Like totally wicked biceps
April 14, 2008 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I get Keanu's forearms?

What exercises do I need to do to get Keanu's arms, and more specifically forearms as depicted in this movie poster:


I have been doing barbell curls forever and seem to have peaked at 30 pounds on each side (70 if I am using the olympic bar). I do 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps. But I can't seem to even get 1 rep at a higher weight without cheating (i.e. arching my back). My biceps look like little mosquito bites.

I do a variety of tricep exercises, but I think I am not working on mass here, but rather toning (i.e. I am doing the pull down and French curl) - I can't do dips because of a chest injury that stubbornly refuses to heal... How about closed grip bench press? Any other mass builders?

I also to wrist curls for the forearms, but they are as flat as a pancake. Should I be doing something else?

How about frequency? Is twice a week enough? Would three times a week be too much (since it is a relatively small muscle)

posted by bitteroldman to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and by the way, please forgive my feeble attempts at Keanu-speak
posted by bitteroldman at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2008

For forearms, you can simply hold a bar or broomstick in front of you at arms length and "roll"
it, as if you were rolling up a sheet of paper. Roll it forewards and backwards. I used to do this with a small weight (read: 2 lbs) attached to a rope. I would spin the broomstick until the rope wound around it, and then unwind it until the weight touched the ground. I would reverse the move and wind it up again, then unwind.. etc, until my arms fell off. Honestly, this is much harder than it sounds and you are unlikely to get many sets of these completed until you work up to it.
Good luck!
posted by mcarthey at 7:26 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your forearms really aren't muscles you work. Do arm work, bi's tri's and shoulders, a lot of shoulder and back work will actually build forearms as well. Your issue is really just building mass so work on that and the forearms will follow.

Honestly the forearms in that pic aren't really hard to get for most they'll come naturally.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2008

What's your body fat percentage like?
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2008

Play bass. When I was practicing daily I had forearms like Popeye.
posted by lekvar at 7:39 PM on April 14, 2008

There's no such thing as toning. Your muscles can only get bigger or smaller- they can't get more toned. The "toned" look you're thinking of comes with a drop in body fat.

If you want to get bigger, build muscle. Do heavy reps. You're not going to wake up one day looking like Tarzan. When you've reached a point where you are happy with the way you look, stop.

If you can't do normal dips, try assisted dips. Do curls, but also do reverse curls, and skull crushers. Triangle Pushups, closed grip bench presses may also be helpful.
posted by unexpected at 7:40 PM on April 14, 2008

All the Grenadier Guards I knew with arms like that had a routine where they'd hold out their rifle (7lbs) at arms length for 30 secs or so, then do the same at a diff angle, and so on for a good 5-10 minutes.
posted by furtive at 7:41 PM on April 14, 2008

Try working on things that tax your grip strength. Pull-ups, deadlifts without straps, various barbell/kettlebell swings, cleans. Low body fat will also be a prereq, but fortunately it's easier in the forearms than the abs. Eat plenty of food, lift heavy, build muscle all over as mentioned above.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:44 PM on April 14, 2008

forearm specfic ? hammer curls

also see my previous answer...
posted by dawdle at 7:46 PM on April 14, 2008

Also, what are your inputs? Are you eating/drinking high amounts of protein? If you're working your muscles and you give them the ingredients to grow and time to rest, you should be on the right path. Drop your body-fat to allow the muscles to show through.

Throw a few different exercises in to the mix, keep things interesting. Add in a set of pressups or chinups/reverse chinups and you'll find yourself doing more without failing, and certainly with chinups, you're lifting a lot more then 30lb.

Three times a week sounds good, especially with a short routine. Obviously listen to your body-- always have a rest day between your routine to allow your muscles to heal and grow.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:49 PM on April 14, 2008

I had stick arms. I decided to remedy that in high school. Sit on a bench, take a ten pound dumbbell.Lay your arm on your thigh with your hand hanging over your knee, palm up. Place the dumbbellin your hand, and curl just your wrist. Ten reps. Then roll your wrist over so the palm is down, and lift the weight. Ten reps.

