The Forgotten Joint: Wrist Mobility and Strength

If you find yourself reaching for the wraps for every workout, it’s time to give your wrists some daily TLC.

The wrist, like any joint, requires a certain amount of motion in order to properly function. A lack of mobility and strength in it can increase your risk for injury. Let’s be real though, the wrist is often neglected in most people’s training. Deficits in strength and mobility of the wrist are relatively common, and lead to frequent complaints of wrist pain, or the constant use of wrist wraps among athletes (especially weightlifters). If you find yourself stopping to shake out your wrists during your training, then this conversation is for you.

Our bodies need more TLC than most of us give them. Mobility is not glamorous, but neither is pain and the skipped workouts that result. With that in mind, your wrists should not be something you address only after they start to hurt. While no one likes homework, you should work on your wrist health every day, whether it’s a training day or a rest day. A wrist routine I encourage focuses on three stretches and three strength movements.

Increase Your Wrist ROM: Palm-Down Wrist Stretch

Rotate your hands out, palms facing down, until your fingers are pointing back towards your body. While keeping your arms straight and continuously driving the heel of your hand into the floor, lean back to get your shoulders as far behind your hands as possible. Repeat 10 times, attempting to increase your range of motion with each repetition.

Increase Your Wrist ROM: Wrist Circles

Begin with your palms facing down and planted to the floor, similar to the last stretch. Your fingers should point out and away from each other, and your arms should once again be straight. From this position, while maintaining straight arms, shift your body weight around your wrists in a slow and deliberate fashion, mapping out the periphery of a circle. Focus on really pushing your mobility at the wrists, leaning your body over them as far as possible with each angle of motion. Complete five large, deliberate circles in each direction (clockwise and counterclockwise).

Increase Your Wrist ROM: Palm-Up Wrist Stretch

This is the final stretch, and tends to be the most difficult for people. Place your hands palm-up on the floor in a wide grip, with your fingers pointing towards your body. From this position, perform a push up motion with a deliberate lockout at the top position, forcing a deep stretch in the wrist and forearm. Repeat this for 10 deliberate push ups.

Get Rid of That Limp Wrist: Wrist Push Up

Start with the backside of your hands contacting the floor and your fingers pointing towards each other. Stack your shoulders directly above your wrists, while keeping your knees on the floor as you would for a modified push up position. From here, you will perform a controlled push up movement, while simultaneously closing your palms to create fists on the push-up ascent. Then you will uncurl your fists on the descent to return to the start position. Perform this exercise on your knees until you can comfortably do 10 push ups. To modify the intensity from your knees, you can shift your weight forwards or backwards to adjust the load placed on your wrists. Progressively load more weight onto your wrists as you feel the exercise becoming easier. You should eventually be able to do a full push up from the backside of your wrists up onto your fists.

Get Rid of That Limp Wrist: Knuckle Push Up

Start with the palms of your hands flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart, fingers facing forward. Pull the palm of your hand off the ground to push your wrists straight up, while keeping your fingers flat and planted. This should put your weight in your fingers, and your fingers should also experience a good stretch from this position. To scale the movement, you can again start on your knees and shift your weight forwards or backwards as needed, taking the same progressive loading approach as the wrist push ups. The eventual goal is to perform 10 repetitions of knuckle push ups from a straight-arm plank. You should not use any momentum in this exercise. There should also be no pushing through the shoulders or bending and straightening at the elbows.

Get Rid of That Limp Wrist: False Grip Rolls

Start in a plank position on your fists. From here, shift your weight forward, rolling your closed fist towards your index finger and thumb, until your thumbs make contact with the floor. After this contact, reverse directions, rolling your fists backwards towards your little fingers and the outside of your wrists, until they make contact with the floor. To scale the movement, you can again start on your knees and progressively load more weight into the hands.

All of this wrist work should only take about 1-2 minutes a day, and will help provide the mobility and strength through your wrists’ natural range of motion to help protect them from injury.