In my opinion, forearms and hands are some of the most underrated muscles in the body. While forearm, grip strength training, and hand strengthening exercises won’t necessarily add mass or build impressive looking muscles, these types of workouts can help develop functional strength. General forearm strength is required for a number of different lifts. If you’re forearms aren’t strong, they can be a limiting factor. Additionally, once you start doing forearm exercises, you might be surprised to find that your other lifts actually improve. Hand and grip strength can help with everything from a simple activity like carrying a suitcase to any number of sports such as wrestling, martial arts, football, and baseball.
Building strong forearms can help you get stronger at other lifts. For example, it’s very tough to do pull ups or deadlifts if you can’t hang onto the bar. Generally speaking, your forearms get a lot of the training they need from exercises that require pulling motions. However, it can be beneficial to add additional forearm training exercises to your routine. A few examples include:
1. Wrist curls
2. Reverse wrist curls
3. Rotating unilaterally loaded dumbbells
In doing forearm exercises, I generally work in the 10 rep range. This is one area of strength training that I think benefits from a slight endurance approach. Overall, forearm exercises are a great place to start building functional strength and should help improve your lifts, but if you really want to take it to the next level, you should focus on grip and hand strength training.
Grip Strength Training
In my opinion, people can have strong forearms without having strong hands, but can’t have strong hands without having strong forearms. Grip strength training should help improve both hand strength and forearm strength. In general, there are four types of grip strength:
1. Pinch grip: squeezing something between your thumb and fingers
2. Supporting grip: holding onto something
3. Opening your hand
4. Crushing grip: shaking hands
Bruce Lee had incredibly strong hands. He was able to stick a finger through the side of a full can of soda and perform two finger pushups:
Incidentally, my current workout routine involves getting strong enough to do one-arm pushups. Maybe after that, I’ll work toward two fingers pushups.
Hand Strengthening Exercises
To properly train your hands, you should try to include training for each specific grip type. For pinch grip strength, you can hold a heavy object such as a weight plate (or two weight plates) between your thumb and fingers. Supporting grip strength is attained by holding really heavy objects, such as dumbbells, in your hands or alternatively hanging from a pull up bar. You can train your extensors, the muscles responsible for opening your hand, by wrapping rubber bands around your fingers and opening your hand against the tension.
For crushing grip strength, you’ll need hand grippers. Unfortunately, the ones sold in most stores are really cheap and built for very high reps. You’d get just as good a workout from simply trying to crush a tennis ball. To get a really good strength training workout, I’d recommend getting Heavy Grips or Captains of Crush. These are for serious hand strength training, and it will be highly challenging to close the grippers with 350+lbs of torque resistance. I won’t outline a full workout routine, but you can perform a standard squeeze, inverted squeeze, and negatives where you squeeze the gripper as long and hard as you can. The hands heal very quickly so you can perform a routine upwards of 4-5 times per week if you’d like. I stick with 3 days per week to allow one full day of rest though.
Stronger Hands, Stronger Lifts
If you haven’t given forearm, grip strength training, or hand strengthening exercises a try, I’d recommend including a few of the above exercises in your routine. Stronger hands will help you with pulling exercises and help you gain functional strength. Maybe one day you can even accomplish the same feats as Bruce Lee. For starters, just focus on getting strong enough to carry a 60lb suitcase through the airport without wheeling it along.
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