ARTICLE COURTESY OF LIAM TWEED
Massive Forearms Can Be Yours
by Bradley Steiner (1979)
There's certainly no denying that large upper arm muscles rate high in popularity among bodybuilders. This has always been the case, as far back as I can remember, and, judging from some of the routines being urged today as "guaranteed to build 20"-plus biceps," huge upper arms STILL promise to rank high on the lift of "must have" items on the agenda of the bodybuilder of the 21st century!
Still, even considering the importance attached to the biceps and triceps, it is impossible to overlook the enormously impressive appearance that powerful, large FOREARMS impart to their possessor! I am, I admit frankly, more impressed by a pair of rugged looking forearms and thick wrists than I am by over-bloated biceps.
Forearm muscles are PRACTICAL muscles. And I don't mean "practical" for impressing some idiot who gasps when he shakes a strong man's hand. I mean that well-developed forearms are - OF ALL THE MUSCLES IN THE ARM ASSEMBLY - the singularly most useful for practical, everyday needs. On the job, good forearm development makes work easier, and delays fatigue brought about by working with one's hands. At play, strong forearms often permit us to play a better game of tennis, maintain a better control in golf, etc. And, in an emergency, a hefty pair of strong forearms can be a formidable aid in self-defense. In climbing a rope, ladder, or scaling an obstacle, the forearms are brought more heavily into play than any of the arms' muscle groups. And tell truth: Don't you envy the guy who, in normal street attire, rolls up his sleeves nonchalantly and reveals massively bulging sinewy forearm development?
The Bone Structure Question
To start off I want to make it clear that your inherent bone structure will determine, to a degree, how much forearm and wrist development you can obtain. The most massively-impressive forearms can be attained, obviously, by those who start with the most favorable natural potential - the endomorphs and mesomorphs (big-boned and medium-boned people, respectively). Small-boned people (like myself) have the disadvantage of not being able to develop size that is actually "huge," yet still, these small-boned trainees can often LOOK huge, because even an slight, slight size increase shows up tremendously anywhere on the slender natural frame.
So, nobody can be a loser in this quest for forearm development. Only a few exceptional people can build forearms like clubs, but all of us can guild a good pair of forearms - with effort!
How the Forearms Work
The forearm muscles work when:
a) The wrists bend or turn
b) The fingers clench
c) The hands hold onto something
d) The arms support and lift.
Quite obviously, from the list above, you can see that the forearms come into play OFTEN, even when we are engaged in activities far removed from training.
The key to organizing an effective forearm specialization course is to duplicate an intense form of workload that forces the forearms to exert themselves in a manner conducive to their growth.
One particular myth that has build up around forearm development (and that I'd just as soon clear out of the way now) is the notion that forearms are an especially "troublesome" part of the body to develop, or are, in many cases, "the most difficult" body muscle to build. Nonsense. Forearm training, put simply, is TOUGH and PAINFUL. But if you do it, you'll build big forearms, and it will only be a short time until you do!
I am going to introduce you to a rather special piece of training equipment. It is easily made up from an ordinary dumbbell bar, and is called a "leverage bar" or "leverage bell." All this is is a dumbbell loaded with a moderate weight AT ONE END ONLY. When the free end is grasped and held, the weighted exerts a force of leverage against the grip retaining the bar, and thus the name "leverage" bar. There is probably no finer device in existence for developing all-round forearm size and power. And here I am taking into consideration the "wrist roller" device when I say this.
To make up a leverage bar simply remove the sleeve from one of your dumbbell bars and use two collars to lock a small (say 2.5 to 5 lb.) plate at one end. That's all you need to do! This leverage bar can, incidentally, be improvised by using a 15 inch length of strong broomstick and cementing a cement-filled tin can on one end. You'll never need a heavy weight in the exercise I'm going to teach you, so a homemade, improvised leverage bell of fixed-weight is just fine.
Here is a book chapter by David Willoughby on Leverage Bell Forearm Training:
Stand erect and hold the leverage bar at your side, arm straight down. Slowly raise the bar until it points directly forward. Hold it, feeling the force of gravity all the time. Now lift the bar to a position where it is pointing upward, all the time keeping your arm at your side, and using wrist and forearm strength alone. Lower the bar deliberately to the side, then repeat the sequence. I would suggest that this be done in the following set/rep scheme, every-other-day:
3 sets of 12 complete reps, each arm. The important thing, I caution you, is FORM. It matters not a bit how little weight is on the bar. In fact, for many new pupils, the bar alone might be enough, with even 1.25 lb. plates being too much resistance!
This is a leverage-resistance movement, please remember. That means that it HAS TO FEEL AWKWARD. That very "awkwardness" is what's making the exercise productive. It is imposing an unusual stress on the forearm muscles - one they'd not normally get.
One other excellent exercise:
Stand as you did before, holding the bar at one side. Now move the weighted end in a complete and deliberate circle using the strength of the supporting hand and forearm ONLY, until one full repetition - one way - is completed. Reverse the circle, and do a full movement in the opposite direction. Repeat. I suggest 3 sets of 12 circles (6 each way) per arm.
