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March 12, 2022 10 min read

Good things come in small packages. In this case, the good thing is “big forearms” which come in an easy and simple movement: the wrist twist. 

Not only do big forearms look good, but they’re also extremely important when it comes to training our grip and ensuring good wrist health.

Nearly every lift in the gym requires us to grip something, and in many cases, the grip is the failure point for some lifters. That means the stronger our grip gets, the more weight we can move and the more gains we’ll elicit. Thankfully for us, training our forearms isn’t a difficult thing to do. This is where the wrist twist comes in.  

The Benefits of Wrist Twists

Although they’re a humble exercise fit for beginners, the wrist twist promises to bestow several benefits on those who include them in their workouts. The biggest draw will be the aesthetics.

Big forearms look good and with wrist twists, you’re going to get big forearms.

This exercise is also performed with a high rep range, so you’re going to get a plenty big pump and hypertrophy. This also means plenty of vascularity that’ll pop even when you’re outside of the gym.

And since you’ll be performing this exercise almost to failure, you’ll also be developing your work capacity and muscular endurance. This is going to effectively get your forearms ready for repetitive and constant usage. For example, one of the difficulties with pull-ups is that the forearms need to be strong enough to hold onto the bar for an extended period of time.

Wrist twists are fantastic for developing this sort of grip endurance.

Along with pull-ups, exercises such as deadlifts should also provide some improvement. For many people (and especially at heavier weights), one of the points of failure is the grip. This means that the wrist twist is going to have extensive carry-over benefits to your other lifts in the gym. 

But more than just improving your workout performance, wrist twists are also going to have functional benefits for you.

Functional exercises help us navigate our day-to-day lives in ways that are comfortable and easier. By strengthening fundamental movements (such as squatting, or gripping an item), it’s going to become easier to do things like carrying all your groceries in one trip.

The Physiology of the Wrist Twist

Although the forearms might seem like a minor part of your body, there’s a lot that goes into getting them to work correctly. 

The forearm is made up of two bones: the ulna and the radius.

Together, they create the radioulnar joint. Around these bones are several small groups of muscles. This includes the extensors and flexors of the fingers and the brachioradialis which flexes the elbow. There are also plenty of smaller muscles that move our wrists, which is more complicated than it first might appear.

The flexion and extension of the wrist occur when you bend your wrist down and up. 

Supination is the act of rotating the wrist so your palm faces up, while pronation describes rotating the wrist so the palm faces down. 

Lastly, ulnar deviation describes your wrist bending in the direction of your little finger. On the other hand, radial deviation is when your wrist bends towards your thumb.

Put together, all of these movements require muscles and flexibility to correctly pull of—aspects that wrist twists can help us with.

How to Dumbbell Wrist Twist

There are two methods to performing wrist twists (or wrist rotations).

First, we’ll take a look at the method that has your arms hanging by your sides. This is meant as a finishing movement towards the end of a workout so you’ll likely already be warmed up enough. However, if you’re doing this exercise on its own or at the beginning of a workout, it’s going to be a good idea to warm up your wrists.

You can do this by simply rotating them a few times. This will improve your performance and help prevent possible injuries. All you’re going to need in terms of equipment is a pair of relatively heavy dumbbells.

You won’t be curling them or anything, so choose a weight you can comfortably hold by your sides. Kettlebells can work just as well if you don’t have a pair of dumbbells.

To perform the dumbbell wrist twist:

  1. Standing tall, keep your chest up and back straight. Look straight ahead and brace your abdominal muscles. You should be holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward.
  2. Ensure that your shoulders remain still throughout the entire movement. You can also pull them back slightly.
  3. Initiate the movement by rotating your wrists. They should be going from a supinated position to a pronated position—facing back and then facing to the front. Try not to go too quickly, allowing momentum to take hold. Control the movement as you go back and forth.
  4. Complete 20 to 30 reps or until you get close to the point where you feel like your muscles might fail.

The other method will have you curl up the dumbbells first before twisting.

