I made a TikTok post yesterday about the importance of doing grip strength training - and no, it's not just to get bigger forearms. In this post, I'll also go over semi-unconventional strategies you can use to work on your strength. First, let's discuss why it's important.
Why Train Forearms?
Whoever you are in life, having stronger forearms will only benefit you due to the functionality of this muscle group. According to this article at cdc.gov, 36 million older adults suffer from falls each year, resulting in 32,000 deaths. Potentially more concerning is that women fall more than men and make up for more than 3/4 of all hip fractures.
The page goes on to remind you to strengthen your leg muscles to help avoid this, which I totally agree with. But what most people don't consider is that when you fall, you will reach out to try and grab on to something.
But if you never trained your forearms and hands, then tough luck. But imagine an older version of yourself that worked on your forearms every week of your life. Maybe the circumstances will be different.
Not only that, but we use our forearms constantly doing chores around the house, carrying in groceries, walking the dog, and much, much more.
So, how do you strengthen them?
My go to exercise for forearms is deadhangs. This is simply when you hold yourself up on a pull up bar with extended arms for a certain period of time. Before you say you can't hold yourself up at all, there are ways to work on this.
The first way is to attach a resistance band to the top of the bar and put your foot in it. If you've ever worked out at my private gym in Brandon, FL, then you most likely have done pull ups like this before. But if that is too intimidating, you can use a TRX/suspension trainer instead.
What most people will do is perform three to four sets for as long as they can, but this is where we differ. Doing so much volume is extremely fatiguing, which sounds like a good thing, but let me explain why it's more efficient to do a less fatiguing method.
This study from NIH examined a group of men working out in rep ranges of 8-12 and another group working out in rep ranges for 25-35. In the end, the results were more or less what I expected - The low rep group had a 19.6% increase in their one rep max for squats (vs 8.8%), and a 6.5% increase in their one rep max for bench press (vs 2.2%). However, I should mention that the high rep individuals performed much better on a test of endurance done at 50% of their max bench press to failure.
My point in bringing this up at all is that a more efficient method of doing dead hangs might be to do 15-30 second sets with weight added, rather than 3-4 sets to failure with your bodyweight. In practice, I have experienced high levels of fatigue from high volume sets. For example, if the longest I can hold myself up is two minutes, and I successfully do that, I'm so fatigued that I can barely do more than a minute.
Instead, I do 3-4 sets with 75-100 pounds added. In my first two sets, I normally can maintain 30 seconds, and then it goes down to 20-25 seconds.
Now, the person who does the longer duration sets will inevitably be better at duration, but that wouldn't help so much for the need that I am referring to in this post. If we were training to climb mountains, we would want endurance. But if we are training to catch ourselves when we fall, our goal should be to work on overall strength, rather than endurance, in our forearms.
Along with this extremely important staple exercise, I'd suggest farmer's carries for short sets, and an accessory movement like reverse barbell curls.
And like always, if you want someone to help you learn all of this, you can visit our gym for a free personal training session.