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How to get stronger forearms and improve your grip

Strong forearms and a strong grip goes a long way in ensuring you can workout better and lead a long and healthy life

Get stronger and live longer.
Get stronger and live longer. (Istockphoto)

Usually a lone wolf in the gym, I took up an experienced fitness-trainer friend’s offer to workout together this past week because he was going to train “chest and forearms”. While it’s always good to mix up your workout splits and muscle groups to offer something different to your body, this was not a combination I had done before and I was instantly curious about which exercises we would do. If not for the pump, training the forearms would at least allow me to work on grip strength—the all-important factor that will determine how long you can hold on to any kind of weight.

Grip strength can be increased by training the forearms, the hands, and the wrists as well. The most commonly cited research is a 2016 study on grip strength in the US population, published in The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research. Itfound a direct correlation between grip strength and human longevity. 

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The study used a machine to calculate grip strength and concluded that it was “inversely associated with all-cause mortality”, and that every five-kilogram decrease in grip strength was associated with a 17% increased risk of mortality. Another research, summarised by Nature Reviews Cardiology in an article titled Hand Grip Strength Predicts Cardiovascular Risk, states that from “data for almost 140,000 individuals enrolled in [the] study, grip strength was found to be as good a predictor of cardiovascular-related mortality as systolic blood pressure”.

Both studies have been found to have their limitations, and are not a blanket measure of how susceptible one is to cardiovascular disease or death. But the findings can be used as a marker of overall muscular strength being reflected in grip strength. However, the benefits of having strong forearms and a resulting stronger grip are massive. Whether you are in the gym performing deadlifts and the bar is slipping away, or pull-ups where the first failure starts not at the back, but at the fingers, or if you’re serving up returns on a tennis court or rock-climbing, these small interlocking muscles of the hand are immensely important.

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Which brings us to the best exercises to work on your grip. That day in the gym, we did three different kinds of pulls on a cable machine with a small belt gripped: 5kg, 10kg, and 15kg. The exercises were short pulls at different angles to hit different parts of the forearm with the leading strength coming from the grip. But before doing the more complicated exercises, just try the simplest one: the farmer’s carry. As shown in the video below, gripping two dumbbells or kettlebells and keeping a straight back and shoulders pinched and taking a walk across the gym is the best starting point.

The dead hang is the next exercise in the easy-to-do list, andits benefits go beyond just grip strength. Both the farmer’s carry and the dead hang offer easy routes to calculating how strong you are getting via the amount of time you can do them for. With the farmer’s carry, you can also increase the amount of weight you are carrying.

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You might have seen people doing the forearm curl in the gym with a bar, but fitness experts believe that keeping the elbow bent is what takes the bicep out of the picture and adds more impetus on the forearms to move the weight. That said, a standing exercise with a rope attachment on the cable held on the sides in a hammer grip while only the wrist moves up and down is another one to try. The video below has a set of basic to intermediate exercises to work the forearm.

For those open to learning a more advanced move, the power sled pull is an exercise that has excellent spill-over effects as well. For this, your gym will need to have a power sled on which you can pile up weights, along with an attachmentto pull it towards you. Mind Pump TV has the perfect demonstration in the video below, and this is the exercise I plan to do the next time I work my forearms.

One of the best videos for beginners who do not have access to weights or sleds or hanging bars is the one posted by Yatinder Singh on his channel which has nearly 5 million subscribers. Singh slowly takes you through the exercises, some with dumbbells as light as water bottles easily available at home too.

Before attempting any of these workouts, make sure you have warmed up your wrist and done some strength training so that the muscles are ready for a different kind of stimulus. Hopefully after a few of these exercises, that jar of jam will be easier to open.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

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