Forge an Iron Grip With These 15 Best Forearm Exercises

Try these 15 moves out to add strength and mass to your forearms.

When you’re training grip intensive exercises like chin-ups, deadlifts, bent-over rows, or carry variations, you will often feel your forearms burning. It’s usually the first muscle group to fatigue, and so grip strength is often a weak point for many lifters. When ripping a 500-pound deadlift off of the ground, it’s almost always your grip, not your lats, that give out first.

Of course, you can throw a bandage on the issue and wear lifting straps (which are a great tool), but you should also focus on building forearm strength. Below, we outline the best forearm exercises, dive deep into the benefits of forearm training, and explain how your forearm muscles function.

Best Forearm Exercises

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

Barbell Reverse Biceps Curl

The simple act of changing your grip on the barbell curl will help you build size and strength on the neglected part of the forearm. Reverse curls train the smaller forearm extensors (brachioradialis, pronator teres) and brachialis — a muscle underneath the biceps that will help make your biceps look bigger when you flex.

Strength imbalances between the forearm extensors and flexors may lead to sore elbows, so it pays to train the forearm extensors from an injury prevention standpoint too.

Benefits of the Barbell Reverse Biceps Curl

How to Do the Barbell Reverse Biceps Curl

Start with a weight that’s approximately 10 pounds lighter than what you would use for regular barbell curls. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding with your arms by your sides with your knuckles facing towards you. Keeping your elbows tucked to your side, slowly curl the barbell up slightly above 90 degrees. Reverse the move slowly to the starting position and repeat. 

Wrist Roller

This is a great forearm exercise because it builds size, strength, and endurance simultaneously. The wrist roller trains both forearm flexors and extensors (deltoids and rotator cuffs isometrically), and the pump and burn are incredible while using only light resistance.

The wrist roller is one of the best exercises for developing forearms, and it is a vital piece of equipment in any gym. The downside is, if your gym doesn’t have one, then you’re out of luck.

Benefits of the Wrist Roller

  • Strengthens both your forearm extensors and flexors.
  • The thick grip of the wrist roller helps to improve grip strength.

How to Use the Wrist Roller

Start with a five-to-10-pound weight plate if you’ve never done this before. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding the wrist roller with knuckles facing towards you, and slowly perform a front raise to bring the roller to shoulder height. Roll the weight up, alternating hands until the weight is fully wound, and then slowly reverse the movement.

Behind-the-Back Barbell Wrist Curl

The behind the back wrist curl targets your forearm flexors and improves your finger strength. Both are important for grip strength and improving your ability to grip it and rip it. A major advantage of this variation, as opposed to other options, is adding load in increments.

Start on the lighter side with higher reps, but don’t be afraid to add weight to strengthen your forearms further. 

Benefits of the Behind-the-Back Barbell Wrist Curl

  • Isolates your forearms flexors with a load higher than other wrist curl variations.
  • The ability to add incremental load.
  • Improves finger and grip strength.

How to Do the Behind-the-Back-Barbell Wrist Curl

Set up a barbell on a power rack around knee level and stand facing away from it. If you don’t have a rack or partner, balancing the barbell on a bench is optional. Bend down and grab the barbell with a shoulder-width grip, stand up straight, and engage your glutes. Let the barbell roll down to your fingertips, then curl the barbell back up and flex your forearms. Pause for a second in that flexed position before returning to the starting position.

Plate Pinch

Your fingers are incredibly strong — strong enough for some people to climb mountains while supporting their entire weight with a few fingertips. While a lot of grip exercises use a crush grip, the plate pinch trains the pinch grip, getting the fingers, thumbs, and forearms strong.

This is a great exercise for football players and wrestlers to improve their sport-specific grip strength.

Benefits of the Plate Pinch

  • Improves finger and thumb strength. 
  • Builds endurance and strength in your forearm muscles. 
  • Direct carryover to sport-specific grip strength for football players, climbers, and wrestlers.

