grow for a couple of reasons. One most forearm muscles are slow-twitch dominant. Slow twitch dominant muscles like the forearms are challenging to grow because they are endurance-based and rely on a steady blood supply. It makes sense because you use your hands and grip regularly and don’t want them to give out.
The second reason is genetics. A longer tendon and shorter muscle belly make the muscle harder to grow (me), while a shorter tendon and more extended muscle belly make it easier for you to blame or thank your parents (Popeye). Anyhow, why is all this important and worthy of a blog post? I’m getting to that.
Forearm Training Benefits
Let’s look beyond the Popeye benefits and opening the pickle jar to cover three essential benefits of strengthening your forearms.
Improved Quality Life
You train grip strength when you
pop a can of spinach train forearms. Grip strength is inversely associated with all-cause mortality—every 5-kilogram (11 pounds) decrease in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase in mortality. Although you are born with it, it is a use it or lose it thing.
Strong forearms are needed for your gym workouts and daily living activities. Having the grip strength to open pickle jars and doors, hold the drinks, and carry the groceries in from the car in one trip is pretty awesome. Doesn’t everyone like pickles on their hamburgers?
Grip strength can be the limiting factor with grip-intensive exercises such as rows, chin-ups, and deadlifts. Improving grip strength by strengthening the forearms means doing more reps with the same weight or more weight overall. You know what that means? More sexiness.
4 Forearm Strengthening Exercises
Okay, from now on, I will try to resist any more Popeye or spinach can references, but I’m not promising anything. Here are four exercises to insert into your current routine for improved forearm size and strength.
Note: Full disclosure: I get nothing for promoting this, but I know it is an excellent tool because I have one.
The Gripedo attachment is shaped like a torpedo (let’s leave it at that, please), hence the name. It slips over a barbell, acts like a wrist roller, and is highly effective at building grip strength and muscular forearms. The beauty of this attachment is it trains both sides of the forearm and allows you to use more weight than the standard wrist roller. What does that mean? Forearms gains and see no Popeye references. 😊
How to do it:
1. Set up the Gripedo like in the video and stand arm’s length away from the attachment.
2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, gripping the Gripedo at shoulder height.
3. Roll the Gripedo up, alternating hands until you have run out of rope.
4. Reverse slowly and repeat if you have anything left.
Sets & Reps: Rolling it up and down is one rep, and two to four reps is enough. Perform at the end of your workout to not hinder your grip strength for other grip-intensive exercises.
Dumbbell Reverse Biceps Curls
The dumbbell reverse biceps curls train and strengthen the smaller forearm extensors, the brachioradialis, and brachialis. Both muscles lie underneath the biceps, which will help make your biceps look more prominent when you strike a pose. A strength imbalance between the forearm flexors and smaller extensors may lead to sore elbows, so it is not all about vanity.
How to do it:
1. Stand with feet hip-width apart with your arms by your sides and gripping each dumbbell with your knuckles facing up.
2. Keep your elbows tucked to your torso while curling the dumbbells above 90 degrees.
3. Reverse to the starting position, reset, and repeat for desired reps.
Sets & Reps: Three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps at the end of your workout to not interfere with your other grip-intensive exercises.
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carry
You don’t know what you’re missing if you have never held a kettlebell bottoms-up. Holding a KB bottoms-up will challenge your grip and forearm strength like never before because of this one reason. Flipping the kettlebell upside down forces you to recruit additional forearm muscle fibers to control the unstable load. The most significant advantage is that less load is needed to get a training effect because of the extra muscular tension required to hold it.
How to do it:
1. Stand straight, holding a kettlebell by the horn, facing a clear walking path.
2. Curl the kettlebell in front of your shoulder to chin height with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and level with your shoulder.
3. Ensure the KB horn is sitting in the meat of your hand with the wrist in neutral.
4. Grip as your life depends on it, and stroll for 20 to 40 yards.
5. Lower the weight, switch hands, and reset and repeat.
Set & Reps: Unlike the previous exercises, this exercise is best performed early in your workout for one to two reps of 20 to 40 yards per side.
Who doesn’t love biceps curls? But there are other good reasons for the second bicep exercise on this list. The neutral grip of the hammer curl variation is friendlier on your elbows and shoulders, leading to extra engagement of the neglected forearm muscle, the brachioradialis. This muscle stabilizes the elbow joint, which is handy if you throw for a living. The neutral grip is our strongest grip, so you’ll potentially lift more weight or do more reps than other curl variations.
How to do it:
1. Hold the dumbbells by your side with your wrists in neutral and knuckles facing away from you.
2. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, and wrists in neutral curl until the dumbbell is near your shoulders.
3. Pause briefly, slowly lower to the starting position, and reset and repeat.
Sets & Reps: Save this one to the end of your training and perform for higher reps in the 12-15 range for two to three sets.
Forearms are another excellent reason to do biceps curls with a purpose besides flex time. Although the forearms assist with many exercises involving grip, it helps to isolate them directly for improved strength and durability. Plus, you want to open all the difficult pickle jars, don’t you? Hmmm, pickles.
See no more Popeye or Canned spinach silly references. Aren’t you proud of me?