This places a greater emphasis on the biceps, but will also hit your forearms harder since you’ll be fighting gravity when in an overhand position.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip—these shouldn’t be too heavy. Once again, stand tall with your back straight and chest up. Engage your core.
  2. Curl the dumbbells up until your forearm is parallel to the ground and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Your palms should still be facing each other (in a neutral grip).
  3. Maintain the tension in your arms and biceps and initiate the movement by rotating the wrists so that your palms face straight up. Inhale as you do this. Pause for a moment.
  4. Continue by slowly rotating the palms until they face straight down. Exhale as you go through this movement.
  5. Reverse and repeat the motion for the desired amount of reps. Once again, try to continue until you’ve nearly reached muscle failure.

Incorporating Twists into Your Training

The wrist twist should be used as a finisher in your workouts.

After having done your regular arm and upper body work, including the wrist twist is meant to overload certain muscles that might’ve not otherwise been heavily used. 

This is a good way to home in on specific areas that you want to develop, in this case, this area is the forearms. As a finishing exercise, wrist twists should be taken to near muscular failure—the point where you only have a rep or two left in the tank. 

This means the high rep accounts are necessary to get the most out of the exercise.

For one, you’re going to be using relatively small muscles, so you can’t really load up on the weight. And furthermore, the high volume will mean that you get a bigger bump. This will lead to greater hypertrophy and more vascularity—excellent news if you have any interest in having some good-looking arms. 

Depending on your training schedule and program, how often you include wrist twists into your workouts will vary. However, it’s a good idea to include them in arm and/or upper body days.

Alternatives to the Wrist Twist

The wrist twist is a simple movement. Although it doesn’t promise a whole lot, it does promise to do it well. However, there are plenty of other ways to go about strengthening your wrists and forearms. 

If you want to add some extra emphasis on your forearms, consider implementing a few different exercises into your workout routine.

This will hit your forearm from slightly different angles, allowing for a more well-rounded development in both strength and size. Although some of these alternatives entirely emphasize the forearms, other exercises will require a lot more work from a much larger range of muscles.

However, all of these movements are going to give your forearms the workout of their lives.

Wrist Curl

Rather than twisting your wrists, the wrist curl requires you to—you guessed it—curl your wrists. Instead of relying on the pronation and supination that’s performed when twisting, this exercise develops our ability for flexion and extension of the wrists.

This allows for some variety in your forearm workouts that’ll lead to rounded development.

How to perform the wrist curl:

  1. Wrest your forearms on a bench and hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Your palms should be facing up.
  2. Curl your wrists up towards you, ensuring that only your wrists are moving.
  3. Once at the top of the curl, slowly descend back down into the starting position.

Pronated Wrist Curl

Also known as the palms down wrist curl, this exercise is going to draw a lot from the wrist curl—but with a twist. Instead of having your palms face upward, this time the trick is to keep your palms facing down, in a pronated grip.

This will pit gravity against you, and your forearms will have to work overtime to prevent the dumbbells from slipping out of your grip. The reverse wrist curl places a greater emphasis on the wrists rather than the forearms.

How to perform the pronated wrist curl:

  1. Set yourself up the same way as with the regular wrist curl, but with your palms facing down as they grasp the dumbbells.
  2. Curl your wrists, with the back of your hands coming up towards you.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement before slowly descending again.  

Wrist Roller

This is one of the best exercises for improving your wrist and forearm strength. For this exercise, you’re going to need a special piece of equipment—the wrist roller (or something like the Twist yo’ wrist product). Or, you can make one yourself by securing a piece of rope to a wooden cylinder that’s 1 to 2 feet long. 

This can be a humbling exercise for some people, so don’t expect to be able to lift a lot of weight from the get-go.

How to perform a wrist roller:

  1. Attach your chosen weight plants to the end of the cord opposite to the cylinder. Stand tall and grab the cylinder with an overhand grip, keeping it closer to your body.
  2. Flexing your wrists, roll the cylinder so that the cord begins wrapping around the cylinder. Continue until the weights reach up to the handle.
  3. Reverse the movement and slowly start rolling the other way so that the weights get back to the floor. This will effectively work the muscles at the top of your forearms so don’t skimp on the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Zottman Curl

 

Named after the 19th-century strongman, George Zottman, this biceps curl variation promises to hit both your biceps and your forearms—but with a greater emphasis on the latter. 

