Forearm workouts can help you develop strength and size in forearm muscles so that these smaller muscle groups can keep pace with the strength you are developing in your other major muscles without limiting your lifts.
Plus, forearm workouts can help increase grip strength which is excellent for overall health, as poor grip strength can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in older adults.
In this article, we will discuss how to structure forearm workouts using effective forearm exercises and provide you with step-by-step instructions for the following exercises to help you develop your forearm strength.
- Wrist Rollers
- Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carries
- Towel Pull-Ups
- Barbell Reverse Biceps Curls
- Three-Stage Chin-Up Holds
- Crab Walks
- Behind-Your-Back Barbell Wrist Curls
- Hammer Curls
- Zottman Curls
- Trap Bar Carries
Let’s jump in!
How to Program the Best Forearm Workouts
The forearms have numerous small muscles that help control wrist flexion and extension as well as pronation and supination, aiding grip strength.
Examples of the primary forearm muscles include the brachioradialis, extensor carpi radialis longus and brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi radialis, and flexor digitorus superficialis.
The forearm flexors are on the top side of your arm (with the hair), while the extensors are on the underside.
Programming the best forearm workouts is similar to training any muscle group, with the caveat that the forearm muscles are much smaller and contain a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers than big muscle groups like the quads or even the biceps or triceps.
For this reason, the training loads will be lighter, and the total training volume will be less. Build up gradually over time as your strength improves.
The Ultimate Forearm Workout
Here are some exercises to add to the best forearm workouts for chiseled forearms:
#1: Wrist Rollers
One of the best forearm gym exercises is the wrist roller; of course, your gym has to have this piece of equipment.
With that said, you can make your own wrist roller by tying a study parachute cord rope around the center of a small rod (such as a loadable dumbbell handle) and then attaching a weight plate at the end of the rope by tying a knot through the center hole and outer edge.
Overall, it’s a very effective exercise for forearm workouts because it trains the forearm extensors and flexors simultaneously while also requiring a strong isometric contraction of your deltoid and rotator cuff muscles, which helps build shoulder and scapular stability.
If you have never done this forearm exercise before, start with just five or ten pounds and build up as you get comfortable with the wrist roller and your forearm strength increases.
Here are the steps for this forearm exercise:
- Stand upright with good posture and your feet spaced hip-width apart, core engaged, and hand holding the wrist roller with your palms facing away from your body.
- Extend your elbows so that your arms are straight as you perform a forward raise until the wrist roller is straight out in front of your body at shoulder height.
- Alternating your hands, Roll the weight up until the weight plate is fully wound up onto the wrist roller with all of the slack taken up.
- Slowly reverse the rolling motion to uncoil the weight back to the hanging position. Make sure to keep your arms fully extended and parallel to the floor the entire time.
#2: Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carries
Almost any kettlebell exercise is great for improving grip strength and forearm mass. Squeezing and gripping the handle targets your forearm muscles.
This kettlebell exercise elevates the difficulty of a regular carry by inverting the weight so that the bell is positioned above the horn of the bell, making it much more difficult to stabilize as you walk.
These are the steps:
- Stand upright with good posture, engaging your core and glutes. Hold a kettlebell in one hand with the horn of the bell down in your palm and the weight facing upwards towards the ceiling.
- Use a neutral grip and keep your elbow flexed about 90° as if carrying a platter like a waiter.
- Squeeze the horn of the kettlebell as tightly as possible as you walk slowly forward along a cleared path. When you get to the end of your designated distance, relax and switch hands.
- Walk back doing the carry with the other side.
#3: Towel Pull-Ups
Using a towel for your pull-ups instead of gripping the bar directly is a fantastic way to build forearm size and strength.
It is much harder to grip a towel, and you end up having to use a neutral grip rather than a pronated grip, which is excellent for building forearm strength.
Moreover, the neutral grip ends up making the exercise easier on your shoulder joints than traditional pull-ups, though the exercise itself is much more difficult.
All you need to do is loop a towel over a pull-up bar and grab hold of both ends with a neutral grip (palms facing one another). Then, perform pull-ups as you normally would, squeezing the towel as your “handles.”
#4: Barbell Reverse Biceps Curls
Most forearm workouts focus primarily on the forearm flexors, which are on the top side of your arm, but it is equally important to do forearm exercises that strengthen your forearm extensor.
If your forearm workouts are too heavily biased towards forearm exercises for flexors, you can develop muscle imbalances. This can compromise your functional strength and increase the risk of elbow injuries from weightlifting.
