Here's what you need to know...

  1. There's no sport that isn't benefitted by stronger hands, especially sports where holding a piece of equipment is required.
  2. Bodybuilders are often only concerned with forearm size, which requires an entirely different approach from grip strength.
  3. For a stronger grip, choose passive crushing, active crushing, pinch gripping, and thick bar work.
  4. For bigger forearms, choose wrist curling, static holds, and extensor work, all with moderate loads for higher reps.

Big, intimidating forearms are a sign of power. No one picks a fight with the guy who sports mitts that look like they could uncork a fire hydrant. But are you chasing grip strength or forearm size? Let's talk about how to train for both.

If you're concerned with grip strength, it's probably sport or powerlifting related. Implemental sports (especially those that use an implement like a bat, club, or stick) are greatly improved when the athlete's hands are strong and dexterous. Martial arts, rock climbing, and gymnastics all require tons of maximal gripping. The fact is, there's really no sport that isn't benefitted by stronger hands.

At the gym, pulling heavy weight requires holding heavy weight, and wrist strength is required to stabilize a heavy bench press. Weak wrists can't push heavy loads.

That said, some iron warriors are merely concerned with forearm size, which is okay as having big forearms is an impressive, dominant characteristic both on the stage and street.

Considering those are very different goals, you need to make sure the training is specific. Think of it like powerlifting versus bodybuilding – different goals with different training methods.

Let's discuss the elements of a sensible grip program for the typical lifter.

Implements You Should Own

Open-hand (thick) implement: Fat Gripz/Tyler Grips/Grip4orce/Grenade balls/rock rings

Spend $40 on any one of the grip tools out there and make use of it. They'll fit in the gym bag and pay for themselves when you tear the popped collar off some ornery frat boy's polo shirt.

Spring-loaded grippers of 150 and 200-pound closing force. Captains of Crush, Heavy Grippers, whatever – they all work. We personally use Captains of Crush and most of our 17-22 year-olds use the 1.5 and 2.0.

Passive Crushing

Holding a crushing-grip where gravity is forcing the hand to open, such as you'd experience in holding a heavy dumbbell or barbell. This implement (dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell) provides resistance by way of gravity.

Active Crushing

Active crushing involves squeezing something that resists the hand from closing, such as a spring-loaded gripper. Understand you may not be that strong in active crushing, even if you can hold 500-plus pounds in your hands. The act of getting the hand closed under resistance, which passive gripping doesn't provide, is often overlooked.

Pinch Gripping

Pinch gripping involves squeezing the extended fingers towards the thumb without flexing individual digits, such as you'd experience holding a textbook.


An open-hand grip involves passively holding an object that's so large the fingers and thumb can't overlap. Fat Gripz and fat bars are examples of open-hand held implements.

Lower Reps and Hold Durations

Maximal strength requires maximal holds, which I'll define as four reps or less, or 10 seconds or less of a static hold.

If you combine these elements in a solid mix, you'll be on your way to having an exceptional grip. Note that all these actions attempt to close the hand, which involves only the muscles of the anterior compartment of the forearm. i.e., the flexor/pronators. Maintaining healthy forearms and hands will need balance, which we'll address later.

Implements You Should Own: Wrist Roller

Buy one if you want, but a homemade version of PVC pipe (1.5-2 inches is perfect) with climbing webbing attached is a cheap and amazing solution. You can pack a shortie that can attach to a cable machine, or a longer power-rack version that you'll fall in love with.

Check our versions below that we made out of aluminum tubing. The beauty of sitting them in a rack or attaching to a cable column is that you can truly test the grip without the shoulders giving out first.

Open-hand (thick) implement: Fat Gripz/Tyler Grips/Grip4orce/Grenade balls/rock rings

Wrist Curling

To develop that big flexor/pronator belly, you need to use wrist flexion. Really heavy wrist curls bother a lot of my clients' wrists, so we usually go for sets of 8-plus and seek a pump rather than maximal strength. Wrist rollers are better suited for heavy wrist flexion.

Heavy Static Holds

These are one of the best ways to develop bigger forearms. Farmer's carries and static holds of 20-60 seconds allows for high loads, high tension, and high blood flow. My forearms went through their biggest transformation as a 19 year-old on a deadlift-intensive program. I gained over an inch that summer by simply deadlifting like a man for the first time.

Low-to-Moderate Grip Tension Through Range of Motion

This is where thick implements and open-hand grips come into play. The extra gripping required causes a huge pump almost instantly. I prefer to keep resistance low when taking an open-hand grip through a full range of motion at the elbow joint. High tension flowing through a moving elbow joint quickly causes discomfort and flare-ups.

