Top 5 Forearm Training Mistakes

Incomplete – that’s the average score bodybuilders earn for forearm workouts. Most trainers don’t work them at all; others throw in only a couple halfhearted sets of wrist curls. And yet, the forearms are the most visible muscle group, supplying ready evidence of iron-willed toil. They’re also among the largest, because if we count the muscles from hand to elbow, the tally is 20. Follow our lessons to turn these 20 into automatic attention grabbers, and raise your forearm “incomplete” to an A+. Class is in session.

MISTAKE #1: TRAINING NEGLECT

EXPLANATION

The majority of bodybuilders don’t do direct forearm work, whereas many others do four or fewer sets of wrist curls. No segment of the iron game neglects forearms more than the very champions we feature in these pages. And therein lies a problem — you’re not a pro bodybuilder. Phil Heath’s DNA allows him to grow two of the world’s best lower arms by merely gripping bars during upper-body exercises. You’re not so lucky. The assertion that you’ll get enough forearm stimulation by simply training everything else often holds true for Mr. O competitors, but rarely does so for the rest of us.

SOLUTIONS

  • Train forearms as regularly as you train biceps. Generally, the ideal time to work lower arms is after biceps at the end of a workout.
  • If forearms are a weakness or your intensity lags when targeting them, try slotting them into a workout when they won’t be pre-exhausted. For example, after quads or chest.
  • Do 6-12 sets and work the flexors (wrist curls), extensors (reverse wrist curls) and brachioradialis (reverse curls).

 

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MISTAKE #2: NEGLECTING GRIP STRENGTH

EXPLANATION

Regardless of your forearm size, many trainers suffer from a weak grip, hindering their performance in pulling exercises, such as deadlifts and rows. We recommend you use wrist straps on back day to make sure that your hands don’t give out before the targeted muscles, but you may not want to always rely on such aids. You’re  only as strong as your weakest link, and frequently the link that breaks first is the one closest to the weights.

SOLUTIONS

  • Unless you’re training for competitive powerlifting (where wrist straps are prohibited), always use straps for your back exercises. Focus on back in your back routine. Focus on gripping in another routine, which should be last in whatever workout you schedule it or separate from other workouts.
  • There are several devices for helping you get a grip. Your gym may have a plate-loaded gripper. If not, you can buy spring grippers, which allow you to progressively increase  resistance. Check out Heavy Grips (heavygrips.com).
  • To target your hands and forearms together, let your fingers uncurl at the stretch position of wrist curls so that the bar rolls out of your palm and down into the crook of your fingers. Then curl your fingers up to return the bar to your palm, and bring your hand up to complete the rep.

 

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MISTAKE #3: INSUFFICIENT EXERCISE VARIETY

EXPLANATION

The only equipment most trainers use during a forearm workout is a barbell. It’s our favorite tool, too, but you need to have others in your tool box. Imagine if you only did various types of barbell presses for your chest, workout after workout, year after year. As great as bilateral pressing is, you’d miss out on the muscle stimulation of exercises done with dumbbells, cables and specialized machines. And so it is for forearms.

SOLUTIONS

  • Do some sets unilaterally with a dumbbell. You can do both wrist curls and reverse wrist curls this way, and you can also employ a thumbs-up and pinkie-down grip for a handshaking movement that will stress your lower arms from a unique angle.
  • Do some sets of wrist and reverse wrist curls bilaterally with a short handle and low cable, resting your forearms on a bench.
  • If your gym has a wrist-rolling machine, use it. If not, you can duplicate the movement with a weight, rope and handle. Attach the weight plate to a handle or short stick via a rope. Then roll the weight up (collecting the rope) and down (letting the rope out).

 

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MISTAKE #4: LITTLE EMPHASIS ON STRETCHING AND CONTRACTING

EXPLANATION

A wrist curl is a short movement, but most trainers shorten it even further by doing quick reps that only hit the midrange, skipping the stretches and contractions. Many reverse-wrist-curl reps are not even half reps and are focused entirely on the middle of the movement.

SOLUTIONS

  • Lighten the weight to ensure that you can hit your rep target with full moves from maximum stretch to maximum contraction. Reverse-wrist-curl weights are not going to impress anyone, so lose your ego and grab a bar that you can move through a full range of motion at least eight times — even if the bar is empty.
  • Thoroughly stretch out your forearms between sets and after your routine, bending your hands as far forward and backward as possible.
  • Wrist curls done standing with the barbell either in front of or behind your body place more emphasis on contractions.
  • You can do wrist curls and reverse wrist curls while resting your forearms on a bench at either a slight incline or a slight decline to enhance the stretch (incline) or contraction (decline).

 

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MISTAKE #5: INSUFFICIENT REP VARIETY

EXPLANATION

Most bodybuilders stick to the mid- to high-rep level for forearms, doing sets of 10-15 reps. This is the sweet spot, but it’s not the only spot. Like calves, forearms are used to a lot of low-intensity drudgery throughout each day, and are therefore very adaptive.  To keep them growing, keep them off balance with a variety of rep schemes. 

SOLUTIONS

  • On occasion, do as few as 6 and as many as 100 reps. Three to four sets of 20-25 reps of both wrist curls and reverse wrist curls is a particularly effective higher-rep scheme.
  • To boost intensity, superset wrist curls with reverse wrist curls. To do so without breaking, perform the wrist curls while standing and holding the bar in front of your body with palms facing your legs so that you can transition immediately into reverse curls without altering your grip.

 

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 LESSONS LEARNED 

✔ Train forearms with 6-12 sets as regularly as other bodyparts.

✔ If grip strength is a concern, do grip-specifi c exercises in a separate routine.

✔ Use dumbbells, cables and machines on occasion.

✔ Emphasize the stretch and contraction during each rep.

✔ Vary your rep ranges and include supersets to up the intensity.

 FLEX