When doing an arm workout, you probably focus mainly on biceps and triceps strengthening. After all, a little biceps and triceps definition makes you look toned and fit when you wear a short-sleeved top. Where most people spend far less time is on strengthening their forearms and wrists. When was the last time you did an exercise devoted exclusively to strengthening your wrists? Most people don’t do focused wrist work, but once you develop wrist pain, you’ll regret not strengthening them sooner.
Wrist exercises may not fall high on your priority list but don’t ignore them. Weak wrists can be a limiting factor in how much weight you can handle when you do other upper body exercises like curls, dips, and push-ups. Ever experienced wrist pain when you do push-ups? If so, your wrists may be limiting the development of your chest, triceps, and all of the other muscles push-ups work because you have to modify the move or can’t do as many. That’s why wrist-strengthening exercises should be part of your routine.
Your wrists are capable of a wider range of motion than many other joints in your body. For example, you can only flex and extend your knee while you can flex, extend, abduct, and adduct your wrists. This makes your wrists more mobile AND prone to injury. If you’re small boned and female, you also probably have small wrists that aren’t as strong as someone who has larger wrists. Unless you strengthen them, you may be limited in how much weight you can handle when you do exercises like deadlifts and rows.
How can you get stronger wrists? Here are some examples of effective wrist exercises you can do to build wrist strength and make your wrists more resistant to injury:
Wrist Strength: Wrist Curls
This exercise works the muscles that flex your wrists. Sit on a bench while holding a 5 or 7-pound weight in each hand. You may be able to handle more or less weight but start out light. Place your forearms on your thighs with your palms facing the ceiling and your wrists extending three or more inches over your knees. In this position, using your thighs as support, flex your wrist towards the ceiling. Do 15 reps and complete 3 sets.
Wrist Strength: Reverse Wrist Curls
This exercise is similar to the one above except it strengthens the muscles that extend your wrist. Sit on a bench and hold a 5 or 7-pound weight in each hand. Place your forearms on your thighs with your palms facing TOWARDS THE FLOOR and your wrists extending three or more inches over your knees. In this position, using your thighs as support, flex your wrists towards the ceiling. Do 15 reps and complete 3 sets.
These two exercises alone will go far towards strengthening your wrists, so they’re less likely to be a limiting factor when you do upper body strengthening exercises like push-ups.
Wrist Strength: If You Have Wrist Discomfort
If you have a history of wrist injury or your wrists feel uncomfortable when you do push-ups, invest in a pair of push-up handles to grasp so you don’t have to place your hands flat on the floor. These handles keep your wrists in a more neutral position when you’re pushing up. You can also hold dumbbells in your hands when doing push-ups as a replacement for push-up handles.
If you’re on a soft surface like an exercise mat, you can do “knuckle” push-ups with your hands closed as if making a fist. Martial arts practitioners perform knuckle push-ups to strengthen their fists for throwing punches. As a result, they often develop calluses. You may not want to deal with callused knuckles, so push-up handles can be your best friend.
Another drawback to knuckle push-ups is your hand has a smaller base of support, and if your hand slips, it could lead to injury. Knuckle push-ups transfer some of the stress away from your wrists and onto your hands. For that reason, using push-up handles or a dumbbell is ultimately a safer option. At the same time, doing push-ups on your fists will help strengthen your wrists over time. Whatever you do, don’t do anything that causes wrist pain. If it hurts, stop or modify the move
Wrist Strength: What about Wrist Straps?
You’ve probably seen them – pieces of leather or other thick, durable material you slide onto your hands and wind around your wrists before attaching with Velcro. People use them mainly to more securely grip a heavy weight. If you use a thick, heavy, wrist wrap that attaches with Velcro, it will give you wrist extra support but stay away from the flexible, cotton wraps. They’re too light-weight and flimsy to offer real support.
A more recent product designed for wrist support is wrist assured gloves or WAGs. These gloves help distribute pressure more evenly across the palm of your hand so less is placed directly on your wrists. They come with a gel pad that fits against your wrist for added support and comfort. They sound good in theory but, as of yet, no studies have looked at their effectiveness.
Wrist Strength: Wrist Flexibility
Just as you need strong wrists to lift successfully, you need a certain degree of wrist flexibility and mobility. Doing wrist extensor and flexor stretches daily will help improve wrist mobility and relieve wrist tightness that can limit your strength workouts. Strength and flexibility – two characteristics of healthy wrists.
The Bottom Line
Don’t take your wrists for granted. You need strong ones to maximize the amount of weight you can lift safely. Make sure you’re including wrist strengthening exercises in your routine and that you’re targeting both your wrist flexors and extensors for balance. Also, include some flexibility exercises. If you’re having constant wrist pain despite modifying your routine, don’t do exercises that worsen the pain and consult with your doctor. Also, see your doctor if you’re having numbness or weakness in your wrist or fingers.
ExRX.net. “Dumbbell Wrist Curl”
American Family Physician. “A Clinical Approach to Diagnosing Wrist Pain”
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