Are you neglecting your forearms during your workouts? In today’s article, you’ll learn the essential isolation exercises that you can do to stretch and strengthen your forearms.
When was the last time that you focused on strengthening your forearms at the gym? Is wrist and elbow mobility a regular part of your training routine?
It should be!
While not the most glamorous of muscles, well developed forearms are essential for optimal athletic performance. The strength of your forearms is the key to being able to lift heavier weights for a longer period of time — it’s hard to get stronger if your forearms fail before your targeted muscle group.
The muscles of the forearm originate at the elbow and insert into different parts of the wrist and hand. Because of this it is also necessary to include a range of movements that strengthen and mobilize the wrists and hands during your forearm exercises.
The Role of the Forearms in Exercise
The wrist and forearm flexors and extensors are regularly used in many types of sports and functional exercise (e.g., pull-ups, push-ups, yoga poses, gripping weights, swinging bats, and throwing balls). Yet neglecting to train these muscles in isolation can lead to imbalanced muscle development and injury.
For many of us, the forearm extensors are stronger and tighter than the forearm flexors, where we tend to have less strength and flexibility. This is caused by prioritizing movements that activate the forearm extensors, such as planks, push-ups, and burpees, or any movement that keeps the fingertips higher than the wrist.
In addition to exercise, lifestyle habits can also add to the strain. Here are some situations where you might be overworking your forearms, without even knowing it:
- Using a keyboard that is slightly too high.
- Texting with both thumbs while your elbows are close to your side.
- Driving with the heel of the hand pressing into the steering wheel or hooked over the top of the steering wheel.
Forearm exercises isolated to the forearms and wrists help to remedy this muscle imbalance.
Benefits of Forearm Isolation Exercises
Training the forearms, wrists and hands in all planes of motion will help you improve your grip, reduce elbow and wrist strain, and increase your dexterity.
Improved Grip: Strong forearms and wrists are important because they allow you to properly develop the biceps, triceps, deltoids, chest, and back. Being able to grip and control weights through a full range of motion is a fundamental part of any strength training routine, so it’s important to make sure that you don’t neglect these muscles.
Reduced Joint Strain: You’ve probably heard of “tennis elbow”; maybe you’ve even experienced it. This is caused by overusing the elbow joint. Well-developed forearms can help to relieve this strain by evenly distributing the load over the arms when you play sports, exercise, or lift and carry things as part of your daily routine.
Increased Dexterity: Strengthening and increasing flexibility in your forearms, wrists, and hands improves fine motor skills such as those needed to type, write, or play a musical instrument.
Weak forearms and wrists can lead to:
- Reduced progress in your strength training routine
- Discomfort when carrying heavy objects
- Ailments such as tendonitis or repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)
- Reduced efficiency in activities that require dexterity, such as typing or texting
13 Forearm Exercises to Stretch and Strengthen
These forearm exercises focus on high repetitions with low weight (for weighted exercises, use a maximum of 5 pounds). To create a circuit, choose one exercise from each category to perform 3-5 times per week.
1. Extend + Flex
Start with your arms extended away from your chest, palms facing down, and fingertips reaching long. Bend the wrist and point the fingertips down towards the ground. Flex the wrist and point the fingertips up towards the ceiling. Keep a slight bend in the elbows and keep the upper arm still as you move the wrists. This exercise strengthens and stretches the forearm flexors. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions in each direction
2. Wrist Circles
Start with your arms extended away from your chest, palms facing down, and fingertips reaching long. Flex the wrist and point the fingertips up to the ceiling (imagine that you are trying to pull the fingers back to your forearm). Maintain this flexion and rotate the elbows and wrists so that the fingers point to the sides. Continue to rotate until the fingertips point down to the floor, with the inner elbow facing the ceiling. Reverse the movement, taking the fingertips back to the side and then the ceiling. This exercise stretches the inner wrist and strengthens the forearm flexors. Perform 8 to 10 repetitions.
3. Rope Climbs
Start with your arms extended away from your chest, palms facing down, making soft fists with your hands. Imagine that you are twisting a piece of rope, one fist rolling up while the other rolls down. Continue to alternate. Note: you can also hold a thin towel or dowel rod during this exercise. This exercise improves mobility in the wrist and gently strengthens the grip. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
4. Fist Grip
Start with your arms extended away from your chest, palms facing in, and fingertips reaching long. Keep the elbow straight as you make a fist with your hand, squeezing tightly. Hold this for 20 seconds. Release by stretching the fingers forward. As you squeeze, you should feel all the muscles of the arm, and even the core, engage. Repeat three sets
5. Ball Squeeze
Similar to the exercise above, but you will squeeze a soft ball for added resistance. Use a tennis ball or fascial release rubber ball, and squeeze it as hard as you can for up to one minute, periodically squeezing it even more. This is also known as a “crush grip,” and it strengthens your hands to carry heavy objects such as dumbbells, grocery bags and luggage.
6. Gentle Fist Rocks
Start with your arm reaching forward with a bend in the elbow. Make a gentle fist, palm facing up, and begin to rock your fist up and down. This adds mobility to the wrist and forearm from a locked position. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
7. Hammer Curl
Hold a pair of light weights. Bend your arms to 90º, with the elbows tucking into the body and the thumbs pointing directly to the ceiling. Flex the inner wrist to gently pull the thumb towards your arm, return to neutral, and then reverse by pushing the thumb away and bending the wrist slightly down. Try to not the let the hands deviate right or left as you move. This exercise strengthens the small muscles at the side of the wrists, and increases lateral mobility. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
8. Wrist Rock
Hold a pair of light weights. Bend your arms to 90º, with the elbows tucking into the body and the thumbs pointing directly to the ceiling. Bend the wrist to draw the fist inwards, and then flex the wrist to point the knuckles to the sides. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
9. Weighted Flex + Extend
Hold a pair of light weights. Bend your arms to 90º, with the elbows tucking into the body and the palms facing up. Bend the wrist to draw the fist up towards the ceiling, and then flex the wrist to point the knuckles towards the floor. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
10. Knuckle Rocks
Start by kneeling on the floor, make fists and wrap the thumbs over the fingertips. Place the knuckles on the floor. Keeping a slight bend in the elbow, roll over the knuckles towards the thumb-end of the hand, and then reverse and roll back towards the little finger. You may need to increase the bend of the elbow, depending on your flexibility. Press as firmly as you can, without causing discomfort. Perform 12 to 16 repetitions.
11. Backhanded Stretch
Start by kneeling on the floor, and place the back of the hands on the ground underneath your shoulders. The fingers are pointing back towards your body. Stay here and breathe, or gently sit your hips back towards your feet to increase the stretch. This exercise is stretching numerous muscles in the hands, wrists and upper forearms. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds, then release.
12. Reverse Stretch
Start by kneeling on the floor. Place your palms on the ground underneath your shoulders, with the fingers pointing back towards your body. Stay here and breathe, or gently sit your hips back towards your feet to increase the stretch. This exercise is stretching numerous muscles in the hands, inner wrists and inner forearms. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds, then release.
13. Finger Stretch
Start with one arm extended away from your chest, palm facing away from you, and fingertips reaching up to the ceiling. Take the other hand around your fingertips and gently draw them back towards your forearm. Hold for several breaths. Repeat 3-5 times. Reverse the stretch by pointing the fingers down, palm facing in, and gently pull the back of the hand and fingers. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds.
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