Thick Bar Training
by Jim Vaglica
Question #1: What muscle group can be seen more often than any other?
Question #2: What’s the most functional strength you can possess?
Answer: Grip Strength
Weightlifters and powerlifters have always known they could never pull a heavy bar off the floor without a vice like grip. Strongman competitors know the importance of a monstrous grip for many of their events. MMA fighters, wrestlers and grapplers need to sustain a strong grip in order to maintain control over their opponents. Other than the aforementioned groups few guys do any direct forearm exercises and if they do, they’re thrown in, as an afterthought, at the end of a workout..
I decided, at least a year ago, that I would make forearm training a priority so once a week I dedicated an entire workout to training the muscles of my lower arms. So now you’re thinking “How long could a forearm workout take?” Well this was my routine:
Hammer Curls 4 X 8-12
Reverse Curls 4 X 8-12
Reverse Wrist Curls supersetted with Wrist Curls 4 X 8-12
Wrist Roller: alternating between supinated & pronated grips 4 sets each
I would mix up each workout by using barbells, dumbbells or cables.
This workout would take me between 30 – 40 minutes
Even though I was murdering my forearms I felt very little DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) the next day and I didn’t see much muscle growth. If you’re not genetically gifted with thick forearms, much like calves, they are a muscle group that can be very obstinate to growth.
I’ve been a police officer for since 1985 and I’m currently assigned as a street patrol sergeant. I’ve worked my entire career ‘on the street’ and I’ve been involved in thousands of arrests. Every good cop knows to “Watch the Hands.” If someone wants to hurt you they’re most likely going to use their hands, so with any partner I’ve ever worked with, we had a simple rule when it came to controlling a combative person: Grab a wrist and don’t let go. I can’t recall how many times I’ve had to fight or struggle with someone but if all else failed, as long as we could control the hands we had ninety percent of the battle won. The last thing I would want to do is lose my grip on someone’s wrist and now they have a free hand to use against us. One cop I worked with was once is a battle for his own handgun. A bigger, stronger guy had a hold of this cops gun. My friend was able to maintain his grip until backup arrived. He told me he knew that if that suspect was able to pull his gun away, he probably wouldn’t be around to tell the story. In my chosen field I don’t see grip strength as an option.
Thick Bar Training and Irradiation
Not long ago I started hearing about ‘Thick Bar Training’ and the concept of ‘Irradiation.’ This simply means that a muscle will contract harder if the surrounding muscles are also contracted. Back in my competition bench press days I remember one technique for increasing your bench was to squeeze the bar hard as you pressed. This was based on the concept of irradiation. A 1992 study in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics showed that as the bar thickness increased so did the neuromuscular response. So if you’re performing curls your biceps would be working, to a greater degree, if all your forearm muscles were fully contracted. The same pertains to any tricep exercises. The problem is that the standard one inch bars are too thin to sufficiently squeeze. This is why the thick bars were developed. The next problem is that thick bars are expensive and most commercial gyms don’t have them.
Then I heard about a product called ‘FatGripz.’ The concept is so simple it’s brilliant. Heavy rubber handles that easily transform any bar into a ‘thick bar.’
I had to try these for myself and I decided the real test would be using FatGripz during my pull up workout. I have had a long term love/hate relationship with pull ups for years. I believe pull ups are essential in maintaining a good ‘strength to body weight ratio’ and they are the basis of my back work. Using the FatGripz, I figured, the toughest hand placement would be palms facing me (supinated) because most of the tension would be on my thumbs. The bar I was using was so thin that the FatGrips could spin around it, making it even tougher to hold onto. For my first set I can always get 15 perfect full range pull ups. With the Fatgripz I could only hang on for ten. I did three more sets with this grip finishing with five reps. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to hold on. I then went to a neutral grip for four sets of five and finally the pronated grip for four sets of five. My forearms were so pumped I could see my own pulse. Using the FatGripz brought pull ups to a whole new level of difficulty. The next day I felt DOMS in my forearms like I never have before. The pain was from my elbow all the way to my wrist and it lasted for 3 days. I’ve been doing research on ‘thick Bar Training’ and experimenting using the FatGripz with various exercises for about two months. Thick bars are also beneficial in pressing movements such as the bench and military press because it takes harmful stress off the wrists and elbows.
After just two months of thick bar training I’ve noticed new growth in my arms and people have commented on how vascular my forearms are have become.
Probably the most highly respected trainer in the country is Charles Poliquin. He has always been an advocate of ‘thick bar training’ and when asked about building bigger biceps, his answer “Work your forearms.”
About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com