If there’s one muscle group that everyone wants to build up to impressive dimensions, it’s arms. As much as most trainees focus on the size of their upper arms, however, most could use a little more work in the forearm area. It can look out of proportion and just plain funny when wearing a short-sleeved shirt when there’s just two twigs dangling from a couple of tree trunks. Of course, concentrating a bit more on direct forearm training can also have beneficial effects on grip strength as well, and having a bit of vascularity in your lower arms never hurts either.
When the weather is warm and you’re outside in a tight T-shirt or something sleeveless, it’s the upper arms that draw the most attention, but in a baggier short-sleeved shirt, some well-developed and vascular size on your forearms is what really raises eyebrows and shows that you’re in serious muscular shape. And aside from just looking more balanced, having a fair amount of forearm development will inevitably mean that you’ve got a strong grip, and that can help with every exercise from deadlifts to bench presses. Yes, grip strength actually plays a big role in strength for pressing movements as well as pulling.
As with muscle size potential, having unusually prominent vascularity can have a lot to do with genetics. If you’ve managed to get your body fat extremely low, but you can’t get a lot of veins to show, then getting any sort of exceptional vascularity might not be in the cards for you. Not everyone wants exceedingly prominent veins, but for those who are craving the look of added detail, one sure fire way to improve the the vein-laden look is by utilizing training methods with higher-tension-times…
Training with higher reps and short rests between sets is also a great method for adding more muscle size. That’s right… High-rep/low-rest training for MORE muscle size. That goes against a lot of conventional training philosophies, but it’s the reason that standard 4X training can do amazing things for muscle size in just about all muscle groups, including forearms.
I’m a big proponent of efficiency in the gym, so I’ve learned to genuinely enjoy using supersets with extensor and flexor work. For those who are unsure, extensors are the muscles on the tops of your forearms; flexors are the thicker and stronger underside of your forearms. Here’s an incredibly efficient and productive forearm routine to experiment with by adding to the end of your arm training…
Superset Reverse curls (4X), 4 x 12 Wrist curls (4X), 4 x 12
The “4X” designation refers to the aptly named training protocol of using four sets with a given weight with minimal rest between each set, and trying to reach the same rep target on each seat. In other words, you choose a weight with which you can do 15 reps, or slightly more, but you only do 12 on the first set. Now just go back and forth from reverse curls to wrist curls, no rest, trying to get 12 on every set. Keep your reps at a steady tempo: one second on the concentric phase (lifting) and two to three seconds on the eccentric phase (lowering).
Go to failure on the last set, although chances are that you’ll actually reach failure on the last two sets. It should rarely happen, but if you get a full 12 reps on the fourth round of either exercise, it’s time to add weight at the next forearm workout.
As a huge added bonus, reverse curls will also help build up your biceps. You’ll get an extra dimension of growth in the form of arm width, so they’ll look wide from the front or the side. You’ll also build the brachialis muscle that twists under the biceps, and that’s a key bit of development for sky-high peaks. So reverse curls don’t just work extremely well for your extensors, but they also increase the size of your upper arms. They also have yet another added benefit of being able to enhance nerve force to your flexors so your wrist curls are more effective.
After a few weeks of training with 4X for your forearms, it will be a good time to change things up again. Tension Overload Repetition Quantity, or TORQ training, is a spectacular method for shocking just about any muscle group into new levels of muscular development. TORQ will increase the tension time of your sets from around 40 seconds each from 4X, all the way up into the upper hypertrophic tension time zone of around 60 to 90 seconds. While the tension times form 4X are longer than most regular sets if you use the proper cadence, the 60-90 seconds from TORQ is an amount of tension time that very few people ever attain, and while it certainly hurts, it definitely works.
Here’s a TORQ-based round of supersets for forearms to push them into a new dimension of muscle growth…
Superset Reverse curls, 3 x 30, 20, 15 Wrist curls, 3 x 30, 20, 15
With TORQ sets you want to use a weight that has you reach failure, or very close to it, at 30 reps on the first set of reverse curls. Then move immediately to wrist curls and blast out 30 reps on those as well. After that superset, rest for about 15-20 seconds, then it hit again. Try for 20 reps on set 2 of each exercise in the superset. Rest another 15-20 seconds, then go for 15 reps on your last superset round.
You will feel an aching burn which you may have never felt before, and that whole series only takes less than 10 minutes. Try to hold in the screams if you’re in a public gym, although it really does hurt so good.
Doing a phase of standard 4X training for a few weeks followed by a another few weeks of TORQ training should get your forearms packed with some new muscle thickness and vascularity, which will have you looking even more detailed, provided that you are eating well, of course.
Try those extended tension time techniques for forearms, or any troublesome muscle group for that matter, or you can use any of the full training routines for either method listed in the 4X e-book, or see the Ultimate Power-Density e-book for TORQ and Super TORQ training. Super TORQ was developed by Doug Brignole, and it takes tension times and muscle burn into a whole new level. The definition of “It hurts, but it works.”
About the Author
Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns X-Rep.com where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog. He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.