How to Do the Plate Pinch

There’s a couple of ways you can do this. Use a 25 or 45-pound bumper plate and hold for time. Or hold two or more 10-pound plates, smooth side out, and hold for time. Make sure you have your chest up shoulders down to maintain good posture. For added difficulty, walk while pinching the plates.

Towel Pull-Up

When regular pull-ups become easier, the simple act of adding a towel will make this exercise tougher because it’s harder to grip a towel than a bar. 

This version focuses on the forearms because of the neutral grip and the difficulty of holding and pulling up on the towel, which builds forearm strength and size while strengthening your back and biceps.  

Benefits of the Towel Pull-Up

  • Improves the size and strength of your forearms.
  • The neutral grip is easier on your shoulders.
  • Trains your gripping strength like with most pulling movements and crushing grip strength due to the act of squeezing the towel.

How to Do the Towel Pull-Up

You can use a single towel or two towels to do this. The single towel trains your forearms more, while the two-towel pull-up focuses more on your lats. Hold the towel midway up, using a firm grip and perform pull-ups keeping your shoulders down and chest up until you feel your grip failing.

Fat Grip Biceps Curl

The fat grip biceps curl makes the dumbbells harder to grip by increasing their diameter, forcing your forearms and biceps to work harder. This trains the forearms in two ways, by engaging your hands through gripping and your forearm by flexing.

You have the benefit of either using a supinated grip, hammer curl grip, or reverse grip, depending on your goals. If you need to increase grip strength and get some Popeye forearms and biceps, this one is for you.

Benefits of the Fat Grip Biceps Curl

  • Strengthens the forearm by challenging your grip with a wider-than-usual implement.
  • Makes it easier to lift when you go back to a regular grip.
  • Increases grip strength, which has direct carryover to other lifts that require grip strength.

How to Do the Fat Grip Biceps Curl

Wrap towels or fat grips around a pair of dumbbells. Grip the handles using either a supinated, hammer, or reverse curl grip. Curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders until you feel a squeeze in your biceps. Pause for a second and return to the starting position.

Three-Way Chin-Up Hold

The three-way chin-up hold strengthens your grip in three different positions. It also helps you improve your strength and performance with regular chin-ups. The isometric holds in each position test your forearm and grip strength by increasing your time under tension for potential forearm hypertrophy benefits.

This exercise is a true test of will, and doing it will build mental and physical toughness.

Benefits of the Three-Way Chin-Up Hold

How to Do the Three-Way Chin-Up Hold

Either use a box to elevate yourself or jump up and grab the bar to get to the top lockout position. Hold for 10 or more seconds. Slowly lower to just above a 90-degree elbow position and hold for 10 or more seconds. Then, lower until your elbows are slightly flexed. Hold for 10 or more seconds. Slowly lower yourself down to a dead hang position and finish. 

Trap Bar Deadlift to Carry

Deadlifts strengthen your posterior chain and improve your ability to produce force and power. The carry portion can train your shoulder stability, core strength, and grip strength. It can also add some beef to your forearms.

Put them together to produce both muscle and pain. Trap bar carries not only tear up your grip but also allow you to use more weight for better forearm strength and hypertrophy.

Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift to Carry

How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift to Carry

Use great deadlift form to pick the weight up and perform three to five reps. On the last rep, remain upright and walk at a slow, deliberate pace because this extends your time under tension. Keep your chest up and shoulders down to maintain good posture. When your grip starts to give, stop and lower the weight with control.

Hammer Curl

Yes, another biceps curl made the list — but for good reason. The neutral grip of the hammer curl variation is friendlier on your elbows and shoulders than other curl variations. Plus, the neutral grip leads to extra recruitment of the forearm muscles and the important but neglected muscle the brachioradialis.

This muscle stabilizes the elbow joint during rapid flexion and extension — which is handy if you throw for a living or in recreation. Because the neutral grip is a stronger lifting position, you’ll potentially lift more weight than other curl variations.

Benefits of the Hammer Curl

  • Trains the important and often neglected muscle the brachioradialis.
  • A neutral grip is a strong position that is often easier on your elbows and shoulder.
  • Curl more weight for added strength and muscle.