Moderate to High Reps

We want to flood the forearms with blood and nutrients. Getting a good pump requires moderate to high reps: 8-20-plus reps depending on the exercise.

Be Cautious With High Grip-Tension Through Range of Motion

I've found through experience that the number one way to develop flexor/pronator mass or, if you're not careful, biceps tendinitis and pain, is by using a high-strain grip in a full range of motion exercise. This usually involves using high resistance with a pinch or open-hand grip.

I've personally suffered through four partial or full elbow ligament tears, so my elbow and forearms are a scarred mess. When you have a trashed joint, it'll let you know in a hurry when stress levels increase.

Examples are rowing with thick implements such as a fat bar or chinning on a pair of grenade balls, a rope, etc. I suspect that the cause of this excessive stress is found in the forearm flexors being forced to concurrently stabilize both the wrist and elbow joint while allowing motion in both. This doesn't mean never do these types of exercises, but rather be cautious and don't go overboard. The video below shows an example:

Biceps curls with thick implements are also stressful, but loads are a lot lighter than rowing, so it may be more acceptable depending on the person. Have you ever tried performing a biceps curl with a heavy-resistance pinch grip? Instant pain. Fat grips are best suited for static holds and carries rather than exercises that will force the flexors to go through a range of motion under high strain.

The posterior compartment of the forearm contains the extensors of the wrist and hand. These need to be developed along with the flexor/pronators, but most neglect them. I recommend three key exercises to help maintain balance between forearm compartments.

  1. Reverse Wrist Curls/Wrist Rolls Everyone in my facility loves the wrist roller – it's task-oriented and more interactive. We mostly use reverse wrist rolls rather than wrist curls but both crush the wrist extensors. It's important to use a curl bar and semi-pronated grip on reverse wrist curls as a straight bar prevents natural motion.
  2. Reverse Biceps Curls Reverse curls need no real introduction. I like a mixture of medium and high-rep sets: some strength work at 4-8 reps and focus on a pump at 12-20 reps. It's important to attempt to extend the wrist while curling the weight as this makes the extensors work more actively.
  3. Flat-Band Hand Openers A strong crushing and pinching grip takes its toll on the finger tendons, so if maximal grip strength is the goal, these are a must. For those only looking at forearm size, reverse wrist and biceps curls will suffice.

Programming is relatively simple. Mix a little bit in with your movements if you're not doing heavy pulling (a thick implement instead of plain handle, perhaps) and save the hard stuff for the end. If you train 4 days per week, your scheme might look like this:

Grip Strength

Day 1 – Heavy static holds or farmer's carries

Work up to a weight you can hold for 10 seconds; 4-6 sets are usually enough. Finish with reverse wrist curls, 4 sets of 8 reps.

Day 2 – Pinch gripping

Performing 4-6 sets of 10-20 seconds is a good starting point.

Day 3 – Gripper work

Get warmed up and build to 6-8 heavy gripping sets of 2-3 reps. Finish with band extensors for 3 sets of 20.

Day 4 – Open-hand training

Add three reps to all of your barbell assistance exercises and use a fat grip. Romanian deadlifts and rows are well suited here.

Forearm Size

Day 1 – Heavy static holds or farmer's carries.

Use a weight that you can hold or carry for 3-5 carries of 30-60 seconds.

Day 2 – Wrist curling

Hit the wrist roller or wrist curls hard, to failure, for 3-5 sets somewhere in the 15-30-rep range.

Day 3 – Reverse wrist/biceps curling

Same as day two. Hit the wrist extensors hard for 3-5 failure sets of 10-20 reps. Go a little heavier than you would with wrist flexion.

Day 4 – Open-hand training

Dedicate one pulling exercise to use with a thick implement and spend an additional 5 minutes at the end of the workout with holds or carries.

Devote 5-8 good, intense minutes to grip work before you finish your peri-workout nutrition. Do some every day using a different element above that falls in line with your goal.

If you want bigger forearms, don't waste time doing plate pinches. The load is too light, there's no pump, and it's almost all finger strength. But if you need to take down an opponent by his fight shorts, then pinch away.

Make sensible decisions and become the guy no one screws with at the local watering hole.

Dan Blewett is the founder of sports performance facility Warbird Training Academy. Dan currently lives a dual life, spending half his year playing professional baseball, and the other half training the next generation.  Follow Dan Blewett on Facebook