Sunday, March 5, 2017

Building the Grip and Forearm - John McCallum (1966)

Originally Published In This Issue
(December 1966) 

Last month we discussed the theory of grip and forearm development. This month we're going to get away from theory and get down to the actual business of building a powerful grip and huge, shapely forearms.


The forearms are probably subject to more untested theory than any other section of the body. You often read about pinch grip chins on rafters for exercise. I've even read that swinging along hand over hand on a rafter is good forearm exercise. It probably is. But if you can pinch grip a rafter that tight, then turn the page, you don't need any exercise. In actual fact, it's highly unlikely the authors of such imaginative material ever tried pinch gripping rafters themeselves. 

It's like Stephen Leacock's story of the gym teacher who taught six-day bike racing, although he couldn't ride a bike himself. As Leacock says, he was one of the finest bike riders that ever walked.

Don't get too carried away with theory. There's thousands of grip and forearm exercises you can practice if you've got nothing else to do. Most of you probably have. The exercises and stunts we're going to discuss have been proven by men who actually used them and acquired phenomenal forearm development in the process. They're designed to give you maximum results with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. 

The first thing we've got to consider is increasing the bulk and power of the entire body by hard work on what I call the growing exercises. And incidentally, not considering the growing exercises is the primary reason for 99% of all bodybuilding failures. If you specialize exclusively on the forearm, or any other small muscle group, without adequate work on the big muscle group growing exercises, you're practically doomed to failure.

If you'll concede me that point, we'll get on with it.

Do the following bulk and power program two days a week. Either Monday/Thursday, or Tuesday/Friday if you possibly can.

1) Warm up with dumbbell swings - 2 sets of 15 reps.     
Get lots of leg and lower back action into it. Don't use much weight, it's just a warm up. 

2) Squats - 5 x 5.
Use a moderate weight for the first set. More for the second set. All you can for the last three sets. I still get letters from trainees who haven't grasped the importance of heavy squats. Remember this - your ultimate success depends almost entirely on your squatting ability. Nobody ever failed who did heavy squats. Conversely, very few succeed who don't do heavy squats. By heavy, I mean 500 pounds and over for big men, and very slightly less for smaller men. The only thing that keeps you from 500 pound squats is yourself. Don't make excuses. If you're afraid of the weight, admit it and overcome it. Don't waste your time fiddling around with baby sized barbells your crippled grandmother could lift. If you want to look like a Hercules, then lift weights like one.

3) Pullovers - anything up to 20 reps.
Alternate with the squat sets. 

4) Front Squats - 5 x 6 reps. 
Same type of percentage increase as the regular squats. Either clean the weight if you can, or take it off the rack. Put a 2 x 4 under your heels to make the quads work hard and use weights you don't have to lie about. 

5) Incline Bench Dumbbell Presses - 5 x 8 reps.
Use a moderate weight for the first set and then load it on. Keep your elbows wide and the weight well back. Figure on using at least a pair of hundreds. 

6) Upright Rowing - 5 x 6 reps. 
You'll get a good deltoid workout from this if you use heavy enough weights. 

7) Chins - 5 x 8. 
Use a wide grip. Pull up all the way and hang dead on the bottom. Tie weights around your waist for resistance. 

8) Stiff-Legged Deadlifts - 4 x 10 reps.
Start light and work up real heavy. Hold the weight after the last rep of each set and do as many shrugs as you can before putting it down. 

Now we come to the grip and forearm work. We'll divide it into three distinct segments - conventional exercise periods, supplementary exercise periods, and the repetitious practice of gripping stunts.

We'll start with the conventional exercise periods. Do this workout three or four days a week. 

1) Reverse Curls - 5 sets of 15.
You'll find reverse curls tough if you've never done them before. Don't worry too much about the weight at first. Use whatever you can and gradually increase it till you're handling a good poundage. Reverse curls are probably the most commonly used forearm exercise. They'll give you a nice, smooth blend-in from the forearm to the bicep.

2) Seated Wrist Curls, Palms Up - 5 sets of 15.
Your forearms should be pumped up and burning when you finish. Wrist curls build the big flexor muscels on the inside of the forearm that supply most of the bulk.

3) Seated Wrist Curls, Palms Down - 5 x 15.
Same idea as exercise 2. Your forearms should feel like they're on fire.

4) Load up one end of a dumbbell. Grip the other end. Rest the back of your forearm across a bench with the weight over the end. Let the dumbbell drop back and down, and then lower it upright by the strength of your forearm. 5 sets of 15 reps for each arm.