How to Do the Hammer Curl

Hold the dumbbells by your side with your wrists neutral. Keep your chest up and shoulders down. Maintain neutral wrists and curl until the dumbbells are near your anterior deltoid. Pause for a second, then slowly lower down to the starting position. Reset and repeat.

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

Holding a kettlebell bottoms-up is simple but not easy. The bottoms-up kettlebell carry will challenge your grip and forearm strength. You’ll flip the kettlebell upside down so the heavy portion sits above the handle and the horn sits on the meat of your hand.

This forces you to recruit additional muscle fibers and motor units to control the unstable load. Bottoms-up carries can improve your posture, lateral stability, grip, and forearm strength while strengthening the entire shoulder joint.

Benefits of the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

  • Use less load because of the additional muscular tension needed to hold the bottoms-up kettlebell. You can focus more closely on form with less load.
  • Improves forearm and grip strength due to the instability of the bottoms-up kettlebell.
  • Strengthens lateral stability and improves posture and gait.

How to Do the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

Facing a clear walking path, stand up straight and hold a kettlebell in one hand. Curl the kettlebell in front of your shoulder to chin height. Make sure the horn is sitting in the meat of your hand — the bottom of the bell should be facing the ceiling. Keep your wrist in neutral and your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Grip tight and walk slowly for the specified distance. Lower the weight and switch hands. Reset and repeat. 

Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl is like a dumbbell curl, but with a literal twist. You’ll do a regularly-scheduled curl with your palms facing up on the concentric portion of the lift.

Then, during the eccentric — lowering — component of the curl, you’ll rotate your hands so that your palms are facing down. This rotation transforms the latter half of the lift into a reverse curl. Slow it down for bonus time under tension, which will really light up your forearms.

Benefits of the Zottman Curl

  • This move targets both your biceps and your forearms by adding a rotational element to dumbbell curls.
  • Since you’ll be placing your palms down during the eccentric phase, you’re adding a forearm-focused element to your curls.
  • Incorporating a dynamic rotation to your curls can help train your wrist stability.

How to Do the Zottman Curl

Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly curl the bells up with your palms facing you. At the top of the curl, rotate your palms until they’re facing down. Slowly lower the weights to the bottom position of the curl. Rotate again so that your palms are facing up. Repeat for reps.

Farmer’s Carry

The beauty of the farmer’s carry is that you can load up pretty much as heavy as you can handle with good form. As long as you can keep it in your grasp and maintain your posture and stride, high weights are very fair game.

Another forearm-boosting factor of this move? You can perform farmer’s carries with pretty much any equipment you’d like. Kettlebells, dumbbells with a fat grip, specialized farmer’s walk handles, barbells, sandbags… the list goes on. The more deliberate variety you’re giving your forearms, the better.

Benefits of the Farmer’s Carry

  • You can load up a tremendous amount of weight during the farmer’s carry, which dramatically increases the stress on your forearms.
  • Farmer’s carries rack up a lot of time under tension, which is great for building muscle.
  • This move is scalable to be performed with various weights and implements, making it very accessible for lifters at multiple levels.

How to Do the Farmer’s Carry

Grip the implement of your choice. Stand tall with your hands on either side of your body. Keep your shoulders back and down. Walk with a steady stride for the prescribed time or distance. Rest and repeat.

Chin-Up

The chin-up is an all-purpose strength and muscle-builder — especially when you want to develop those forearms. If you focus only on moves that isolate your forearms as much as possible, you might stimulate growth. But you need those full-body moves to really build a solid foundation.

Adding chin-ups to your forearm-building routine ensures that you are developing an underlying base of strength and stability in your arms. Yes, your grip will be scorched — but you’ll also reap the full-body benefits, too.

Benefits of the Chin-Up

  • This compound move will tax your entire body, building your core, upper back, and biceps along with your forearms.
  • Chin-ups are an excellent way to make sure your forearms are functionally strong, not just jacked.
  • Because they’re a bodyweight-only movement that just require a pull-up bar, you can perform these pretty much anywhere.

