Five Reasons You Should Start Using the Forearm Handshake

You’ve probably seen some iteration of the forearm handshake in a movie (usually a period piece involving sandals or muskets). It goes by many names: “Roman,” “Spartan,” and “Civil War” among them. But you don’t do it and probably have never even considered realistically inserting it into your greeting rotation; you’re not alone.

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

This week…

Five Reasons You Should Start Using the Forearm Handshake

You’ve probably seen some iteration of the forearm handshake in a movie (usually a period piece involving sandals or muskets). Maybe on YouTube. It goes by many names: “Roman,” “Spartan,” and “Civil War” among them. But you don’t do it and probably have never even considered realistically inserting it into your greeting rotation; you’re not alone.

For some reason, this eminently cool gesture has not really caught on in contemporary culture, at all. I aim to change that.

[And yes, it does qualify as a handshake. Your hands are involved and there is a slight single shake in the process; don’t get caught up in the semantics of the name right now.]

5. It’s impossible to screw up

Never will somebody give or receive a forearm handshake that lacks in any department. Say goodbye to the rogues gallery of handshaking: the guy with limp fingers, the guy-trying-so-hard-to-prove-he’s-a-man-that-he-breaks-your-fingers, and the guy who refuses to let go of your hand (we get it, you’re trying really hard) – they don’t exist in a world of forearm handshakes.

When you grab a guy’s forearm, there’s nothing to do, which means there’s also nothing to do incorrectly. Even if you’re trying to hurt someone by squeezing, there’s little chance you could ever come close to doing so (try it on your own forearm right now – your fingers will start hurting before they come close to putting a mark on a foot-long coiled mass of muscle). Nobody can hold on too long because when one person releases their grip in a forearm shake, they can easily extract their arm from the proceedings smoothly and initiate the end of the shake. With a standard handshake, it’s a whole tangled mass of bone and tissue that cannot be easily solved by one party. The forearm handshake is a clean, idiot-proof transaction.

4. Nobody really does it

Derr. There’s a reason we have to qualify it as a “forearm handshake” – the “forearm” modifier wouldn’t be necessary, if it were the standard.

In terms of current greeting gestures amongst guys, there are basically three options:

  • standard handshake (or a derivative where you slap/clasp hands in some way)
  • the bumping of fists
  • the handshake-into-a-quick-hug thing

Don’t you want some variety? Don’t we need some? When was the last time you saw ANY person (friend or otherwise) engage in a forearm handshake? Exactly. Start doing it and you’ll immediately distance yourself from the norm. Bonus: you and I will become instant friends.

3. It’s more of a manly bonding move

First of all, masculinity increases exponentially as you go back in time, just by virtue of the fact that surviving on Earth has only gotten easier as time rolls on (though if we start to colonize space, the barometer may be reset somewhat) – there’s a rough hierarchy of manliness that correlates directly to chronology:

  1. Ancient Egyptians
  2. Ancient Greeks
  3. Romans
  4. Huns
  5. Vikings
  6. Knights of the Round Table
  7. Mongols
  8. Aztecs
  9. American settlers
  10. Pirates
  11. Cowboys
  12. Troops who stormed Normandy
  13. The guys on Deadliest Catch

So while technically (based on the above chart that I just made up five minutes ago), the Romans/Greeks/Spartans weren’t the manliest men to ever live, they are pretty damn close. If you want your handshake to be associated with a certain civilization, the Greek or Roman Empires are a good way to go.

From there, consider the strength inherent in two men grabbing each other’s arms. It’s like you’re helping someone up after a huge play in an NFL game or saving someone from falling off a cliff or out of an airplane. If you wanted to translate the word “brawn” into a physical act, I think a forearm handshake would do the job (if not that, maybe an image of a guy swinging one of those big sledge hammers into a railroad spike as an oil tanker explodes in the background).

2. It’s far more hygienic

Everyone knows that human hands can be (and usually are) disgusting living Petri dishes carrying an endless amount of bacteria and germs picked up throughout the day.

