Ask The Trainer #77 – Building Big Forearms

Ask The Trainer #77 - Building Big Forearms

QUESTION:

Hi Chad. I was wondering what you do to develop your forearms? My biceps and triceps are decent sized, but my forearms proportionately suck! I’ve been doing wrist curls and wrist extensions with dumbbells and barbells up the wazoo! I also incorporate hammer curls into my arm training routine, but my forearms still refuse to grow! What do you suggest? Thanks in advance.

Brad


ANSWER:

Hi, Brad. I totally get where you’re coming from my friend! I’ve actually faced the exact same dilemma in my early years of training. My biceps and triceps would develop fairly well, but I always felt that my forearms were pathetic by comparison! I always admired those guys who could wear long-sleeved shirts with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, then have these massive, powerful looking forearms that looked as though they could smash through a brick wall! I’ll tell you what. I was so aggravated by the fact that my forearms wouldn’t grow, that I actually OVERTRAINED them to the point I had splints on both of my forearms—and was unable to train for over 6 months, because of the resulting tendonitis I sustained within my wrists and my forearms from doing so many isolated forearm exercises.

When I FINALLY recovered from those overuse injuries, I decided I just wasn’t going to train forearms anymore, because mentally I could NOT handle sustaining more overuse injuries that would prevent me from training my upper body for over 6 months again!

You see for me…lifting has always been my antidepressant. When I’m unable to do it, I tend to suffer from this heavy, oppressing feeling of failure that has a profound impact on my mood and disposition in a very NEGATIVE way! In other words, I just couldn’t deal with another setback like that again. I don’t mind taking days off training because I know that doing so is an essential part of my progress. However, when I’m forced to take months off, it simply means standing by and watching everything I’ve busted my butt to build may just wither away like a summertime flower in the beginning of fall.

I continued with my training routine and excluded ALL of the direct forearm training I’d been doing. As time elapsed, I developed this new interest in deadlifting. I examined mountains of evidence demonstrating what a productive exercise deadlifting was for so many different muscles in the body. Not to mention, the significant release of growth hormones that was triggered by deadlifting; similar to what transpires while performing squats and other multi-joint, compound exercises. I was primarily thinking about my lower back and hamstring development for sake of bodybuilding competitions. Honestly, forearms weren’t even on my radar because I had already thrown in the towel on that endeavor.

I REALLY loved deadlifting! The more I did them, the more I fell in love with them. My strength progressed very quickly. I began doing my working sets at 135 lbs. Within 1 year, I was performing my working sets with over 400 lbs. But, I wanted more! I wanted to improve further yet! Where I lacked was my grip strength. I had decent strength in my back and hamstrings, but I could only work up to a respectable amount of weight by using wraps in order to secure my grip onto the bar.

Chad Shaw Deadlift

Of course, when you do that, you sustain a great deal of criticism from season lifters. They accuse you of being a pansy, a sissy, and a few other insulting names I won’t mention. That was enough for me. I decided that I was going to dead-lift and perform ALL of my pulling exercises without the use of wraps and rely exclusively on my grip strength to make my deadlifting official! I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really need to do this. It was strictly an ego thing for me at the time. A lot of guys reading this will understand exactly what I mean!

After several months of performing all of my pulling exercises WITHOUT wrist wraps for several months, I noticed my forearms were blowing up! I bet I added over 1 inch on my forearms, which was huge for me! How did this happen? Well, in order to lift it, you must grip it—and when you grip during your pulling movements without using wraps to secure your grip, you stimulate primarily your forearm flexors during that very intense isometric contraction—and then secondarily your forearm extensors. Not just a little bit, but in a very profound manner!

As my strength increased on all of my pulling exercises, my forearm growth would progress simultaneously. It wasn’t long before I was able to deadlift nearly 600 lbs without the assistance of wraps, all at a bodyweight of around 180 lbs. To this day, I continue to perform ALL of my back exercises without the assistance of wrist wraps. What I learned is that by gripping and holding HEAVY weights during my back workouts, I stimulated much more forearm strength and development than I possibly could by performing isolated forearm exercises.


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In short—deadlift (as long as you have no injuries preventing you from doing so)! Also, perform as many of your pulling movements as you can without using wraps, and kick those wrist curls and wrist extensions to the curb! These exercises stress the wrist joints and tendons that connect the muscles to the bones of the hands, wrists, and forearms more than anything—and can easily result in overuse injuries.

I wish you all the best of success in achieving your goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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