How to Build Bigger Forearms

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

how to build bigger forearmsAside from your neck, the muscles that get exposed to the world more than any other are your forearms. So it’s a probably a good idea for them to be jacked, or least look halfway decent.

A lot of guys with average to above average genetics will never need to do any direct forearm work and their forearms will grow just fine from presses and pulls. The rest of us won’t be so lucky.

It’s funny because the common message preached to skinny hardgainers is to forget isolation training and only focus on compound lifts. This is true at the beginning, but after training for many years isolation work for small bodyparts like the neck, forearms and calves actually becomes more important to the hardgainer than it does to everyone else. Genetically average little dudes with tiny joints will never build up those the forearms and calves to any appreciable size with training them directly and with quite a lot of volume.

Over the course of many years I went from 147 pounds to 231 pounds yet my calves and forearms showed less progress than any other part of my body. I’ve seen this time and time again over the years. It wasn’t until I started hammer my forearms hard and with high volume and frequency that they actually got anywhere above the size of a teenage girls.

And that’s the first rule of building bigger forearms… That the forearms can tolerate and will need a lot of work to show dramatic improvements.

Train them three to four days per week for anywhere from 4-10 sets per day. If you do three full body workouts per week include them at the end of each workout. If you do an upper/lower split four days per week, again hit them every day.

I recommend breaking forearm training down into the following components:

Wrist Flexion and Extension
These are wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Do 3-4 sets in each direction for 10-20 reps. My favorites are:
•    Behind the Back Barbell Wrist Curls
•    Dumbbell Wrist Curls
•    EZ Bar Reverse Wrist Curl
•    1 Arm Dumbbell Reverse Wrist Curl (with arm straight and supported on an incline bench so that your wrist is higher than your shoulder)

Radial and Ulnar Deviation
Think of an air traffic controller holding batons and waving the plane in, but without bending his elbows or allowing any movement at the shoulder. So basically all that’s happening is your thumb is moving back toward you. That’s radial deviation. The opposite motion is ulnar deviation. The easiest way to train this is with a sledgehammer. Simply hold one at your side with your elbow locked and cock your wrist up. Hold it for a second or two at the top and repeat for 10-20 reps, then do the other arm. After completing a set in that direction spin the sledgehammer around so that the head of it is now behind your body instead of in front and flex in the opposite direction so that your pinky comes toward your forearm (ulnar deviation). Repeat for 10-20 reps. Three to four sets will be a good starting point.

Supination and Pronation
Again you will use the sledgehammer for this. Sit down on a bench with you palm facing up, forearm resting on your quad and a sledgehammer in your hand. Simply rotate your wrist 180 degrees so that your palm is now facing down. Then reverse the motion and go back the other way. Three to four sets of 10-20 reps in each direction will do the job. This can also be done on an adjustable cable column. Start by attaching a rope to the pulley, setting it slightly higher than belly button height and standing with your side to it. Now bend your arm 90 degrees and grab one end of the rope attachment with your palm facing up like the midrange position of a curl. Now simply turn your palm over so that’s facing the ground. Repeat for 10-20 reps, do the other arm and the repeat by starting with your palm facing down and supinating in the opposite direction.

Static Holds
For these you can use a fat bar or Fat Gripz placed on a regular bar. Simply hold the weights for 30-60 seconds while trying to crush the bar. Do three to four sets with a minute in between, or 15-30 seconds if you’re alternating it with something like neck or calves.

If you do crushing grip work it’s usually a good idea from an elbow health standpoint to do something in the opposite direction. I recommend getting some Expand Your Hands Bands from Ironmind and doing timed sets of 30-60 seconds for as many reps as possible. However long you go on the holds, do the same with the bands.

Wrist Rollers
Wrist roller work is awesome for building bigger forearms, especially if your wrist roller has a thick diameter. I like to do these for reps instead of time as well. Three to four sets of 30-60 seconds in each direction will give you a massive pump and spark some nice growth in the forearms.

Fat Grip Work
For some people just doing curls with Fat Gripz will be enough to build bigger forearms. Hardgainers will need to do direct work as I mentioned above. However, I still think using the Fat Gripz is a good idea and should be part of your forearm building program.

