Building a Gorilla Grip and Freaky Forearms

Greg Zulak

Huge, Powerful Lower Arms Can Be Yours

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The forearms are made up of several muscles groups that are used primarily for arm extension and flexion. The five major extensor muscles on the top side of each forearm are responsible for extending the wrists. Three major flexor muscles on the bottom, or underside, of each forearm bend the wrist down.

Most bodybuilders barely think of their wrists and forearms. In their haste to develop their upper arms, chest, back, shoulders and thighs, the wrists and forearms get overlooked, the same way the calves get overlooked. Most bodybuilders donít realize how important forearm development is for total arm symmetry, balance and impressivenessónot to mention strength on a number of key exercises. Very few work their forearms directly. They do maybe 12 to 15 sets each for biceps and triceps and then throw in a measly three sets of wrist curls, and then they wonder why their forearms arenít better built.
Forearms and calves are similar in composition, made up mostly of red muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments. They both respond best to high repetitions, in the 15-to-25 range. That means itís painful to train them, although the pain of developing the calves is worse than that of training the forearms. In both cases muscles have to be engorged with blood and pumped like balloons. In terms of structure, you might say that the calves are to the thighs as the forearms are to the upper arms. Theyíre two muscle groups that are impossible to overdevelop.

Another way the forearms and calves are similar is that both are highly influenced by genetics. Just as some people are born with great calves and never have to train them, some fortunate athletes have gotten fantastic forearm development just from gripping the bar when performing chins, bent-over rows, T-bar rows, shrugs, cleans, upright rows, barbell and dumbbell curls, preacher curls and other upper-body exercises.
Several bodybuilders come to mind in that regard: Mike Mentzer of Heavy Duty fame never had to train forearms directly, and neither did his brother Ray. Mohammed Makkawy and Steve Brisbois, both world champions and top pros, had incredible forearms that were almost as big as their upper arms. (Brisbois had the most impressive forearms Iíve ever seen. In some poses they actually looked bigger than his upper arms.)

Other top bodybuilders, past or present, noted for their great forearms are Dave Draper, Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva, Chuck Sipes, Bill Pearl, Larry Scott, Lou Ferrigno, Jusup Wilkosz, Dorian Yates, Arnold Schwarzenegger and just about any of todayís top bodybuilders. You donít fare well in pro competition with poor forearm developmentónot if youíre standing next to the likes of Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Kevin Levrone, Lee Priest and Craig Titus, all of whom have great forearms.
All you have to do is see a good photograph of these menóor, if youíre lucky, see them in personóto realize how impressive big, muscular and vascular forearms are. It looks as if they could rip steel bars in half. Old-time strong men always did more work for their forearms than their biceps because they did so many lifting feats that required strong gripping power and powerful forearms.
Unfortunately, genetics can work against you. Some people have what are sometimes called Indian club forearms, in which all of the mass is at the top, near the biceps and brachialis, while the lower forearms and wrists are small and underdeveloped. Thereís not much you can do with that type of forearms because there are very few muscle fibers in the lower area to develop. All you can do is work your forearms intensely and make them as big and as muscular as you can. Albert Beckles, the ageless wonder of the í80s, had Indian club forearms, and it didnít prevent him from winning many pro contests.

If you happen to be one of those lucky devils who have naturally large forearms, or whose forearms get all the stimulation they need from holding the bar on upper-body exercises, then move on to another article. (On the other hand, if you want to make your naturally large forearms even bigger and more vascular, with veins the size of garden hoses, you may want to read on.) But if your forearms are underdeveloped, then you definitely need to do specific forearm exercises such as wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, reverse curls, reverse preacher curls and hammer curls. And you must work them with high intensity for the right number of sets, not just a few measly low-intensity sets done as an afterthought at the end of a workout.