Forearm Workout With Dowel Rotations

There are quite a few excellent forearm exercises, and this is definitely one that can give a great forearm workout. It is based on what an otherwise average size guy I once knew did to develop gigantic forearms.

The first job I had with an hourly wage was as an appliance repairman’s helper. It was the first time I saw a real person whose forearms looked like Popeye’s. Until this guy I thought Popeye was just a cartoon character. He spent much of his day using a screwdriver. This was before battery-powered screwdrivers or power drills. There was just the plain wooden handled variety. And there was no drilling a pilot hole for the screw. You just placed the screw next to the wood and started turning. Wimps like me scraped the screw on a piece of soap first, so it went into the wood easier. But this guy just started turning – no wimpy coating on the screw. He could just go from one screw to the next with no rest and just keep on going. And did he ever have huge forearms.

No, you don’t need to get pieces of wood or a bunch of screws. You can simulate the same motion using a dowel of wood or a metal bar with a diameter about the same as a screwdriver handle or even a little narrower. In this case, the smaller the diameter, the harder the work. Remember the lever math problems you did in high school physics? The handle of the screwdriver is a lever and the wider the handle, the easier it is to turn.

Get a wooden dowel or metal bar, a strap or rope and a weight, such as a weight plate, kettle bell or bucket of sand. If the dowel is 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch diameter, it will be about right, but you can experiment with the diameter. You can use a wider diameter, but it will be easier to turn with the same weight.

Tie the strap (or rope) to the weight and then secure the strap around the dowel. Place one end of the dowel on something between elbow and shoulder height and then start turning until the plate reaches the dowel. Then unwind and rewind, continuing until your forearm is screaming. Then do the other forearm. You can then return to the first forearm and turn the dowel in the opposite direction. This way you work both the pronators and the supinators.

The higher the suspension, the longer you can go until the weight reaches the dowel. I like to stand on a bench and place the dowel in a hole in a power rack. But you can do it with one end of the dowel on a deck or retaining wall, table, ladder rung or any suitable support and yourself on any safe surface.

You can do as many sets as you feel appropriate. If you want to be like the Popeye I worked with as a kid, you can do it several times a day for several years, and you don’t even have to know how to repair a refrigerator or air conditioner.

Descending Sets for Forearm Exercises

There is a great technique for the more advanced trainee to use with forearm exercises that they may already be using with other exercises. A method often referred to as descending sets I feel is one of the most productive techniques there is for developing muscle and strength in any muscle.

Different muscles require slightly approaches, but the principle is the same for all muscles. Exhaust the muscles and as they become exhausted, lower the resistance while you keep exhausting them further without resting between sets.

For the forearm, the exercises should involve high repetitions throughout each set but will also involve fewer reps for the later sets in addition to lighter weights.

There are a number of variations similar to simple descending sets, and they all differ a little from each other, but the principle is the same. John Brookfield used a variation he called “Up the Down Staircase.” Bill Starr wrote about a technique that he and a lot of people used to call “Railroading.” Larry Scott used a technique he called “Running the Rack.”

John Brookfield starts with the heaviest weight and works down, then works up in weight, then down, then up again and down again, continuing up and down in weights until only 2 reps can be done with the heaviest weight, ending the session with the heaviest weight. After resting 5 minutes, he repeats the process.

In railroading, the initial warm up sets are done without resting. They are still done as warm up, meaning the muscles are not worked to complete muscular exhaustion. But you will have to use less weight on the set with the heaviest weight than you would if you rested between sets. You do the top set to complete or near complete muscular exhaustion, and then do lighter and lighter sets to near exhaustion without any rest between sets.

To run the rack Larry Scott would start at the heavy end of the dumbbell rack, and after exhausting the target muscle with the heaviest weight, he would move immediately to the next weight in the rack using it until exhausted, then to the next lightest weight until exhaustion, and on down the rack until he reached the lightest weight in the rack.

With simple descending sets, after the warm up sets you do your heaviest set to complete or near complete muscular exhaustion. Then without rest, do the next set with a lighter weight that is taken to near exhaustion. Then without rest another set with a lighter weight, continuing to each subsequent set without rest, using a lighter weight each time and taking each set to complete or near complete exhaustion.

It is best when you are first using the technique to start with just a taste of the technique. First just do 3 or 4 sets using a progressively lighter weight. Use your usual warm up sets. As your muscles get conditioned, you can slowly begin to add more sets.

