A few years ago we wanted to examine what exercises would be most helpful for serious arm training. As always, we used a numbers approach. We used a group of volunteers to test over a dozen arm exercises to determine which ones generated the highest intensity of overload.
By ‘high intensity’ I mean, the total weight lifted per unit of time. So if one biceps exercise allowed the trainees to lift, on average, 1,250 lbs per minute but another biceps exercise generated 2,840 lbs per minute it was deemed the superior exercise.
After all, the biceps is always attached at the same two points on the bones and it always contracts in the same direction so if one exercise imposes twice the intensity, what reason would there be to use the lower intensity exercises?
Anyway, at the end of the testing there was a clear winner for the forearm flexor muscles that move the wrist. It’s an exercise you rarely see used in the gym but it had the highest intensity by a clear margin. It’s a wrist curl behind the back. Here are some photos of three ways it can be performed.
You have to have someone place the bar in your hands or perhaps take it off a rack if it’s at the right height.
Alternatively, you can just place the bar in a power rack and then you don’t need a spotter.
You can also use a low pulley, but remember the weight on the stack is likley not the real weight you are lifting after if runs through a few pulleys. Still, if you always use the same machine you can ensure progressive overload.
There isn’t much range of motion in this exercise so it’s a minor point as to whether you use a full range, partial range or a static hold. The most important thing with this exercise – and indeed any exercise – is to calculate the intensity so you can increase it on future workouts.
Static Contraction trainees know their intensity because they always do 5-second holds and the weight must increase for higher intensity per 5-seconds. Power Factor trainees can calculate Power Factor and Power Index numbers to monitor their momentary and sustained intensity. Most full-range, conventional trainees just train blindly insofar as intensity is concerned.
One More Thing
I can’t leave you not knowing the antagonistic exercise to this one. The highest intensity exercise we tested for the forearm wrist extensors was the seated barbell reverse curl. Here’s a photo.
OK, Popeye, go have some fun in the gym experimenting with these.