Curling and carrying may sound like something a hairdresser does, but in the gym they’re a great way to develop your forearms. Putting in some good forearm workouts will not only help you to look good, they’ll help you to develop grip strength. Good grip strength is essential for lifting anything from weights in a gym to your supermarket shopping. It’s therefore definitely worth putting in a bit of effort to develop it.
The basics of good forearm workouts
You can choose the best forearm exercise around (try our list below) but you’ll only get proper benefit from them if you do them the right way. Each exercise will have its own technique but once common factor which applies to all of them is that your elbow is basically the hinge between your upper arm and your forearm. This means that having your elbow in the right position throughout the exercise is crucial to working the right muscles in a safe manner. Generally, you want your elbow tucked in and whenever you’re straightening your arm, you want to keep your elbow slightly bent.
Best exercises for forearms
Here’s our pick of the best forearm exercises around. Most of them only require minimal equipment i.e. a towel or weights. For the most part, if you can do an exercise with a barbell then you can do it with dumbbells, but a barbell is usually better because it makes it more likely that you will work both sides of your body evenly. Many exercises which are generally performed with dumbbells can be performed with barbells or even kettlebells.
If you decide to try these exercises (or any other forearm exercises), remember to focus on technique first and reps/weights second. In particular, please remember what we just said about your elbow!
Barbell Reverse Curl
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip, keeping your elbows slightly bent (i.e. not locked). Flex your elbows so you raise the barbell to shoulder level and end up with your palms facing outward then lower to the starting position.
Dumbbell Zottman Curl
Stand in a neutral position with your arms by your sides and a dumbbell in each hand. Turn your arms so that your palms are facing outwards. Lift to shoulder height, so you end up with your palms facing inwards, and hold. Then rotate your grip so that your palms are facing outwards again and lower to the starting position.
Farmer's Carry (aka Farmer’s Walk)/Suitcase Carry
The traditional way to do a Farmer’s Carry (aka Farmer’s Walk) is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a kettlebell to the side of each foot. Grasp the kettlebells, stand tall with your shoulders back and down and walk forward keeping the weights as steady as possible.
As previously mentioned, you can switch out two kettlebells for one kettlebell held in both hands or use dumbbells or even a barbell. The shape of barbells means that they’re not ideal for this exercise but if that’s all you have then use it.
The Suitcase Carry is basically the exact same exercise except that you carry the weight in one hand.
There is a wide range of overhead carries you can try. The bread-and-butter overhead carry, however, is the Double Kettlebell Overhead Carry. Dumbbells also work fine for this, barbells aren’t great, but again, if that’s all you have then so be it.
The easiest and safest way to get the kettlebells into the overhead position is to swing them up into the rack position (shoulder level). Hold and stabilize and then raise them to the overhead position. Your elbows should be slightly bent and your shoulders down and back. Then walk forwards, keeping the weights steady.
For completeness, you can do this exercise with one kettlebell (or dumbbell) but, unlike with the Farmer’s Carry, you can only use one arm at a time. So basically this becomes the overhead variation of the Suitcase Carry. This version is much more demanding than the regular double carry so keep the weight very light when you first try it (and for as long as necessary afterwards).
Use a weight plate if possible and hold it at the outside grip. Keeping your feet level with your hips and your elbows bent, raise the weight plate above your head. Move the plate in a circular motion around your head. One rep is a clockwise circle plus an anticlockwise circle.
This exercise is mostly about your core, but it will hit your biceps. We thought it might make a good alternative option for people who weren’t confident with the Overhead Carries (or who just fancied a bit of a change).
Towel-Grip Dead Hang
Hang a towel over a pull-up bar, bend your knees so your feet come off the ground and hang there.
If you’ve been paying attention to our advice earlier, you’ll always be starting a new exercise with low weights. This is particularly important with Wrist Rotations as the emphasis is on working up to high reps not adding to the weight load.
Start with a dumbbell in each hand, hands by your sides, palms in. Bend your arms so your elbow is at a right angle. Inhale as you rotate your wrists away from your body until your palms are facing upwards. Exhale as you rotate your wrists towards your body until your palms are facing downwards.
There really aren’t any instructions to give here. You buy a wrist grip and you squeeze it. We generally try to avoid recommending equipment which only serves one, very limited purpose. We make an exception for wrist grips because they’re affordable, easy to store, easy to use and get great results.
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Best forearm exercises summary
Most of the best forearm exercises are variations on curls and carries and these should usually form the core of your forearm workout routine. In fact you can get a great forearm workout using just them (and maybe Wrist Grips). If, however, you want a bit of variety, there are plenty of other great forearm exercises you can use to ring in the changes.