Let’s face it, when talking (or even thinking) about your upcoming workout, do you even consider your forearms? Chances are that you don’t. This is a major mistake, because your forearms are instrumental for practically every step of your training.
Name an upper body exercise that doesn’t have you grip or hold something. Not an easy thing to do, huh? Don’t worry. Neglecting to build one’s forearms is a common mistake. Luckily, it’s also an easy mistake to fix. In fact, if you’re already into fitness in some capacity, chances are that your forearms have already gotten some stimulation (and thus build-up) from a lot of your other exercises.
Sadly, this is pretty rare, and if you’re having trouble with some advanced calisthenics moves, it is more than likely that your troubles are in fact a consequence of your neglected forearms. Strong forearms result in a firm grip, and a firm grip can make everything so much easier.
Today we will go over the importance and methods of building these forearm muscles. They may not seem like much, but trust us—you’ll feel the difference, as well as see it in the mirror!
Why Train Your Forearms?
Believe it or not, your grip strength does not come down to your hands alone.
Gripping is a motion that actively engages the forearm. Therefore, a weak forearm will result in a grip much weaker than it can potentially get, and only by training the sets of muscles in your forearm will you be able to actually improve it.
And as we’ve already gone over, having a firm grip can only help, both with exercising and in everyday life.
And even if you’re more interested in looks than utility, there is no denying the additional “wow” effect of sporting a pair of well-developed and toned forearms along with those shoulders, biceps and triceps you’ve been working so hard on.
You will have the look of a more accomplished athlete, paving the way to advanced moves such as the planche, and your additional efforts will certainly not go unnoticed.
Anatomy of the Forearm
Your forearm has twenty muscles in it, and they are commonly separated into three distinct groups. These groups include:
- The brachioradialis, which is the large muscle that flexes the forearm. It is the biggest and most visible muscle in there, and is in fact rather easy to build via exercise.
- The flexors, which work to supinate the forearm. Whenever you rotate your hands (for instance while alternating your grip for pull-ups or chin-ups), you are in fact putting your flexors to work. Additionally, your flexors are also responsible for extension, an example of which would be you showing your palm to someone with your arm extended, commonly interpreted as a manual “stop” sign.
- The extensors, which work to perform the opposite moves to the flexors. In the previous “stop sign” example, if you had instead allowed your hand to drop down, fingers pointing to the floor while still keeping your arm extended, you’d have used your extensors to pull that motion off.
As you can probably see by now, all these little moves are not only vital, but you repeat them every day, again and again, without even thinking about it.
So how exactly do we work those muscles, then? Read on to find out!
The Secret to Bigger Forearms
The muscles detailed above are mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers. In essence, this means that they will respond very favorably to high volume training. Or simply said, go for a lot of reps and sets, and you will see excellent results.
And what method of training is known for traditionally using a lot of reps and sets?
Why, calisthenics of course! Especially if you are already higher than beginner level, increasing your overall numbers will mostly be a matter of perseverance and repetition.
This, however, doesn’t mean that the more modern method of simply increasing resistance will not work. In fact, some training methods recommend that you mix and match these two approaches.
For instance, three high-rep sets, followed by one or two sets of high resistance, low reps. It does seem to work just as well, but since that approach would require the use of additional training gear, we are going to ignore it for the rest of this article.
The Best Bodyweight Forearm Exercises
All of these will work your forearms. Some will be better at it, while others will work other muscle groups in tandem. Try them out, experiment, and find which work best for you. And as always, don’t forget to warm-up properly beforehand!
The Inverted Row
An overall solid exercise but with one big downside: pull-ups and chin-ups beat it in nearly every category. Still, if you find yourself unable to do either one of the two, then inverted rows will help you along the way.
Go for 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps. Once this becomes easy, we recommend that you move on to…
Hailed as one of the best exercises you could possibly do, a pull-up will not only benefit from a strong grip, but will help you develop it as well. As a rule, the wider the grip, the more difficult the pull-up. And if you can, you should keep your torso in the hollow body position, as in the video above.
Go for 2-3 sets of 10 reps each. Once you feel like it, don’t be afraid to push a set or two until failure. It can do wonders.
Everything we’ve said about the pull-up, also goes for the chin-up. The chin-up is in fact a bit better at working your arms, making it a somewhat superior option, though not by much. Pick one or alternate between the two, you can’t go wrong.
Again, go for 2-3 sets of 10 reps. Don’t be afraid to push until failure, etc.
The Towel Pull-up
And here’s the big one. The towel pull-up is likely the best forearm exercise you can possibly do, but it might also be the most difficult one. Aside from your usual horizontal bar, all you’ll need is two sturdy towels. Just be careful, as failing your grip on one towel can lead to some nasty falls.
If you can pull it, go for 2 sets of 10 reps. If you can’t, just do as many reps as possible until you reach ten.
A plank is primarily a core exercise, but if you do it by resting on your forearms, you’ll work them to a degree as well. As with your regular plank, your body should form a straight line that goes all the way from your head to your feet.
Aim for 2-3 sets of 60 seconds each, and rest for at least another 60 seconds between sets.
Forearm Side Plank
More difficult than your usual side plank, but a much better way of engaging your forearms. Again, proper form is crucial, with a straight line throughout your body while you balance on your lower forearm.
Try and do 2-3 sets of 30 seconds each, pausing for at least another 30 seconds before another set.
One of the silliest-looking exercises around, crab walks are actually great for a lot of things, one of which just happens to be forearm development. Take ten steps with each limb forward, then backward. Repeat until 60 seconds pass. Rest for at least that much, then repeat. Two to three sets work best.
Essentially a move for your chest and triceps, but due to its reliance on your grip and forearms, not half bad for their growth. As a rule, the less you move your core and lower body during the motion, the more difficult (and thus more beneficial) the move will be. If you want an even more difficult option, keep your legs extended forward (and parallel to the ground) throughout the motion.
Go for 2-3 sets of 10 reps. If you find that too easy, keep adding more sets.
Bodyweight Hammer Curl
This can be done with your bare hands or with a band (as per the video), but it is a tried and true method of working your arms. Just find a way that works for you, and aim for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps. Simple and effective.
Not an exercise per se, but an activity that makes great use of grip and forearm strength, and will in turn do wonders for them. The downside is that you can’t do it whenever, wherever, but will need a course, some gear, a membership, etc. Still, not to be underestimated, and can be rather fun.