Forearm workouts and Grip strength
The reason that I chose this subject is that in all the time that I’ve been going to the gym I have rarely seen anyone work on their forearms or grip, unless you count the occasional time when someone does a set of wrist curls or wrist extensions because they’ve seen someone else doing them and then wonder why they haven’t got strong forearms and grip or why the forearms aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the body, probably one of the most ignored and neglected but one of the most important areas to work.
The subject of Forearm, Wrist and grip work is huge and I will probably only scratch the surface with the basics here but I’ll add some links to a few websites that I highly recommend.
Weak forearms, weak wrists and weak grip all have a detrimental effect on your training in general, think about it for a second and virtually every upper body exercise and a lot of body weight exercises that you do will include the use of the forearms, wrist and grip in some way.
There are 3 basic Different types of grip that can be used in the gym, they are pinch grip, Crush grip and support/holding grip and all 3 should be trained.
The pinch grip is exactly as it sounds and is utilised when plate gripping, the fingers are on one side of the plate(smooth side outwards) and the thumb on the other without the plate touching the palm of the hand, although generally a weaker grip it is excellent for working and strengthening the forearms, tendons, fingers and thumbs.
Probably the best example of the pinch grip is to take a weight plate and grip it between the fingers and thumb, I use this one myself as a part of my Farmers Walk workout and can guarantee that it will shred your forearms.
The Pinch Grip
The crush grip resembles the kind of grip you have when shaking hands and can be used in the gym by lifting weights with towels or ropes which I will talk about later in more detail.
The easiest ways to use the crush grip in training is to take a towel, fold it over and then wrap it around the bar that you are lifting, this essentially forces you to crush the bar with your grip as you lift and it really burns the forearms.
The third and most common grip is the support grip which is used when lifting most weights whether it’s the overhand grip or underhand grip; this can be seen to its greatest effect in the Farmers walk, an excellent all round strength training workout that can hit the grip and forearms intensely.
The farmers walk is the simplest exercise but one of the best all round strength workouts that you can do, just pick up a manageable set of dumbbells (don’t go straight to the highest weights until you get used to the exercise) so as to ensure that you don’t drop them and break your toes at the first attempt. Make sure that you have a clear path and with a dumbbell in each hand set off walking, once you are used to the farmers walk and become more experienced you can then start adding things into the workout, I tend to use dumbbells, plates, sandbags and barbells and I also add obstacles such as benches to climb over and squats or lifts dependent on the type of weight I’m carrying.
Farmers Walk Grip.
Don’t have the belief that when you grip it’s the fingers that are doing all the work, try holding on to your forearm and elbow area while doing different types of gripping or just opening and closing your hand and you will be able to feel all of the different muscles that come into use which is the main reason that these muscles should not be overlooked in your training programme.
By including forearm and grip workouts you will find that your overall upper body lifting capacity improves, in other words by strengthening your grip and forearms you will find that you will be able to lift heavier and for longer.
This is just a personal opinion but some people tend to go for lifting straps to assist there lifting, these are straps that can be wrapped around the wrist and hands and the weights and basically take all the work away from the gripping side of the lift enabling the lifting of heavier weights without the necessary muscle use, I would avoid these at all costs as they can give a false belief in your own strength, a simple test to prove this is to try lifting with some straps and then try again without to see the difference, it’s better to rely on building your grip and forearm strength up naturally rather than reliance on assistance. The ones that do need these straps are the power lifters and body builders that go for extremely heavy weightlifting, weights that in general we tend not to come across in our gym.
A good idea is to get a set of hand grips to work the fingers and forearms; these can be used at any time not just while training in the gym, a good idea is to set yourself a target for the day such as 100 grips a day with the hand grips, also see if you can get hold of a large bulldog clip, I’ve found these excellent for working the fingers and thumbs individually, you can use plenty of other things too such as tennis balls, squash ball or most other types of ball, virtually anything that you can pick up you can use for gripping and squeezing for strength, don’t forget that to strengthen your grip you have to work your thumbs just as much as your fingers and forearms, something as simple as wrapping rubber bands around your fingers and thumb and then extending can work the opposing muscles to the grip.
Items to aid grip strength.
Simple things like pet toys can be useful, dog balls for squeezing and the large ball type with attachments and old Martial Arts belts for use with pull ups and deadlifts.
Bulldog clip for finger and thumb work.
Using Kettlebells for finger and thumb work is also a good idea, having a range of weights helps build up your grip strength.
4 finger curl 20kg kettlebell
3 finger curl 16kg kettlebell
2 finger curl 12kg kettlebell
1 finger curl 8kg kettlebell
Thumb Curl 6kg kettlebell
Different types of exercise are Plate pinch, wrist curls, hammer curls, plate wrist curls and dumbbell curls holding the weight blocks, sledgehammer lifts, finger curls, wrist twists, deadlifts, pull-ups, sandbag gripping and curling, sand grabs (putting hands into buckets of sand and gripping), rope grips, behind the back wrist curls, kettlebell finger curls, hammer levers, failure static hangs, one arm hanging shakeouts, reverse wrist curls also finger push-ups and finger pull-ups, fist push-ups and for the more experienced there are knuckle push-ups and back of hand push-ups, thick bar grip work and thin grip work with ropes and straps.
Always remember that you need to strengthen all the links in the chain when you’re working your upper body, back, chest, neck, shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, wrists, fingers, thumbs and grip. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
Don’t be lured into the false belief that huge muscle size equals massive strength, I’ve trained with all sizes of people and some of the strongest grips and strength come from some of the smallest people, here we are talking about building grip and forearm strength not huge muscles. The muscle build is incidental.
Working these areas should be done once a week, don’t forget that virtually every other workout that you do will include the use of the muscles discussed here to some extent. Always remember that as with all workouts you should work all opposing muscles i.e. biceps/triceps to save putting too much stress on specific muscles, tendons, sinews or ligaments.
This link will give you an idea of how to use oppossing muscle and workouts for the forearm, wrist and grip.
The Brachialis, Brachiradialis and Pronator Teres are the major muscles that work around the Forearm and Elbow. All of these muscles are used at some point as secondary muscles in most upper body exercises, in other words they are not the directly worked muscles such as if you were doing a set of barbell curls then the biceps would be the muscles primarily worked and the Brachialis, Brachiradialis and Pronator Teres would be also be worked but only on a secondary basis, therefore by aiming at the exercises listed here you can isolate the forearms and grip and concentrate the workload were it needs to be.
Well that’s all for now, hope this small piece has given you a bit more of an insight into lower arm work and I hope to see you in the gym trying some of the exercises out.
Some other good sites I can recommend that make for good reading on this subject are listed below and I would say that it’s worth signing up for to receive e-mails from these sites to get some good training tips and info, there’s also an excellent youtube video to watch to give you more ideas for training.
Train hard, Train safe, Gaz.