So what should you do? The experts all have different views - some swear by the straps and others treat them as something found under their shoes. Personally, I believe in straps. Genetically I don't have very strong forearms, and when I started training after having joined the army my first training partner happened to be a huge football-player at national level with a chest so huge he could put a pint of beer on top of it when flexed. He showed me everything, and told me to use straps. So I did, and kept doing so for the first three years of my training.
The Result: My lats came out fine, but my already weak forearms became a sorry story.
Then I came to the point when I had problems doing even a few chin-ups without straps. As my bodyweight had climbed quite considerably while my forearms had gotten weaker, I realized I had to do something. But what should I do? Should I give up all productive back-training for the next six to 12 months just to build up my grip strength to get it up to par with the back, or should I keep going as I was? The solution was easy - I did neither!
On back days I relied, and still mainly rely, on straps. For almost every set I would strap myself really tight'n'good to the bar so I could put every ounce of effort onto the back, not having to think of my arms more as just hooks. But on bicep day I added four sets of specific forearm exercises, which would allow me to develop both mass and strength. For starters, I would go to the squat-rack, put the bar low so that I would only have to lift it a few inches to hold it standing straight, pretty much like the top position of a deadlift.
As I was already warmed up from the bicep-training (which automatically hits forearms too) I would load on a moderate weight, say 100-110 lbs and slowly curl it up and down. That means just holding the barbell in front of me and let it roll almost out of my grip and then back up again to fully clenched fists, and for extra burn I'd curl the entire fist backward/upward to make the forearm contract fully. I'd go for one set, all-out, not counting the reps but concentrating only on the burn. After that I'd put the bar down on the rack and give the forearms a good stretch.
The following two sets were the ones which would develop the actual STRENGTH.
I'd load on as much weight as I could, always challenging myself to add another 5-10 lbs from last time. Stand balanced with feet wide apart, get a good grip (make sure that you don't get any skin "folds" or you'll regret it later) and take off. The point is to just stand there, holding the weight with your hands alone for as long as possible.
Minimum Time: 30 seconds. If you have a training partner, this is an excellent exercise for psyching each other up.
When you start getting close to a full minute with over 300 lbs you should have developed pretty impressive forearms. Push yourself not to let go until absolutely necessary, and chances are the bar might slip out of your grip at the end, hence the rack set only inches below.
The last set would be the same as the first one, slowly curling up and down. I found this vertical kind of forearm-curls way superior to the "classic" ones performed horisontally over a bench. The vertical curls work the entire muscle belly, while all the vertical ones did for me was to make my wrists ache. And boy... make sure to stretch your forearms thoroughly after these four sets! I mean, it's a good thing being able to pour your juice yourself the next morning, instead of having to ask someone else do it for you as your forearms are so sore!
Straps are great for putting the stress solely onto your back, but you must also make sure to train the forearms specifically. If you've fallen into the same kind of trap that I did, it'll take some time before your forearms catch up, but then again it has to be dealt with sooner or later, so why not start today?
| Always - They help me target bigger muscle groups
Occasionally - Like on my back exercises.
Never - They're for wimps!