Back to the palm up position, but slide the dumbbell in your grip so the gap is all at your thumb (the pinkie is flush with the inside of one end of the dumbbell). Rotate the thumb over to an almost palm-down position, and back. Ten reps. THen make the "gap" down at your pinkie, and rotate the other way.
posted by notsnot at 7:49 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

What other exercises are you doing? What are you eating? Are you doing squats and deadlifts?

Keanu's arms aren't really very big in that photo - he does have nice definition in his lower arms though.

There are tons of lower arm and grip strength exercises that will give you forearms like those on Popeye

Change up your routine. Feed your muscles. Get more rest - don't over train.

Be patient.
posted by cinemafiend at 7:52 PM on April 14, 2008

Forearm muscles work hardest closing your grip during heavy deadlifts. Try doing alternating mixed-grip deadlifts or stiff leg deadlifts with a weight you can only do for 5 reps per set for 3 sets. Barbell shrugs, chinups/pullups, and heavy bent over rows will produce the same movement pattern.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:58 PM on April 14, 2008

Get a GripMaster. I got one to build up finger strength after not playing guitar for a while... as a side-effect it's been building up my forearms rather well.
posted by deCadmus at 8:12 PM on April 14, 2008

I've been typing a lot for decades, and as part of a routine to keep Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at bay, I do substantial exercise on my forearms and grip exercises -- as a consequence, I have forearms not entirely unlike those.

Start squeezing things. Things like power putty, or the classic spring grip, or the gyroscopic Dynaflex. Get more than one of these toys, and play with them whenever you're idle -- watching TV, waiting for the bus, etc. etc. The definition in your lower arms is more about what you do with your hands than with your arms.

For a change of pace, take up juggling. Once you can keep three balls in the air, start using heavier balls (Drill a hole in a tennis ball and fill it with sand and some BBs, then glue-gun it shut -- juggle two or three pound balls for 10-20 minutes a day, and you'll have beefy forearms in no time).
posted by toxic at 8:29 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

In order to build large forearms, roll a few hundred balls of dough in one day, then do five reps a week. Be careful though, if you only manage to do four reps a week while you happen to be completely stoned, it means that you're working at Papa Murphy's Pizza.
posted by spork at 10:04 PM on April 14, 2008

Get a brilliant Photoshopper working for you, and/or a professional body makeup artist and a lighting crew to lit you just the right way.

Or, more simply, rely on the (sometimes) flattering illusions due to foreshortening.
posted by randomstriker at 11:02 PM on April 14, 2008

Has anyone mentioned rock climbing? I was just doing indoor rock climbing for a while there and it greatly improved my hand/forearm strength.

Get a diploma in massage therapy and a job massaging football players.

Work on trucks and tractors.

Rotate your forearms rather than just doing curls. Get a one sided dumbell or a sledgehammer or something and use it to get some torque going, much like the supinator exercises on this page: exrx

Or play bass.
posted by Tixylix at 12:00 AM on April 15, 2008

Rock Climbing. Judo! All the time spent gripping the gi will make your forearms big.

If you want to achieve this in the gym, then others have given excellent suggestions. Deadlifts, chinups (change the grips up!), farmer walks, cleans, rope climbs, towel pullups, reverse grip curls, and there are tons of grip specific exercises. Check out the COC grippers and here is some literature.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:17 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd second the very first answer you got here - in fact a lot of gyms have a pipe or stick with a cord on it and a weight at the bottom that are designed exactly for working the forearms.

Also, this might sound a little odd - but crumpling newspaper is another great trick for working the forearms and hands out.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:01 AM on April 15, 2008

Become a'll use your forearms plenty when you're kneading clay before centering it on the potter's wheel, and just about everything you'll do with the clay while it's on the wheel. Plus, clay isn't a light weight material, so moving it around from place to place (i.e., to the wheel, off the wheel to the drying cabinet, into and out of the glaze buckets, into the kiln, out of the kiln, etc.) will give you a fair workout, too. In addition to all the physical work you'll be getting, you'll be making useful objects to amaze and delight friends and family, as well as yourself.
posted by motown missile at 1:52 AM on April 15, 2008

If you aren't on a clean diet, get on one.
posted by fire&wings at 2:28 AM on April 15, 2008

This is what Keanu did (in 1994):