But do you know how many types of germs and bacteria are on your forearms? …well, I don’t either. But it MUST be far less than that which is on your hands (to say nothing of how little germs/bacteria are on your clothed forearm, if you’re going with long sleeves).

I mean, do you know what people DO with their hands? It’s gross. I’d like to believe, in the post-swine flu world of media-induced paranoid fear, we all wash and sanitize our hands after using the bathroom but really, who can be trusted? I’m sorry but I don’t want what might be on your hands to end up on my hands. Oh, and nobody’s forearms get hot or cold or clammy or dry — that’s a big victory for forearm contact. Keep it above the wrist, for everybody’s sake.

1. It’s just BETTER

Making contact with someone’s forearm says a lot. It gets you a little bit closer to them, making the gesture more powerful than a handshake (in a manner of speaking). This different tone can work both for friendly social settings (“hey, we’re friends and we’re comfortable enough to grab each other’s forearms”) and for first meetings (“hey, we don’t know each other but clearly I’m trying to bond with you as if we’re about to go fight alongside each other in the Peloponnesian War and we’ll be fast friends”).

Plus when you think about it, the standard palm-to-palm handshake is an action that represents “I want to make physical contact with you but I want us each to literally be as far away as possible while still being able to make said contact” – does that send a good message to anyone?

Additionally, there’s a very cool collision of cultures and messages in the forearm shake. The various names slapped onto it show that the gesture has existed all over the world, throughout history. It has a very “Space Age” look (enhanced by its hygienic powers) and so… it will probably appear acceptable forever. Plus it allows you to check for concealed weapons and/or playing cards up one’s sleeve, which is never a bad thing.

The forearm handshake is meaningful, clean, unique, tough, simple, and awesome. Basically, it’s everything a handshake is not. Start doing it.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

  • http://rambleronthego.blogspot.com/ Leo

    Hi
    So this handshake thing is always confusing to me. I never know when to shake hands or not.
    1 Do you have to do it to every guy you meet or are introduced to? Sometimes that aukward feeling of ”should I ” or “shouldn’t I” gets in may way. And the the moment passes and I always have the nagging feeling of maybe I should have shook his hand.

    2. Should one shake hands with women. I often find that women get kind of left behind and a greeting kind of smiled in their general direction. A bit odd, but a man thing maybe.

    Your roman handshake is a great one but I dont know how easy it will be to change the course of “handshake History”. I dont know how my father in law is going to react when I grip his forearm.
    .-= Leo´s last blog ..Vacation =-.

  • http://www.anthrocopy.com Jack

    OK – You’ve convinced me. But–how do I make the transition? If I just start going for the forearm when everyone else goes for the palm, I’m gonna be known as the forearm grabber guy, like I overshot my landing or something. Maybe I should get a t-shirt that says: “Attention: Forearm handshaker.”
    .-= Jack´s last blog ..Start from the Middle to Avoid “Top Heavy Content” =-.

  • http://indochino-review.blogspot.com/2010/04/interview-with-kyle-vucko-indochino-ceo.html Lorenz

    I imagined doing that with my boss and I’m rather sure it would turn out weird!

  • cisco

    jack, a good solid look in the eye’ll let’em know your didn’t overshoot your mark; so get out there and start shaking those forearms, i know i will. thanks justin

  • http://happyrain.org/ Emily

    I imagined doing that with my boss and I’m rather sure it would turn out weird!

  • http://happyrain.org/ Emily

    jack, a good solid look in the eye’ll let’em know your didn’t overshoot your mark; so get out there and start shaking those forearms, i know i will. thanks justin

  • Rusty

    What if it is winter, and you are both wearing thick coats? Plus it could be awkward when the other person doesn’t know what you are doing since it isn’t popular.

    Otherwise, I am in favor. I am tired the switch grip handshake.

  • chucky

    maybe the dumbest article I’ve ever read

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      So you’re saying there’s a chance?

