In today’s world of strength training and fitness the forearms are quickly becoming forgotten and neglected. Many athletes and weight lifters focus purely on increasing the mass and overall definition of their biceps and upper arms, but seldom do they increase the size, and most importantly strengthen their forearms. Forearm and grip strength can be beneficial to a wide range of lifters. From athletes, to combat fighters, to power lifters and yes, even bodybuilders.
First and foremost, the most important thing to remember is that you cannot lift what you cannot grip or hold, no matter how strong you are. You could have the strongest lower back and hamstrings the world has ever seen, but you most certainly will not handle extreme poundage in the deadlift if your grip strength is not up to par. For power lifters and bodybuilders this fact is key to their success. For power lifters it is obvious. To be able to compete at a high level and increase your compound lifts to record breaking numbers you need animal like grip strength. If you cannot handle the bar, you cannot handle the awe inspiring weight I am sure you are trying to lift. On the other hand, this also applies to bodybuilders. How do you get bigger? How do you increase your mass and capture desired gains in hypertrophy? Time and time again this has been proven to be simple. YOU NEED TO LIFT HEAVY. So, I will reiterate. How can you possibly handle the necessary loads and volumes to trigger growth if you cannot properly grip the weight? The answer to that is simple, you cannot!
In addition to power lifters and body builders, athletes and combat fighters (from mixed martial arts, to wrestling etc.) can reap multiple benefits from focusing on their grip and forearm strength. The first benefit is obvious, and is the same one, which applies to power lifters and bodybuilders: being able to handle heavy weights in your training. With that being said, athletes and combat fighters can reap a multitude of other advantages. Football players can have unearthly grip strength and rid of annoying blockers, make jersey grabbing tackles, and make great improvements with their catching ability. Baseball players can increase their arm health by strengthening all the musculature that surrounds their ulterior collateral ligament (the ligament that when torn requires the dreaded Tommy John surgery). These are just a couple examples of athletes that can benefit from working on their grip and forearm strength. Lastly, grip strength can mean the difference in which fighter has the literal upper hand in a bout. Taking hold of an opponent with mammoth grip strength is a key to success and just downright intimidating.
With all this being said, here are five surefire exercises to help not only improve grip strength, but also build massive thigh sized forearms.
Thick Bar Lifting
Yes, this is one of the five surefire exercises to build your forearms grip strength. It is not so much an exercise, but it is something to incorporate into your everyday training. Thick bar lifting not only immediately works your forearms, but it requires extreme levels of grip strength. A standard barbell has a diameter of 1-¼ inches. Lifting with a bar that has a 2 or 3-inch diameter will immediately test your grip. Be aware though and do not be prideful. It takes months and even years to develop well founded grip strength. Use less weight than you usually do and slowly work yourself back up to the weights you would normally use. There is no better way to ignite the “life or death” tension in your grip and spark your central nervous system than by using thick handled barbells and dumbbells. Now, apply this theory to the following exercises that include dumbbells and barbells and you will be well on your way.
Some of the strongest men of all time could deadlift incredible weights with just one or two fingers. Their thumb coupled with their index and middle finger almost created a claw like grip. The number one way to achieve this is by way of pinch gripping. Grab a flat plate (heavy enough to challenge you) without a lip on it that can be grabbed, and hold it down by your side only with your thumb and finger tips. Maintain this hold for as long as possible for multiple sets, and obviously as time goes on be sure to increase the time under tension and the weight of the plates.
Heavy Wrist Curls
I am sure anyone who has ever been to the gym has seen someone off in the corner pumping out loads and loads of low weight and high repetition based wrist curls. If you would like to have some nice definition on your forearms and pop some veins out that will impress all the girls at your beach during the summer, then by all means go right ahead. But, if you are looking to turn your wrist ligaments into steel cables and have bicep thick forearms then ditch the lightweight and go heavy. Like I said, get yourself a pair of 2 or 3-inch fat gripz and really turn it up a notch. Find a weight that allows you to do two or three HARD wrist curls and watch your forearms explode and your wrists strengthen.
Another great way to build forearms that can withstand the tension of heavy lifting is to religiously practice power holds. Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells or a barbell (again, use thick bars if you can), and grab hold of them and do not let go until your fingers literally give out and drop the bar involuntarily. When using barbells be sure to not have the bar resting against your thighs, as you want the entirety of the tension to be left solely on your forearms. Perform multiple sets, and seek to increase your time of the holds and weight as you build your strength.
Heavy Hammer Curls
Hammer curls have always been a true mass gainer for the biceps. But, they can also hit your forearms hard. Especially when you go heavy and use thick grips (this seems like a recurring trend doesn’t it). Grab a dumbbell in neutral position (hands facing top to bottom) and pump out a few sets of heavy, low rep hammer curls.
I could give you every secret there is, but the most important attributes you will need for progress here are patience and hard work. Your forearms will not grow overnight and you’re not going to be able to palm medicine balls after one week. Dedication over and over again for months and years at a time will bread results. Lastly, I cannot overstate this enough. GO HEAVY and GO HARD. Heavy weights and exhausting training of your forearms and grip will be the most effective way to steadily see results.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.