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 an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook