When you hear of someone going to the weight room for an "arms day", three areas come to mind first — biceps, triceps and shoulders.
What are neglected more than anything are the muscles below the elbow.
That's strange, considering we use grip strength every single day in our lives. We strain to twist open a jar of pickles. We twist a screwdriver when working on our house or car. Heck, we grip weights when we work out other muscles at the gym. Sports like rock climbing, tennis, golf, baseball and gymnastics require ample grip strength to be successful.
A popular misconception is that forearm muscles build strength at the gym while you work other muscles with dumbbells, bars and other equipment. The truth is that's not enough. Focusing some of your workout time solely on forearm exercises can lead to plenty of practical benefits in everyday life.
Travelle Gaines is a well-known strength and conditioning coach in Los Angeles who trains dozens of professional athletes, mostly football and basketball players. He is the director of elite athlete development for Athletes Performance, and he uses a Spartan-like approach for building forearm strength among his clients.
In short, he takes out a bucket of rice and tells his NFL players to start digging.
"There's so much grabbing involved in football," Gaines says. "When you basically grind rice inside of a bucket, it builds a lot of hand strength, and the deeper you dig in, the more your hands have to flex and dig the rice out. The rice is constantly trying to fall back to the bottom."
Buying a 25-pound bag of rice and filling a five-gallon bucket might seem like an exercise straight out of Rocky IV, but it works. You can do a variety of forearm exercises with a rice bucket, too, including:
* Repeatedly grabbing rice at the surface for 30 seconds
* Digging deep into the bottom of the bucket to grab rice, and then digging your way out
*Repeatedly grabbing rice at the surface using a "pinch grip," which doesn't utilize the palm
*Digging deep into the bottom of the bucket using the "pinch grip"
Make the rice bucket workout a regular part of your routine — just like NFL players do — and watch your grip strength improve in ways you never imagined. The great thing is it's a muscle group that is used every day in even the most basic of life's tasks.
"It's a pretty challenging exercise," Gaines said, "and something we do at Athletes Performance as a finishing drill with all the athletes."