So, not counting the fat grip work I listed five different ways that you should be training your forearms. Pick one each day you train and stick with it for a month. Then rotate and use some of the other methods.

Another option would be to just rotate through each of them like this:

Week 1
Day 1- Wrist Flexion and Extension
Day 2- Radial and Ulnar Deviation
Day 3- Wrist Roller
Day 4- Supination and Pronation

Week 2
Day 1- Static Holds
Day 2- Wrist Flexion and Extension
Day 3- Radial and Ulnar Deviation
Day 4- Wrist Roller

If you train three days adjust accordingly. Or just hit a separate forearm session before or after your day four conditioning workout.

As always, strive to get stronger and do more weight or more reps over time.

And stretch the hell out of your forearms when they are fully pumped after your final set for the day.

One word of caution regarding direct forearm work, though…

The forearm muscles may be able to tolerate an inordinate amount of work. The wrist joint, however, can not.

Joint stress is a major limiting factor in training volume from head to toe and the forearms are no different. So ease your way into forearm training very slowly and build up the volume gradually over many weeks and months. Hit them hard for 4-8 weeks then back off and do no direct forearm work for the next 1-3 weeks. That approach should help you pack on size while avoiding wrist problems.

If you have any other questions about how to build bigger forearms please let me know in the comments section below.

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29 Responses to How to Build Bigger Forearms

  1. Stephane May 30, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I’ve always found big forearms to be one of the most impressive physical traits someone can possess.

    I’m personally a huge fan of Rope Climbing for developing Popeye sized forearms!

    Great post as usual Jason!

  2. Mateusz May 30, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Good post bro. I’m expecting my FatGripz to arrive on Friday. Hope these are as good as they say.

  3. Gary Deagle May 30, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    I have always found wrist curls and such to be pretty boring, but the static hold stuff I love. Farmers walks and fat grip stuff I get a lot of benefit from so I have been able to get some decent forearms without the wrist curls.

  4. John May 30, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Nice stuff as usual Jay! A bit shocking for us hardgainers to read that we will have to do wrist curls in the future. My wrists are 6″ in circumference and i’m 5’6″ tall and a typical hardgainer. Can you please tell me some benefits of being a hardgainer? For motivation you know.

  5. Geo May 30, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Hey Jay,

    I am surprised to hear that you can hit the forearms so often, after each workout. So no danger of overtraining there? Is that because they participate in virtually every upper body movement (and not only when working out, but arm movement in general)?

  6. Marc May 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    It seems like it would be hard to get four to ten sets of just forearm work in with a full upper or lower body day in < forty five minutes … can this be performed AFTER forty five minute workout?

  7. Brian May 31, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    I’m confused jason were told not to train like body builders, don’t do splits,don’t do isolation instead do total body workouts with compounds only because thats the best way to build muscle and now isolation work is being advocated. I wish there was not so much contradiction but as usual it’s a good post jason

    • Ahmad Al Sawad May 31, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Brian, As Jason said, the isolation training is necessary after a couple of years of training… Anyway, take this free info: Any muscle in your body will not grow until you hit it with both compound and isolated exercises :-)

  8. Jeremy Priestner | Art of Lifting May 31, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    My favorite exercise for forearm size and strength is the fat grip pullup. I don’t own the actual fat gripz,so I typically just jump up and grab a fat tree branch in my yard. The bark can be a little rough on my hands, but I’ve learned to toughen up ;)

  9. Brandon Cook May 31, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    The hardgainers luck out again! {end sarcasm}…. Good to know though. I’ll have to start adding in some neck and forearm training at the end of each workout. Although, sometimes my forearms get a little tight already… probably from the heavy bag work too. I’ll start out slow with this.

  10. Jason - Fitness Workouts May 31, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    I have to say this is one area I never worked. But you are right, it is a body part people see a lot and you know that a jacked set of forearms is attached to a jacked guy.

    One question. Doing lots of direct work on the forearms will you risk getting carpal tunnel problems?

  11. Robbie May 31, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    Great article here Jay, as always. Another great forearm builder? Wheelbarrowing gravel and hauling stones for landscaping M-F for 8-9 hours haha my forearms never felt so sore!

  12. Ahmad Al Sawad May 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Fat Gripz cause me a pain in my wrist joint?! I used them for 2 days and I stopped! Normal bar doesn’t do this to me?!