Some people like to describe the process of going to complete muscular exhaustion as going to “failure.” I don’t like the term “failure” because of the mindset it produces.

With descending sets you do not need to reach the point with a set that you can do no more reps, since you will immediately be moving to more reps with a lighter weight. To be within one or two reps of complete exhaustion is adequate. There is less chance of injury this way. When I tried the “one set to failure” technique, I was continually dinging muscles and having to skip sessions until the muscle recovered. But do not be mistaken, you can still overdo it and injure the muscle.

Any of the forearm exercises can be done in this fashion. If you do wrist curls or other barbell or dumbbell forearm exercises, you can set up several bars with different weights. Or you can set up the bar to quickly strip plates.

Generally, for stripping plates, it is best to set the plates up differently than usual. Figure how much you are going to strip off at each set and put those plates on in the order you are going to strip them. For example, if you are going to go down by 20 pounds, then 10 and then 5, you would put a pair of 2 1/2 plates inside, then a pair of 5s, and a pair of 10s would be the outer plates on the bar. This allows you to strip the plates in only 1-2 seconds.

To use a sledgehammer for descending sets, there are three methods. If you have a modified sledgehammer with a bolt in the head for attaching plates, you can strip plates as discussed above. If you have several sledgehammers, you can go from heavy sledge to light.

The final method is the most practical for most of us. You simply move your hand closer and closer to the hammer head for each set. If your first set is with your hand 16 inches from the head, your second set can be 12 inches and your third set 8 inches from the head. More sets and closer spacing on moving down the handle are used as you get stronger.

Forearm Exercises For Sports – Golf

The specific exercises to use for the forearms depends on your goals. For those who want general overall strength the exercises will differ from the exercises to improve performance in a specific sport or activity. The forearm exercises to help a construction worker will differ from those for a powerlifter, and those will differ from the exercises for a golfer.

In golf, power comes from the body, and depends on the timing and coordination of the swing movement. The forearms need to be strong enough to deliver the full power without collapsing or absorbing the force to be delivered to the ball. They should function to deliver the full force generated.

One way not to strengthen the forearms for golf is by using resistance during any of the golf swing. Because so much of the power comes from correct and precise timing, using resistance during the swing will throw the muscle memory off by having multiple swing repetitions done with a swing that is slower than normal.

The wrist movements involved in the golf swing of a right handed golfer are radial deviation and pronation for the right hand, and ulnar deviation and supination for the left hand. These are the four exercises that should be performed. However, all four exercises should be done for both hands. The strength in both hands should be balanced. To only do pronation and radial deviation for the right hand, and supination and ulnar deviation for the left hand will lead to an imbalance.

Videos of the exercises are on the website. Radial deviations can be seen here, ulnar deviations can be seen here, pronations here, and supinations here. They can be done with a sledgehammer or lever bar. If a thick handle is used, it will also improve grip strength.

Grip should usually be loose, but if the club twists in the hands when the ball is struck, that may be the sign of a grip that needs strengthening. The grip can be strengthened with thick bars, the hand helper exercises described here, or with grippers (such as those in the carousel at the side of the post).

A good way to tell if your swing force is being fully delivered is with a power meter. The Medicus Power Meter at the side of the post is an inexpensive and highly accurate devise that measures swing speed within one mile per hour of the more expensive accelerometers used at the Pro Shops. Using it before beginning forearm exercises to determine your swing speed, and then comparing your speed after several months of forearm exercises can give you feedback on your exercise routine, as well as feedback on other aspects of your swing.

Forearm Exercises With Lever Bar And Sledgehammer

There are many ways to strengthen the forearms with forearm exercises. Using a sledgehammer is a great way to increase forearm strength. Another piece of equipment similar to a sledgehammer is a lever bar. They both place a weight at the end of a rod that you grab.

A sledgehammer has a fixed weight at the end unless you modify it. To make the exercise more difficult, you work your way down the handle as you get stronger. If you get to the end of the handle you need to get a heavier hammer. As you get farther down the handle, the weight develops more and more momentum as you get it started moving. This places more stress on the joints and ligaments so it is a good way to strengthen them. But there is less work done by the muscles when momentum increases, resulting in relative rest during a part of the repetition and less stimulation to the muscles.

