Why should you train forearms?
Forearms are often overlooked in favour of more aesthetically striking muscles, like the upper arms and abs, or for more obviously strong, powerhouse muscles, like the glutes and quadriceps. However, forearms serve a vital role both in day to day life and in many exercises commonly performed in the gym.
Exercises like pull ups, deadlifts, farmer carries, rows, swings, cleans and curls all use the forearms actively. Even presses like the bench or military press rely on them passively. They are often one of the final points of contact with the bar, dumbbell or kettlebell, and control of the weight is often dependent on how well they perform. If you lack forearm strength, you won’t be able to perform these exercises properly, and your overall development will suffer as a result. Sign up for your gym membership to start putting your fitness first!
When we’re talking about the forearms, we are generally talking about gripping strength and endurance. When you have weak forearms, or forearms unable to work for significant periods of time, they will often be the first thing to give out. This is natural in some cases – think of deadlift straps, used to eliminate reliance on grip so that the stronger muscles of the posterior chain can continue working. However, the greater the muscle mass around the forearms, and the more highly trained they are, the more adeptly you’ll be able to exert force through your grip, for longer. You will be able to perform exercises like rows and pull ups to your full potential.
The forearms are very complex. They are made up of no fewer than seven individual muscles. These are:
- Flexor pollicis longus: This muscle allows you to bend your thumb.
- Flexor digitorum profundus: This muscle aids in bending your index, middle, ring and pinkie fingers.
- Flexor digitorum superficialis: Allows you to use chopsticks (among many other cool things).
- Flexor carpi ulnaris and radialis: Allows you wiggle your wrist back and forth.
- Brachioradialis: Allows you to do the ever-popular “so-so” motion with your hand.
- Palmaris longus: Allows you to wave goodbye to a child.
- Extensor pollicis brevis: Allows you to give a strong thumbs-up.
Any rowing movement will engage the forearms and use them to a very large degree. Holding objects as the muscles of the back and biceps bring them towards the body is one of their main tasks. However, pull ups do this more than most – the gripping strength needed to support the full body as it moves through space is phenomenal. In fact, the grip is quite commonly the weak link in the kinetic chain of anyone trying to perform pull ups and will greatly diminish an athlete’s ability to do so.
Main muscles used:
- Upper back
The deadlift is one of biggest hitting exercises going. It is a heavy, taxing compound movement well known for building up large amounts of back and leg strength and musculature. Anybody looking to improve their full body strength, athleticism and muscle mass should include them in their regular routines.
However, as with rows, grip strength is fundamental to correct, efficient deadlift form. It is usually the first element of the deadlift to fail, necessitating the use of wraps. Performing deadlifts to higher reps, at lighter reps, without wraps, will build up grip strength and build strength and size through the forearms.
Main muscles worked:
- Back, lower and upper
- Traps and shoulders
Our forearms play a crucial part in our ability to carry anything suspended from our arms. In the gym, this means carrying large, heavy objects as a way to build them. Forearm exercises like the farmers carry, or suitcase carry will use our gripping strength and abilities as they are meant to be used.
The farmers carry is just about the most expedient way in which to build mass and strength through the forearms, leading to much improved overall grip strength.
- Upper back
- Traps and shoulders
- Lower back