Skip the old-school wrist curls and use these two moves for bigger lifts and a more balanced physique.
Form: Zottman Biceps Curl
Training forearms is a hard sell for women on the whole, but when it comes to aesthetics and physique-driven competitions, it’s all about balance. However, if you’ve ever played a sport, driven a car or used a computer mouse in the last few decades, your dominant side is probably more developed. While you probably don’t need to add much mass to your forearms, you’ll want them to look — and be — balanced because your stronger side will tend to take over on many lifts, leading to further physical and strength imbalances in the long term.
Since your forearms are synergists and stabilizers for many upper- and lower-body lifts, simply changing your grip on exercises you already perform will do the trick. For example, the Zottman biceps curl. Named after George Zottman, a strongman from the 1880s renowned for his massive forearms and grip strength, this biceps curl variation involves both pronation and supination of wrists, placing more emphasis on the forearm muscles like the brachioradialis, pronators and supinators, and even the wrist extensors for stability, giving your forearms a 360-degree workout.
- Hold two dumbbells just in front of your thighs with your palms facing forward, and pin your elbows to your sides. Don’t draw your elbows back or drag the dumbbells upward, which gives your biceps a mechanical advantage and detracts from the forearm stimulation.
- Curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders while keeping your wrists neutral, straight and steady. This is the most stable and least risky and won’t overstretch those small forearm muscles, potentially irritating your joints.
- At peak contraction, pause a moment and then flip your wrists over so your palms are facing downward in a “reverse curl” position. Here, your biceps are at a mechanical disadvantage because their tendons attach to the underside of the radius bone, leaving the brachialis and brachioradialis to control the weight on the way down.
- Slowly lower the weights back to the start, then flip your wrists over again to palms-up before starting the next rep. This palms-up/palms-down action teaches those tiny rotational muscles in your forearms to maintain control.
- Move slowly and deliberately with your reps. Because your biceps defer the work to the brachialis muscles in the lowering portion, you’ll want to use a lighter weight than with a normal curl.
- Since you won’t be using a Zottman biceps curl to hit a personal record, position it at the end of your workout as a burnout or finisher with a light-to-moderate set of dumbbells.
Function: Plate Grip Farmer’s Carry
Grip is one of the easiest measures of strength to test and can be an indicator of overall total-body functional power. However, grip strength among millennials is significantly lower than it was in the 1980s, and the expectation is that it will only continue to decrease as technology reduces the need to carry heavy objects around on a daily basis.
In the weight room, the forearm muscles control your grip, and if your grip is weak, it could be limiting your bigger lifts like deadlifts and pull-ups. A farmer’s carry strengthens your grip functionally for carrying and pulling heavy objects — even your own bodyweight — especially if the object you’re gripping is of an odd shape or circumference.
Dry your hands and choose two moderately heavy bumper (rubberized) plates of equal weights to use. You can chalk up to help absorb moisture, if needed, but that chalk also could work against you and make the plates slipperier, depending on the rubber used to make them.
Hold the plates with a “pincer” grip by squeezing the rims between your thumb and first three fingers. This grip prevents you from fully flexing your fingers or relying on gravity to cradle the weight across your knuckles and instead uses the force of your digit-flexor muscles to secure the vice. This engages your adductor pollicis muscle, the one that brings your thumb into your hand, and can improve grip strength and endurance when holding a barbell or dumbbell.
- Pinch the plates evenly with your thumbs and fingers as you take several quick steps across the floor, walking heel-toe and using a shorter stride than normal. Try to walk so that your head stays in the same line for a given distance or number of steps.
- Keep your shoulder blades down and back, chest lifted, core braced and chin level with the ground. Consciously engaging all these muscles will keep the plates from swinging around at your sides, making them harder to grip and giving you some lovely bruises on the outsides of your legs.
- Plate carries train your muscles isometrically, so use plates of different widths and/or weights to change things up and keep your muscles guessing. If you don’t want to use a heavier weight, increase the plate width by using a folded towel over the rim.
- You also can perform a farmer’s carry with dumbbells, kettlebells, or sandbags. With these, you can wrap your fingers around the object, enabling you to use more weight. So not only are you training those small wrist and hand muscles but also your shoulders, upper back and core.
- When done properly, farmer’s carries will blow out your grip, so put them at the end of your workout so you don’t fail at your bigger lifts.