What to Do if Your Wrists Ache When You Lift Weights

What to Do if Your Wrists Ache When You Lift Weights

(Last Updated On: November 29, 2018)

Is wrist pain holding you back from weight training?

Do you experience wrist pain when you do certain exercises? Achy wrists can make lifting harder and can even limit how much weight you’re able to work with. And It’s not just weights that can make your wrists ache. Sometimes, holding a plank position can do the same thing. You might wonder why you feel discomfort and what you can do to correct it.

Causes of Wrist Pain with Weight-Training

If your wrist discomfort has surfaced recently, it may be that the tendons are inflamed from overuse. Just as you can experience an overuse injury in other areas of your body, your wrists can suffer if you over-train as well. Another problem might be that your wrists are too weak, and this forces your wrists to work too hard when you lift and places you at higher risk of tendonitis. Women, especially small-boned ones, have tinier wrists than men and a small wrist size can make it harder to handle heavy weights and also increase the risk of injury. You can’t do much about the wrist size you were born with, but you can strengthen the muscles that support them. More about that soon.

Another cause of wrist pain when you work with weights is poor form. You may be holding your wrists at improper angles when you do certain exercises. You may also be trying to lift heavier weights than is possible without strengthening your wrists.

What Can You Do about Wrist Pain?

If wrist pain has come on recently and you’ve increased your training and started lifting heavier, you may have tendonitis, more accurately called tendinosis these days. In that case, you need to modify your training to allow your wrists to heal. That means not doing exercises that aggravate the pain. Some fitness trainers and sports medicine doctors recommend wearing a wrist splint to people suffering from wrist tendinosis. Wearing a splint gives the wrist a chance to rest. Icing tender wrists can also help reduce the pain and discomfort. But, as mentioned, if you have tendinosis, it’s important to alter your routine so you’re not placing stress on your wrists until they heal.

Other Causes of Wrist Pain

How do you know that it’s not arthritis? Wrist arthritis is typically a dull aching pain that’s aggravated, for example, when you try to open a jar. It also doesn’t usually come on suddenly but makes its appearance gradually. However, any time you have persistent wrist pain, it’s important to get it checked out by a health care professional.

Another common cause of wrist pain is impingement syndrome. This cause of wrist pain is more common in people who do yoga as they extend their wrists a lot. The way to prevent impingement is to strengthen the muscles in the wrists. This helps prevent the bones from touching and causing an impingement syndrome.

Also, take a closer look at your form when you do exercises where you’re holding weights, particularly biceps curls. Your wrists should be in a neutral position. If you can’t do the exercise while keeping your wrists neutral, cut back on the weight.

Barbells are problematic for some people. If that’s the case, you can either switch to dumbbells and see if that’s easier on your wrists, or use an EZ Curl bar. An EZ curl bar looks like a wavy bar rather than a straight one. The advantage is it takes some of the load off your wrists without reducing the force on your biceps. You’ll get all the fitness benefits that curling offers without placing excessive pressure on your wrists.

What about wrist discomfort when you do planks and push-ups? When you do push-ups, use push-up handles that rotate with your body or invest in a push-up stand. You can buy these at most sporting goods stores or online. Since the push-up handles rotate as your body moves, they take some of the stress of your wrists when you do push-ups. Standard push-up bars also work well as they allow your wrists to be in a less extended position.

Strengthen Your Forearms and Wrists

Once the pain and inflammation in your wrists have died down and it’s not uncomfortable to lift again, add some forearm and wrist strengthening exercises to your routine. You don’t need fancy equipment to strengthen your wrists. In fact, you can use a tennis ball. Simply squeeze a tennis ball firmly between your fingers and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat several times. Take a tennis ball to work with you and do several sets throughout the day.

Wrist curls are another way to strengthen the muscles in your wrists. To do a standard wrist curl, sit down on a bench. Place your forearms on your legs with your palms facing up. Your palms should be hanging off the edge of your knee a few inches. Hold a light weight (2 to 5 pounds) in each hand, although it’s best to start out with no weight. Curl your wrists upward while holding the weights and slowly return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 15 reps each.

Now, do a set of reverse wrist curls by switching your arms until your palms are facing downward. Hold the weights in the same manner and extend the wrists upward. Again, do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Here’s another exercise to improve wrist strength and mobility and you can do it anywhere:

·        Hold your hand out in front of you with your palm facing down.

·        Bend your wrist slowly from one side to the other, stopping to pause for 5 seconds at each extreme.

·        Repeat 10 times.


Also, do several sets of wrist stretches after a workout and throughout the day. Simply use one hand to gently bend your wrist backward to stretch it. Hold the position for 20 seconds. Do 3 or 4 sets.

A Word of Warning

If you have a sudden onset of wrist pain or you acutely injure your wrist, see a health care professional for an x-ray to make sure you didn’t fracture the wrist.



American Family Physician. “A Clinical Approach to Diagnosing Wrist Pain”
Harvard Health Publishing. “5 exercises to improve hand mobility”
NHS Inform. “Exercises for wrist, hand and finger problems”


Related Articles By Cathe:

Wrist Strength: Why It’s Important If You Lift Weights

Your Wrist Strength May Be Limiting Your Upper Body Strength

Why You Should Vary Your Hand and Arm Position When You Do Bicep Curls

Biceps Curls: Do You Get Better Muscle Activation with the EZ Curl Bar or a Straight Bar?

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