This is more of a compound movement than the other exercises we’ve looked at, requiring more and larger muscle groups to put in some of the heavy work. However, it’s a great way to round out your forearm training if you want to gas out your biceps as well.

How to perform the zottman curl:

  1. Begin by standing and holding a pair of dumbbells but your sides, palms facing in towards you.
  2. Initiate the movement by curling the weights up to the shoulders—ensure that your upper arms remain still throughout. As you curl up, rotate your wrists so that your palms face up. Pause once you get to the top of the lift.
  3. Begin the descent by rotating your wrists once again so that your palms are facing down, maintaining a pronated grip on the dumbbells. Slowly begin to lower the dumbbells down to the starting position. As you reach your sides, rotate your palms so that they face one another again.

Farmer’s Walk

As a general strength and conditioning exercise, the farmer’s walk is going to hit plenty of muscle groups. However, the forearms are going to get plenty of engagement in this full-body exercise. 

Although this exercise is simple enough in concept, load it up with enough weight and you’re going to be put up to quite the challenge. This is a great way to increase muscular endurance in your forearms, but even your leg muscles will be engaged.

How to perform the farmer’s walk:

  1. Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells, with your palms facing in towards your body.
  2. Stand tall, with your chest high and shoulders pulled back. Begin walking forward for a set amount of time or distance.

Towel Pull-ups

Pull-ups are one of the most popular (and difficult) bodyweight exercises. They require a ton of upper body strength and a grip that can’t be shaken. So, it’s no surprise that they’re a great option if you’re looking to beef up your forearms. 

However, what if you think that the conventional pull-up isn’t difficult enough for your forearm needs. In that case, consider towel pull-ups. Instead of grabbing onto the bar, you’ll be draping a pair of towels over the bar and grabbing onto them instead.

Because of the surface and the vertical gripping surface, your forearms are going to be challenged to another level.

How to perform the towel pull-up:

  1. Drape two towels over a pull-up bar at a shoulder-width distance, with enough towel draping off on either end to grab onto.
  2. Reach or jump up and grab onto the towels—your palms will be facing in. Pull your shoulders back slightly but otherwise start with your arms completely straight.
  3. Engaging your arms, chest, and upper back, pull your body up.
  4. Continue until your chin has reached at least the same level as your hands. Pause at the top before slowly letting yourself back down.

Training Tools for the Wishlist

If towels are too difficult, fat grips can be used instead. This piece of equipment goes over bars to make them thicker and therefore makes them more difficult to grab onto. This can add another level of difficulty to many lifts that require a barbell. 

Grippers, or grip crushers, are another great way to improve grip strength without the need for weightlifting.

If you’re at your computer and don’t have access to free weights, this tool can be a great option in a pinch. You can also incorporate it into exercises like sit-ups.

Getting a Grip on Good Forearm Strength

From carrying grocery bags to performing heavy deadlifts, our forearms are absolutely essential for maintaining a strong grip on whatever we might be carrying.

Keeping these muscles healthy and powerful is a good way to ensure that both our wrists and arms are in good condition and that they can work together like a well-oiled machine. 

Wrist twists and other alternatives that place an emphasis on our forearms are a great way to get sculpted and powerful forearms.

However, the exercises are only one small part of the overall picture.If your goal is mass and strength, eating well is going to become absolutely essential. Eating plenty of protein and supplementing with high-quality whey is one excellent method to put some meat onto your bones.

Get enough quality carbs and fats and you’ll be well on your way to fashioning a pair of god-like forearms. Implementing the right workouts like the wrist twist is good, but everyone needs a solid base of diet and rest to experience optimal gains.

With all the right pieces in the right places, your forearms are going to be the cherry on top of a statuesque physique.