This is a great forearm exercise to balance out your other forearm exercises.
It targets the forearm extensors, such as the brachioradialis and pronator teres, as well as the brachialis, which is actually a muscle that is in the upper arm on the lateral side of your biceps brachii.
Strengthening this muscle can give you even bigger size and definition when you flex your biceps.
Here are the steps for this exercise for the forearms:
- Set up a barbell with a weight that is approximately 10 pounds lighter than you would normally curl.
- Stand upright with good posture, feet hip-width apart, with the barbell down in your extended arms with your palms facing away from your body.
- Slowly curl the barbell up until your elbows are bent slightly more acutely than 90 degrees (so the barbell should be coming up closer toward your shoulders than it would be if you kept your elbows just at 90 degrees). Make sure your elbows stay tucked by your side.
- As slowly as possible, curl the barbell back down to the starting position, focusing on drawing out this extension part of the movement as long as you can.
#5: Three-Stage Chin-Up Holds
Holding the top position of a chin-up or pull-up is a great isometric exercise to build forearm mass and strength.
This variation changes up your isometric position into three different variations, training different muscles in your forearms and targeting different fibers for bigger improvements in strength.
Plus, incorporating this exercise into your forearm workouts can translate to improved performance and strength for regular chin-ups.
The longer you hold the position, the more time under tension your muscles will get.
Here are the steps:
- Jump up and grab the pull-up bar with the chin-up position so that your palms are facing toward your body.
- Lift your body up to the end position so that your chin is above the bar.
- Hold this position for at least 15 seconds or as long as possible.
- Slowly lower your body to about an 80-degree angle in your elbows and then hold the position for another 15 seconds.
- Then, lower your body until your elbows are almost all the way extended, but there is still about a 15° angle, and hold the position for another 15 seconds.
- Relax into a dead hang position before trying another set (if your fitness level allows it).
#6: Crab Walks
This is a great exercise if you are doing forearm workouts at home since it is a bodyweight exercise.
Of course, it can also be done at the gym (though you might get a few stares!).
It’s a great movement for shoulder mobility and building forearm mass, strength, and endurance.
Here are the steps:
- Sit on the floor with your hands behind you with your fingers facing forward (toward your butt).
- Bending your knees, bring your feet toward you until they are flat on the floor.
- Lift your butt up into a reverse tabletop position.
- From this starting position, crabwalk around the room in all directions (lateral, front, back, etc.)
#7: Behind-Your-Back Barbell Wrist Curls
The best forearm workouts also incorporate exercises that improve finger strength, as this will augment your grip strength, as your finger flexors work with your forearm flexors in many functional movements.
Beginners should start with a very light weight and a lot of reps and then gradually increase the weight and drop the rep number as forearm strength develops.
You should use a spotter for this exercise but if no one is available, you can use a Smith machine.
Here are the steps for this forearm exercise:
- Set the barbell at knee level on a power rack and a stand facing away so that it is near the back of your knees.
- Squat down so that you grab the barbell with your hands behind your back using a shoulder-width grip.
- Engage your glutes and core to stand up straight.
- Carefully allow the barbell to roll down your fingertips, and then flex your forearms to curl the barbell back up.
- Squeeze your forearms in the top position before beginning the next rep.
#8: Hammer Curls
The neutral grip position of hammer curls better activates your forearm muscles, so it’s a great biceps curl variety to add to your forearm workouts.
Here is how to do hammer curls:
- Stand upright with good posture, as with the barbell curl.
- Hold dumbbells such that your palms are facing one another.
- Contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, maintaining this neutral wrist position.
- Slowly lower the weights back down with control.
#9: Zottman Curls
This is a variation of regular dumbbell curls that targets your forearm muscles.
Here are the steps for this forearm-strengthening exercise:
- Stand upright holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing away from your body.
- Slowly curl the dumbbells up as you normally would.
- At the top position, when your elbows are bent so that the dumbbells are all the way up to your shoulders, rotate your palms so that they are facing down instead of up. Then, in this position, lower the weights back down to the bottom position of the curl until your arms are fully extended.
- At the bottom position, rotate your forearms back so that your palms are facing away from your body like they normally would, and repeat the same pattern for the next rep.
#10: Trap Bar Carries
You can use a trap bar or hex bar for carries to really load your forearms. Walk as slowly as possible to increase your time under tension. Squeeze your grip throughout the whole carry.
You can also perform carries with kettlebells or dumbbells if you don’t have access to a trap bar.
To maximize your muscle gains, check out our muscle-building guide here.