All the arm-day sessions in the world won’t mean anything if you’re still walking around with toothpick-size forearms. If you’ve been neglecting forearm training, rest assured that it doesn’t have to require marathon sessions—effectiveness and efficiency should be your goal. But if you’ve been relying on wrist curls for your forearm training, you’re missing out on both.
Before science and training trial and error evolved to what it is today, most weightroom warriors looked to only the wrist curl and its endless list of useless variations as their sole means of forearm training. Little did we know back then that all those sets of holding a barbell behind our backs or over the edge of a bench, then flexing our wrists till the burn came were doing nothing substantially beneficial for blasting our forearms.
Today some of us won’t let go—literally—from wrist curls, even though there are plenty of better options out there than this Overrated old-school waste of our training time, say MH fitness director fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and Mathew Forzaglia, N.F.P.T., C.P.T., founder of Forzag Fitness.
“Back in the day when we started working out with no education whatsoever, [wrist curls] were the thing,” Forzaglia says. “We’d go through the workout—behind the back wrist curls, arms on the bench, wrist curls—but in reality, we’re training only one dimension of the forearm, and when we go to translate that into something else or put it toward everyday life or training, we’re not really strong in any another position but the wrist curl.”
Why are wrist curls overrated? For many reasons, including these:
WHY SKIP WRIST CURLS
Trains Bad Curling Form
Whether you realize it or not, your typical arm-day routine—dumbbell curls, barbell curls, almost any type of curl—which has your wrists working throughout each set from a neutral position, is playing a more significant role in developing your forearms than what the one-dimensional wrist curl provides. No matter how many wrist curl reps you knock out, the movement’s constant wrist flexion has little carryover into other exercises such as rows and pullups.
Only Trains Wrist Flexion
Why are wrist curls one-dimensional? There’s more to forearm training than just flexion. You also need to focus on forearm extension and stabilization, which you can get from a host of other exercises. Just sticking with wrist curls and failing to adequately work the other forearm muscles could be a potential recipe for tendonitis or other long-term tendon-related issues.
You Can Load Your Forearms Much More
Sure, slapping on some plates on a barbell and begin flexing our wrists for dozens of reps can seem like heavy lifting to some. But the training truth is that your forearms can—and should—be taking on a heavier amount of weight from time to time to challenge not only your forearms but also your grip strength in a much more effective way.
Wrist Curl Alternatives
Biceps and Hammer Curls
3 sets of 10 to 12 reps
Yes, curls do more than just blow up your biceps. By maintaining a strong, firm, and neutral grip with each curl rep, you’re creating a ton of forearm work to go along with your normal biceps training. Two curls in particular—the hammer curl and EZ-bar reverse curl— hit those areas of your forearms most neglected by wrist curls. So grip “with intent” during your next biceps session (and every workout after).
“Your forearm is working at different points throughout the curl,” Samuel says. “It has to essentially correct and make sure it maintains that neutral position. That can be a lot more work for your forearm and it’s gonna give you a good forearm pump as you’re pumping your biceps, your brachialis, or whatever you’re working.”
Bottoms-Up Clean and Twist
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Not only will this kettlebell move require you to focus on forearm strength, you’ll also be working on increasing shoulder stability without necessarily having to load as heavy a weight as normal, making this unconventional move a great bang for your forearm buck. By holding the kettlebell in an upside-down position, the wobbling of the weight is going to force your wrist to maintain a vertical position to keep the bell upright. This will require plenty of forearm power to achieve. The twist from this position is going to add an additional piece of dynamic and fun forearm challenge that you don’t get from curls.
3 sets of 40 second walks (or holds)
Anyone who ends their conditioning with a few sets of these knows that the first thing that gives out is usually your grip, which makes this move a must for forearms training. Best of all, farmers walks can be done with almost any piece of equipment—barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, trap bar, you name it. Just load, lift, grip, then move (or simply stand and hold as an alternative) as far as you can for a set amount of time or distance (we suggest time for starters) or till you cant hold anymore.
“I’m always about does this transfer over to anything in life,” Forzaglia says. “And there’s so many things in life that that carries will translate into, and it’s just going to help you in the long run.”