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Impressive arms are more than good bi’s and tri’s—you also need well-developed forearms. Too many people put in long hours of intense upper-arm training and then just throw in a few sets for forearms, almost as an afterthought. In my estimation, that’s a mistake.
In many ways, the forearms are to the arms what the calves are to the legs. The calves are responsible for moving the feet through the range of motion of the ankle joint; the forearms move the hands through the range of motion of the wrist. For both calves and forearms, how big they can get largely depends on the length of the muscle bellies in those bodyparts.
Take a look at a photo of legendary Casey Viator. When he flexed his forearms, you could see the muscle bellies extend down to his wrists, with almost no visible length of tendon attachment. The mass of his forearms, due in large part to the length of the muscle bellies, is what allowed him to be so impressive in any kind of an arm pose.
Building impressive arms without super-long forearm muscles is entirely possible, even if you’re less genetically gifted. I know, because this is what I had to do to become a bodybuilding champion. If you look at photos of me in competition, you’ll see that my forearm muscles end short of the wrists. I worked hard and long to build up my somewhat shorter forearms. I treated these potential weak points in my physique not as a barrier to success, but as a personal challenge. As a result, poses featuring my forearms became some of the most impressive ones I did.
When it comes to training forearms, you can choose from only two types of exercises: curling the hand (flexion) and extending the hand (extension). If you hold a bar in your hands with a palms-up grip and curl the palms of your hands upward, that involves the forearm flexors. If you hold a bar with a palms-down grip and curl the tops of your hands upward, that involves the forearm extensors. Both movements are the most basic of forearm training exercises—wrist curls and reverse wrist curls.
For complete forearm training, I also like to include standing reverse barbell curls, where you hold a bar with a palms-down grip and perform a movement similar to a biceps curl. At the top of each rep, curling your wrist back will really help to develop the brachialis, which is the muscle that runs along the top of the forearm and attaches above the elbow.
Learn the basic forearm exercises and how to do them effectively. Forearms can be difficult to develop for most of us. This means scheduling at least 20 minutes to work them intensely—giving yourself time for the same high-intensity training you’d devote to any other body part.
A lot of top bodybuilders have come to understand this, and many do their large-muscle training in one workout and then return to the gym later in the day to focus on calves, abs, and forearms. That way, they can devote full intensity to these important areas of the body without being handicapped by the fatigue generated from heavy compound exercises.
When it comes to repetitions, forearms respond to relatively high numbers of reps per set. Your forearms will grow by doing sets of 20, and you probably shouldn’t do fewer than 12. Also, I’ve always liked to get a total forearm pump by alternating exercises of wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Doing this brings a terrific amount of blood to the area and pumps your forearms until they feel like they’re going to explode.
If you haven’t trained forearms in the past, you’ll have to experiment to see which set-and-rep scheme, as well as what exercise variations, work best for you. Forearm training involves hitting these muscles with a great deal of intensity and doing the volume of sets and reps necessary. Don’t be afraid of a little pain; cram lactic acid and blood into those forearms every time you work them, and they’ll have no choice but to grow.