Build Massive Forearms as Strong as They Look

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Your handshake says a lot about you, whether you realize it or not.

Is your shake a little limp like a dead trout? Are your palms soft for the ladies, or soft LIKE a Ladies? Did you gently and awkwardly hold on to the phalanges and get YOUR hand shaked, or did you reach out in confidence with your calloused ape paw and destroy the hand of your about-to-be new boss?

For the sake of your future promotions, I truly hope you brought your death grip A-game to that job interview. As I learned years ago, you’ve only got one shot at a first impression.

It used to be much simpler back in my late teens and early 20’s. I was a bachelor on the prowl. Young, cut, dumb and weak as hell. I didn’t know I was dumbbell and weak at the time though.

I had a pretty kick ass schedule: day classes at college and the night shift as a hospital security guard. It was a neat gig, but the majority of the work was keeping the drunks being brought to the ER inline and making sure they behaved.

Looking big and strong made the job a lot easier. Primarily because people wouldn’t try to act up or fight the staff. Other times though they’d test me just because I WAS big.

On my 3 am “lunch” break, I’d head down to the hospital gym in the basement near the morgue and blast my Alice in Chains and Nirvana tapes on a little boom box. They had a lot of old Nautilus equipment, and an old cable stack. I guess I can attribute my beautifully sculpted calves to the ridiculous amount of calf raises I did back then.

Back then I trained like most 19 year olds: arms, chest, calves, eat… Repeat.

Somehow, with naturally prime test levels, I got away with it. I managed to look pretty damn big and strong.

“Looked.”

Josh Mac

I started training for strength, and quickly found that grip power was something that was forged by several different types of movements and leverages.

The Flower Delivery Guy With a Bone Crushing Grip

One morning as I was leaving, an oncoming day shift guard told me there was a man waiting in the lobby that he wanted me to meet. When we arrived, I saw a short, stocky man with a mustache. He had short curly hair and was about as thick as a 700 year old redwood…but he was delivering flowers?

My co-worker who saw the man making deliveries about everyday introduced the two of us, because he knew I was into “working out.” He said with a grin: “shake his hand.” By the way he said this I knew I was in for something strange.

Why would he say that? Does this guy have one of those palm buzzers? Does he have snot on his hands or something? This has got to be some sort of trick.

As I locked meat hooks with the guy, I knew exactly why I was introduced to him. No tricks.

His hand was a slab of jointed granite. His fingers were thick and perfectly round like sausages. And his grip was like nothing I had ever felt in the weight room, or beyond for that matter.

The day shift guard was smiling hard now as he said: “try to squeeze his hand.”

I couldn’t.

A little smile started to form on the face of the flower delivery guy as I tried. Then, in what seemed like a millisecond, he gave me a quick pulse of his grip before letting go. The power this man had was unimaginable. I knew full well on the spot that he could have broken my hand and turned my metacarpals into splinters if he had wanted to.

Then the man belted out: “Hey, I’m Greg!”

For the first time in my life, I had come face to face with real power… and I was damn near speechless.

General Zod and Superman

General Zod wasn’t just a snazzy dresser, he was a certified hand murderer.

My Hand and Ego Were Crushed

That morning changed a lot for me. Oddly enough, for someone who was worrying about his size in the mirror, this experience actually put a mirror up to a place it was needed most: my ego.

Sure I was in shape, but I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t big and bad, and I wasn’t as tough as imagined I was. What if I had encountered a guy like this in an uncontrolled environment outside of work? Hell, what I had to stop someone of his strength from hurting someone else? Could I?

After that day, I began to phase out the idea of working out and I started training. This was the day that I realized that I wanted an impressive “go” more than I wanted “show.”

I started training for strength, and quickly found that grip power was something that was forged by several different types of movements and leverages. It wasn’t just how hard you could squeeze a hand; grip training and forearm strength was so much more.

Build a Potent, Powerful Grip

So, how strong is YOUR grip? Try the exercises below and strengthen your meat hooks. Then reap the benefits that having a stronger grip affords.

Plate Pinches – Pinching Two Plates Together

Barbell PlatesGreg used to tell me stories about working in construction. He’d talk about picking up long 4×4’s and rafter beams with each hand, and carrying them for great distances. When it came time to carry cinderblocks, he’d grab 2 in each hand, pinching them together at their centers.

The amount that you can pinch grip is largely dictated by your thumb strength. Aside from giving you a manly handshake, pinch grip is also helpful during deadlifts and benching. Squeezing the bar as hard as you can creates radial tension, which allows you to activate more muscles and lift more. Interested?

Note: Make sure you train both hands equally, regardless of hand dominance or relationship status.

Start off light with these. You may be using forearm muscles that normally don’t see this much direct work. Try two or three dimes (10’s) first, then timed holds. If you’re really feeling randy, use a pair of 25’s. Rubber coated plates will work if that’s all you have. They will likely enable you to lift more weight due to their texture.

So can you pinch two metal 25’s together, smooth side out, and lift them off the ground with one hand? 35’s? 45’s? Think you’re up to the challenge? Give it a try, but prepare to be humbled.

Hub Lifting – Grabbing a Plate at the Center Hub

Want to build overall thickness and strength in the flexors and brachioradialis? Then hub lifting should be a staple in your routine. Unlike pinch strength, hub lifting depends on more than just your thumb strength. It takes the strength of each digit to complete each rep.

Note: Hub lifts are the key to doling out devastating purple nurples.