The lever bar is generally shorter with a handle at the end away from the weight. You add weight to the end of the bar instead of working your way down the handle. It doesn’t develop the increased momentum that a sledgehammer develops as you get toward the end of the handle. Alternating workouts with the sledgehammer with lever bar workouts can help the muscles, ligaments and joints to strengthen in a balanced manner.

There are some nice commercial lever bars available, but you also can easily make your own. The easiest to make is to load a weight onto one end of a dumbbell bar and leave the other end empty without a weight so you can grab the bar.

This home-made bar can be modified to have a thick handle by placing a piece of PVC slightly wider than your hand on the handle end of the dumbbell bar. The thicker handle will stimulate the grip muscles more than the plain dumbbell bar. One of the videos using it can be found here.

The exercises to do with the lever bar are the same as you would do with a sledgehammer for the forearm muscles. Radial deviations, ulnar deviations, pronations and supinations are the four main forearm exercises, and would take an entire article to explain. But videos of the exercises can be found at the links above.

Forearm Exercises – Rope Deadlift

The rope deadlift is one of the forearm exercises and is similar to the sandbag lift described in the last few articles. It provides traction on the soft tissues so the soft tissues and ligaments are strengthened, and it also can toughen the surface of the hand.

Like the sandbag lifts it is only used intermittently throughout the year. It can provide a variation that is helpful for possible lagging weaknesses or for overlooked areas, and can provide a mental break in training.

The lift is simple. Simply wrap a rope around the bar for each hand. Grasp the ends of the rope and perform a deadlift. The length of the rope determines how far to lift. Since the object is to exercise the grip and forearm instead of the back, you can use a long rope so the plates are lifted only a few inches off the floor.

One great advantage of this method is that it is easy to keep track of your progress. You simply add plates to the bar, so you can easily determine how much more resistance you are using. With the sandbags you have to weigh the bags to know how much you are lifting. Each time you add sand you have to weigh the bag again. If you like to use alternate heavy and light resistance days, or heavy, medium and light resistance days, you can end up weighing the bag a lot. Since I like to alternate heavy and light or heavy, medium and light days, I used to just add plates inside the sandbags to temporarily add a known weight without having to do all that weighing.

The thickness of the rope is a way to make the lift more difficult. Using a thicker rope will make the lift more difficult. A 1 to 2 inch diameter rope is usual. Since the rope is doubled in your hand the thickness will be 2 to 4 inches depending on the rope used.

The photos show a one inch rope. In the first photo the rope is wrapped around the bar twice so the bar does not slip as easily. Notice the tape on the bar. The two tapes on the bar being equidistant from the center allows the ropes to be placed in a balanced position, shown in the second photo. The third photo shows doubling the rope to give a thicker grip. If you can only find thin clothesline, you can twist 2 or 3 lines together to form a rope 2 to 3 times as thick.

You can vary the exercise by changing the hold time, changing the number of repetitions, or changing the weight. You can also do the main six motions at the wrist – ulnar and radial deviations, flexion and extension, and pronation and supination. These can be helpful for the soft tissues, but I don’t feel they are as productive for the muscles as using the lever bar or sledgehammer for these motion exercises.

Forearm Exercises – Sandbag Ulnar Deviations Video

Sandbags can provide a variation periodically for forearm exercises. The different rough surface toughens the palmar surface skin and the different position of the center of gravity applies a different force to the ligaments of the hand. The most productive use of the sandbags comes from grasping the bags differently than you would a bar. Just holding, swinging or walking with the bags will develop the grip.
Sandbag Forearm Exercise
However, you can use the bags similar to a sledgehammer or lever bar and do ulnar deviations, radial deviations, pronations and supinations. You will have to use less weight than with the simple hold or carry.

The video shows the motion for the ulnar deviation. This can be done simply by grasping the neck of the bag with the thumb away from the weighted portion of the bag. Just bend at the wrist, moving the hand in the direction away from the thumb as shown in the video. This can be done for number of repetitions or for a specified length of time.

The motion does not need to be strict. You can use much of the rest of your body to move the bag a bit. The exercise is not to develop the muscles as much as it is to develop the tendons and ligaments, and to toughen the skin and soft tissue of the hand. The extra weight and the extra force from the movement will act as a shearing force on these tissues to help strengthen them.

However, too much motion changes the exercise from a forearm and hand exercise into one working other parts of the body. This is not necessarily bad, but it won’t develop the forearm as much. The momentum from using the other muscles reduces the effect on the forearm muscles. It can also result in excessive force being applied to the soft tissues.

