Build a Viselike Grip and Forearms like Popeye's

Fearsome Forearms

Each Exercise is Specific per Muscle Group

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Ah, summer - fun in the sun. A time for hot sand between your toes, even hotter parties and thoughts of kicking back on vacation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but with the lures of outdoor excitement rising as fast as the temperature, are you ready to ease back on long summer workouts?

Almost all of us are guilty. Even the most serious trainees can fall victim to summer distractions. A warm-weather workout doesn't have quite the same ring to it as balls-to-the-wall off-season winter training, does it? Well, no, not really. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Summer, for all its enticing extracurricular activities, can be just the time to zero in on those lagging bodyparts that can spoil the overall appearance of your physique. And chances are that skinny forearms top your list of underdeveloped bodyparts.

The fact is that so few otherwise well-built bodybuilders have full-muscled, attractive lower arms to complement their rugged uppers. Don't be one of those guys. In addition to the feeling of pride you'll get from displaying attractive, well-balanced arms, there are other subtle advantages to owning good-looking forearms. Sure, you can covertly expand your chest an inch or two, and throw half a lat spread for effect as you strut on the beach this summer. Who doesn't? But remember this key point: The only two areas of flesh that identify you as a muscleman when you're fully dressed are your neck and your forearms.

Even with dress pants and a tie you can wear a button-down, short-sleeve shirt that exposes strong, heavily-muscled forearms. You should also consider the strength factor associated with forearms. Many trainees find that their wrists and gripping power fail on many heavy free-weight movements such as bench presses, deadlifts, rows or curls. Follow this specialized forearms routine for only eight weeks this summer, and you're guaranteed to get greater gripping power and forearms size. Impressive, ripcord forearms are a bonus that no bodybuilder should be without.


The forearms are a complex network of muscles that, to some extent like the calves, can be hard to bulk up. The forearms consist of the flexor carpi radialis, the brachio-radialis, the flexor carpi ulnaris, the pronator teres, the palmaris longus, and a group of four small muscles that act at the wrist (and have equally as long Latin names). As knowing the names of muscles, however, never did anything to help build them, we'll leave the anatomy lesson there. More important than the correct identification of the nine muscles that fill each arm from wrist to elbow is knowledge of their function.

Forearms Function

While almost any exercise that involves maintaining a strong grip on a bar recruits the muscles of the forearms (bench press, deadlift, all types of rows and curls, overhead press, some triceps movements), only wrist curls and reverse wrist curls fully target the flexors and extensors at 100%. To simplify your appreciation of how the forearms work, think of dividing their action into three functional categories: Flexing, extending and supinating. Following a routine that maximally hits all three functions is the only guaranteed way to build bigger, better and stronger forearms.

Extensor Training

The best way to understand the flexing action of the forearms is to roll up one sleeve and rest your forearm, palm facing up, on a flat surface. The flexors are all the muscles normally situated on the bottom of your arm. However, because you turned your arm over, the flexors are now on top. Now lift the back of your hand as high as you can off the surface while keeping your wrist and the rest of your arm flat. Clench your fist tightly as you lift, especially your last three fingers, and watch what happens. That ripple of muscles you see running down the inside of your arm are your forearm flexors doing what they were designed to do. Flex your hand at the wrist upward as far as possible.

Flexor Training

The forearm flexors are located on the front of the forearm (or top, with you arm resting palm up on a flat surface), and the extensors are located on the back (or bottom) of the forearm. Logically enough, to hit them directly you must reverse the wrist-curl action, namely by extending the hand backward as far as possible against resistance. This motion can typically be done with moves in which you bend at the wrists (forearm extensor moves) or ones in which you bend at the elbows (elbow extensor moves, like the reverse barbell curl, which targets the brachioradialis).

Supinator Training

Supinating is the term used to describe the rotation of the forearm. To better understand the movement, rest one of your forearms on a flat surface, palm facing down. Now, keeping your elbow flat, twist your hand over so your palm faces upward and the back of your hand remains on the surface. The motion is just like turning a key in a lock. These muscles responsible for supination aren't as large or powerful as either the flexors or extensors. If you ignore training the supinators, however, you'll be missing out on that extra degree of development that could make all the difference between merely strong forearms and super-powerful ones worthy of a double take. Fortunately, you need only one movement of the wrist to hit the supinators to good effect, and this is typically done with biceps exercises using dumbbells or a cable. When doing dumbbell curls, for example, start with your hands in the neutral position (palms facing in). As you curl the weights up, turn your hands up as you go. That extra rotation recruits the supinators, allowing you to achieve a stronger contraction than if you did the movement with a palms-up grip throughout.


When deciding how to incorporate your eight-week forearms blitz into your regular workout schedule, consider that training the forearms should take no longer than 20 minutes at the most. Keep in mind that you indirectly work your forearms in almost all your workouts. For instance, you might want to do back and intense forearms work on different days, perhaps separated by at least 48 hours (so the forearms get plenty of time to rest and recuperate). If you work with heavy dumb-bells or barbells for biceps, avoid doing forearms on your training days for arms. Days in which you're not training a larger bodypart are best for specialized forearms training. Just make sure you never do forearms training before a larger muscle group in which grip strength is important, such as with back or traps. You don't want to have sore forearms and a failing grip on a day when you have heavy back work to do.

Ideally, your forearms should be trained the day before legs or after working the back. This way, even if your forearms are still sore while doing triceps exercises, or working calves and abdominals, tired forearms won't wreck your workout.

You may find that specifically working forearms is painful for the first week or so. When worked hard, the muscles quickly become engorged with blood. Do stick to the eight-week plan though. Think of your forearms as a "must do" bodypart for the next two months. The extra size and power you'll add to your lowers will be well worth the effort. After eight weeks, take a complete break from forearms work for two full weeks, but make sure you include some form of forearms from now on in your regular training split.

Since your wrists and elbows can also do three other major functions, make sure your wrist and forearms training isn't limited to elbow flexion and extension, which trains the biceps and triceps. Follow this program for eight weeks and you'll be on your way to having forearms like Popeye's - the spinach is optional.

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