The forearm is an often neglected upper-body muscle, but it is responsible for a vice-like grip, crucial in both confident corporate handshakes and grappling and clawing in martial arts (or when you are required to open a jar).
Without a strong grip, it is difficult to increase the strength of other larger muscle groups. For example, consider doing a set of heavy dumbbell rows, or deadlifts – without developing forearm strength you will not be able to hold the weight for the required time. Since the forearm is a much smaller muscle, it tires quicker than larger muscles such as the back and chest, preventing you from completing heavy or high-rep back exercises.
You will often find that a large difference exists between the strength and stamina of your left and right forearms because one side dominates everyday lifting tasks. To test the strength of each forearm, try this simple test: take hold of a 20kg weight plate between the thumb and fingers in a pincer-like grip. Hold on to a flat part and time how long you are able to hold it with one hand, then change sides and compare,
The following exercises help to develop a strong grip.
1. Reverse Curls
Stand holding a barbell with a reverse grip, with elbows against your sides. Curl the bar up. bringing your hands towards your shoulders, then slowly lower, ensuring your upper arms remain still. Three sets of 12 repetitions
2. Behind the back wrist curls
Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell behind your back with both palms facing away from you. Curl the barbell up using only your wrists and forearms, return to the starting position, allowing the bar to roll into your fingertips and then repeat, Three sets of 15 repetitions
3. Palms down wrist curls over a bench
Holding a barbell with palms facing down, kneel beside a flat bench, forearms resting on the bench with hands extended over it. Lower barbell then curl up as high as you can without moving your forearms. Three sets of 15 repetitions
4. One arm hang
Hanging from a bar, drop one arm and shake out your forearm for five seconds. Reach back up and take hold of the bar with both arms, then drop the other arm and shake it out. Continue alternating, performing 10 changes in total. Five changes on each hand.
5. Wrist rolling
Wrist rolling is often considered to be a safer method of grip/forearm strengthening than wrist curling. There are no wrist rollers on the market currently, so you will have to make your own one. All you need is a thick piece of wood, such as a tree post. Cut it so that it is about 30cm (12 inches) long, and sand it down. Drill a hole though the center, and pass a thin rope (washing line wire seems ideal) and hang a light weight on the end. Only 2-5 kilos is required to start with. Then hold the roller out at shoulder height in front of you, and wind the weight down to the floor, and continue until the line is rolled up to the other side. Then reverse the direction so the weight falls back to the floor, and returns. Keep the weight moving at a steady pace, with the wrists curls smoothly. Avoid sudden jolts or twists, as these can lead to injury.
6. Use a Powerball
Powerballing is a relatively new way to increase wrist strength. We first reported on it last year – Powerballs – New Grip Strengthening Device.
A Word of Warning
Start out with a light weight on all the wrist curling exercises. It is very easy to injure a wrist, and once injured, your weight training, martial arts and corporate handshakes are all forced to stop while you recover. So take it easy and build up. Whether you build a dedicated wrist training routine, or incorporate these exercises into your usual training schedule, by improving wrist and forearm strength, you will gain in all areas of weight training and martial arts.