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How to get Popeye forearms by lifting weights (no spinach required)

Get cartoonish forearms with these expert-certified training tips.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 4th March 2021
A bodybuilder's massive forearm

Want that incredible Popeye forearm development for your own physique? Lower arms so jacked that people tremble when they shake your hand?

In just a moment, you’ll learn exactly how to increase forearm size naturally as well as the best exercises for getting Popeyes forearms for yourself.

Related posts: Why are my forearms so skinny?biggest forearms in bodybuilding

How to get Popeye forearms naturally

Popeye clearly put a lot of work into getting those beefy lower arms. But how exactly did he do it? Some say spinach. And while such vegetables are healthy, there are much better ways to build up your forearms.

Neglect no part of the forearm

A man with a large forearm

If you genuinely want Popeye-level forearms, then you need to train every single lower arm muscle. Most lifters, you see, just train their flexors (the underside of the forearm) and then call it a day.

They completely neglect their forearm extensors and the brachioradialis. Not only does this pitfall lead to muscle imbalances, but it also results in less overall muscle mass because you're literally not training certain muscles, at least not with sufficient intensity.

Instead, always perform wrist extension exercises as well as forearm flexion drills. You don’t have to superset them, but for maximum growth, you must always do both kinds of exercises in your routine.

As for the brachioradialis, hammer curls and reverse curls are your best bet. They train your biceps, too, but they also make your arms look more three-dimensional by hammering your forearms.

Improve your mind-muscle connection

Man doing a dumbbell curl while sat down

Reckon Popeye can flex his forearms on demand?

Yeah, I do too. And that’s because his mind-muscle connection is absolutely top draw.

So when you’re performing your reps, make sure to really squeeze your forearms. Hold the contraction for 2 seconds initially so that you can develop strength in the contracted position.

The mind-muscle connection is especially crucial during isolation exercises because typically, there are only 1-2 target muscles that you're trying to work.

Also, slow down your repetitions slightly. This way, you’ll actually feel your muscle fibers getting stretchered out rather than just noticing the weight dropping. It’s an excellent fix for weak forearm muscles because slow negatives force you to actually use your muscles to control the weight.

Eventually, you’ll want to perform your reps at a normal speed so that you can increase the weight and gain strength. However, there’s no harm in including slow negatives and extended contractions in your routine for some additional training volume.

Use high reps and low reps

Man performing a dumbbell wrist curl

While low reps ensure maximum growth of your fast-twitch muscle fibers, high reps do the same for your slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Therefore, if you really want those Popeye forearms, then you need to perform a mixture of high rep and low rep exercises.

You can do this in the same workout by starting with heavy sets and finishing off your forearms with high rep burnout exercises.

Or you can actually partition the rep ranges into different workouts. This is the best choice if you're training forearms more than once per week. In the first session, you’d do heavy lower arm drills (like farmer's walks) and then come back later in the week and blast your forearms with plenty of pump work.

You can even do blood flow restriction training for forearms if you want an insane muscle pump.

Strengthen your grip

Man squeezing a forearm strengthener

Popeye might well have big forearms, but I reckon that his grip strength is just as impressive.

And it makes sense. After all, anyone with decent forearms often has the grip strength to back it up.

But don’t be that bodybuilder with the jacked forearms and weak handshake.

Plate pinches and farmer’s carries might not give you a skin-splitting pump, but they’re some of the best mass builders out there. They’re so effective that I recommend doing them before wrist curls so that you’re at your strongest to enjoy their best effects.

See also: forearm hypertrophy guide

Best exercises for getting Popeye forearms

Each of these exercises is unique because it works the forearms in a very different way. Perform all of them within your workout routine for the best results, and who knows, you might even end up having forearms larger than your biceps.

Wrist curls

Man doing seated forearm curls

Popeye forearm size requires wrist curls. It’s arguably the most effective lower arm drill because it repeatedly stretches and contracts the muscle under tension.

Also, it’s an excellent movement for developing a killer mind-muscle connection because each rep gives you the opportunity to squeeze the heck out of your forearm.

I like to do them behind my back because it helps me to focus on the muscles rather than just on moving weight. However, you can also do them over a bench to prevent cheating.

Farmer’s walks

Man doing farmer's walks

Grab two heavy dumbbells and walk up and down the gym with them for 30-45 seconds. Initially, keep the weights in the palm of your hand. But don’t worry if the dumbbells slip into your fingers after a while because that’s a natural side effect of forearm fatigue.

Not only will this functional drill build those Popeye forearms, but it’ll also develop insane grip strength that carries over to all your pulling exercises like deadlifts, rows, and chin ups.

Plate pinches

A person performing the plate pinch exercise

The plate pinch is similar to the farmer’s carry in that it’s an isometric exercise. The difference is that rather than working on overall grip strength, you’re explicitly training your pinching strength.

Pinching is something that most of us are weak at. After all, we don’t perform such tasks in our everyday lives (or even in our workouts) for the most part.

As such, you’ll feel muscles come alive that you didn’t even know that you had. And with the extra strength that you'll gain from this exercise, you’ll naturally be stronger on your other forearm movements because your ability to hold heavier weights will be much more reliable.

Do 3-4 sets of 30-second holds by pinching the plate between your thumb and fingers.

Reverse wrist curls

Man performing a reverse wrist curl with a barbell

The reverse forearm curl trains the wrist extensors, which are a bit weaker than the forearm flexors. As such, you’ll need to stick to high reps (15-20).

To do the exercise, hold a light barbell with an overhand grip, and then rest your forearms on a bench. Bend your wrists and lower the weight towards the ground until you feel a good stretch. Come back up by extending your wrists, and aim to bring them higher than your forearms for the strongest muscle contraction.

Hammer curls

Close up of a man performing hammer curls

No pair of Popeyes forearms is complete without a big brachioradialis. And while they work the biceps, too, nothing hammers the brachioradialis quite like hammer curls.

The best part is that you can lift heavier weights and thus stimulate more growth than with regular bicep curls (thanks to the neutral hand position).

To do the exercise, hold two moderately heavy dumbbells by your sides. Then, while keeping your upper arms still, raise the weights towards your shoulders. Once your arms exceed 90-degrees of flexion, lower the dumbbells back down slowly.

Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps in total along with the other drills, and you’ll be well on your way to creating an impressive forearms before and after transformation.

FAQ

Why does Popeye have big forearms?

Popeye had giant forearms, according to most sources, because he always ate spinach. And while spinach is certainly healthy, building enormous forearms like his usually requires resistance training and a healthy, high-protein diet.

Can you build forearms like Popeye?

It’s unlikely that most natural lifters will equal his forearm size. However, you can definitely make them larger by lifting weights consistently.

Read more: big biceps and small forearms

A summary of advice for building those Popeye forearms

Popeyes forearms weren’t gifted to him overnight. Whether or not he got them from eating spinach or lifting heavy weights, we can presume that he had to wait for them to grow.

So always be patient. And don’t neglect your recovery.

Eat enough quality protein and healthy calories to support new lean muscle growth.

Get enough sleep, too.

If you implement the exercises that I showed you and prioritize your recovery, then you’ll see results and inch closer—literally—to those Popeye forearms in just a few months.

References

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Popeye | cartoon character. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Popeye
  2. Hawkes, R. (2016, April 11). Popeye: 10 things you never knew. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/childrens-books/popeye-10-things-you-never-knew/
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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