Build Massive Forearms and Herculean Grip Strength
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
For many lifters, the forearms can be one of the most stubborn muscle groups, oftentimes requiring a detailed plan of attack to induce any significant improvements. When it comes to maximizing their development, I suggest emphasizing all 3 forms of grip strength (support, crushing and pinching) along with a number of forearm isolation movements.
With that said, I like to include 5 exercise categories for maximizing forearm development. This includes 1) heavy compound support gripping movements, 2) grip isolation drills, 3) bottoms up exercises, 4) forearm isolation drills, and 5) forearm-dominant bicep work. Here’s breakdown of each along with a variety of exercise options.
1. Heavy Compound Movements With Support Grip Emphasis
If you could only choose one category of movements to build forearm strength it would be heavy compound movements that emphasize support grip strength. This includes overhand grip deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, Reeves deadlifts, weighted pullups, heavy rows, single arm dead hang holds, heavy shrugs, and farmers walks. These would obviously be performed without the assistance of wrist straps. Here's an example of Reeves trap bar exercises which not only crush the upper back and lower body but also annihilate the forearms and grip.
2. Crushing and Pinching Grip Movements
The second category involves crushing and pinching grip dominant movements. This includes fat grip exercises, plate pinching drills, towel pullups, ledge/mountain climbing pullups, rope climbing, rope pulling, and dumbbell pinching exercises with hex dumbbells.
Here’s one of my awesome clients Ben Lai demonstrating a brutally effective grip and forearm exercise as he performs the ledge pullup lateral shuffle. This can be performed on any ledge, step, or climbing piece that keeps the lifter from being able to fully grip the surface with their entire hand.
Besides obliterating the forearms, grip, fingers, and hands, this drill crushes the back, lats, biceps, core, and shoulder stabilizers. It’s also great for eliminating asymmetries as each side will be forced to work equally as you shuffle from one end of the station to the other. If it’s still too easy, try performing it with chains attached to your upper back as Ben shows here.
Another one of my go-to exercises that’s incredibly effective for crushing the forearms and grip is the bumper plate pinch jump. It’s one thing to hold plates or perform dumbbell pinching drills for a prolonged period of time as that builds up significant metabolic stress and mechanical tension. However, the forearms also need some form of muscle damage via eccentric overload.
Jumping and landing while pinching plates or dumbbells provides a quick eccentric jolt and deceleration force similar to a plyometric ultimately waking up high threshold motor units and fast twitch survival muscles in the grip and forearms that normally would not be activated. Here are two of my NFL athletes showing how it’s done. As an added bonus it also improves jumping and landing mechanics as it teaches high levels of full body tension and motor control.
3. Bottoms-Up Movements
The third category I include for building forearms is bottoms up movements. Few exercises obliterate the forearms, hands, fingers, and grip muscles to the extent that bottoms-up exercises do. That’s because you’ll be required to activate every muscle in the hands and forearms to stabilize an unstable kettlebell or plate. Bottoms up exercises also teach grip stability and motor control in the fingers, wrists, and hands which pays dividends when it comes to long term development of the forearms.
4. Forearm Isolation Work
The fourth category is direct forearm isolation training. This includes wrist curl variations, wrist roller drills, and leverage based forearm drills with a sledgehammer or mace. While these drills typically involve little else but the actual forearm and grip muscles, few exercises will directly target the flexor and extensor muscles to the same degree. In terms of training economy, these probably aren’t ideal if you’re only able to make it to the gym once or twice per week. However if maximal forearm development is the goal you’ll want to include both extension and flexion based forearm isolation movements in your training. Basic sledgehammer work is also exceptional for the forearms and grip not to mention the entire body and cardiovascular system. Here’s a variation that absolutely pummels the forearms and grip. Read more about sledgehammer training here.
5. Forearm-Dominant Biceps Exercises
Lastly, no forearm routine would be complete without including some form of bicep work that targets the brachioradialis muscle. This includes exercises such as hammer curls, reverse grip curls, Zottman curls, and bottoms up hammer curls as shown by bodybuilder Ben Lai.
In fact, when it comes to visual appearance, the brachioradialis is one of the most noticeable areas of the forearms particularly in a relaxed position. If you want to give the visual appearance of Popeye-like forearms these are critical for most individuals.
Here’s another great example of a brutal forearm exercise shown by MLB pro baseball player and all-star candidate Austin Meadows.
This one literally targets the wrists, biceps, grip, and arm strength as well as core stabilization, postural alignment, motor control, and shoulder stability. Simply hold kettlebells with a neutral hammer grip in the 90-deg position & walk in a smooth and controlled manner while simultaneously trying to keep perfect body alignment & gait mechanics.
This one is exponentially more demanding than it looks as you’ll literally feel every muscle from head to toe engaged as a means of teaching the lifter to eliminate energy leaks & stay tight with max full body tension. Lack of these will make it nearly impossible to keep the kettlebells from slipping. Besides blasting the grip, forearms, & core (due to the biomechanically disadvantageous leverage), this drill also does wonders for cleaning up posture, elbow/bicep injuries, & gait mechanics as it reinforces a neutral spine & near perfect alignment throughout the feet, ankles, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, & neck.
By consistently incorporating each of these 5 stimuli into your routine not only will you build an impressive pair of forearms but your improved grip strength will inevitably allow you to handle heavier loads on all compound movements thereby enhancing your overall strength and physical appearance.
Quick Note About Fat Grip Training
Fat grip exercises are some of the best movements for crushing the forearms, grips, and hands. Unfortunately most gyms don't have fat bars and unless you invest in a pair of fat grips it can be tricky to incorporate this form of training into your routine. However, the landmine station works exceptionally well for producing a similar if not the same effect as fat grip exercises particularly if you grip the collars as shown here by my awesome client Todd Weiland. Fat grip landmine exercises include rows, squats, deadlifts, jump squats, RDL's, lunges and more all while holding the collars of the barbell.
If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates at https://www.advancedhumanperformance.com/ahp-complete-series-template/