How to Build Strong & Dependable Wrists

I remember years ago, before I started getting physically active (and even a little while after I did become active) that push-ups were really uncomfortable on my wrist. I couldn’t even do a whole yoga class with all those chatarangas and down-dogs without needing to take a break for my wrists. It took some time, but those days are behind me.

I can’t say that it was any one thing that made push-ups start to feel less unpleasant for me. I think it was a combination of continuing to do push-ups and down dogs that helped, but I also think that squeezing heavier weights while working out at the gym and all the flying trapeze I was doing helped to strengthen my forearms, which made supporting my weight on my wrists feel less like death (to indulge the over-dramatic person in me)

As a fitness and aerial coach, I hear some of the same outcries over these and similar movements. Sometimes when people begin their new adventure into fitness or aerial, the ‘newness’ of the moves combined with muscles and joints that haven’t adapted yet makes things uncomfortable. But after a while they generally adapt.

However, if you have been training now for 6-12 months or longer and are still experiencing pain, muscle aches, weakness or soreness… like, your hands still feel weak holding an apparatus, your elbows hurt from gripping the silks or during pull-ups or your wrists hurt in down dog… then we should evaluate your mechanics and possibly your training and technique.

Things to Consider

Before I jump into the tips and exercises to help you build strong and dependable wrists, I want to talk about some of the issue that can play into having wrist discomfort.

  • You may have a boney stop. That is, some of the bones in the back of your hand bump into the bones in your wrist before your wrist can get to a 90 degree angle. If this is you, seeing a medical professional like your primary care or even a physical therapist can help you find out if this is the cause of your discomfort or if it’s potentially something else. If you find that you do have a boney stop this doesn’t mean that you can never do a push-up again or practice handstands, you may just need a lift, literally. WAGS are gloves you can wear that give your wrist a lift, like heels or platform shoes.
  • You could potentially have tight and/or weak muscles in your forearms, even if you have been training for a while. The smaller muscles around your wrist may not have developed the strength needed to perform these movements. Your bigger muscles have probably made the adaptions, but those smaller ones tend to need some more TLC.
  • What you do for work and your posture can play a role in wrist discomfort. If you type on a computer a lot, this can cause tight and/or weak muscles in your hands and forearms. Also if your standing and sitting posture is not optimal (most of us aren’t), then it’s possible your wrist pain stems from a misalignment in the shoulder girdle or an unhappy nerve originating in the neck. Correcting your posture and incorporating some of the strengtheners and stretches discussed below into your work day may be a good idea for you.

Preparing for Training

A proper warm-up before any physical activity is important. Many of us know this, but we might not be focusing on warming up and moving each joint when we do. For our wrists we will be focusing on the muscles of the hand and forearm and learning movements that will help warm-up the muscles and prepare them for work.

A few years ago I mentored a physical therapy student at BU for one of his final projects before graduation and he was working on ways to prevent hands, wrist and elbow injuries in climbers. I remember one of the biggest ‘WOW’ moments for me was when this PT student told me it takes the hands and fingers about 30 minutes to be thoroughly warmed up and ready for climbing and other such physically demanding trainings. This brings me back to the warm-up and remembering to spend some time warming up all our joints, especially those of our elbows, wrists and hand.

Warm-up Movements

Aside from jumping jacks, jogging in place and many other movements that will get your heart rate up, we want to include range of motion (ROM) exercises for each joint. Many of us have movements for shoulders, legs and maybe our spine, but we often miss (forget?) some of our other joints, like elbows, knees, ankles and hands. So take this as your reminder! Below I will provide you with additional ROM movements for your fingers, wrists and elbows.

The following video demonstrates some different movements focused on moving the joints of the hand and wrist as well as activating the muscles of the hand and forearm.

  • Perform each movement for 10-20 repetitions.

In addition to the movements on this video. I also like elbow circles:

  • Outstretch your arms to your side.
  • Circle forearm around the elbow, keeping the upper arms stationary in the shoulder socket.
  • Circle 10x in each direction.

Wrist Strengtheners

In this next video I show some ways to strengthen the muscles of your forearm. These are very important because most of the time when we feel lingering discomfort or pain in our wrists or elbows, it’s because our forearm strength hasn’t caught up to the demand of our training, meaning they are weaker than we need them to be.

  • Perform each of these exercises for 10-20 repetitions. Start with one set, but work towards increasing to 3 sets.

This next video is from someone I found on YouTube. It has great details on each exercise. I personally do the last one demonstrated because for me, I am grabbing fitness equipment, silks, rope or bars all the time and I need to focus more on my extensor strength. This might be the case for you as well, if you happen to be a person who is not currently experiencing wrist or elbow pain, but if you are using your flexor muscles (the underside of your forearm) more often, then I would suggest spending some time on the first exercise from the video above as well as the hand exercise with the rubber band and the last exercise demonstrated, plus the last one demonstrated in the video below.

As the title of the video above says, the rice bucket movements can also be done as a nice warm-up before any training session where you will be placing high demands on your grip strength.

Wrists Stretches & Soft Tissue Release

After your training session, take a few moments to stretch your forearms and hands. Watch the two videos below for some stretches and soft tissue release movements.

  • Hold stretches for 20-30 seconds.
  • For the stretch where your arm is lifted and your palm is facing away from you it is important when stretching to include all the fingers and MOST IMPORTANTLY the thumb! The thumb is the strongest digit and generally the main cause for hand tension. You’ll also want to keep your fingers straight, this brings the stretch into your hands and fingers and not just the wrist.
  • For the stretch demonstrated where I am on all fours with my wrists tucked under and palms facing up, where I am turning my elbows in and out, perform 10-20 of these turns.
  • **Always be mindful not to hyper-extend your elbows. If you look closely my elbows for a few of the stretches are a little hyperextended and it is better for your joints, ligaments and tendons not to move into hyper-extension.** 

And the second video…

Now that you have some great ways to warm-up, strengthen and stretch your forearms for strong and dependable wrists, I want to finish by talking about hand placement and set-up for whenever you’re doing movements where your weight is pressed into your hands, like in a push-up, handstand or down dog.

Lastly, here are two photos, the left photo is of where you want the weight to be in your hands and the right photo is of a plank. I use this plank photo to show the angle of the persons wrists. The info on the photo is also good, however I would change the person’s head and neck position so the ears were also in line with the line from heels, through hips and shoulders.

from Pinterest

As always, I hope this info is helpful and that you bring it to your training sessions in the gym or in the studio. If you have any questions please contact us.