The forearms are a tricky muscle group. If they lag behind the upper arms, you risk displaying poor symmetry at best, and failing your other body parts by virtue of a weak grip, at worst. In other words, you short-circuit your efforts on back, shoulder, and biceps days because your grip fails before the intended targeted larger muscle groups do. At the same time, overdeveloped forearms can also be a problem. They throw off your balance in many poses, and make your upper arms look small. Your forearm training will vary based upon whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced bodybuilder.
When you first begin training, every muscle group will grow, provided you are engaging in a full-body training routine and giving yourself adequate resources for recovery. Obviously, if you train chest and biceps and neglect the rest of your body, imbalances may occur. Even by neglecting back training, you will be stopping your forearms from being challenged in terms of grip, which will limit their long-term growth. Use a well-balanced full-body routine, then a push/pull, then 4- to 5-day per week split as a beginner. Your forearms will grow to keep pace with the rest of your growing physique.
At this point in your training, you will need some dedicated forearm training. Three sets of reverse wrist curls, followed by three sets of overhand forearm work, such as reverse wrist curls or reverse grip barbell curls, will be more than adequate. As an intermediate, your neck, biceps, and calves should be about the same size. Any deviation from this will alert you to the need to increase training on those body parts to attain then maintain this balance. Your forearms will be 70 to 80% the width of your upper arms. Use your eye (or the eye of a trained profession) more than the tape measure to determine if your forearms need more direct work.
If you are lagging in symmetrical forearm development, you should be using 8 to 12 sets of specific forearm training twice per week. You will already possess a foundation of muscle mass at this point, and will possess the recovery ability to bounce back (and respond with growth) following 20 or more total sets of forearm work per week. The goal is to etch in detail, while at the same time keeping the size where it needs to be. At this point, you will probably have competed a time or two, which will mean you’ve likely received feedback from a professional as to any weakness or imbalances regarding the forearms.
Obviously, if your forearms are already blatantly under- or over-developed, you will be able to quickly ascertain the best way to remedy the situation though an increase or reduction of daily training. At the same time, if you are not sure, you can consult with local competitive bodybuilders or judges to see if yours are where they should be. As a last resort, post a picture on the bodybuilding message boards and use the feedback given there to make a determination as to your forearm/upper arm symmetry. Just remember to keep your composure on the forums – they can be a jungle!
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