The wrist roller is a good forearm developer, but I don't think everyone can gain well from using it. Personally, I find it effective, but I recall instances where I placed people on a wrist roller schedule and the results were, to put it politely, marginal.
I suggest that, if you're interested in developing your forearms, you TRY the wrist roller, to see how well you respond to its use. You needn't buy one (though they're very inexpensive). You can make one from any short, thick, rounded length of wood by drilling a half-inch diameter hole through the center. Pass a two-foot length strong cord through the hole, knot one end, and presto . . . you've got a wrist roller! Tie a weight to the free end of the cord and you're ready to stand on a block or a bench and "roll" the weight up on the wooded support by turning both ends of the piece. When the weight reaches the top, "unroll" it, and roll it again when the rope is fully unwound. Again, some people gain on this and others don't. It's worth a try- that's for sure! I recommend the following as a good wrist roller routine:
Wind and unwind steadily for 10 minutes without a rest, using a moderate weight, and forcing the wrists and forearms to do all the real work. Do this every other day. NOT in conjunction with the leverage bar exercises.
Finally, WRIST CURLING with a light barbell rates very high as an excellent forearm builder. This exercise has not, to my knowledge, been known to fail in helping anyone who used it correctly, to build great forearms.
Hold a light barbell in your hands - palms up, as for curls - and sit down on a bench or stool, permitting the forearms to rest on the thighs, hands extended with the bar in their grasp. Permitting only the wrists to bend, lower the hands and raise them rapidly, while maintaining a tight, TIGHT grip on the bar. Speed it up! Don't count reps! Keep going! After a while your hands and fingers will burn unbearably. This is never harmful, so don't worry. Gradually, your wrists and fingers will seem to melt and fall apart. The bar will then drop to the floor. At that point (if you push that hard - and you should) you'll notice that your forearms grew about an inch! They'll feel so congested and tight that it may worry you. Well, stop worrying. Do another set instead. Same way.
Wrist curls can be done with palms facing down as well, if that style suits your fancy. In fact, I'm going to give you this variation in your program, which is to come shortly.
Whenever doing any exercise for the forearms always keep in mind that THE TIGHTER YOUR GRIP THE BAR, THE BETTER THE RESULTS WILL BE. You can increase the value of any forearm exercise you do simply by tightening your grip on the bar.
A Forearm Specialization Routine
Up to now I discussed the major and best forearm exercises, with recommendations on how to use them in the most efficient set/rep schemes. Now, let me outline two fundamental forearm routines, the first for a relative beginner, and the second for a rather advanced fellow. Remember these basic pointers regardless of which routine you employ:
1) Train three days a week. NO MORE.
2) Always work as STRICTLY as possible, and with as much concentration on correct movement as you can muster.
3) Do not train slowly - try to keep a forceful, rapid pace when training forearms.
4) Use a weight that is only as heavy as you can properly manage.
5) Keep a tight, TIGHT grip on your bar!
A Beginner's Course
1) Seated palms-up barbell wrist curls, 1 set of 30 reps
2) Seated palms-down barbell wrist curls, 1 set of 15-20 reps, done as soon as possible after the first exercise.
3) Leverage bar circles, 1 set of 16 reps, each arm (8 circles each way before changing sides).
An Advanced Forearm Course
1) Warm up with 5 minutes of fast wrist roller work
2) Seated palms-up wrist curls, doing 2 sets with a moderate weight VERY FAST until the weight falls out of your hands.
3) Seated palms-down wrist curls, doing 2 sets with a moderate weight VERY FAST until the weight falls out of your hands.
4) Leverage bar combination movement: This merely incorporates the two basic leverage bar exercises into one, and is done as a single exercise. Holding the bar in the arm-along-side starting position, do one full, regular straight raise to an "up" position. Now, from there, do a complete circle, on one direction. Do a reverse circle, ending up in the "up" position. Lower to the side and repeat the entire sequence, 1 set of 6 movements each arm.
No one can guarantee you'll develop the proverbial blacksmith's forearms, but I'll promise you great gains if you give one of these routines an all-out effort. Follow as schedule for six weeks, then discontinue specialization or staleness with set in. By the end of six weeks you ought to have a pair of forearms that puts your present ones to shame.
Here are some final tips:
Try extra hard to literally CRUSH the bar in your hands when doing any form of arm, shoulder, chest, or back exercise, as this sort of added effort adds materially to forearm exertion. Also, remember to make the still-legged deadlift with NORMAL GRIP your back exercise, instead of standard deadlifts - since this exercise most affects your forearms strongly. If possible, try your hand at rope climbing. This activity produces and maintains fantastic grip and forearm strength.
With the thoughts and instructions I've given you in mind, you can rest assured that you now know what is necessary in order to build a great pair of forearms. Only one thing is needed beyond the knowledge, and that is the doing . . .