That's all for the conventional exercises, and it's enough to force growth if you're working hard enough on the power stuff as well. It should take you about 45 minutes to go through the forearm workout. If you can do it much faster you're not working hard enough on the exercises. Your forearms should feel as tight as a banker's wallet and be visibly swollen when you finish.

Next we come to the supplementary exercise. You need about 10 cents worth of equipment. Get a sponge rubber ball about the size of a baseball. Cut it in half with a razor blade or a sharp knife. Put the halves where you can use them throughout the day. Under the front seat of your car is a good spot for one of them. Anytime you get the chance, such as when driving your car, drag it out and pump your forearm by squeezing it systematically. Alternate hands and do about 25 reps each hand each set. Do as many sets as you have time for.

Get all the variety into it that you can. Try different hand positions. For example, hold your hand in the goose neck position and try to cramp your forearm while you're squeezing. Or squeeze the ball, hold tight, and roll your hand as far back as it will go. You'll find lots of angles.

If you're doing the supplementary exercise while driving your car, it means steering with one hand and exercising with the other. Don't try it in heavy traffic or at high speeds. You're liable to end up with your hand wrapped tightly around the rubber ball and your intestines wrapped loosely around the drive shaft. Big forearms are nice, but they're not worth getting wiped out for.

Finally, we come to the practice of gripping stunts. This is perhaps the most entertaining way of developing your grip and forearm. The key to the whole thing is doing enough repetitions to make an exercise out of it.

One of the most impressive stunts, and very good exercise, is tearing a deck of cards in half and then into quarters. The problem of course, is getting the cards. You'll need J. Paul Getty for an uncle if you intend on buying them.

The best substitute is your daily newspaper. They're all good for tearing and some of them aren't good for much else. Take two single pages and lay one on top of the other. Now fold it in half five times. Make each fold neat and crease the edges as you go or you'll end up with a mess. This ends up roughly the length and width of a deck of cards, but not as thick. Now, tear it in half and start working on tearing it into quarters. Do this with every page until you've torn up the whole newspaper. If you can get the paper boy to do the same thing with the bill, you're laughing.

As soon as you can, start folding and tearing three sheets the same way, and then go on to four sheets. Work out variations in the way you hold the paper such as pinching it with your thumb and forefinger, and so on. You can usually get a stack of old newspapers some place and practice this in a big way. work at it every day, and by the time you can handle four sheets of newspaper, you'll have no trouble with a deck of cards.

Tearing cards is an astonishing feat of strength to the layman. They've all heard about it but very few have actually seen it done. Next time your wife ignores your take-out double, rip the deck into quarters and fling the pieces violently in her face. This is very impressive in bridge circles, and considered more effective than hacking at her shins under the table.

Another popular stunt is bending bottle tops with your fingers. Here again, the problem is getting material to practice with. It's no use just bending one every other day. Go to any store or cafe that sells pop to drink on the premises. They'll have hundreds of bottle tops. They'll think there's something wrong with your head, but they'll be delighted to have you pack them away.

Practice bending the bottle tops as many ways as you can think of. Try to work up to bending them with your fingers straight, or four at a time, one between each finger.

Beer bottle tops are just as good or better. Don't try to provide them yourself, though. You'll lose interest in training. Go to any tavern and they'll give you all you need.

One of the best stunts, and a terrific exercise if you do repetitions, is bending and breaking spikes. You'll have to buy these unless you've got a friend in a hardware store who can steal them for you.

Get a bag of 8" spikes and two pieces of water pipe about six inches long. Place the piece of pipe over the ends of the spike to increase your leverage and bend the spike back and forth till it breaks. Start with the pipes as far out on the ends of the spike as you need to bend and break it, but gradually bring the piples in until you're not gaining much leverage, and then dispense with one, and then the other.

Wrap the spike in a handkerchief after you get down to bending them without the water pipe. When you can bend and break an 8" spike with your bare hands, you've got a parlor trick going for you that's hard to beat.

There's other stunts you can practice. Just remember to do enough repetitions so it becomes exercise. You can practice rolling up license plates, crushing juice cans, and so on. The field is practically unlimited. Practice every chance you get while you're on this specialization kick, it's almost impossible to overwork your forearms.

Stick with it for about two months and work like you're supposed to, and you'll end up with forearms inches bigger than they are now and enough power in your grip to make the average guy holler "uncle" by a firm squeeze with one hand.

Give it a try. You'll find it's well worth while.   


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