Forearms are the undershot muscle group. And most people who train their forearms also train them wrongly, or at least not completely. In this article all about the importance of strong forearms and what we think are the best exercises for that.
FOREARM MUSCLES: ANATOMY AND FUNCTION
Your forearm muscles, the muscles between your elbow and wrist joint, are responsible for bending and stretching your wrist. The muscles on the inside of your forearm are responsible for flexing, those on the outside for stretching.
In addition to the flexor and extensor muscles in your forearm, you also have the brachioradialis, which is responsible for most of the muscle mass in your forearms. This muscle helps your biceps to bend your forearm and has nothing to do with your wrist joint. So you can't train it with typical forearm exercises such as wrist flexing and wrist stretching.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG FOREARMS
Strong forearms are enormously important both inside and outside the gym. As the last link in the chain, they are the limiting factor in heavy exercises such as deadlifts and heavy dumbbell rowing. But they also determine whether you get that jar of apple sauce opened. The really strong persons, are those with strong forearms and a strong grip. After all, what good is it if you can deadlift two hundred kilograms with straps, but without straps you can't even do five repetitions with a hundred kilograms (or if you can't get that jar of applesauce opened)? That's what is meant by 'gym strength' versus 'real strength'.
The muscles in your forearms, excluding your brachioradialis, are responsible for flexing and stretching your wrist, just as the muscles in your upper arms are responsible for flexing and stretching your elbow. You train your biceps and triceps by bending them (biceps curls) and stretching them (triceps extensions). This is exactly what your biceps and triceps do in exercises for your back and chest, where they act as auxiliary muscles: bending and stretching.
How different is that for your forearms. In most exercises, your wrist joint barely bends or stretches at all. Not when deadlifting, not when dumbbell or dumbbell growing. What they do is hold or control that weight all the time. The muscles in your forearm largely determine your grip strength and are especially important for pulling movements. During most exercises your forearm muscles do not have dynamic (concentric and eccentric) contraction, but static tension, or isometric contraction.
Most people train their forearms in a dynamic way, with wrist curls and reversed wrist curls. Great exercises for mass in your forearms - for bodybuilders - but not such a great exercise for (functional) strength. Although your forearms undeniably get stronger from all that bending and stretching (after all, increasing strength precedes muscle growth), from a functional point of view it doesn't do you much good. The dynamic contraction of these exercises and the isometric contraction of deadlifts and rows, for example, are two different things.
As far as we are concerned, a functional forearm training consists of a mix of dynamic exercises and static exercises for your forearm, with the emphasis on the latter. Also the muscles in your hands and fingers should not be overlooked!
A complete forearm training consists of:
- support exercises;
- exercises for the brachioradialis;
- squeeze exercises;
- bending and stretching exercises;
- pronation/supination exercises.
The most important exercises for your forearms are the inclusion of compound exercises such as deadlifts, dumbbell rowing and dumbbell rowing without wrist straps in your training.
What we always do with single rep deadlifts (deadlifts where you put the weight back on the floor after the 'lift') or during the last repetition of a series, is to hold the dumbbell bar extra long when we have lifted the weight off the floor, until we can't hold it anymore. Moreover, we always carry out our lighter deadlifts with a double upper hand grip and only switch to a mixed grip as late as possible (one hand above hand, the other below hand). Only in the extreme case do we use wrist straps.
What we also use in auxiliary exercises are loaded carries. In other words: carrying heavy weights. A little used, but extremely effective training form for strength gain and/or strength endurance and/or muscle growth or fat loss. The best known loaded carry is the farmer's walk, where you make a walk with two heavy dumbbells in your hands. This exercise makes a heavy appeal on your grip strength and therefore also on the strength in your forearms.
This kind of grip exercises with dumbbells or barbells can be made extra difficult by enlarging the circumference of the rod with a towel or so-called Fat Gripz. However, you can also easily and inexpensively make your own pair of Fat Gripz from insulating material for pipes. This can also be used to make regular exercises such as pull-ups and dumbbell rowing more difficult.
EXERCISES FOR THE BRACHIORADIALIS
The brachioradialis is a forearm muscle that helps your biceps brachii and brachialis (the muscle underneath your biceps, so to speak) to bend your elbow. As mentioned before, this muscle is responsible for the bulk of the muscle mass in your forearms. You can train the brachioradialis specifically by doing reverse curls and hammer curls. These exercises may be scissorsed under bicep training, but the target muscles are actually the brachioradialis and the brachialis. The biceps only help a little. Although it makes your biceps look bigger, because the brachialis pushes the biceps up. Reverse and hammer curls (and if desired also the Zottman curls) are in fact indispensable for the development of your entire arm.
You train the flexors of the forearm mainly with exercises that provide finger flexion (grip) and wrist flexion. For finger flexion you can do so-called squeeze exercises or 'crush' exercises.
A good squeeze exercise is holding two dumbbells with your hands/fingers. No, not with your fingers through the special recess, but with stretched fingers. Instead of one disc of, for example, 20 kg, you can also try clamping two 10 kg discs against each other. You can also, if your hands are big enough, place a dumbbell upright and pick it up at the end with your fingers.
We all know the so-called 'hand grippers', available in different strengths. Perhaps the best-known grippers are the Captains of Crush (COC) Grippers from IronMind, who challenge many a serious strength athlete. You can even get a special certificate if you get a certain COC closed. Available in the numbers 0.5 to 4 (and intermediate 0.5's), the average gym visitor will have the greatest difficulty closing the number one. Luckily there are also three grippers below 0.5, as a prelude to the lightest gripper. The number 4 needs about 166 kg of pressure. Worldwide there are only five people who get them closed, among them the Swedish strongman Magnus Samuelsson.
BENDING AND STRETCHING EXERCISES
For wrist flexion there are the well-known bending and stretching exercises. Although we may have talked rather disparagingly about this popular form of forearm training, bending and stretching exercises should not be absent.
Wrist curls are performed simply by placing your forearms on your thighs or on a bench with your palms facing up, grabbing a dumbbell or barbell (depending on whether you want to do the exercise one- or two-arm) and flexing and stretching your wrists, letting the bar roll from the palm of your hand to your fingers, as it were.
Reverse wrist curls are performed, you guessed it, upside down with your palms facing down.
There is also an exercise that combines wrist curls and reversed wrist curls, i.e. bending and stretching your wrist. A dynamic exercise, which, due to the constant tension on your forearm muscles, also has a static character: the so-called 'wrist rolling'.
With wrist rolls you take a dumbbell rod or place a dumbbell rod in a rack and fasten a rope in the middle, weighted with lighter dumbbells, a dumbbell or preferably a kettlebell. By alternately bending or stretching your left and right wrist, you roll up the rope.
And finally the pronation/supination exercises. These are performed with a light clubbell, an adjustable dumbbell that you have weighted on one side, or a hammer or hand axe. Grab the hammer, extend your arm in front of you and, with an upper hand grip, turn your forearm, not your whole arm, outwards, moving the hammer from a horizontal to a vertical position. Or grab the hammer the way you normally grab a hammer, hold your arm along your body and move your hand up and down. Do this the other way around, with the hammer pointing backwards.
You see, there's a lot more to strong forearms than doing wrist curls and reversed wrist curls. There is a whole range of exercises for bigger and stronger forearms and a strong gripping force. A strong grip means that you become stronger overall. Not only does a strong grip allow you to do exercises harder, but the harder you squeeze the bar, whether it's bench press or dumbbell, the greater the power transfer to the rest of your body and your other muscles. So strength begins and ends with your gripping power. Think about that.
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