Forearm and grip strength are often overlooked until a workout requires you to start lifting heavy. Don't let your forearm and grip strength be a limitation to your workouts!
1. Understanding your forearms
Your twenty forearm muscles can be categorized into two groups: flexors and extensors. Flexors are mainly for flexing movements at the wrist and fingers and making your palms face down. Extensors are to straighten your forearm and allow your palms to face up. Having this basic understanding will help in workouts as you would know which muscles you are supposed to be working on.
You naturally build strong forearms as you do workouts with a lot of heavy pushing, pulling and curling. However, grip weakness can be a huge limitation on many workouts. The good news is, there are ways to train grip strength.
2. Use hand exercisers
Hand exercisers are often underestimated in training grip strength. But simple hand flexion (squeezing an object) is great for building strong flexors, wrists, hands and fingers - when used properly.
As silly as it may sound, using a hand exerciser requires proper form too. Full squeezes are more effective than partial squeezes and your arm or body should not be twisted to gain leverage. You also need the right amount of resistance for a full range of motion, but not too little until there is no challenge. Try out a few hand exercisers to get the right one and make sure you change them when you have mastered one.
Rest: 1-2 minutes
It is hard at first, but make sure you finish all sets. Once you can do this, increase the difficulty by including 10 second holds between the reps. Aim to finish all sets easily and level up your resistance gradually.
3. 'No' to grip aids; 'Yes' to over-sized grips
Sometimes you want to lift a little heavier or hang a little longer; wrist straps and grip aids to the rescue! However, rather than helping your grip become stronger, those tools encourage your body to rely on help and may make your forearms weaker.
The secret to not using grip aids is to deflate your ego for a few weeks and lift slightly less weight without help. Slowly increase the weight and improve your grip strength, this will challenge your entire body with a greater motivation for growth.
To accelerate growth, use over-sized grips instead. It is easy to incorporate it into your training and there is no need to change up your workout routine. They are particularly effective in push exercises and curls and when you warm up for heavy pulling.
4. Isometric grip holds
Do more exercises with isometric grip holds (e.g. dumbbell farmer's walk, fireman's carries). While you are limited to how much you can hold, these exercises are a good indicator on how your grip strength has improved. Simply put, you can only carry as much as your grip allows you to.
These exercises will have a huge carryover to your deadlifts, weighted pull-ups and rows. You can make these exercises more challenging by using a "pinch grip" - hold the weights between the fingertips and avoid contact with the palm of the hand.
One of our personal favorites is the dumbbell or kettlebell farmer's walk. Choose a comfortable weight - by comfortable we mean a weight that you find a little challenging to grip onto - and simply walk in laps.
Distance: 50 meters to and back
Rest: 1-2 minutes
Once you feel that it becomes too comfortable, increase your weight or use the "pinch grip."
5. The best workout?
There is no such thing as a single best workout. But what has been proven to be an all-rounder workout is wrist curls. The most prominent muscle in the forearm is the Brachioradialis; the protruding muscle on the top of your forearm when you stretch out your arm. This muscle helps with the flexing of the elbow joint and assists in rotating your palms. As this muscle is activated in almost every workout that requires forearm support, targeting this muscle is best.
Reverse and normal grip wrist curls are the best for this and can be done over-the-bench, seated or standing.
Rest: 1 minute
Start light and pace yourself as heavier weights can lead to joint issues and waste the smaller muscles. It is best to perform this 2-3 times a week. Higher frequency also does not mean better progress. There is no rushing in building forearm and grip strength!