Military Muscle: Functional forearms — back to the basics for a firm foundation


Bar Hold

If you study the folks in the gym, you’ll notice that very few, if any, are working on their forearms. A complete arm workout should always include forearms, the principal functions of which are to help flex the elbow when the hand is in a thumbs-up, palms-in position; extend the wrist up and to the side; and flex the wrist down and to the side.

The following are four essential exercises for the forearm muscles. Perform 10 reps except where noted.

Hammer curl (above left)

This curl is done with dumbbells. I find that you can use a heavier weight for hammer curls than straight biceps curls. You can execute this with both dumbbells at the same time or alternate them.

Grasp the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing in).

Start with both arms in the fully extended position, dumbbells resting at about mid-thigh.

Complete a full range-of-motion curl — elbows locked into your sides — raising the dumbbells up to chest level.

Lower the dumbbells back to the start point and repeat.

Bar hold (above right)

Set a rack at just below hip level. Set a bar with heavy weight on the rack. Choose a weight that you think you can hold for about 30 seconds, and do two or three reps.

Grasp the bar, palms down and wider than shoulder width.

Lift the bar off the rack and hold it with arms fully extended downward, arms hanging down by your legs, for the set duration.

Return the bar to the rack. Rest for one minute before the next rep.

Reverse curl (not shown)

Use an EZ curl bar, which goes to a wide ‘M’ in the middle. Hold the EZ bar on the ‘leg’ portion of the M — palms facing 45 degrees to the inside. This puts the forearm in half pronation and reduces stress on the wrist.

Work through the full range of motion, starting from arms straight down, curling up to chest level, then lowering back down.

Wrist curl and wrist extension 

I prefer to kneel, resting my forearms on a bench with my hands hanging off the bench. Allow the wrists to bend down from the weight of the bar. This is valid for both curl and extension. Do not raise your forearms off the bench during either movement.

Grasp a bar at shoulder width. Start at six reps with light weights. Pure wrist work is tough, and 10 reps will smoke you.

Wrist Curl

Curl. With palms facing up, curl your wrists upward by raising your palms toward your body. Reverse the motion; return to the start; and repeat.

Wrist Extension

Extension. With palms facing down, extend your wrists toward your body. Reverse the motion; return to the start; and repeat.

Demonstrating this week’s workout is Marine Staff Sgt. Santana Jimenez, 31, an M1A1 tank crewman with Marine Corps systems command. Santana, a CrossFit devote, ran the Marine Corps Marathon, his first, in October.

More online: This is the second of a three part arm series from Bob Thomas. Get part 1 here, and look for part 3 in the Dec. 7 issues of OFFduty, on newsstands Dec. 2.

Do you want to be in an upcoming issue? Here’s how.


Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas has been our Military Muscle columnist since 2007. He’s the director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. He’s his base’s lead trainer, a wounded warrior program facilitator and the Navy nutrition counselor there. His special emphasis is on fitness for the military retired population. Find his Military Muscle columns here.

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 32 ultramarathons -- including her first 100-miler. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .