6 Tips to Strengthen Weak, Painful Wrists
Written by Keith Hansen
June 27, 2018
Training many clients over the years, I've had many complain about feeling discomfort in their wrists. Pain. After just a few sets of pushing exercises they would often hold their wrists and rotate them with a pained expression, claiming they have "weak wrists".
Raise your hand (and accompanying wrist) if this is you.
But I've got news for you: the issue probably isn't weak wrists at all.
Because the wrist is a joint. It is muscles that can be weak or strong, not joints.
So what's causing the pain and how do we fix it?
1. Fix Your Alignment
This tip alone might fix your wrist pain. It's one of the most common mistakes I see in pressing movements like the bench press, overhead press, or variations of them. Relaxing the wrist, like the image on the left, will cause wrist pain and may lead you to believe your wrists are weak.
When you are pressing a barbell or dumbbell it is important that you have the handle in the correct place in your hand, and that your wrists are engaged. Correct alignment puts the handle directly inline with the bones of your forearm. See the image on the right.
This stacks the weight of the joint and prevents stress at the wrist. When you do strength training always ensure you have proper alignment.
2. Squeeze Harder
This tip is going to do two things.
First, it's going to strengthen your wrists because you'll actually be using them when you hold weights. Squeezing the barbell/dumbbell hard when you lift weights even helps you lift heavier weight by turning on more motor neurons.
Second, and just as important, it will automatically fix your alignment (tip #1).
Do this: raise your arm in front of your body and let your wrist hang limp. Now make a fist and squeeze tight like you're going to punch something--did you see how your limp wrist shot up to make the back of your hand parallel with the rest of your forearm?
That's what good alignment is.
3. Do Wrist Curls
There are two primary motions the wrist makes: flexion, and extension. Flexion is when your palm moves closer to your inner forearm. Extension is when the back of your hand moves closer to your outer forearm.
Flexion tends to get a lot of work when doing strength training as it is a necessary ingredient in proper alignment. The issue here is that if your wrists hurt, it may be due to a lack of proper alignment. If this is the case your wrists could use some extra work to catch up.
Wrist curls are simple. Grab a dumbbell (a soup can will work), turn your palm towards the sky, then relax your wrist so it hangs. Next, curl the dumbbell up towards the sky only allowing the hand to move--not the whole arm. Congratulations, you've just done a wrist curl. Sometimes it is helpful to rest your forearm across a bench or counter to stabilize the arm.
4. Do Wrist EXTENSIONS
Wrist curls took care of wrist flexion, but we need to balance it out with extension.
Like I said above, wrist flexion tends to get a lot of work with proper strength training. But extension is often left in the dust, and this imbalance could also be a cause of pain in your wrist joint.
Luckily there are very simple, and almost identical to the wrist curls above.
Wrist extensions are simple. Grab a dumbbell (a soup can will work), turn your palm down towards the ground, then relax your wrist so it hangs. Next, curl the dumbbell up towards the sky only allowing the hand to move--not the whole arm. Congratulations, you've just done a wrist extension. Sometimes it is helpful to rest your forearm across a bench or counter to stabilize the arm.
5. USe a Wrist Roller
Wrist rollers are awesome because they combine both wrist flexion and extension. However, they are not as readily available as dumbbells or soup cans. You can make one if you do a quick Google search for DIY instructions, but don't do that.
They are so cheap on Amazon that it doesn't make sense to craft your own.
A wrist roller lifts a weight by rotating a string around the pipe in your hands. As it rolls towards you wrist extension is worked. When you roll it away you will work wrist flexion. Do both, and try to really control the lowering portion for the best workout.
6. Push More
Most peoples wrists hurt when doing pushing exercises like bench press, overhead press, or push ups.
In addition to all of the other tips on this list, simply doing these exercises more will help to strengthen your wrists, improve the stability at that joint, and improve your wrist flexibility.
How to strengthen Everything Else
This article showed you how to focus on just one tiny joint in the body to build strength. But what about all the others?
For that you will want our free strength training program. Check it out below.