big forearms

There are two muscle groups on the body that are particularly reliant on the luck of the “muscle building genetics lottery”…

The first are the calves. The second are the forearms.

In other words, if you aren’t naturally muscular in these areas and if they don’t seem to respond well to training from the get go, it will usually require a decent amount of patience and consistency before you’re able to make significant gains there.

It certainly doesn’t mean you can’t build impressively muscular calves and forearms; it just means that it’ll likely be a longer road in comparison to your other muscle groups.

build forearm mass

I already went into detail about effective calf training in a previous post (along with sample calf workouts for maximizing size gains), and today I’ll be discussing how to build your forearms as effectively as possible by going over the very best forearm exercises for mass along with a structured forearm workout that you can utilize if you’d like to give these muscles specific attention.

The forearms are basically made up of two main groups of muscles: the wrist flexors (the muscles that run along the underside of the forearm) and the wrist extensors (the muscles that run along the top of the forearm).

wrist flexors and extensors

In order to build impressive forearm muscles that really stand out, these are the two areas you’ll need to hypertrophy.

Since the primary function of these muscles is to flex and extend the wrist, it would seem to make sense that the best way to go about training them would be to perform basic wrist curls and wrist extensions using a barbell, dumbbell or cables.

Wrist curls and wrist extensions are easily the most popular forearm exercises out there, and these are the two movements that most lifters looking to build bigger forearms place the majority of their focus on.

However, here’s the reality…

Not only are wrist curls and wrist extensions NOT the most effective way to build forearm muscle, but they’re also potentially dangerous as well.

wrist curls and extensions

See, the wrist flexors and wrist extensors are a very strong set of muscles, but when performing wrist curls and wrist extensions, it is actually the wrist joint that becomes the limiting factor in the exercise.

This is because the wrist joint is actually very weak in comparison to the muscles of the forearm, and the human body is simply not designed to lift heavy amounts of weight through the functions of wrist flexion and extension.

Not only do you end up providing less-than-maximal stress to the actual muscles of the forearm when performing these exercises, but you also end up putting your wrists into a dangerous position that increases the chances of injury, both to the actual joint and to the surrounding nerves.

If you’ve ever performed heavy wrist curls or extensions over any reasonable length of time then you may have experienced this firsthand.

So, what is the best way to train the wrist flexors and extensors in order to build forearm mass and strength as effectively as possible?

Well, you would need an exercise that doesn’t involve flexion and extension of the wrist joint and that allows you to directly train your forearm flexors and extensors all the way to true muscular failure in a safe manner.

In other words, the best way to build forearm mass and strength is through the use of gripping exercises.

static holds

Gripping exercises take the wrist joint out of the equation and allow you to fully overload the wrist flexors and extensors with the maximum amount of weight they can truly handle.

There’s no need to get fancy or complicated here, and all it takes is a few basic movements to get the very best forearm building results possible.

Here are 4 excellent forearm exercises for overall mass and strength that you can make use of along with the other arm exercises in your overall routine…

Forearm Exercise #1: Standard Weight Training Exercises

thick forearms

This might seem obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind that your forearms are already being heavily worked and are receiving a lot of stimulation on ANY exercise you perform in the gym that involves holding onto a heavy weight.

This is especially true of exercises where you must grip the bar especially tightly in order to prevent it from slipping out of your hands, such as deadlifts, shrugs, bent over rows, pullups, lat pulldowns etc.

Even if you never perform any direct forearm work at all, you’ll still be effectively building these muscles up over time as you become progressively stronger on all of your basic lifts and are forced to hold onto heavier and heavier weights.

You can also increase the stimulation on your forearms even further by actively making it a point to squeeze the bar, dumbbell or cable with extra force on each set.

So, keeping in mind that you’ll already be building forearm muscle just through your regular weight training routine on its own, here are 3 direct forearm exercises for mass that you can include in your program if this is an area of concern for you…

Forearm Exercise #2: Farmer’s Walks

farmers walks

This is an extremely simple exercise but is an awesome way to build up your forearm muscles and develop better grip strength as well.

To properly execute these, just pick up a pair of heavy dumbbells, grip them as tightly as you can, and then with your back straight, chest up and shoulders back, walk at a moderate pace until your grip gives out and you’re forced to let go.

There’s no one “perfect” distance to walk for these, but anywhere between 30-60 metres will work well.

Forearm Exercise #3: Pull-Up Bar Holds

forearm exercise - pull up bar holds

Just like farmer’s walks, these are also very simple to perform but are a great way to train the forearms safely and effectively.

As the name implies, all you’re going to do here is grab a pull up bar as tightly as you can using either an overhand or neutral grip (you can also utilize varying grip widths to hit your forearms from different angles) , and then hang from the bar for as long as possible until your grip gives out.

You’ll obviously be shooting for time here, and anywhere from 30-60 seconds is a good target to aim for.

If you’re able to hold your body weight for longer than a full 60 seconds then you’ll want to add resistance using a dumbbell or weight plate.

Make sure to treat farmer’s walks and pull up bar holds just like you would any other exercise by training for progressive overload and constantly striving for improvement. Write down the weight you used, how far you walked/how long you held on for, and then aim to increase those numbers over time.

You can also optionally mix things up by varying the thickness of the bars that you’re gripping. For example, you could use a set of Fat Gripz to make the dumbbells or pull-up bar thicker and harder to hang onto, or just wrap something around them to get the same effect.

Forearm Exercise #4: Hand Grippers

hand grippers

Although I would consider these as an optional add-on, the use of hand grippers is also an effective way to place significant tension on the forearms in a safe way without the wrist joint becoming a limiting factor.

The only downside here is that it can become a bit pricey since you’ll need to purchase an entire set of grippers to allow you to continually increase the resistance as you become stronger and stronger.

If forearm and grip training is of particular importance to you and you have the extra money, some work with grippers can also be included along with your farmer’s walks and/or pull up bar holds. Two of the more popular hand gripper brands out there are Heavy Grips and Captain Of Crush Grippers.

Or, if you don’t want to purchase actual hand grippers but would like to simulate the same basic movement using freeweights, here’s a great option for you…

Hand Gripper Freeweight Variation:

freeweight hand gripper exercise

1) Grab a barbell and hold it behind your back with your palms facing away from you.

2) Allow the barbell to slowly roll down your hands and onto the tips of your fingers.

3) Squeeze the bar back up with your fingers until it comes into contact with your palms, just like you would with a regular hand gripper. Make sure to NOT flex your wrists as you squeeze the weights back up (use the strength from your fingers only), otherwise you’re simply turning it into a wrist curl.

You can perform these for sets of anywhere from 8-12 reps and focus on progressive overload just like you would with any other exercise.

Putting It All Together: Complete Forearm Workout For Mass

forearm workout for mass

There is no one absolute “perfect” way to combine these forearm exercises together into a complete workout, but if your forearms are a lagging muscle group that you want to build as quickly as possible, here’s a simple and effective way to go about it…

Farmer’s Walks: 1-2 sets of 30-60 metres
Pull-Up Bar Holds: 1-2 sets of 30-60 seconds
Hand Gripper Squeezes or Freeweight Variation: 1-2 sets of 8-12 reps

Perform this forearm routine twice per week at the very end of your workouts after all of your other exercises are done.

Although building thick, muscular forearms takes time and patience no matter what you do, including this forearm workout in your plan on a consistent basis is a good way to speed up the process.

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