People can see a great physique no matter what you wear, but the muscles people see most are your forearms, calves, and neck. Here you’ll find the formula for putting the finishing touches on these show-off muscles: forearms that pop from the mere thought of twisting a bottle cap, a neck that stretches the rings of your T-shirts, and calves mistaken for cows.

It’s Not Just For Looks

In the gym, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so you can’t expect massive leg development or a huge squat without a solid set of calves. Likewise, you’re going to have a tough time developing rock hard pecs if you have weak hands and skinny forearms. And that barn-door shoulder width and V-taper we’re all after can’t possibly be attained with a pencil-thin neck as your foundation. These muscles need work, especially if you haven’t been hitting them directly, and the benefits of training the “ancillary” muscle groups are myriad. In fact, your body wants to maintain some level of equilibrium when it comes to size, so if you focus on these forgotten groups, your toil will result in quick gains in both strength and mass.

These muscles are relatively small, so in terms of weight room performance, they’re just links in a much longer chain. What you want, however, is for your neck, forearms, and calves to be up for Best Supporting Actor nominations—as opposed to playing forgettable bit parts that contribute little to your plot. It’s neither efficient nor effective to schedule a dedicated day for these character actors, though, so the idea is to elicit as much growth as possible from your main movements—followed by accessory exercises designed to maintain that momentum.

How it Works

Focusing on these areas will take some additional work, which means you’ll need time for extra exercises and longer workouts on certain days. For example, on one of your lower-body days, you’ll squat, then train your calves, and then train everything else. On back day, you’ll perform deadlifts with Grip4orce (rubber sleeves you’ll slide on the bar), followed by the rest of your forearm workout, then transition into whatever else you have planned for that day. Plan ahead, schedule your time accordingly, and use this template for the next eight weeks.

Neck Exercises

Your neck comprises seven cervical vertebrae—the top part of the bony column that leads down to your spine. Your cervical vertebrae are the smallest units in the column (think of each separate vertebra as being approximately the size of an Oreo Double Stuf cookie). They’re also among the most important, since each individual vertebra has considerable influence on a different basic human function—including sight, facial movement, and the use of your hands. Your cervical vertebrae are worth protecting and developing for reasons far more profound than a desire to stop popping your collar to hide your scrawny stack of dimes.

Because your cervical vertebrae are relatively fragile, the key to effective neck training is adherence to the less-is-more philosophy. You’ll incorporate your neck training into a lower-body or shoulder day once per week, avoiding working yourself to a point where you can’t look from side to side without turning your entire body.

Fat-Grip Shrug

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the grips with your hands just outside your thighs and shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Hold for a second at the top, then return to the start position and repeat. Using Grip4orce or a similar grip sleeve on the bar will give this exercise the dual benefit of hitting the forearms as well as the neck.

Chin-Back Good Morning

With a barbell on your shoulders, pull your chin back as far as you can to put your neck in a tight, anatomically correct cervical position. With your knees slightly bent and your lower back firm and straight, bend at the waist until your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor, then use your lower back and hamstrings to return to the start position.

Four-Way Neck Machine

If your gym has one of these, you’re fortunate. These units differ in terms of how your body is positioned, but make sure to work your neck from all four angles for an equal number of sets and reps. Don’t have access to this machine? Use a neck harness or simply do isometric holds by pressing your head against your hand.

Overhead Shrug

Grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider, and press it overhead. With your arms fully extended and your elbows locked out, shrug the bar up and down for reps.

Neck Workout

Perform on shoulder day.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Chin-Back Good Morning 3-5 5 90-seconds
Overhead Shrug 3 15 60-seconds
Fat-grip Shrug 5 25 60-seconds
Four-way Neck Machine* 3 20 (each) 60-seconds

* Substitute neck harness or isometric work.

Forearm Exercises

Your forearms let the world know you’ve put some serious time into developing your physique. A well-developed, vein-laden set of forearms demonstrates that you’ve either been lifting weights seriously or engaging in heavy manual labor on a regular basis for a long time. Either way, the rest of the room will know you’re not someone to mess with. There are myriad options for bringing your forearms up to speed. In this program, we’re advocating a significant amount of grip work through the use of Grip4orce grips. If you can’t get a set of these, use towels to simulate fat grips where your hands hold the barbell. For now, think of huge forearms and a crushing grip as partners. You can’t have one without the other.

Grip4orce Double Overhand Deadlift

With a loaded barbell on the floor, bend down and grasp the bar overhand-style with the grips placed just outside your feet. Bend your knees, drop your butt, and, keeping the bar as close to your body as possible, raise it in a straight line until you’re standing upright. Use the touch-and-go method between reps (don’t rest the bar on the floor) to increase your time under tension.

Grip4orce Reverse Grip Curl

Place the grips on a loaded barbell and hold them with an overhand grip, letting the bar hang straight down at your waist. Curl the bar in an arc as far as you can toward your face, hold at the top for a second, then slowly return to the start position.

Fat-Grip Extended Row

Lay a barbell across the spotter bars of a power rack or squat rack. Lie on your back with your feet elevated and hold the barbell with the grips, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body in a straight, rigid line, pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, hold for a second, then return to a dead hang position.

Plate Pinch

Hold as many 10-pound plates—stacked, smooth sides facing out—in each hand as you can for time. Using a bench will make it easier to pick up and put down the plates.

Forearm Workout

Perform on back day.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Double-overhand Deadlift 3-5 5 90-seconds
Reverse-grip Curl 3 25 60-seconds
Plate Pinch 3 ALAP* 60-seconds
Fat-grip Inverted Row 3 AMAP** 60-seconds

*As Long As Possible

**As Many As Possible

Calf Exercises

For both aesthetics and performance, there are two calf conditions you want to avoid like the plague: nankles and cankles. With nankles, you’ve got nothing. Your ankles and calves are simply one big bone attachment with no muscle anywhere. Cankles are even worse. This means your lower leg is just a giant, undefined tube of uniform circumference from your knees to your ankles. There’s no separation, and the only immediate solution is to throw on a baggy pair of pants. Quickly.

Take a look at the calves of any professional athlete—especially those of football players, sprinters, and boxers. Their calves ooze potential energy, literally blooming from the popliteal fossa (the back of the knee) down with every step, even when they’re just walking casually. This is what you want: for your calves to announce your athleticism. At any given moment they’ll say, you can run fast, jump high, and calf press tractor trailers.

Calve Raise James 1

Back Squat

With a barbell across your shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your upper body tight, your lower back rigid, and your head up, start your descent by pushing your hips back and downward. To fully engage your calves, perform a full Olympic squat— going well past parallel.

Walking Tiptoe Lunge

Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, take a long step forward, landing on the ball of your foot and keeping your heel up. Bend your front knee and descend until your back knee touches the ground, then push back up and repeat with your other leg.

Straight-Leg Jump Rope

Jump rope, but restrict the bend in your knees and bounce off the balls of your feet, using just your ankles and calves to move your body up and down.

Calf Workout

Perform on leg day.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Back Squat 5 8 120-seconds
Walking Tiptoe Lunge 3 8 (each) 90-seconds
Standing Calf Raise 3 15 60-seconds
Straight-leg Jump Rope 5 60 60-seconds