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How to Get Awesome Forearm Muscles

These muscles play a major role in everything from opening a pickle jar to doing a pull-up. Here’s what you need to know.

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Tennis players have killer forearms. So do golfers, delivery guys, and lumberjacks. How do they get them? Well, that’s pretty obvious — they hit, swing, lift, and chop over and over again. The real question is, does anyone need to work their forearms? And can you do so in the gym? The answer to both of these is a resounding yes. “The forearm muscles come into play in so many things we do, from carrying bags to opening jars,” says Darin Hulslander, a certified functional strength and performance coach at This Is Performance in Chicago — not to mention doing pull-ups, push-ups, and making gains in other parts of your body. Forearm strength matters. Fortunately, it’s easy to gain..

First, a quick primer: Your forearm refers to the region between your elbow and your wrist. It is composed of two bones, the radius and the ulna, as well as 20 muscles that surround them, known broadly as pronators and supinators. “Even seemingly unrelated gym activities involve your forearms. “I’ll see guys struggling to do a pull-up and they’ll say, ‘I have no grip,’” says Hulslander. “They don’t make the connection that their forearms are weak.”

What else do you use your forearms for? Serving a tennis ball, shoveling snow, and hammering a nail on its head, to name a few. Basically, anything that requires a strong grip involves your forearms. When it comes to determining how fit your forearms really are, “we assess forearms strength by measuring how long someone can hold a weighted object for,” Hulslander says. “A 200-pound guy should be able to hold a 100-pound dumbbell in each hand for about 30 seconds.”

Not you? No worries. The six moves here are designed to work your forearms from different approaches to give you both the strength and flexibility you need. A few rules of thumb: Do these moves on workout days that don’t involve a lot of upper body or gripping activities, says Hulslander. “Ideally, you can pair them with your leg days,” he says. Second, banish the notion that heavier is better. “Choose a weight you can stick with for 30 seconds without it slipping out of your hands or requiring some sort of compensation.” If lugging 40 pounds around your garage for 30 seconds is causing you the hunch forward or tilt to one side, try 25 to start.

And remember: You don’t have to have the best-looking forearms in the universe to have the most functional ones. “What really matters is what they can do for you in your daily life,” says Hulslander. Get ready to open some pickle jars wicked fast with these forearm-enhancing moves.

Farmer’s Carry

How to: Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight down by your sides, palms facing in. Begin to walk in a straight line, head and shoulders back. Walk 30-45 seconds; release dumbbells and relax for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

Zottman Curl

How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight by your sides, palms facing forward. Keeping your elbows close by your sides, bend arms into a biceps curl. When palms reach shoulder height, rotate your wrists inward until palms face front. Slowly lower weights back down in a reverse curl until your arms are straight. Do three sets of 15-20 reps.

Wrist Curl

How to: Start sitting on a bench, dumbbell in your right hand, right forearm resting on your right thigh. Face palm upward. Curl your wrist so that your palm faces your biceps. Relax and return palm to face ceiling. Do three sets of 15-20 reps. Switch sides and repeat.

Wrist Extension

How to: Start sitting on a bench, dumbbell in your right hand, right forearm resting on your right thigh. Face palm toward floor. Raise the back of your hand so that your palm faces forward and the back of your hand faces your biceps. Relax and return palm to facing the floor. Do three sets of 15-20 reps. Switch sides and repeat.

Digit Squeeze

How to: Grab a hand towel and wad it up into a ball in your right hand. Squeeze the towel as hard as you can for 10 seconds; relax for 10 seconds. Squeeze and release five times. Switch sides and repeat.

Wrist Rotation

How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in either hand, arms straight out to the sides, palms facing the floor. Slowly rotate your wrists and swivel the dumbbells in one direction until your palms face the ceiling, then swivel them back. Continue this back and forth twisting for 30 seconds. Rest for 20 seconds. Repeat two more times.