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Secret revealed: Most pro bodybuilders spend little, if any, time training forearms. It seems the freakier the forearms, the fewer wrist curls an elite bodybuilder has performed. Some pros who have hams hanging from their elbows claim they never do direct forearm training. For them, merely holding onto a bar to perform curls and other lifts is enough to prompt forearm growth. Likewise, some people inherit millions; the rest of us have to work.
As a hardgainer, you weren’t blessed with the genetics of Lee Priest, Tom Prince or any other mesomorph with seemingly self-inflating Popeye appendages. You probably don’t have long forearm muscles and thick wrists, so you can’t neglect your lower arms. Simply willing them to grow won’t work. In fact, the harder you struggle to gain mass, the more you should focus on your forearms. That is why training this area is an integral part of the HUGE program.
A lucky few can get away with neglecting their lower arms, but that doesn’t explain why so many average bodybuilders do the same. The simple answer is they think forearms just don’t matter much. Flashier areas, such as deltoids and biceps, garner more gawks at the beach or the mall; bigger areas, especially back, thighs and chest, are where you can really pack on pounds.
Furthermore, some trainers are told (often by that rare breed genetically blessed with formidable forearms) that lower arms are of no consequence in bodybuilding contests. Sometimes, it is even said that growing them too big could be an upper-arm distraction. To put it politely, this is a load of bunk. Here are five reasons why forearms matter.
1. Forearms are not small
Measure from your armpit to your elbow and your elbow to your hand and you’ll see that your lower arm is at least as long and probably a little longer than your upper arm. Some people are blessed with lengthy muscles that fill up most of their lower arms; others have shorter muscles with long tendons.
Regardless, think of your lower arms in relation to your upper arms and deltoids (two rarely neglected bodyparts) and you’ll realize that forearms are not so small after all.
2. Forearms are more visible than other muscles
Unless you wear long shirtsleeves all the time, your forearms (and your neck) are on display. Frequently, forearms are the primary barometers of strength and muscle size. For anyone who competes in bodybuilding shows, lower arms are visible in every standard pose.
3. Forearms enhance upper arms
Contrary to what some “experts” claim, forearms will add to, not subtract from, your overall “gun” impressiveness. Forearms in balance with biceps and triceps give arms powerful completeness. Many champs, such as Lee Haney, actually overdevelop their lower arms to counterbalance upper-arm deficiencies, deducing correctly that forearm mass fills in the gaps in poses such as front double biceps.
4. Gripping strength is crucial
Forearms are among the most practical bodyparts. You use their flexors and extensors virtually every time you hold anything, from a screwdriver to a golf club. In the gym, grip strength is frequently the weak link in an exercise, especially in back and biceps training.
5. All bodyparts matter
We discuss this further in the “HUGE Building Block” sidebar, but your goal as a bodybuilder should be the development of all areas. A physique with all bodyparts in balance looks both better and bigger.
Anatomically, forearms are deceptively complex. Each is composed of a bundle of small muscles that move the palms and fingers through all possible positions: fist clenching, fist opening, palm pulled backward, palm pushed forward, etc. However, for all the complexity of these muscles, the fundamental exercises used to train them could not be simpler and most move the hands through an arc of only inches. Wrist curls stress flexors on the palmar side; reverse wrist curls stress extensors on the opposite side.
That brings us to another reason why forearms are so frequently neglected: Since forearm training is thought to be limited, it can also be considered boring. Our program emphasizes barbell reverse wrist curls and wrist curls because these are the basic exercises that so many bodybuilders neglect. However, they can be performed standing with arms down and holding the barbell either in front of or behind you. Both movements can be done with dumbbells (unilaterally or bilaterally) or with a low cable and handle. With dumbbells, they can be performed hammer style, with your thumbs toward the ceiling and pinkies facing the floor.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to performing barbell reverse wrist curls and barbell wrist curls (as outlined in the “HUGE Forearms Routine” chart), try occasionally using a cable or dumbbells for variety.
Many bodybuilders use reverse curls (which also involve the biceps) to work the brachioradialis muscles of the forearms. There are many variations of reverse curls, including barbell, dumbbell, cable, hammer and Zottman.
The point is that there are more ways to work forearms than most bodybuilders know. Forearm training doesn’t have to be the same old same old, and the less boring it is for you, the more effective it probably is for your lower arms.
QUICK GUIDE TO THE FOREARM EXERCISES
Barbell reverse wrist curls These work the wrist extensors on the top of the forearms. Sit on a bench and rest a barbell on the end of the bench or on your knees. Keep your arms braced because only your wrists should move. Grasping the barbell with an overhand grip, drop your wrists as far forward as possible and then raise them as much as possible. The movement is short, so don’t make it any shorter; use a weight light enough to allow a full stretch and contraction during each rep. Perform each rep slowly to keep constant tension on the extensors.
Barbell wrist curls These work the wrist flexors – the meat of the underside of the forearms. Basically, the setup and execution are the same as for reverse wrist curls, except for the grip, which is underhand. Keep your thumbs under the bar and your fingers wrapped around it. Again moving only the wrists, achieve a full stretch and contraction during each rep.
HUGE TWIST: HIGH REPS
Do high reps (20-50) on occasion to shock complacent forearms. If not overused, high reps are especially effective when training forearms, as well as calves, because these areas are built to respond to endurance work.
HUGE Building Block: Train Everything
One of the basic tenets of the HUGE program is to work all bodyparts, including such frequently neglected areas as lower back, abdominals and forearms. Balanced overall development should be the goal of every bodybuilder, regardless of training level.
The main reason, other than laziness, that hardgainers neglect “smaller” muscle groups is to focus on bigger or flashier bodyparts. This is faulty reasoning. Unless you grow everything, imbalances will only be greater and harder to correct in the future. Furthermore, growing your forearms, for example, is not going to hamper the rate at which your quads swell. It’s not an either/or proposition. You want to expand all your muscles (except obliques), and the only way to do this is to properly train, rest and nourish all your muscles. Working everything is the surest and fastest way to maintain a balanced physique and to maximize overall muscle-mass gains.