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Workout Edge: Massive Forearms, 1 Exercise.

Well, here we are again. Another workout edge post. If you haven’t checked out the last blog post, I highly recommend you do now. This time around I thought I’d talk about something that’s severely overlooked in favor of big upper arms – forearms.

Let’s get started.

Workout Edge: Massive Forearms, 1 Exercise.

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I like to think of the forearm muscles as an important transfer point when it comes to the power of the arm as a whole. They’re important in weight lifting, boxing, and everyday life. For weightlifting, it’s important to have well-developed forearms because this prevents tendonitis or lifter’s elbow (which can also come from too many extension exercises, but that’s another blog post for another time). For boxing, they’re good to develop for a more powerful punch, and larger forearms can also help create a good guard for when you go defensive (you’ve got to build up more lactic acid tolerance to hold that guard, but hey, it’s worth it once it’s done)

Well-developed forearms can also come from training a well-developed grip. Gripping and forearm power go hand in hand in that they help your upper arm muscles develop fully. You’ll remember I spoke on this a lot in SUPP UP. No Bull, Gym In A Bag Workout Guide (if you haven’t read it yet, well…you know what to do – pick up your copy now over on the SUPP UP. store) Some people naturally develop this from just lifting heavy – others aren’t as blessed with this ability, while others still just look at it as a good idea to hit forearms directly.

Whichever group you fall into, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to this often-overlooked muscle group.

When it comes to developing size and strength, forearms respond well to consistent, hard work…the best exercise to get the job done? The wrist roller.

There’s a lot of pros and very few cons to using a wrist roller. For starters, they’re next to nothing to make and inexpensive to buy if you’re really feeling lazy. You can add a wrist roller workout to the end of your workout or integrate it into a workout fully.

Let’s breakdown why they’re so effective though – in order to understand this, you have to understand how the muscles in the forearm work. I break this down in the SUPP UP. Workout Guide even further, but I’ll give you a quick and painless breakdown here.

Your forearm muscles are split into two very (and I do mean very) broad groups – forearm flexors and extensors. The stronger and larger of the two sections are the forearm flexors. They have a laundry list of important jobs they carry out on a day-to-day basis.

Finger flexion, simply put, means grip strength – there are two main types of grip strength.

Concentric grip strength, aka crushing grip strength, is your ability to close your hand against resistance. Remember those hand grippers you used to have in college?

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Yeah – that type of grip strength. Isometric grip strength, on the other hand, is your ability to hold onto something – like when you’re doing pull-ups and you’re 15 reps in, or when you’re deadlifting heavy.

Sadly, the principle of specificity remains true and just because you have one type of grip strength you’ve developed, doesn’t mean it by default transfers over to the other.

So your isometric grip strength (which you usually gain through pull-ups, holding barbells, Fat Gripz, dumbbells, etc) doesn’t transfer over to your crushing grip strength (your ability to pick up plates by pinching them, tearing phone books like John Grimek, and crushing your boss’ hand when you shake it).

Your extensors, in contrast to your flexors, have the opposite job of extending the wrist, something we do far less in everyday life, let alone doing it with any form of serious resistance.

I’m pretty sure at some point in your lifting life you’ve done exercises like dumbbell lateral raises or reverse bicep curls, which do work your forearm extensors to some point as they act as stabilizers – and reverse wrist curls also hit this muscle group even more…but wrist rolls take things to the next level.

I’d have to say for level of importance, they’re the metaphorical twice-a-week leg day you so desperately need, or that calve raise routine you still haven’t done to develop your chicken legs (you heard me).

Make no mistake – the wrist roller is a very humbling piece of equipment – you’ve got to approach this exercise with a bit of humility, especially if you’ve never bothered training forearms directly (kind of like that forearm workout for boxing I taught you in SUPP UP. No Bull, Gym In A Bag Workout Guide).

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Let’s get real for a minute here – most lifters find starting off with 15 lbs. or less a feat…but keep at it, applying gradual overload and you can hit some praise-worthy numbers.

Remember what I said earlier about crushing grip strength? Well, you can kill two birds with one stone when it comes to wrist rolling because you’ve got to grip the roller so it won’t slip in the opposite direction. This works the flexors and develops that crushing grip strength.

From that point, you can work the extensors by rolling extension style (which is easier), or you can go with putting your forearm flexors to the test by rolling flexion style.

I should also mention that it’s best to do this with your arms down, not out. The larger the range of motion, the more effective. I’d say time under tension a minimum of 30 seconds each, flexion and extension.

A picture says 1000 words and a video says 10,000 more, so here’s a good example video:

Some pointers on form.

First thing, when you roll, keep the wrist roller pretty straight – if you tilt it a lot when rolling, you’re making things easy for yourself and not working your forearms as hard as possible.

Second, the reason I say arms down and not out is pretty simple – while this does make the exercise harder, you’re gonna burn out a lot faster because your shoulders will be the limiting factor – they’ll fatigue quicker than your forearms and we’re not looking to hit shoulders here – we’re focusing on forearms.

So keep the weight down, in front of your waist like in the video. You can either perform more rounds to increase the time under tension or stand on a box to increase the range of motion, either get the job done. Using weight plates that are maximum 25 lbs will also increase your range of motion.

For progression, the same principle applies as it does to developing other muscles – in this case, it’s rounds rather than reps, then weight.

So increase the rounds first (start with the plate on the ground and roll up, until the weight clicks on the roller – that’s round one).

You could roll the weight up and down, but the heavier the weight gets, the more it may rip your skin on the way down (because lifting gloves are for marshmallows).

Don’t be fooled, increasing the rounds works perfect because the weight you’ll start with is really light. A 2, 3, 4, or even 5 pound increase is a big percentage jump, and you’ll bring yourself to failure too quickly if you just start trying to pack on weight.

So here’s two progression plans to get you started. 4 sets are done – 2 set flexion, 2 sets extension, alternating.

Progression plan A will allow you to go heavier with a focus on strength; plan B will allow you to go lighter with a focus on endurance (and give you a better pump, which leads to better size development).

So for example, with plan B in week 1, you’ll do 1 set flexion (3 rounds), 1 set extension (3 rounds), 1 set flexion (3 rounds), and 1 set extension (3 rounds).

For a cleaner visual representation:

You can’t have a goal if you don’t have something to shoot for – so what’s a good measure of wrist rolling strength? Well, here’s an idea:

  • Beginner – 10 lbs x 3 rounds
  • Intermediate – 25 lbs x 3 rounds
  • Advanced – 50 lbs x 3 rounds
  • Expert – 75 lbs x 3 rounds
  • Are You Even Human? – 100 lbs x 3 rounds

Just tag the wrist roller workout onto the end of your regular workouts – I’d say twice a week, maybe three times, but twice should be good enough.

Last but not least, don’t forget about other great exercises you can add into your arms day routine to increase forearm strength, like neutral grip pull-ups, cross-body hammer curls, and EZ Bar Reverse Curls.

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Most, most importantly, every workout should be fueled with good pre-, intra-, and post-workout nutrition – get your SUPP UP. workout supplements over at the SUPP UP. store now.

Mix new science with old school training, and you’ll come out with results you never thought possible – that’s what the SUPP UP. Guides are all about.

That’s it, kids.

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Photo Credit:

Photo 1 & Featured Image: Norbert Buduczki
Photo 2: Bill Bistak
Photo 3: Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia
Photo 4: Anastase Maragos