It’s tough to show off your hard-earned physique when you’re out in public. All that heavy lifting has to be covered up by jeans, sweaters, and coats. But when you wear a t-shirt, your forearms and wrists are the instant indicators of the strength and muscle you’ve developed in the gym. Big forearms and wrists indicate to the world that you can move a lot of weight when training.
But bigger forearms and wrists aren’t just about looking good, they are extremely important for improving your strength in other lifts and areas. This article will take a look at how to develop greater muscle through your forearms and wrists.
What Muscles Make Up The Forearms and Wrists?
Your forearms muscles work in conjunction with the biceps, and you can’t get one big without the other. Between the forearm and the wrist, there are many muscles including 20 just in the forearm itself. Some of these notable muscles include:
- Flexor carpi Ulnaris
- Palmaris longus
- Flexor carpi radialis
- Pronator teres
- Flexor pollicis longus
- Flexor digitorum profundus
All these muscles work in conjunction with each other, and the wrist, to grasp onto things and hold them. The muscles of the forearm and wrists are also important for performing flexion at the wrist and fingers.
They also are important with pronation and are involved in big strength training lifts and small everyday movements. You need strong forearms and wrists for lifting a barbell, swinging a golf club, or just opening a jar.
What Are the Best Exercises to Get Bigger Forearms and Wrists?
Directly targeting the forearms and wrists is effective, but true growth starts with the larger compound movements that recruit them. Exercises such as the deadlift are one of the best all-around muscle building exercises, and that includes the wrists and forearms.
You may have noticed after a day of heaving deadlifts that your forearms are quite sore. This is because those 20 different muscles are all involved with the grip of the bar and the movement of the weight.
Deadlifts also work your wrists due to the grip strength required. You may use lifting straps when deadlift–and this can be a great way to lift heavier weights–but if you want bigger forearms and wrists, you may want to try lifting without them.
Lifting straps take away some of the load transfer that would normally be distributed to the wrists and forearms. You will probably have to lighten the load of the bar, but this will help with more muscle building through the forearms.
Studies show that forearm musculature is most active during a double overhand grip or a hook grip too.
Grip strength is one of the reasons people hit failure on the deadlift. Most often, the other muscles haven’t failed, but the grip has. Lifting without straps is the best way to improve that grip strength which will build up the wrist muscles, and help improve your other lifts.
Neutral Grip Pull Ups
When you turn your hands inward to use a neutral grip on the pull-up, you drastically increase the activation of the forearms. More of the weight load of your entire bodyweight gets distributed to the forearms–especially the brachioradialis. This is the biggest muscle of the forearm and is involved with bicep development too.
The grip strength required to lift your entire body weight will also build the muscles of the wrist along with the forearms. If you want the ultimate wrist/grip strengthening pull up, try doing towel pull ups. This is where you drape a towel over a pull up bar and grasp each end of the hanging towel.
You won’t be able to do as many repetitions as a normal pull up, but the load focus on the grip, wrist, and forearms is tremendous, making it one of the best ways to grow and strengthen these muscles.
Hammer curls use the same hand positioning as the neutral grip pull up. You won’t get as much activation as lifting your own body weight, but hammer curls are a great way to specifically target the forearms and wrists.
Hammer curls also strengthen and build the brachialis which sits underneath the biceps. The stronger and larger your brachialis gets, the larger your biceps do.
With the hammer curl, it’s best to use a seat with a back support so you can target and isolate the forearms most efficiently. Sitting with your back against the support, you will grasp two dumbbells with your palms facing in.
The starting position is with the dumbbells hanging at your side. You can alternate each arm or lift both dumbbells at the same time. You want to keep your forearms and wrist as straight as possible–like you’re hammering a nail–and lift them up making sure to squeeze the biceps and forearms at the top of the motion.
Pause for a second, then lower back under control making sure to get a good eccentric stretch at the finishing phase of the movement. Aim for at least 10-12 reps per set with hammer curls.
This is an exercise that you should train to failure on. Make sure to choose a weight that allows you to hit failure–with good form still–and aim for around 10 to 12 reps.
Reverse Barbell Curl
When you reverse a barbell curl, you move the emphasis away from the biceps and onto the forearms. The hands will be holding the bar but with palms facing downward positioned about shoulder-width apart. This hand position is what recruits the muscles of the forearm and wrist to target and strengthen them.
This exercise might feel a bit strange if you’ve never done it before because of how targeted the forearms get, but experiment with your hand spacing position to make it feel as comfortable as possible.
The movement is similar to the hammer curl. You start by holding the bar in front of your legs. You will begin to lift the bar upwards towards your shoulders until you can’t get it any further. Your range of motion will be determined by the size of muscle you have in your biceps and forearms.
You want to make sure to squeeze the muscles of the biceps and forearms at the top, then lower the bar back under control making sure you get a good stretch at the bottom. You can also aim for at least 10-12 reps with this. Reverse barbell curls usually need less weight than what you would normally curl, so adjust as necessary.
Dumbbell Wrist Flexion
Dumbbell wrist flexion is one of the best exercises to target the wrists and grow them bigger. It is also one of the simplest. You will need two dumbbells and a bench to sit on. Sit on the ehde of the bench holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your forearms will rest against thighs, and the back of each wrist will be on top of your kneecaps.
From there, you will lower the dumbbell downward as far as you can making sure to keep a tight grip the entire time. Lower them until you feel a stretch through the wrists. Without lifting your arm off of your thigh, curl the dumbbell upward as if you’re trying to touch it to your bicep, then go back to the neutral position.
This is an exercise that benefits from higher reps so you can do upwards of 20-25 reps. These are tougher than they look, and can burn deeply. It may take a little while to find the right resistance to fully fatigue the wrists.
Getting bigger forearms and wrists is as much about heavy compound movements as it is direct targeting. The good thing is, all these muscles work in conjunction so it’s hard to grow one without the other.
Deadlifts and pull-ups will be the key movements that will develop overall size, and hammer curls and reverse barbell curls will be the next best way to directly target them. Building bigger forearms and wrists requires consistency. They are muscles that are used every day, and every gym session, but still benefit from direct training.