Q: I have a problem building any decent mass in my forearms. I do wrist curls and reverse curls for three sets each after I train biceps, but the undersides of my forearms just don’t seem to fill out. To be honest, when I do wrist curls, I feel most of the ache in my wrists and lower forearms, not in the large mass below the elbow. Do you have any suggestions on how I can build more mass in the upper portion of the forearm?
A: Generally, people with good forearms are genetically gifted with good forearms. Guys like Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates never had to train forearms because they got full development from biceps and back movements. People without that genetic gift have to work harder. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, didn’t have very good forearms when he first came to America, even though he was already a Mr. Universe winner. It was only when he moved to California and saw the forearm development of men like Chuck Sipes, Bill Pearl, Dave Draper and Sergio Oliva that he went to town on his forearms. Arnold was lucky in that any muscle group responded very well once he trained it hard enough. With some people the basic muscle fibers just aren’t there to develop, no matter how hard they train. That’s especially true for calves and forearms.
Having said that, I think too many people don’t use the right exercises. For example, I don’t think standard wrist curls are the best exercise for forearm development. As you’ve experienced, wrist curls tend to train the wrists and lower forearms but not the upper forearms. Hammer curls or reverse curls with an EZ-curl bar work the tops of the upper forearms, but for the undersides of the forearms, where the real meat is, you need one-arm dumbbell wrist curls done seated on a bench with the ‘bell hanging between your legs.
Not too many people do one-arm dumbbell wrist curls, although Dave Draper and Casey Viator used to do them, and both men had massive forearms. Sit at the end of a flat bench or on a short stool. Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell in your right hand, and anchor your right elbow at the top of your right thigh beside the crotch and near the hip bone. Try different spots in that general area until you find the one that feels best and allows you to best contract your forearms. Use your free hand to support the working arm and to help yourself do forced reps. If you do the exercise properly, you’ll experience a white-hot burn in the upper underside of your forearm. You’ll actually see that part of your forearm bulge with every rep. I’ve found it to be a real size builder, especially when used in conjunction with EZ-curl-bar reverse curls, hammer curls and regular wrist curls.
Q: Can you give me a routine that will increase both the width and thickness of my lats? I’ve gone stale on my current routine and need something to shock my back into growing. I primarily want lat gains, but I wouldn’t complain if my traps, teres major and minor and the muscles of my upper back increased in size and mass too.
A: I have just the routine. Before I talk about exercises, sets and reps, however, let me just say that you should try to feel your lats working as you do your exercises. Don’t go so heavy that you lose the lat isolation and are forced to bring other muscles into play. On all rowing movements keep your lower back arched. Never allow it to round. It’s also important to keep your back arched while doing chins and pulldowns. On pulldowns, keep the palms of your hands and your thumbs on top of the bar’don’t hold it with your fingers. The more you get your hands over the bar, the better you isolate the lats.
I suggest that you train five days a week, working one major muscle group a day. Train lats and traps on different days. A sample split might be:
Monday: Chest and biceps
Tuesday: Lats and triceps
Wednesday: Delts and traps
Thursday: Calves and quads
Friday: Lower back, hamstrings and glutes
Here’s your lat workout:
Wide-grip chins 4 x max
Bent-over barbell rows 4 x 10, 8, 6, 4-6
One-arm dumbbell rows 2 x 8-10
Wide-grip pulldowns 3 x 12, 10, 8
Seated cable rows 3 x 12, 10, 6-8
Cross-bench dumbbell pullovers 3 x 15, 12, 10
On the chins, bent-over barbell rows and one-arm dumbbell rows take a full 90 seconds to two minutes of rest between sets. Those exercises make up the heavy part of your workout, and to use heavy weights in good form, you need more rest between sets. Pyramid up in weight on the barbell and dumbbell rows, making your last set the heaviest.
Do the tri-sets with some urgency and speed. I don’t mean do your reps fast, but try to take as little rest between exercises as possible’and just one minute between tri-sets. That will get you huffing and puffing and sweating, as well as give your lats a good burn.
To intensify the work on your lats, stretch them after all sets of chins, barbell rows and dumbbell rows and after each tri-set. To prevent going stale, rotate your exercises. At one workout you can follow the chins with barbell rows and one-arm dumbbell rows, and at the next session you can follow chins with one-arm dumbbell rows and finish with bent-over dumbbell rows.
You can also change the order of the tri-set. Go from pulldowns to seated cable rows to cross-bench dumbbell pullovers at one workout; at the next session go from cross-bench dumbbell pullovers to pulldowns to cable rows. Mixing up the order of the exercises prevents boredom and adaptation and allows you to stimulate the muscle fibers of your lats differently each time you train.
ALLWork your traps after delts at another workout. Here’s a good routine that will add mass to your traps and increase the muscularity in your whole upper back:
Power cleans (warmup) 1 x 10
3 x 6-8, 6, 4-6
Dumbbell shrugs 2 x 10-12
Upright rows 2 x 6-8
Power upright rows 2 x max
You can train your lower back directly once a week with hyperextensions and deadlifts. Alternate in an every-other-workout fashion, meaning you only deadlift really heavy twice a month. When you deadlift, try doing about five sets, pyramiding up in weight on each set, working down to a triple on your heaviest and last set. You can do hyperextensions for higher repetitions, say 15, for three to four sets.