How to Do the Chin-Up

Grab a pull-up or chin-up bar with your palms facing toward your body. Keep your hands a little closer than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, pull your shoulders back and down, and initiate the pull with your upper back. Imagine driving your elbows down into your front pockets. Pull until your chin clears the bar. Slowly lower all the way down to the starting position. Repeat.

Crab Walk

The crab walk might look a little out of place in a room full of beefy folks pumping iron. But this bodyweight move can, indeed, help get you shredded. You’ll be in a full bridge position, but scuttling around — yes, like a crab — so your forearms will really need to up their stability game to support you.

Crab walks also help you open up your chest — a welcome relief in the midst of so much benching. You might look a little ridiculous, but your hips and shoulder mobility will thank you for this move. Your forearms will, too.

Benefits of the Crab Walk

  • This bodyweight move will help boost your core strength and forearm strength in one fell swoop.
  • Your shoulder and hip mobility will get a nice increase from practicing this walk.
  • The crab walk helps improve your kinesthetic awareness and coordination, which can translate nicely into complex barbell lifts.

How to Do the Crab Walk

Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet planted in front of you. Place your hands on the ground roughly underneath your shoulders. Press down into your hands and feet. Raise your glutes off the ground. Establish stability in this position. “Walk” with your right hand and left foot moving simultaneously. You can move in any direction you desire. Just keep your rep/step count even between sides and directions. Keep your steps short, only moving a few inches at a time.

EZ-Bar Reverse Curl

Using a curl bar, or an EZ-bar, to perform reverse curls is an excellent way to challenge your forearms. But, this version might be easier on your wrists than the barbell version. You can grip the curl bar in a way that may feel more natural for your wrists’ alignment.

The less pressure your wrists are under, the heavier you may be able to lift. In this way, you might be more comfortable doing heavier reverse curls with this bar than a barbell. This means you’ll be overloading your forearms even more with less potential wrist stress.

Benefits of the EZ-Bar Reverse Curl

  • You’ll target your forearms with the position of this curl.
  • The shape of the EZ or curl bar creates a more wrist-friendly atmosphere for many lifters than the barbell version.
  • Because of the potentially reduced wrist strain, many lifters can load up heavier with this lift than with a barbell or dumbbells.

How to Do the EZ-Bar Reverse Curl

Grip an EZ-bar or curl bar with your palms facing down and away from you. Slowly curl the bar. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl. Slowly lower the bar back to starting position. Repeat for reps.

Programming Forearm Training

Forearm training is a territory that many lifters don’t necessarily know how to approach. As with your core and calves, general compound lifts do involve your forearms and make them stronger. This is especially true of moves like deadlifts and bench presses.

That said, targeted forearm training can be a great asset to your program. But how can you most effectively integrate specific training for such a small muscle group? Check out these factors to consider when you want to pay special attention to your forearms.

Time Under Tension

Using tempo training to increase your time under tension during forearm training is an effective way to stimulate forearm growth. Move especially slowly during the eccentric phase of your forearm exercises — this can help increase muscle growth.

The more time your forearms are spending under tension — particularly in the eccentric (lowering) portion of your lifts — the better you’re setting yourself up for building yourself forearms that The Rock himself would respect.

High Rep Range

Your forearms benefit from a lot of stimulation. Much like your core, your forearms are casually — but crucially — involved in most lifts in some capacity. To target your forearms specifically for strength and growth, try performing high-rep sets that are designed to take you to fatigue. That high rep range allows you to rely more on your forearms as your surrounding muscles fatigue and tap out a little.

Forearm Training Frequency

If you’re holding weights in any way, you’re using your forearms in each workout. But your forearm size or strength might not match that. Either way, if forearm training is a high priority of yours, you may want to integrate forearm-specific training into your program. Consider stringing together a series of forearm exercises into one big grip-fatiguing session per week. Program this session after your big lifts of the day.

