All the arm day sessions in the world won’t mean anything if you’re still walking around with forearms the size of toothpicks. If you’ve been ignoring forearm training, rest assured it doesn’t need to require marathon sessions—effectiveness and efficiency should be your goal. But if you rely on wrist curls to train your forearm, you lose both.
Before scientific trial, training, and error evolved into what it is today, most weightlifters viewed wrist curls and their endless list of pointless variations as their only means of forearm training. Little did we know at the time that all those combos of holding a barbell behind our back or at the edge of a bench, then bending our wrists until the burn came, were doing nothing terribly useful to blast our forearms.
Today, some of us — literally — won’t give up wrist curls, even though there are plenty of better options than those old-school overkill time-wasting workouts, says MH’s fitness director. Ebenezer Samuel, CSCSAnd Matthew Forzaglia, NFPT, CPT, Founder of Forzag Fitness.
“Back in the day we started out with no education at all, [wrist curls] Forzalia says. “We’d go through the exercise—behind back wrist curls, arms on the bench, wrist curls—but in fact, we’re only training one dimension of the forearm, and when we go to translate that into something else or a situation toward everyday life or training, we’re not really strong in any. Another mode but a wrist wrap.”
Why are wrist curls overrated? For many reasons, including:
Why skip wrist curls?
Bad curling form training
Whether you realize it or not, your typical arm day routine — dumbbell curls, barbell curls, just about any type of curl — that works your wrists in each set from a neutral position plays a much more important role in developing the forearms than what one-dimensional wrist curls provide. . No matter how many wrist wraps you pull out, the constant wrist flexion of the movement makes little transition to other exercises like rows and pullups.
Practice only wrist flexion
Why are wrist curls one-dimensional? There is more to forearm training than just flexion. You also need to focus on extending and stabilizing the forearm, which you can get from a host of other exercises. Simply sticking to the wrist braids and failing to adequately work other forearm muscles can be a potential recipe for tendonitis or other long-term tendon-related issues.
You can load your forearms much more
Sure, slapping some planks on a barbell and starting to flex our wrists for a dozen reps might sound like heavy lifting to some. But the reality of training is that your forearms can — and should — take on heavier weight from time to time to challenge not only your arms but also your grip strength in a more efficient way.
Wrist wrap alternatives
Biceps and hammer curls
3 sets of 10 to 12 reps
Yes, curls do more than just blow up your biceps. By maintaining a strong, firm, and neutral grip with each curl rep, you create plenty of forearm work to go along with your normal biceps training. Two curls in particular—the hammer curl and the EZ-bar reverse curl—hit those areas of the forearms most neglected by wrist curls. So hold “with intent” during your next biceps session (and every exercise after that).
“Work your forearm at various points throughout the curl,” says Samuel. “He basically has to correct and make sure he maintains that neutral position. This can be a lot of work for your forearm and will give you a good forearm pump while you’re pumping your biceps or biceps or whatever you’re working.”
Bottom cleaning and winding
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Not only will this kettlebell move require you to focus on forearm strength, but it will also increase shoulder stability without necessarily requiring a heavy weight load as usual, making this unconventional move a sensation for the core of the forearm. By holding the bell upside down, the oscillation of the weight will force your wrist to maintain an upright position to keep the bell upright. This will require a lot of forearm strength to achieve. The twist from this position will add an extra piece of dynamic and fun forearm challenge that you don’t get from curls.
3 sets of 40-second walks (or holds)
Anyone who finishes their conditioning with a few sets of these knows that the first thing to explode is usually your grip, making this move a must-have for training your forearms. Best of all, farmers outings can be done with almost any piece of equipment—barbells, dumbbells, jugs, a trap rod, you name it. Simply load, lift, grab, and then move (or simply stand and hold as an alternative) as far as you can for a set amount of time or distance (we suggest time for beginners) or until you can no longer hold.
“I’m always in the process of translating this into anything in life,” says Forzaglia. “And there are a lot of things in life that you carry that will translate into it, and they will only help you in the long run.”