How to develop stronger forearm muscles

In this blog post I will be talking about how to develop stronger forearm muscles. Many people neglect training forearms but forearm training is very important for the development of the whole body.

Our forearms participate in most of all strength training exercises for arms and torso (except for abdominal exercises).

From the anatomic view, the forearm is made of the radius and ulna bones, and it has four main types of action at the hinge of the elbow joint:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Pronation
  • Supination

The forearm flexors include the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. The extensors are the triceps brachii and anconeus. The pronators are the pronator teres and the pronator quadratus, and the supinator is the only one that turns the forearm anteriorly.

The biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis flex the forearm.

Let’s take a look at the forearm anatomy image below.

The way how we will structure our forearm workout is we will be targeting our inner and outer forearm muscles in the same workout session. Same principles that we did with abdominal workout.

The example structure is below:

Inner forearmBarbell wrist curl (underhand grip)
Outer forearmBarbell reverse wrist curl (overhand grip)

The famous martial artist, Bruce Lee, once said, “The forearm muscles are very dense so you have to pump that muscle every day to make it stronger.”

Most people are not that fanatical about their forearm muscles training as Bruce was, but the above statement from him can give us an idea that we need to work hard on this part of our body just as with the rest.

How many repetitions and sets you do will depend on your actual goal. Do you want to develop bigger, more massive forearms or you just want to work on muscularity and strength? I can only give you a general guidance here in this blog post. More personalised forearm programme needs to be prescribed by your fitness expert. Let’s dive in.

Forearm training for mass and size

When we talk about training for mass we talk about hypertrophy. The muscle hypertrophy is an increase in muscle cross sectional area and mass.

So our goal here is to increase the cross sectional area and mass of our forearm muscles. To me, forearm exercises can be divided into two categories:

  • Size forearm exercises – mostly involve barbell as a developing training tool.
  • Detail forearm exercises– leverage bar, dumbbell, gripping machine as some of the most used development training tools.

Let’s take a look at some examples below.

Size forearm exercises examplesDetail forearm exercises example
Barbell wrist curl (seated)Leverage bar twists on one knee
Barbell wrist reverse curl (seated)Gripping machine

So if our goal is hypertrophy of forearm muscles, we want to select and do size forearm exercises. What about the intensity? As a general principle, the loads above 60 % of your 1RM or one repetition max, will do the trick in recruiting type II fibers and maximise your hypertrophy efforts. What about the number of repetitions and sets? Repetitions between 8-12 have been proven the most effective for achieving this kind of goal. Number of sets should be in between 3-8. Usually the sweet spot is 4 for majority of people. Rest periods between sets should be in between 1.5 – 2 minutes.

Does this mean that you neglect detail forearm exercises? Not at all. You still want to work on your forearm details, however, the efforts should be split 70 % to 30 % with 70 % of your efforts going to size forearm exercises.

Forearm training for muscularity

When your goal is muscularity of your forearms, you want to be spending 70 % of your forearms training efforts on detail forearm exercises. Don’t neglect size forearm exercises. So you will be dealing with lighter load, below 60 % of your 1RM but doing at least 4 sets. 4 sets is only a starting point. Your forearm progression for muscularity starts at 4 sets and the #of sets will increase as you get a grip and continuity. The number of repetitions should be at least 15, then you can increase it gradually. Rest between the sets should be just 1 min, if you don’t have to take more.

Some of my favorite detail exercises for muscularity are:

  • Leverage bar twists on one knee
  • Gripping machine – weight plates as many as possible
  • Wrist roller – the goal is to achieve as many compete windings as you can

Conclusion

Whatever your goal is with your forearm muscles, hard work is guaranteed. How many times per week you should train your forearms? Bruce Lee advised to begin with 3x per week. What I like is to mix my forearm muscle training with biceps and triceps so I will do in the same workout: biceps, triceps, forearms, abdominals. You can do it as a separate training after your first workout ( example: if your first workout is in the morning, you can do a separate forearm workout in the evening ).

Again, this is just my general guidance, further personalisation is needed.

I hope you have enjoyed this post,

Until next time,

Damir Pervan, TrainChampion, Founder and CEO

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