Remember that targeting your forearms in a specific session will likely leave you sore and give you a temporary dip in grip strength performance. So, you probably want to avoid a big forearm session before deadlift day. Instead, you may want to slide these exercises in to finish off your deadlift day so that your grip can recover all at once.

Anatomy of the Forearms

The forearms have many small muscles with varying fiber types, but most forearm muscles are slow-twitch dominant, meaning they are difficult to add size and strength.  Understanding the forearms’ form and function is important in obtaining strong and muscular forearms. Here’s a breakdown of the major forearm muscles. 

Woman doing pull-up
Paul Biryukov/Shutterstock

Extensor Capri Radialis Brevis

This muscle is on the thumb side on the back of the forearm, which originates on the posterior lateral humerus and inserts on the third finger. It’s a strong wrist extensor and is involved in wrist hyperextension.  

Extensor Capri Radialis Longus

This long muscle on the back of the forearm extends and radially flexes the wrist. It originates on the lateral epicondyle of the humerus and inserts on the base of your second finger.

Extensor Carpi Ulnaris

A muscle on the ulnar (little pinkie) side on the back of the forearm, which originates on the lateral humerus and inserts on the little pinkie. Its functions are wrist extension and wrist hyperextension.

Flexor Carpi Radialis

A superficial muscle on the thumb and the palm side of the wrist. It flexes the wrist and originates on the medial humerus, and inserts on the second and third fingers on the palm side.

Flexor Carpi Ulnaris

This superficial muscle on the ulna (little pinkie) side originates from two places, the medial humerus and the back of the ulna bone. It inserts on the base of the fifth finger and flexes the wrist to the little pinkie side.

Flexor Digitorum Superficialis

This is the largest muscle of the superficial anterior forearm muscles and originates in three places — the medial humerus and the ulnar and radial bone heads. Then, this muscle tendon splits into four tendons inserting on each of the four fingers. Its functions are finger and wrist flexion.

Brachioradialis

A long narrow muscle that originates on the lateral humerus on inserts on the radial side of the wrist. This muscle is a strong elbow flexor and forearm supinator.

Pronator Teres

This muscle crosses the elbow and forearm and originates in two places, the medial humerus, and the ulna bone. It inserts on the middle lateral surface of the radius and is a strong forearm pronator, and is involved in elbow flexion.

Benefits of Forearm Training

Even if you do want forearms like Popeye, there are other important benefits of directly training your forearms besides vanity. Because improving forearm strength improves grip strength, and this has significant health and performance benefits.

Man with muscular forearms
Ruslan Shugushev/Shutterstock

Improves Your Quality of Life

Grip strength was not only inversely associated with all-cause mortality—every 5-kilogram decrement in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase in mortality. (1) A reduction in grip strength (if not trained) is associated with an eightfold risk of developing muscular disability among older adults. Poor grip strength has also been associated with adverse weight gain among women and mortality among men. (2

Boosts Functional Fitness

Strong forearms are the key to having a good grip, not only for grip-intensive exercises like the deadlift and row variations but for your daily activities, too. You use your grip strength to open pickle jars, doors, hold drinks, and carry the groceries in from the car. Plus, they’re handy for picking up heavy stuff from the floor.

Enhanced Performance 

Grip strength can be a limiting factor with grip-intensive exercises such as rows, chin-ups, and deadlift variations. Improving grip strength means you can do more reps with the same weight or more weight period. After all, you are only as strong as your weakest link.

Eat Yer Spinach

Your goal may be to grow big forearms. Or, you might want to make sure they’re not the weakest link in your one-rep max. Either way, if you want bulging forearms, choose your exercises wisely. Make sure you’re dedicating some training specifically to just your grip. Don’t be afraid to go heavy. Take your time in the eccentric phases to build some eye-popping forearms and crushing grip strength.

References

  1. Leong, D.P., et al. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The Lancet 386, 266-273 (2015).
  2. Mark D Peterson. et al Low Normalized Grip Strength is a Biomarker for Cardiometabolic Disease and Physical Disabilities Among U.S. and Chinese Adults. Multicenter Study J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci2017 Oct 12;72(11):1525-1531. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx031.

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