  13. Gino Garcia May 31, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    If you want bigger, stronger forearms, you cant go wrong with handstand work either. I did reverse curls and wrist curls and they hit my flexors, but a mix of these exercises with static handstand work and handstand push ups made my forearms EXPLODE.

  14. BJN June 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I do all my lifting without wraps and my grip has increased a lot as well as my forearm development but I can tell I need to do some more exercises specific to the forearms.

  15. Stavros June 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Great article Jason !

    I want to ask a question: i train biceps twice a week, what if i put forearm workout right after the end of my biceps workout, will they still grow ?

  16. Luke H June 3, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Thanks for the article. To be honest my forearms just aren’t up to scratch and it affects my dead-lifts grrr I will have to give above a try. I won’t be using the fat gripz thou as it is very hard to hold any decent weight with those things. I hope that doesn’t sound whiny!

    • E.J. June 3, 2011 at 6:27 am #

      @Luke H:
      Luke you do have to check your ego at the door when you first start using Fat Gripz & using reduced weights. You will find if you stay consistent with them that your grip strength will improve pretty quickly. I have been using them since the first of the year & my grip strength has improved & my forearms have grown. I use them on my warm-up sets & then up to as much weight as I can handle. For example if use them when doing bent rows I wil do something like:

      Set 1 w/ Fat Gripz: 90 x 5
      Set 2 w/ Fat Gripz: 120 x 5
      Set 3 w/ Fat Gripz: 130 x 5
      Sets 4 – 6 no Fat Gripz: 175 x 5

      With Deadlifts I will use them up to 250 lbs then remove them when I go over 300 lbs. I always use them on my EZ-Curl bar, I currently do 4 sets of 90 x 8 on Curls.

      I say stay consistent with them, use less weight to start, work up to the best weight you can handle then remove for your heavier working sets.

  17. Jocko June 3, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    What about three total body workouts and one isolation workout pr week? Would that be a good idea?

  18. Matt June 8, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Great article I need to work in some more grip work, among other things. Putting together a whole new program now that my goals and environment have changed not being in the Army anymore.

  19. Craig L. June 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    I am fairly muscular with low body fat, but the two areas that are lacking are my calves and forearms. I never really thought to train my forearms during every workout because I figured they were getting enough stimulation from my various compound lifts.

    Not sure if I will be able to fit a full 10 forearm sets per day, but I can definitely do 4 or 5 and see how it goes. Thanks for the tip!

  20. gary glitter September 22, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Just having a tug regularly builds my forearms nicely.

  21. Alex March 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Would it be ok to train them on off days ? i like to keep my workouts under 45 minutes and they are allready full..

  22. aidan June 2, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    i find that excessive masturbation,no jokes, build forearms massively. My brother used to do it alot, and his right forearm was double the size of his left, now he alternates between hands and his forearms are huge

  23. shankar September 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Can we do forearm exercise after we done any back work outs such as shoulder,lat???can we do forearm work out after biceps works out???Please teach me

  24. James Taylor October 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    I second the closing comment about wrists. Fucked up both of mine going too hard on Captain’s of Crush grippers and The Formulator wrist curls (working a manual job at the time and spent most of my free time playing bass guitar). Hands were almost entirely out of action for a year! Did finally recover (strength on grippers still isn’t up to par; was mm’s from closing the COC #3), but that year was hell…

  25. Thumper December 7, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    First. thank you for the article already. I am a college student and researcher in the ftness field. I have just learned about the deviations and the supination and pronator muscles. My question is where would I add forearms in to my workouts. I was planning to break into the split below. I only guessed on where to put forearms. Where would you recommend it, or should I change my split?

    Chest/Triceps + Cardio
    Back/Biceps + Cardio
    Legs + Cardio and forearms
    Shoulders +Cardio
    Abs + Cardio and forearms

  26. Tigger February 14, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    After years or crappy forearm development, I decided to find a more pleasurable way to develop them. I did 10 sets of masturbation per day for 2 months straight (alternating hands).
    My forearms are now like Popeyes.
    Only thing is I am now partially sighted, does anyone know any excercises for building up your retinas?

  27. Brandon September 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

    Air traffic controllers are not the people on the ground waving flags. We are in the control tower.