Question: Could you give me some advice on how to get my forearms like Popeye’s? Whatever I try, they don’t seem to want to grow. I recently started using thick grips whenever possible to hopefully remedy the problem. Should I use thick grips on every exercise possible or vary the grip from exercise to exercise?
Answer: The short answer is that you should vary the thickness of the handles the same way you vary other loading parameters, such as reps, sets, tempo and rest intervals. The key is to continually provide new methods to simulate growth, so continually try to change the grip diameter with each training cycle. That being said, my favorite sizes are 3-inch diameter barbells and 2- to 2 ½-inch dumbbells. For home gyms, you can purchase adjustable Olympic dumbbells from www.NewYorkbarbells.com; for barbells, I recommend www.blackironstrength.com., or you could buy an adaptor from FatGripzcom.
Don’t just limit your thick-handled training to curling movements. You can use them for virtually all upper body exercises, but when using thick-handled barbells for pressing movements, I suggest you perform them in a power rack with safety pins because it’s easy to lose control of the weight (especially if you’re new to this type of training). And for a real gut-buster, eat a can of spinach and take a shot at thick-handled deadlifts!
In addition to thick-handled work (by the way, I was just kidding about the spinach), here’s a little trick you can try that should trigger more growth in your forearms when you perform wrists curls. It requires access to a one-arm, low-pulley machine.
Perform your wrists curls in the conventional manner, with your forearms on your thighs and your upper body leaning over the forearms. Use a weight that allows you to complete 8 to 12 reps. Hold on – you’re not done yet! Once you reach muscular failure, while still holding onto the handle, stand up and back away from the low pulley. With your elbows locked and the upper arm at 45 degrees in relation to the ground, continue performing wrist curls until you reach muscular failure. So why combine these two exercises?
The flexor digitorum profundus and the flexor digitorum superficialis are forearm muscles that flex the wrists and bend the fingers. The conventional wrist curl only works the flexor digitorum profundus, which is the smaller of the two muscles. However, when you straighten the elbow, you now strongly involve the flexor digitorum superficialis, and because you are now involving two muscles, you are also taking the flexor digitorum profundus to a higher level of failure (a technique called pre-exhaustion). Using even more scientific terms, by extending the duration of the set with the introduction of a compound movement, you create a greater overload on a higher proportion of motor units in your forearms. However you want to describe it, the result is more muscle growth.
Because both the flexor digitorum profundus and the flexor digitorum superficialis flex the wrist, they are often the primary cause of medical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Rather than surgery, often all that is required to resolve the problem is to strip out adhesions with soft-tissue techniques such as Rolfing or Active Release Techniques®. I bring this up because these adhesions can interfere with the ability to perform forearm exercises, and often they are the primary reason that an individual’s strength training or muscle building progress has stagnated or even regressed. In many cases I’ve been able to produce a 10-15 percent increase in curling poundages after just one five-minute soft-tissue treatment of the biceps. Granted, there is (to put it mildly) a bit of discomfort associated with this type of treatment, but the results will make you “strong to the finish!”
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