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Best dumbbell forearm exercises and workout routines: Get strong with free weights

These dumbbell-only forearm workouts will kickstart new muscle growth and strength development.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd April 2021
Man performing a seated dumbbell forearm curl

Training the muscles of the forearm with dumbbells can be complicated because you soon realize that many movements do the same thing. However, I’ve managed to find some very unique dumbbell forearm exercises that you can do in your next workout.

Related workouts

Top 8 forearm dumbbell exercises

I’ve tried just about everything in pursuit of greater forearm gains. But no matter what fancy technique or equipment I try, I keep coming back to dumbbell forearms exercises because they add mass like nothing else can.

1. Dumbbell wrist curls

A person doing the dumbell wrist curl exercise

Wrist curls are one of the most popular forearm free weight exercises because they're really easy to set up. Plus, they build reliable mass while helping you sidestep muscle imbalances.

This convenient isolation exercise works the flexors of the forearm, which is what gives the muscle that hang-off-the-bone look, as if your lower arms were a juicy piece of meat that ought to be hung up in a butcher's.

See our prone forearm curls guide for a full list of benefits and training tips.

  1. Grab some moderately light dumbbells, and then place your forearms on a bench in a palms-up position. You can also use your thighs instead of a bench.
  2. Allow your hands to hang off the edge of the surface.
  3. Bend your wrists and lower the dumbbells until you feel a nice forearm stretch.
  4. Curl the weights back up by flexing your forearms.
  5. Squeeze your forearms for a split second as you complete the rep.
  6. Repeat for 12-20 reps and do around 2-4 sets.

2. Dumbbell reverse wrist curls

Man doing a reverse wrist curl with dumbbells

Reverse wrist curls are the most important of all the dumbbell forearm exercise drills because they work the extensors. The flexors, as you might have guessed, already get a great workout during your back and upper arm training.

So if you want forearms that are proportional, then you have to perform some kind of wrist extension. You can also do the palms-down wrist curl over a bench with other equipment if you don't have dumbbells.

  1. Grab a pair of very light dumbbells and place the underside of your forearms on a bench or on your thighs.
  2. Shuffle your hands forwards so that the dumbbells hang of the edge of the bench.
  3. Bend your wrists and lower the dumbbells down to the ground until you feel a stretch in the tops of your forearms.
  4. Come straight back up by extending your wrists, and then squeeze your extensors at the top of the rep.
  5. Make sure to actually bend your wrists back on the way up. Don’t just stop once your hand and forearms are level.
  6. Stick to high reps (20-30) and do 2-4 sets.

3. Single dumbbell wrist curls

Person doing single arm dumbbell wrist curls

Many of the forearm workouts with weights often leave you with uneven lower arms because your stronger side naturally takes over. However, the single dumbbell wrist curl can help because it enables you to focus 100% of your attention on the working muscle.

  1. Take one moderately light dumbbell and then place the top of your forearm on a bench.
  2. Bend your wrist and allow the dumbbell to stretch the underside of your forearm.
  3. Descend until you feel a deep yet comfortable stretch, and then curl the dumbbell back up by flexing your wrist.
  4. Hold the contraction for a brief second and then repeat for 2-4 sets of 12-15 reps.

4. Rear fronted rotations

Person performing dumbbell radial deviations

When you do a forearm workout dumbbell style, it’s easy to miss the small muscles by focusing too much on the common, compound-style movements. But what about those small forearm muscles that make your lower arms truly world-class when developed? [1]

I’ve got you covered. The next 2 free weight forearm exercises will help you build a unique upper body by adding muscle to your lower arms that your fellow lifters don’t have (and aren’t prepared to work for).

  1. Grab 2 light dumbbells with a neutral hand position.
  2. Slide your little finger to the end of the dumbbell.
  3. Then, rotate the dumbbell towards your forearm by moving the bottom end upwards and forwards using your lower arm muscles.
  4. Start light and use moderate to high reps. 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps is an ideal starting point.

Body part split workouts

5. Fronted rear rotations

Person performing dumbbell ulna deviations

This exercise is the reverse of the one above. Collectively, they’re great to include at the end of your forearm dumbbell workouts because they add noticable detail to the muscle. Plus, it’s not like you need to be at your freshest to lift light weights.

To save time and get a wicked pump, pair it with the forearm dumbbell exercise listed above. [2]

  1. Hold 2 light dumbbells in the hammer curl position.
  2. Slide your fingers towards the top of the dumbbells so that the other end is pointing down.
  3. Rotate the end that’s pointing down by flexing your forearm backward. Aim to actually touch the end of the dumbbell to your skin for a full contraction.
  4. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.

