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Forearms are the last muscle group many lifters start training, and as such are often an aesthetic weak point, or lead to grip issues which will hinder your deadlift or pull-up progress.
But how do you increase forearm size? Forearm training should include exercises that target the wrist extensors, wrist flexors, and brachioradialis as an elbow flexor. Lifters should incorporate varying methods into their programs to maximise progress, including drop sets, AMRAPs, isometrics and fat grips.
At the end of this article, you will understand the muscles of the forearms and what methods you can use in your training to increase your forearm size.
I will cover:
- An overview of the forearm muscles.
- A list of exercises for training the forearms
- Methods you can use to improve your forearm training
- A Sample program you can follow.
Muscles In The Forearm & What They Do
The muscles in the forearm are responsible for a wide range of movements across the elbow, wrist and hand – from causing elbow flexion to the complexities of movement in the hand and fingers.
Because of this, the forearm is made up of a large group of muscles with various functions and movement outcomes.
Considering the muscles as groups of wrist extensors and wrist flexors is the best way to set up your training.
Wrist extension is the action of bringing your knuckles closer to your forearm.
The wrist extensors comprise of the brachioradialis, the three extensor carpi muscles (radialis longus, radialis brevis and ulnaris), the extensor digitorum and extensor digiti minimi and the 6 deep muscles.
Wrist flexion is the action of bringing your palm towards your forearm.
The wrist flexors comprise of the flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris, the pronator teres, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum superficialis and the 4 deep muscles.
When training the forearms, it is important to train both the extensors and the flexors.
On top of these, there is then the brachioradialis which also functions as an elbow flexor. The brachioradialis contributes heavily to overall forearm size so should be a focus within your training program.
It’s important to understand these muscle groups and functions when structuring your training so that you include exercises that target each.
You would not try to increase your leg size and completely neglect hamstring training, so we should be taking a complete approach to training the forearms as well if you want to maximise your progress.
Exercises That Will Increase Forearm Size
In this section, I’m going to outline dumbbell, barbell, cable, and bodyweight exercises that will help increase forearm size.
All-in-all it will be 29 forearm exercises. At the end of the article, I’ll take a sample of each of these exercises and provide a program that you can implement to grow your forearms.
10 Dumbbell Exercises
The 10 best dumbbell exercises for forearms are:
- Supinated Wrist Curl
- Pronated Wrist Curl
- Neutral Wrist Curl
- Dumbbell Pronation
- Dumbbell Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Reverse Curl
- Zottoman Curl
- Dumbbell Holds
- Finger Curls
My favourite on this list must be the dumbbell hammer curl.
While typically used as a biceps exercise, it’s also a fantastic forearm exercise too.
The brachioradialis functions as an elbow flexor, and the neutral grip used with hammer curls shifts further load to this rather than the biceps.
You are also able to use more weight that many other exercises, I recommend performing 6-8 reps per side for each set and then using more load limiting variations to hit those higher reps afterwards.
If you want to learn more about dumbbell forearm exercises, read our article How To Workout Forearms With Dumbbells (10 Exercises).
6 Barbell Exercises
The 6 best barbell forearm exercises are:
Now I cannot pick one favourite, so my two personal favourites are the supinated wrist curl and the barbell hold.
Supinated wrist curls with a barbell are great because you can focus solely on the curling motion rather than stabilising a dumbbell.
The barbell hold is then the best way to isometrically load the forearms and to train your grip – two birds, one stone.
For more grip strength advice, read our articles:
- How To Maximise Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip)
- How To Use A Grip Strengthener For Max Results (Full Guide).
- Does Forearm & Grip Strength Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How)
- Fat Grip Training: How & When To Use & Does It Work?
6 Cable Exercises
Cable exercises are great for offering some variation and also for including drop sets due to the ease of just changing a pin.
The 6 best cable exercises for forearms are:
Finger curls are best done with a cable set up – most gyms have access to a handle that is narrower than a dumbbell or barbell handle and this makes it easier to perform finger curls and work through the full range of motion.
4 Body Weight Exercises
Body weight exercises for forearms are limited, but there are some great options.
The 4 best bodyweight exercise for forearms are:
Pull ups are a great exercise, but incorporating towel pull ups or weighted eccentric pull ups makes them far more forearm and grip focused.
Give these a try at the start of your session and you will quickly see why they are my favourite on the bodyweight list.
3 Gripper Exercises
While the grippers are only one piece of equipment, they can be framed as 3 different exercises.
The 3 best ways to use a gripper are:
- Standard Repetitions: Performing a set number of sets and reps with a light-medium resistance gripper.
- Isometric Holds: Squeezing a light-medium gripper closed and holding the handles together for a prescribed amount of time (typically 20-60-seconds).
- Supra-Maximal Eccentrics: Squeezing a heavy resistance gripper closed with both hands, then releasing one hand and slowly opening your hand at a count of 5-10-seconds.
While using grippers for isometrics and eccentric training are great, these are best at the end of a session for high repetitions with short rest periods following heavier exercises earlier in the session.
For further details on how to use grippers to improve your forearms, read our article Will Grippers Build Forearms? (Yes, Here’s How)
If you’re looking for gripper reviews, check out: 7 Best Hand Strengtheners Reviewed: Are They Worth It?
And, check out these 6 Fat Gripz Alternatives (That Will Save You Money)
Training Methods To Increase Forearm Size
Forearms are one of those commonly neglected muscle groups, and thus end up as an aesthetic weakness or cause grip issues.
Addressing forearm size is easiest when we incorporate training methods that help increase overall intensity and volume, or simply shift more load to the forearms in general.