(...) he shows off the results of six-day-a-week iron pumping. His choice: "I wanted to have cop arms -- big, beefy.''

posted by iviken at 3:39 AM on April 15, 2008

Hammer curls are the type of curl you should be doing.
posted by OmieWise at 4:31 AM on April 15, 2008

Safer than rockclimbing: Milk goats by hand twice a day, every day. I have Popeye forearms from 20 years of that.
posted by bricoleur at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2008

I was also going to vote for rock climbing. I have the weakest and skinniest arms ever and after climbing 2-3 times a week for a few months, there was a visible difference in my arms with huge arm strength gains and good overall core strength.
posted by jmd82 at 6:12 AM on April 15, 2008

as explained above, nail a line to a broomstick and tie a small weight to the bottom. Roll it up to get the forearms. Too much will make you look like popeye.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2008

I third the first answer you got. When I used to do this I used the cut off end of a baseball bat rather than a bar or broomstick. Don't know if there is any other advantage/disadvantage, I just found it more comfortable.
posted by Carbolic at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2008

It may help to keep in mind that Mr. Reeves looks a lot different when not shooting a film. A lot more puffy. I think it's about a thirty pound difference.

"Looking toned" is just a very low body fat percentage.

That being said, yeah, rock climb and play bass. You'll have quite the forearms if you can get through "What Is Hip" at tempo. Or walking bass on upright.
posted by lothar at 8:39 AM on April 15, 2008

I got my forearms big playing with the Dynaflex Gyroball
posted by LC at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2008

In my opinion, you're going about it the wrong way. If you are doing strictly forearm workouts, you are only working a small percentage of your body. What will happen from there is you will develop proportionally larger forearms than the rest of your body, and work hard to attain it. It might make your arms look big when you are looking at yourself in the mirror, but that is only because you are only comparing your larger arms to your smaller body. This is all well and good, but you can easily see what the limiting factor is: the rest of your body.

Looking at it from the other perspective, if you do lots of compound lifts like dawdle suggested in his previous answer, you will probably grow about the same amount all over. And newbie gains in the gym are ridiculous. We are talking doubling 1 rep maxes from when you started and they absolutely crippled you to do, into working sets in as few as 6 months (if you eat and sleep your ass off).

I think from there, if you want proportionally bigger arms, you can make the decision to focus on that when the time comes for your "proportionally larger" to actually be of significance. But right now it seems like you have plateaued (sp?) and don't really have any further to go with your arms in respect to the rest of your body.

A couple of side notes, though: 1) It probably isn't the size of Keanu's arms, rather, the lack of fat on them causing the definition of muscle to be seen that you are interested in. This further complicates things, as what you are going to want to do is cut weight to get the definition (not size) of your arms looking like that. If you cut weight now, you are only going to make your arms you are already unhappy with that much smaller (a litle lean mass is lost in a cut, but the dramatic loss in body fat during a cut and the dramatic gains in lean mass during a bulk makes cut/bulk cycles more effecient than just trying to gain lean mass without ever incurring any body fat). So it turns out what you are asking is a two step process rather than just a one.

2) It seems like the most success reported in this thread comes from rock climbing. This is not due to the fact that only your arms are used in climbing. It is due to the fact that it is an entire body workout with an exaggerated amount of stress on the forearms, then bicep, then lats, while working your core and calves/quadriceps as well (exaggerated because our forearms weren't built to do the same amount of work as, say, our legs). Probably good advice if you don't find weightlifting interesting, but you'll want to remember to do spurts of cardio and calorie cutting to lose body fat % to get the definition you want.

If you are interested in going to the gym, google rippetoe's starting strength. If you are interested in rock climbing, go to RCI and get some gear and ask around about the local climbing community. Indoor facilities would probably be a great place to just dive right in. Good luck, and remember to take progress pictures before it is too late and you're already sexified.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:34 PM on April 19, 2008

nth rock climbing, because it's a full-body workout that gets harder as you get stronger. I never could gain any mass till I started rock climbing. keep a modified lifting routine though, to balance out your muscle growth, or you'll end up with medial epicondylitis (climbing disproportionately works your pulling muscles over pushing muscles and puts your wrists at odd angles).
posted by Chris4d at 2:23 PM on April 30, 2008

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