A slight forward motion will throw some brachioradialis work into the exercise and work the support tissues in the opposite direction to that provided by the ulnar deviation. The more variation you can provide the tissues and muscles in your forearm exercises, the better they will withstand injury from unexpected forces in your sport or everyday activities.

Forearm Exercises – Sandbags Video

Sandbags can be used for forearm exercises in a number of ways that strengthen the grip. They produce 2 main effects that are difficult to produce with other equipment. They place a greater torque on the small joints of the fingers and hand, thus increasing ligamentous strength that is difficult to develop with rigid equipment. The broad, flexible surface of the sack applies the forces from the bag over the fingers in a way that is difficult to produce any other way. This is most effective when using the fingers more than the palm to grasp the bag.

The bags also toughen the skin of the fingers and palms because of the roughness of the bag and the shearing forces applied to the skin. Both these characteristics are important to athletes whose sport involves grabbing an opponent, especially if grasping a piece of clothing such as a jersey is involved. American football is a prime example. It is also helpful to athletes whose sport involves grabbing inanimate objects that apply shearing forces to the skin and torque to the finger joints, such as rock climbing and gymnastics.

The video shows grasping two bags which promotes a more open grip than just one bag. The first part shows just holding the bags in one hand, and the second part shows swinging the bags.

The alternatives are to just hold the bags at the side till the muscles are fatigued, swing the bags which gives greater forces, or walk with the bags at the side in a farmer’s walk, which also provides some helpful variation in force applied to the grip. When doing these exercises, you can do one hand at a time or both hands at once. I prefer doing exercises with bags in both hands to spend less time and to gauge if there is relatively equal grip strength in the hands.

This type of sandbag can be bought at most landscape or hardware stores for little money. It is made of a lightweight, but tough, mesh and can hold about 75 pounds of sand when filled. You should only fill them about 1/2 to 2/3 full, so the neck of the bag can be grasped. Depending on the strength of your grip, you may want to fill them less. A good way to start is with four bags of sand – two for each hand.

When lifting, place two bags together and grasp the necks with one hand as shown in the video. Then lift using the thighs, keeping the back straight. If too heavy, reduce the amount of sand in the bags. If too light, add sand.

Although the emphasis is on the grip aspect, you should lift the bags off the ground with the thighs, keeping the back straight. The bags are light enough that there should be little strain to the lower back, but if the exercises are done after a heavy deadlift or other lower back routine, the lower back could be injured with improper technique. I have injured the lower back doing biceps curls with improper form after a heavy back session. Very embarrassing and a dumb setback.

You can start with just one bag in each hand or two in each hand. The grip is affected slightly differently with the narrower grip of one bag than it is by using two. The object is to develop the grip while strengthening the soft tissues. Experiment to find the best way for you. Always start with a weight that is too light, and then progress up to an amount that will tax your grip and tissues.

Holding the bags for time is the easiest way to judge progression. A simple way to start is to hold or swing the bags for 30 seconds, and work up to a minute. When you can hold on for a minute, add sand to the bags and reduce the time, gradually working back up to a minute. When the bags are so full there is inadequate room left for grasping, add another bag. When you get up to 3 bags in a hand with 50 pounds each you will have developed an excellent grip. The bags try to slip through the grip in an entirely different way than a bar during deadlifts or other similar exercises.

Of course, as with other exercises, you can also add sets. When you can do a full minute, you can add a second set of 30 seconds and try to increase the time on the second set. Continue adding as many sets as you feel like.

I like to do the sandbag swings and I do them after other forearm work. I like to do them for a few weeks every few months and feel they add a variety that is difficult to get any other way.

Sandbags For Forearm Strength

Sandbags are an excellent way to develop grip and forearm strength. There are several ways to use them as forearm exercises, and they can provide for progressive resistance since increasing amounts of sand can be added to the bags and then more bags can be grasped. They exercise the forearms, hands and grip in a slightly different way than some of the methods we have previously discussed. The grip is used to prevent the bag from slipping across the hand in one of the methods. The friction at the surface of the hand will also thicken the skin of the palm.

The bags are a thin mesh designed to hold about 70 pounds of sand and are quite strong. They can be obtained at most hardware or lawn care stores. The best way to use them is not to fill them completely, but leave some of the end unfilled so it can be grasped or folded over.

