Sunday, March 5, 2017

Grip and Forearm Development - John McCallum (1966)

Originally Published in This Issue

Grip and Forearm Development 
by John McCallum (November 1966)

I was in L.A. about ten years ago. I went into one of the gyms and asked about a man named Mac Batchelor. They told me how to find the tavern where he worked, and that night I drove over to see him. 

The tavern was full of thirsty customers, but there was no doubt who was Batchelor. He weighed about 330 and most of it was muscle. I climbed up on a bar stool and introduced myself. 

"Tell me, Mac," I said. "You still the world's best arm wrestler?" 

He laughed. "I think so." He propped up an arm like an elephant's leg up on the bar. "Wanta try?" 

I looked at the arm. "No thanks." 

He looked surprised. "No? How come?" 

"Mac, I'll tell ya," I said. "You might break my arm, and I don't think my insurance would cover it."

He smiled broadly. "You know," he said, "you're one of the very few people who ever walked in here and didn't think they could beat me."

"Good grief," I said. "I ain't too bright, but I'm not crazy. I tell you what I would like, though. I'd like to see some of those strength feats of yours I've heard about."

"Sure," he said. "Here." He reached under the bar and brought out four bottle caps. He jammed one between each finger on his right hand and held his hand out. "Watch." He squeezed lightly and the four caps crumpled like Kleenex.

"Here's another one," he said. He took a cork top from a bottle and crooked his forefinger around it. He put his thumb against the top of the cork and snapped it in two with no effort.

He got another cork and handed it to me. "Try it."

I gripped it the same way and tried to break it. Every time I pushed with my thumb the cork slid out of my forefinger. I handed it back to him and he broke it for me.

"The trick is pinching it hard enough with your forefinger to hold it," he said. "You need a pretty good grip."

I grinned wryly. "I always thought I had one. This is kinda hard to take."

He smiled. "It takes training." He handed me a threaded metal bottle cap. "Try and bend this."

I put it between goth hands and bore down. Nothing happened.

"Gimme," he said. He held it between his thumb and forefinger and pinched. It collapsed like the top off a pop bottle.

He laid his hand palm up on the bar. "Try and hold down one finger."

I got both hands on his middle finger and leaned on it. He gave it a flip and my hands flew off. I tried another finger. Same thing.

I felt his forearm. It was thick and round and hard as a bowling ball.

"Mac," I said. "You specialize in grip and forearm work, don't you?"

"Sort of," he said. "It's like a hobby."

"How fo you work it in with your regular training?"

He leaned on the bar. I waited for it to fall down, but it didn't. "I do power stuff about two days a week," he said. "You know, squats, dead lifts, and so on. Then I work my hands and forearms every chance I get."

"You figure that's the best plan?"

"I think so," he said. "If you want a good grip and a big forearm."

Somebody said once that a powerful grip is the sure and certain mark of a man. That's not entirely true, my sister-in-law's got a grip like a stilson wrench and she looks like Ava Gardner, but certainly a good grip and big, impressive forearms are worth working for.

The forearms are a relatively small section of the overall physique, but they're the dressing that sets off the appearance of the arm as a complete unit. Proper forearm development gives that full, shoulder-to-waist, bulky look that a really good arm has. Upper arm standards have risen the last few years, but fortunately so have forearm standards.

There can be no question that two of the most completely developed arms of all time dangle from the shoulders of John C. Grimek. It's also significant that Grimek built his forearms to their absolute maximum.

Some of you may remember the sort of analysis David Willoughby used to do on the physiques of top bodybuilding stars. Willoughby was a tough man to be measured by. He used a thin steel tape pulled tight and no monkey business. Somebody once said that after Willoughby measured him, it took four days for the blood to start circulation again.

Willoughby's enthusiasm never got away on him. His observations were always analytically precise and coldly objective. Yet he went to great lengths to praise the size and development of Grimek's forearms.

If you watch Grimek posing under lights, you might not notice his forearms because of his monstrous upper arms, but if you get over the awe his physique creates and really look at his forearms, you'll see why he is e to perform the feats he has on the Weaver stick, and you'll begin to get some idea of the inherent potential in forearm work.  