6. Dumbbell wrist rotations

The start and end positions for the forearm twist exercise
Start and end positions shown

Doing forearm exercise dumbbell style can be painful because you’re getting such an intense lactic acid burn due to the improved muscle isolation. But if you want to take the pump up a gear, then try the dumbbell wrist twist at the end of your session.

Good luck picking up your shaker bottle after this one!

  1. Grab a pair of fairly light dumbbells and hold them with a pronated grip.
  2. Squeeze them as hard as you can, and then rotate the dumbbells until your palms are facing forwards.
  3. Immediately rotate your palms back into a pronated position. This is one rep.
  4. Perform the exercise with a fast tempo and repeat for as many reps as possible.

7. Farmer's walk

A man holding dumbbells by his sides
Grab 2 weights and walk for 30-60 seconds

Farmer's walks are one of the best ways to end your dumbbell forearm workouts because they train the one thing that most bodybuilders lack: grip strength.

Actually, this drill is so effective for both mass and strength that you could even do it at the start of your session.

  1. Hold a pair of heavy dumbbells by your sides with a neutral hand position.
  2. Don’t grip the weights too tightly, but try to keep the handles in the palm of your hand (they might slide into your fingers more as you fatigue).
  3. Walk with the dumbbells for 30-60 seconds. If you’re training for endurance, you can even go beyond a minute (but you’ll need to lighten the weight).
  4. Repeat for 3-4 sets, and don’t be afraid to lift heavy on this one.

8. Reverse curl

The start and end positions for the dumbbell reverse curl

No dumbbell workouts for forearms are complete without the reverse curl. And that’s because no pair of arms is complete without a top-tier brachioradialis. This muscle is one of the most prominent muscles on the top of your forearms, and it's arguably more visible than the biceps.

Ultimatley, it'll make your arms look way more 3D when it’s well developed.

  1. Grab 2 dumbbells with an overhand, thumbless grip.
  2. Curl them towards your shoulders while keeping your upper arms still.
  3. Go beyond 90 degrees to get a good contraction and then lower the weights back down under control.
  4. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Dumbbell forearm workout routines

Here are my 3 favorite forearm workouts with dumbbell equipment. Each routine focuses on a specific goal, but if you want to improve both strength and endurance, for example, then you can mix and match exercises. [3]

Alternatively, you can do both routines, but on different days of the week.

Forearm dumbbell workout 1: Max strength

1: Farmers walk — 4 x 30 second holds

2: Single dumbbell wrist curl — 4 x 8-10 reps

3: Reverse curl — 4 x 8-10 reps

4: Reverse wrist curl — 4 x 15-20 reps

Forearm dumbbell Workout 2: Pure size

1: Wrist curls — 4 x 12-15 reps

2: Reverse curl — 4 x 12-15 reps

3: Reverse wrist curl — 4 x 20-25 reps

4A: Rear fronted rotations — 2 x 8-10 reps

4B: Fronted rear rotations — 2 x 8-10 reps

Forearm dumbbell Workout 3: Enhanced endurance

1: Farmers walk — 3 x 60 second holds

2: Reverse curl — 3 x 20 reps

3A: Forearm curl — 3 x 20 reps

3B: Reverse forearm curl— 3 x 30 reps

4: Dumbbell twist — 1 set to failure

More workout inspiration

Conclusion: What are the best dumbbell exercises for forearms?

There are many effective forearm dumbbell exercises out there. And as I said, many movements do the same thing, and most produce similar results. However, in my dumbbell forearm workout, I always include some kind of wrist curl because it provides what’s called a dynamic contraction.

Compared to isometric contractions, dynamic contractions stimulate greater hypertrophy because the muscle tissue is being repeatedly stretched and contracted, which breaks down more fibers.

The great thing about free weight exercises for forearms is that you can perform them virtually anywhere.

As for the 3 forearm dumbbell workouts, all of them will improve your strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. But obviously, as you can see from the rep ranges, there is a slight bias to each individual goal. But it’s not like high reps don't build muscle.

Also, feel free to do your personal favorite dumbbell exercises for forearms if you don’t like these. There are many forearm workouts with weights that produce similar results, so I say just do what you most enjoy so that you can stick to a program and make gains.

References

  1. Boles, C., Kannam, S., & Cardwell, A. (2000). The Forearm. American Journal Of Roentgenology, 174(1), 151-159. https://doi.org/10.2214/ajr.174.1.1740151
  2. Weakley, J., Till, K., Read, D., Roe, G., Darrall-Jones, J., Phibbs, P., & Jones, B. (2017). The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 117(9), 1877-1889. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-017-3680-3
  3. Szymanski, D., Szymanski, J., Molloy, J., & Pascoe, D. (2004). Effect of 12 Weeks of Wrist and Forearm Training on High School Baseball Players. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 18(3), 432-440. https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-200408000-00007
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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