There are two basic ways to use them for the forearms. One is to grasp the end around the neck so the end with the sand is hanging down below the thumb and index finger. The other is to fold over the open end so it lies flat against the portion holding the sand. The bag is grasped at the fold by having your fingers dig into the portion of the bag holding the sand so the bag is hanging down from all of the fingers. It is difficult to explain with just words, so we will have videos in the near future. With the first method multiple bags can be used, but it is more difficult to use more than one bag with the second method.

With either type of grip, several types of exercises can be done, such as curls, triceps extensions and overhead carries. However, to develop grip maximally, heavier weights should be used. Just lifting and holding them at your side for time or swinging them can be productive, but I feel the most productive is to walk with them hanging at your side, similar to a farmer’s walk. The slight shifting that occurs during the walk helps focus your attention on your grip as the resistance varies slightly. You can start light, and as you become comfortable with the exercise, add more and more sand, and then more and more bags.

Sandbag work can provide the type of variation that can lead to an overall improvement in functional grip for day to day work or for the kind of grip used in many sports, such as wrestling and martial arts.

Forearm Exercises – Block Lift Video


Forearm exercises do not develop the small hand muscles and thumb, requiring other exercises to specifically strengthen these muscles. The best to start with are the hand helper exercises (previously discussed), but as grip strength improves, other devices are needed.

Block lifts, similar to blob lifting, can be done with any sort of object that a set of plates can be attached to. Progression is needed to increase strength. It is difficult with many devices to progress in resistance. With many devices, progression comes from doing the lift for a longer period or by using assistive devices because the jumps in resistance are too large.

By using something that small amounts of weight can be attached to, the exercise can be made more easily progressive. Grip strength of the small hand muscles can then progress to keep up with forearm strength from forearm exercises.

Shown in the video is a simple method of using a cut 2 by 4 to which the plates are attached with twine. This allows small amounts of weight to be added as strength increases. Commonly used is a metal block, such as the cut-off end of a solid dumbbell, making it a little more difficult to add small increments of weight. Some like to use a rounded object, ball shaped – but it is more difficult to attach the weight, usually needing a hook attached or a hole through the center to hang a rope with weight attached.

Another advantage of the 2 by 4 is that a series of different widths can be made. The video shows two different widths. They can be made as a series of only slightly larger blocks until they are as wide as desired. But if the blocks used are used too wide too fast you can injure finger and thumb tendons.

The simple hold is shown in the video, but multiple different exercises can be done – walking while holding the blocks, rotating the wrist, reverse wrist curls while holding the block at the finger tips, passing the block from hand to hand, rolling the block with the fingers. Since there are other exercises that are better as forearm exercises, exercises involving mostly the small hand muscles are the best use of the block for developing grip strength. I feel other methods are more effective for strengthening the larger forearm muscles, but there are relatively few that favor the small hand muscles.



Forearm Exercises – Plate Pinch Variations

There are a lot of ways to exercise the forearms and small hand muscles, as well as develop the wrist and hand ligaments. One great way is with plate pinches. How the plate pinches are performed determines if it is one of the forearm exercises or works the small hand muscles more or if it has a relatively greater effect on the ligaments of the wrist and hand.

The last video showed how to perform plate pinches for more emphasis on the wrist ligaments by holding the plates horizontally. Today we show holding the plates hanging down at the side. This preferentially develops the forearm and hand muscles, especially the small hand muscles involved in pinch grip. The videos also show using more than two plates.

It is difficult to progressively increase the weight used in plate pinches if just a pair of plates are used. The progression goes from 2 1/2 lb to 5 to 10 to 20. Strength doesn’t increase that way. Plates need to be added in smaller increments. That can be done if the plates are tied together. It can be done with twine, rope or wire. We have used twine in the video. Sometimes people use rods through the holes. This is okay if the two plates being pinched are still free to slide and only the other plates attached to the two that are pinched are on two rods. If all plates are on a single rod, more weight can be used since the rod reduces the tendency for the plates to slip against each other. The plate pinch then becomes more like a block hold. 

Another thing to consider is where to grip the plates. The narrowest pinch grip is to grab the two largest plates as shown in the first video. A wider pinch grip can be developed by grasping the added on plates, as shown in the second video. It can be done with the fingers at different widths, depending on the number of plates used. By using different grips you can develop grip strength in a variety of positions.    

With pinch grips, progression is first achieved by holding for longer periods, and then increasing the weight and reducing the time of the hold. One of the most popular methods is to hold the plates until they slip out of the hand.