The Weaver Stick:

Feats of Strength with Leavers, by David Willoughby:

Forearm specialization and feats of gripping power go together like ham and eggs. One supplements the other. The odd and pleasant thing you'll find is that gripping stunts are viewed by the general public out of all proportion to their actual difficulty.

Tearing a deck of cards in half is easy. You should be able to do it after two weeks work on your forearms. Yet tearing a deck of cards impresses the layman for more than pressing three hundred pounds. If you want a reputation as a strongman without going to too much trouble, a vice-like grip is the quickest and surest way to it.

Your grip is geared in approximate ratio to the size of your forearm. You'll find the odd guy with a pretty good grip and not too much in the way of forearm development, but generally speaking a big forearm means a good grip and vice-versa.

If you check through your old Strength and Health magazines, you'll find the men with really fantastic grips also own fantastic forearms.

Bill Pearl can roll up a license plate like a sheet of paper. He's also got forearms bigger than most men's necks.

Pearl was doing a show here a while ago. The next day he went down to a gym to talk to the guys. He's very modest. He had on a loose fitting, black, V-necked sweater over top of a T-shirt, and he looked like Mr. Universe even through the clothing. The guys asked him, but he wouldn't take off the sweater. He wasn't being coy, he's just plain modest. 

Finally they got talking about forearms. Pearl explained what he thought about forearm development and the exercises he did to build his. They asked to see forearms, and he tugged his sweater sleeve sort of hesitantly up to his elbow. There was a moment of stunned silence, one long gasp from everyone in the room, and Pearl whipped his sleeve back down again.

Everyone was doing forearm work the next day.

Doug Hepburn is another man with a quality grip. He can bend and then straighten out a steel spike that some men would have trouble lifting. He's also got forearms so big you can hardly believe they're real.

    Hepburn's so big all over you don't particularly notice his forearms when you see him stripped. But if you see just his forearms alone, it's enough to knock your eyes out.

Hepburn ran a gym a few years ago. I took a friend of mine to meet him. Hepburn was fully dressed and wearing a short-sleeved white shirt. The sleeves covered his upper arms, but his forearms were exposed. I introduced them. Hepburn put his hand out, but my friend was staring so pop-eyed at the colossal forearm that he missed when he reached out to shake hands.

He raved about Hepburn's forearms all the way home in the car, and the following week he started weight training.

Let's establish a couple of points about grip and forearm specialization before we get into the actual exercises.

First of all, if you've been following this series properly and working hard on the bulk and power exercises, you'll be around the stage where you need specialized work on the smaller muscle groups to bring them into line with the big ones. The idea isn't to concentrate exclusively on the small groups. That would be a mistake. You've got to keep up the bulk and power work to ensure overall growth and improvement. What you must do is work them both in together.

In other words, and this is vitally important, do enough bulk and power work to stimulate growth, and specialize very hard on one small muscle group at a time until it's outstanding in appearance and performance.

Secondly, there's little or no danger of going stale on forearm work. Power exercises like squats and dead lifts gobble up energy like a used car gobbles up gas, but forearm work uses relatively little energy.

That means you can work harder and more often, and consequently make more progress on your forearms than you would normally believe.

One of the best sets of forearms I ever saw were built on a system of three forearm workouts a day. You can do more exercises, more sets, and more reps. You can pump your forearms till they look deformed, and the more you work them, the faster they'll grow.

You've probably heard it said that forearms are difficult, of not impossible to develop. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The principle reason most men find it tough to build their grip and forearms is because they don't work hard enough on the right exercises, and they don't do enough of the growing exercises along with it.

Combine forearm specialization along with the proper growing exercises, and your forearms will grow beyond your wildest dreams.

Remember - you can develop your forearms fast and without too much trouble. You can convert a forearm like a stalk of celery into a bulging phenomenon. You can make your forearms your most outstanding bodypart in about two months if you really want it bad enough.

Next: Building the Grip and Forearm. 

Blog Archive