Your biceps and triceps might get most of the attention during your muscle-building upper body workouts, but if you want real strength and symmetry, you’ll also want to train your forearms.
The forearms are important for more than just filling out the lower half of your shirtsleeves. You forearms are key for grip strength, which is essential for everything from daily activities like opening a pesky jar to holding onto a barbell for a max deadlift attempt. Grip strength has also been linked to longevity—so if you want to live longer, it pays to give your forearms some love.
But there’s more to forearm training than squeezing a stress ball for hours on end. You should have a series of go-to moves integrated into your workouts to target the muscle group—let celebrity trainer Don Saladino and MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS walk you through five of the best, must-do forearm exercises.
The 5 Must Do Forearm Exercises
Pinch Grip Plate Hold
Grab a light set of weight plates, grip by pinching the plate with your thumbs on one side, fingers on the older, and hold. If you want to level up the difficulty, Saladino suggests walking while you hold the weights steady.
Key to this exercise (and all forearm and grip-training maneuvers): grip with intent. “If Don stops creating that tension and creating that squeeze at his forearms, suddenly those plates are just gonna drop,” says Samuel. If you don’t want the weight to come crashing down, you need to keep up the effort for as long as you can.
Towel pull up
This is a difficult exercise that pays off for more than just your forearm strength; Saladino says it takes the pullup to another level, involving your shoulders, lats, and core, too.
If you struggle with pullup reps, Samuel says even hanging gripping the towel can be a good place to start. Just keep your grip as tight as possible.
Fat grip deadlift
You’ll need some extra gear for this exercise. You can invest in a set of Fat Gripz, training tools that expand the girth of your barbells and dumbbells to make it harder to hold onto, or a pair of hand towels wrapped around the bar. Keep in mind that your goal here is totally different than if you were training for a max weight pull.
As Saladino notes, it’s much more common to use some type of aid like straps to shore up the grip, often the weakest point in a heavy lift. Instead, the goal is to make that job harder. Accordingly, you’ll need to cut down on the weight here and put your focus on gripping with intent and squeezing the bar as hard as possible. That will only make your standard lifts stronger. “When I go back to a heavy weight, hopefully I’ll be able to hold that weight a little bit more comfortably,” he says.
Bottoms up kettlebell hold
You’ll need a kettlebell for this exercise, which is actually a way to hold the weight to challenge your forearms. There are two ways to implement the hold for your workouts, according to Samuel: just get into the position and hold isometrically for time, or make it a walk.
The key to the bottoms up position is keeping the forearm perpendicular to the ground. Once that arm angle flags, the weight will tip forward. You’ll challenge more than your grip, especially once you get walking. Your shoulder stability and core will also be tasked to keep the weight in place.
Saladino calls the farmer’s carry the most underutilized exercise in fitness and the king of forearm exercises. “This is a moving plank,” he says. If you don’t have room to walk, you can even just march in place holding weight at your sides. You can use everything from kettlebells and dumbbells to trap bars, and you can really work with heavy loads.
Along with your forearms, the basic farmer’s carry is great for your shoulders and core too—and once you get moving under a heavy load, you’ll even jack up your heart rate. “It’s a phenomenal drill, and it’s also very safe.”
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