As a general rule, there are two types of stories when it comes to forearms. The first you may have heard is that the forearm muscles are accessory muscles trained only through functional weight training such as deadlifts or Crossfit exercises.
This is entirely accurate, and the forearms function heavily to support the upper arm and biceps on their journey to bulging growth. However, training forearms solely as an accessory muscle is rarely sufficient enough to build mass,
The second story is of those that have a career in physical labor and develop over time quite significant forearm muscles through a natural building.
If you have ever gawked at your mechanic friend’s forearms, you know what we are referring to.
Where does this leave us? Well, in this article, we discuss secret story number three, where we target the forearms the same way we would any other muscle group and dedicate a portion of our workout routine to isolating and building mass in the forearms.
What Makes Up the Forearms?
To keep things as simple as possible, we break down the forearms anatomy into three main parts:
The extensor muscles are located on the forearm’s anterior (top) side and help in the forearm’s functional movement.
These flexors are located on the posterior (bottom) section of the forearms and help with the movement and flexibility of the wrist and fingers.
The brachioradialis is the most visible on the forearm muscle, comprising the outer part of the arm and responsible for flexing from the forearm to the elbow. Think Popeye, who has a very prominent one of these.
As each of these muscle groups is trained in particular ways, it makes functional training alone, a hard way to build mass. Specific exercises, such as those described below, can be used to isolate and develop muscle in particular areas.
Many of the muscles in the forearms are slow-twitch muscles, meaning they are more prone to fatigue.
Many weightlifters find it takes more dedicated energy to build these groups than the fast-twitch muscles that comprise the chest, hamstrings, and other large muscle groups.
The Best Forearm Exercises for Mass
For those who have access to dumbbells or free weights, the following exercises are perfect for building forearm mass.
Farmer’s Walk or Farmer’s Carry
Simple yet effective, this exercise looks to build forearm strength as well as grip strength. It’s hard, but it gets the job done.
Start by picking a set of heavy dumbbells, too heavy to curl. Place them on each side of you, and when ready to begin the exercise, bend at the knees, keep the back straight and power up through the hips. With the dumbbells at your side, walk a designated distance quickly (the farther, the better). If limited by space, walk a figure-8.
This is a maximum effort exercise, so keep walking. The farmer’s walk builds grip strength and forearm mass.
Reverse Grip (Overhand) Bar Curls
This derivative of the popular bicep curls works the extensor muscles and isolates the forearms. The focus with this one is on technique, not speed.
Prepare a curl bar with an appropriate amount of weight. Start light and work up to a weight where you can complete 10-15 repetitions, the last few being difficult.
Place your hand in an overhand or monkey grip on the bar. Keep your elbows close to your sides, and slowly life the bar to a 90° bend at the elbows. Slowly lower back to a full extension and repeat.
Here are a few practical bodyweight exercises to isolate the forearms for those who do not have access to gym equipment of free weights.
Just as the name suggests, you will need a towel and an overhead bar to complete this exercise. A door frame pull up bar works well, but any hanging bar will do the trick.
Wrap a towel around the overhead bar, firmly grabbing the ends in each hand. Pull yourself up so that your chin is inline (or above) your hands. Slowly lower and repeat.
Using a towel helps to isolate the forearms and build grip strength. If you are unable to do too many of these exercises, instead, just hang from the towel as long as possible.
Hand Bar Walk
The hand bar walk is an excellent exercise for the playground. Using your friendly neighborhood monkey bar set, start by gripping and hanging onto the first bar to warm up.
When ready, start walking from bar to bar with your hands, and repeat as many times as possible.
Like the farmer’s carry, this is a maximum effort exercise, so keep going until it burns! Remember, burning is good; pain isn’t.
This is an exercise for those who have nothing at all in their home but want to work out the forearms anyway. The crab walk is a great addition to any calisthenic workout and does a fantastic job of isolating the forearms and getting the heart pumping.
Start on the ground, on your back, and pop up into a bridge pose by raising your hips to the sky. While keeping your back parallel to the ground, start to walk with your hands and legs, keeping your head gently looking forward. Walk until you can’t walk anymore.
If you are limited in space, try taking five steps forward and five steps backward, and repeat as necessary.
Building forearm mass takes time, and can only be done effectively through muscle isolation. While many other forms of exercise (chest workouts, TRX, etc.) may help to build forearms as an accessory muscle, they don’t work the muscles hard enough to build muscle mass.
Like any other new exercise, begin with low weights and high repetitions. As you add weight, continue to practice good technique and proper form to avoid injury or unnecessary stress on the muscles.
Allow adequate recovery time for the slow-twitch forearm muscles by working them no more than two to three times a week.