There are 4 methods I recommend incorporating into your forearm training:
- Drops Sets
- Fat Grips
- Super Sets
A drop set is where you perform a working set of any exercise, drop the load 25-50% and perform another set.
These are great for squeezing in more volume into a short time frame, and increasing the intensity of a session.
Perform these towards the end of a session, on exercises that are more isolation focused, such as grippers or wrist curls.
AMRAP stands for As Many Reps As Possible – so an AMRAP set is performing repetitions until you cannot complete another full range of motion rep without cheating rather than a traditionally prescribed number.
These are best used on each end of the spectrum, with heavy isometrics where you hold on for as long as possible, such as a barbell hold, or with lighter intensity work towards the end of a session such as with grippers.
Fat grips are a piece of equipment that effectively increases the diameter of a handle, thus making it harder to hold onto, increasing how much your forearms are having to work.
These are great for most exercises, but particularly exercises such as bicep curls or pull ups that are not specifically forearm exercises.
Super sets are where you perform two exercises back to back.
For example, a set of bicep curls, straight into wrist curls and then a rest before performing another two paired sets.
These are useful for increasing the overall intensity of a session, while reducing the time needed to get sufficient stimulus in.
They are also great at increasing the intensity where load may be limited. You may only have one set of grippers that are too light to use traditionally, by super setting them with hammer curls or pull ups the loading may be enough to be challenging now.
Curious to know how often you should train forearms? Check out my article: Can Forearms Be Trained Every Day?
Increasing Forearm Size: Putting It All Together
Understanding the muscles used, the best exercises and the training methods for increasing forearm size is all necessary when we look at putting together the most effective program.
This example 3 day forearm program will give you an insight into how to input all of the above into an effective structure.
- Barbell Holds – 3 sets of 10 seconds + 1 AMRAP Hold Set – Start with 70% of your deadlift max and look to progress 2.5-5% per week – Perform with a fully closed hand.
- Reverse Cable Curl – 3 sets of 10-12 reps – Start with a load you can do for 10 reps, progress the load when you hit 12 on each set.
- Fat Grip Supinated Barbell Wrist Curl – 3 sets of 12-15 – Start with a load you can do for 12 challenging reps, progress the load when you hit 15 reps for a single set.
- Weighted Eccentric Pull Ups – Cluster set of 5 AMRAP reps – Perform 1 rep with as slow of an eccentric as possible, rest 30 seconds, perform another rep, repeated until you reach 5 reps – Start with bodyweight and look to add weight week to week.
- Barbell Bicep Curls – 3 sets of 8-10 reps + 1 drop set of 12-15 reps – drop the load enough that you can reach the rep target, but not exceed it – Curl the wrist towards you at the top of the rep.
- Medium Weight Gripper – 2 sets of AMRAPs (12-15) – With a gripper you can perform 12-15 reps with perform an two AMRAP sets – Progress the gripper strength once you hit 15 or more reps on the first set.
- Hammer Curls – 4 sets of 6-8 reps – Use a load that is challenging for 6 reps, progress the load when you hit 8 reps per set.
- Supinated Dumbbell Wrist Curls – 3 sets of 10 – Keep these 1-2 reps from failure as they are being super setted.
- Super Setted with Light Weight Gripper – 3 sets of 15+ – Use a gripper you can hit for 15 reps initially – Aim to progress reps week to week rather than load.
This sample programme checks off everything we have discussed in this article so far.
It incorporates movements on each day that train your wrist flexors and wrist extensors, while also targeting the brachialis as an elbow flexor on all three days as well.
Various rep ranges and loading strategies have been included, such as AMRAPs, drop sets, fat grips, isometrics and super sets.
This sample program targets your forearm strength, as well as your forearm size by including barbell holds and heavy eccentric exercises.
The variation included will also keep the program engaging and there are opportunities within sessions to chase progressions in either load or reps performed encouraging progressive overload furthering your potential progress.
This sample program can also be tweaked to suit your kit availability – many of the exercises are interchangeable between dumbbells, barbells and cables. It is also short enough that it can be added onto the end of existing training routines without massively extending your time in the gym.
Related Article How To Workout Forearms With Dumbbells (10 Exercises)
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Increase Forearm Size With Dumbbells
Dumbbell training is great for increasing forearm size. However, exercises should be chosen to target both the wrist flexors, such as supinated wrist curls, wrist extensors, such as pronated wrist curls, and the brachioradialis which contributes to elbow flexion, such as hammer curls.
The main benefits of using dumbbells to train forearms is that they are versatile and allow for unilateral training. Beyond this the variable loading, often with 1kg increments, is very useful given the low loads used for many forearm exercises and they are also quick to train with and require no set up.
The two draw backs are that they can become boring due to training with the same kit repeatedly on all exercises, and they lack specificity and longevity for grip training.
How To Increase Forearm Size Without Weights
Forearm training without weights is somewhat limited, however, still possible. The best options here are pull up variations; normal pull ups, eccentric pull ups, dead hangs or even weighted by wearing a loaded back pack. Second to this is towel training; performing pull ups, inverted rows or isometric exercises with a towel to challenge the forearm muscles more.
While this is not ideal, it is still sufficient stimulus for you forearms on a base level. However, my recommendation would be to buy 1 or 2 pairs of varying strength grippers in order to incorporate some higher repetition and more varied training overall.
When training the forearms it is crucial to target both the wrist flexors and wrist extensors, as well as training the brachioradialis via elbow flexion. A multitude of equipment can be used to train the forearms, but whichever you use, I recommend incorporating varying loading strategies such as drop sets, AMRAPs and isometrics in order to maximise your progress.