  • René De Beaumarchais

    I always do the Roman handshake, mainly for hygiene, if I meet heads of state, religious figures or any respected people, I’m STILL gonna do it.

  • Rawley

    I have been doing this shake for years with my group of friends. However, we have always referred to it as the “Man-Shake”. No offense to the ladies. Also, we include an additional step.

    Direct eye contact must be made between the two people doing the man-shake. A manly grimace must be upon their faces. Manly grimaces angrier looking than smiles, but not as angry as someone that is really pissed off.

    For example, this is a textbook manly grimace.
    http://blstb.msn.com/i/CC/23B734E8333092FA5616BC287CFE8.jpg

    I am glad that there are others in the world that practice this style of embrace.

    Thank you for writing this article and helping bring the forearm handshake community together.

    Rawley Davis
    2X Intramural Softball Champion

  • Haiden

    That was a great read. I found this page, while research the forearm hand shake, for a book I’m writing. I wanted a different type of greeting for one of the civilizations. It’s a story set in the future, so of course I laughed when you said it was very “Space Age”. LOL

    Great read. Thanks.

  • http://www.tanoshii-parkour.nl Tim

    Good read!

    Did you know that many french parkour practicioners (traceurs) practice this style of handshaking? They tell the story of the roman handshake, which allowed you to check for weapons, etc. Therefore it is a symbol of friendship and trust. It also symbolizes the closeness and raw power that belongs so much to parkour.

    I found the transition to be rather easy. If someone comes up to you and just grabs your arm that’s cool with me. As long as you’re self assured I guess the other person will go along. Just put their arm in the right position and utter “we do zis” with a heavy French accent. With those guys I expected this kind of thing so I wasn’t weirded out at all. Just make sure not to smash your shoulder in the other persons throat area if you also bump shoulders. They do that.

    Long story short: we’ve started using it, too! Definitely the most awesome and symbolic greeting procedure!

    We should have a T-shirt.

  • Sagin

    been doing this for years!

    • http://www.facebook.com/whatif.thisismyname Justin Tan Hernandez

      Gay!!!

  • http://www.mikekey.com Mike Key

    I’ve been doing this for years. But now that I’ve moved and have plugged into a new community of men, I’m attempting to get them all onboard with this.

    A great modifier however, especially if your manly friends already, is to do the arm shake and tug each other into a pat on the back then release.

    • http://www.facebook.com/whatif.thisismyname Justin Tan Hernandez

      Gay!!

  • Geroa

    I love seamen

  • Romantotheroman

    yeaaaaa boy this is good stuff always do this

  • JustSomeSmartChick

    For the love of everything good in this world, NEVER EVER do this to a woman you’re meeting for the first time. Last week a guy who was a friend of my friends at a party did this to me, and it immediately wiped every previous thought in my mind about him (“Hey he’s pretty hot, I love his style, he’s probably going to fit right in”) and replaced them with feeling startled by his overassumption of intimacy, forced invasion of my personal space, and a plethora of suspicions about why someone’d choose to adopt a social greeting that comes off as controlling and insincere.

    I’m a big fan of the handshake and perhaps if I didn’t know so much about body language I would have only been mentally disturbed without knowing why, but this article is pure shit and I felt a need to warn any other guys… especially socially awkward nerds who are kinda my favourite dating pool… that if you pull this on a chick you meet for the first time, she’s going to assume you’re an idiot who was never taught any better, or as another friend said at the party, that you’re some poor uncoordinated bastard who missed the hand but just grabbed something and shook it anyway in an effort to cover up your fuckup,

    Any variation of The Politician handshake, as this is, is a terrible way to shake hands with a girl and will project insincerity and domination issues.

    Try eye contact with a firm non-crushing but full grip with three to five pumps for a powerful and macho impression without leaving a creepy aftertaste. ;D

  • CaptainRedbeard89

    This has been dubbed the MANdshake by me. Stupid?

  • https://twitter.com/burbankrusset Russet Burbank

    If only I had forearms!!!