To perform a hub lift, you’ll need steel plates. Bumpers and rubber coated plates are nice for the deadlift, but they won’t work for this one.

Simple lay the plate flat side down. Next, take a grip with your fingers evenly spaced around the raised center hub, adjacent to your thumb. Squeeze the hell out of the plate first, then lift.

Sounds easy right?

Plate hubs can be different depending on the manufacturer, so you may have to improvise. But fret not, there is a sure fire way to train hub lifts in your box gym if steel plates are nowhere to be found. Simply head over to the EZ bar, load one side with a few small plates and a clip or two, set the weighted end down and grip the top of the unloaded sleeve.

EZ Curl Bar

If steel plates are nowhere to be found, head over to the EZ bar. Load one side with a few small plates, set the weighted end down and grip the top of the unloaded sleeve.

Or…

Does your gym have hex dumbbells? If so, head on over to the rack and grab a pair by the ends with each hand. If you feel out of place, just curl them and smile at yourself in the mirror like the 7 other guys next to you.

Sets and reps can be done or holds for time. Either way, you’ll FEEL this one tomorrow. Chalk isn’t cheating, so smuggle some in for this lift. Master this one and you’ll be ripping throats out daily like MacGruber.

Plate Curls – Looks Cool, Extremely Humbling

This one truly separates the men from the boys, and it doesn’t take a lot of weight to do it either. Like a lot of guys, I used to load up an EZ curl bar or cable attachment and do wrist curls with a ton of weight to try and build up my forearms. This LOOKED cool and got my veins popping out, but when I tried plate curls with a measly 25# plate I quickly found out how strong I WASN’T.

The first man I saw do this was Adam Glass. His phenomenal grip strength enabled him to curl various 45# plates STRICT. But to work up to that level of world class strength, you’ve got to start small on this exercise; use a 10 or a 25.

Grip the plate with one hand, your thumb on top and your 4 fingers straight under the plate for support. Keep your palms up, wrist straight and solid and perform curls like you would with a dumbbell.

It’s a lot harder isn’t it?

If you’re like most people, your wrist goes limp almost immediately. This is a weak spot, so attack it!

Not only are you hitting your brachioradialis and bicep brachii, but you’re strengthening your entire hand as well. Your thumb is working hard to pinch the plate and keep it in place, and your fingers are supporting the weight throughout the entire exercise.

For an extra challenge, try plate wrist curls. The grip is the same, but keep your arm braced parallel to the floor, and curl the plate using only your wrist. This will turn your forearms into calves.

Use these sparingly at first. Jumping right into this one can lead to wrist pain and carpal tunnel-like symptoms, so use your head and listen to your body. 2-3 sets of 8-10 with a plate that you could do 15 on would be a good start.

Now you’ll know what it’s like to be the terminator.

One Arm Deadlift

If this lift is intimidating or too challenging, try adding double overhand grip deadlifts or barbell rows into your routine instead.

One Hand and Double Overhand Deadlifts

This lift will challenge your idea of what hard is. AND it doesn’t require a lot of weight to feel the results. The most challenging part for me is the set up. Care must be taken to grip as close to the center of the bar as possible to avoid windmilling and looking like a total baboon.

Unlike trap bar deadlifts or farmers walks, gripping a barbell requires wrist strength to counteract the bar’s rotation. Basically, the bar will try to roll toward the weakest part of your grip due to gravity. It wants to roll down your fingers past your thumb, so a tight grip is required the entire time.

I like to use lighter weight and do holds for time rather than reps on this one. Remember, it’s a GRIP and forearm exercise, not a back exercise. Go too heavy on this one and you’ll be in pain.

3-5 sets of 20-30 seconds on each arm will have you dropping things tomorrow like butter fingers for sure.

If this lift is intimidating or too challenging, try adding double overhand grip deadlifts or barbell rows into your routine instead. The same principal applies here, the bar will attempt to roll from both hands, so squeeze tight! If you’re a total hoss, go thumbless!

Be creative with grip training. If it’s too easy, change it and make it more challenging. If you’re currently using straps on accessory lifts like pull down, pull ups, rows or any deadlift variation, just ditch them for a set or two. The goal is to eventually not need them because you’re a stone cold silverback gorilla.

Heavy Duty Grippers

Captains of Crush GripperI started out with an Ironmind Captains of Crush #1 gripper back in the day. This was after seeing Jedd Johnson talk about them on YouTube.

I also remember being unable to get the handles to close on some attempts. Eventually, I began destroying a #1.5, then a #2. My best as of this writing is 20 reps with a #2.5 and 3 reps with a #3.

These are built well and last. To date I’ve put thousands of reps on my #1 and it’s still going strong.

If you’re feeling completely unchallenged by your sporting goods store made in China gripper, it may be time to upgrade. Buy American.

Final Notes

The combination of these lifts, when added in with a strength training program, will pay major dividends. Being able to virtually eliminate the element of grip as a variable from just about any lift is a huge confidence builder. Are you ready for that phone book now?

I left that job long ago, but that 4 second handshake has remained with me for over 14 years. I still remember it well.

The motivation I got from that eye-opening encounter with true power drove me to rethink what I considered to be strong, and how to go about getting there. It’s the pain that builds those meat hooks.

Take grip training serious and it will transfer over to your other lifts. I’m pretty sure Greg would approve, wherever the hell he is.

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Name: Josh Mac

Bio: Josh Mac is a full time railroad and family man, part time lifting nomad. He trains out of Raleigh Barbell under powerlifting and strength coach Jackson Williams.