Q: I just turned 40, and my training is going fairly well; however, I notice that my forearms seem too small for my biceps. I’ve tried the conventional forearm routines, but with little success. Do you have any advice about building forearms?
A: You couldn’t have picked a better subject for me to talk about. To begin with, the forearms not only are important for proportion and overall symmetry in bodybuilding but also contribute greatly to your ability to handle heavy weights on biceps exercises—especially when you use dumbbells.
|For the better part of my first few years of lifting, I always worked my forearms hard and often. It paid off; they grew to an enormous size—so much so that later in life I won armwrestling championships. They were documented as the largest forearms for the size of the wrist: eight-inch wrist and 16-inch inch forearms with the arm straight out and the forearm flexed; and an astonishing 19 inches with them flexed at 90 degrees to my biceps.||
It all started when I was around 14. It was the late 1960s, and my bodybuilding idol was Larry Scott. He trained at Vince Gironda’s gym in Studio City, California. Vince helped Scott win the first Mr. Olympia, and Scott’s biceps and forearms were a big part of that. My father was also an inspiration, and he passed along some good genetics.
I was determined to have great arms. I can remember my younger brother Pat standing in front of me waiting to grab the bar when I’d flexed my forearms so many times in one set I couldn’t hold onto the bar any longer. My technique was rather simple and yet became the basis of my future training philosophy (for more on that, see my book Burke’s Law—A New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male).
What was it that made my forearms grow so big? I’d pile a large amount of weight on the bar, sit on the edge of a flat bench, pick up the bar (or have the bar handed to me) and rest both forearms on my thighs. I’d learned from a small, obscure book by Olympic lifter and trainer Bob Hoffman that when training forearms you should 1) maintain an extremely hard grip on the bar and 2) add a towel wrapped around it to make the bar thicker. What? Yes, I’d wrap I thick towel around the bar, putting tape around each end, near the inside collars of the barbell.
I’d never allow the bar to roll down my palm and to the edge of my fingertips, as almost every bodybuilder does. In fact, I’d stop the downward movement when my palms were on the same plane as my forearms. At exhaustion I’d raise my heels with my calves to get the bar in the contracted position, hands curled toward the forearms, and do 15 to 20 more partial reps—moving the bar only one or two inches in the flexed position.
I’d just squeeze in and out a tiny bit for as many seconds as I could possibly stand. I didn’t think of reps; I went until complete failure. I got into the habit of doing that until about the age of 15, when I looked like Popeye. I had 16- inch upper arms and 16-inch forearms. People began looking at my enormous arms almost with fear—and I couldn’t have been happier!
I soon began supersetting the wrist curls, done with partials, and standing reverse curls, done using a cambered, or EZ-curl, bar. I’d go to failure on both and do two or three complete cycles. My forearms were huge and riddled with veins—they were so big, they even looked massive to my father, who was pretty big himself.
I suggest you train your forearms two times in an eightday cycle. I rarely advise training any other body part more than once in an eight-day cycle. Still, building up your forearms requires three ingredients: intense concentration, an ability to stand great burning pain for extended periods and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make them grow.
To ensure optimal growth, take the advice that I was given all those years ago: Wrap a towel tightly around the bar you’re going to use. Be sure, however, that you can get your hand entirely around the bar—it should add just enough width that the bar feels thicker and harder to squeeze, but not so much that it’s doubled in size.
Pick a weight that you know gives you 12 to 15 reps. Keep squeezing, never letting the bar go below the spot where your wrist is even with your forearm. Never let your fingers relax—and no false grips; keep your thumbs wrapped around the bar. Squeeze from that position up to as high as you can pull toward the inner belly of the forearms.
Once you’ve completed as many of the full reps as you can, give yourself a lift by kicking up your heels, and roll that bar back and forth, no more than an inch or so, as many times as you can in the contracted position. Do partials until your forearms burn, then hurt, then feel as if they’ll explode. It should be a minute or more before you give up.
The key here is pain and as much pump as you can stand. It’s not dangerous; it is, however, scary how big your forearms will pump up. For a month or so do only this for three grueling sets of wrist curls. After a month try supersetting with reverse curls. Make it a test of your pain threshold. The more pump and pain, the more your forearms will grow.
Remember, you have to squeeze! It’s sheer torture, but it triggers enormous muscle hypertrophy. I have never seen anyone not gain great forearm size and strength while using this method.