Stronger wrists can mean better sport performance and injury prevention. So quit ignoring your wrists – learn how to strengthen wrists with these 5 new moves.
You might be thinking – wrist strengthening? I’ve got other things I’m worried about training!
I get it. But whether you’re recovering from a sprained wrist or just want to perform your favorite activities at the top of your game, you’d be wise to consider your wrists.
Wrist strength doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Devoting a little time to it can not only help you recover from injuries, proactively building strength can help you reduce the likelihood you’ll face injuries in the first place.
Plus, building wrist strength can help you be far more effective at your favorite sports. Weights, pushups, meeting an opponent in the ring, swinging a tennis racket, playing around on the bars… it all requires strong, stable wrists.
But before we can effectively learn how to strengthen wrists, we’ve got to understand the anatomy of the region and the fundamental movement patterns the anatomy creates.
Anatomy of the Wrist
It’s easiest to think about the muscles of your wrist by dividing them into a few main groups – the extensors, the flexors, and the ulnar and radial deviators.
The wrist extensors generally run from top of your hand, crossing the wrist, to the posterior of your forearm .
These muscles work to extend your wrist. To isolate this movement, stick your arm out in front of you, palm faced down, and move your wrist so that your fingers are pointing up at the ceiling – that’s wrist extension.
Now contrast these extensors with the flexors. Your flexors run along the inside of your forearm, crossing the wrist to the palm of your hand and fingers .
This group of muscles work to flex your wrist. If your arm is extended out in front of you and you flex your wrist, your fingers will start to point down to the ground.
The ulnar and radial deviators tend to be a bit less commonly known, but they are crucial to creating the full range of motion used at your wrist .
Your ulnar deviators generally run along the outside of your forearm and little finger side of your hand, crossing your wrist in between.
To isolate ulnar deviation, get your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down again. Engage the muscles of your wrists and forearms to move your two wrists away from each other, bringing your little fingers towards your forearms.
Your radial deviators are generally located along the inside of your forearm – connecting to your hand near the base of your thumb.
Radial deviation can be isolated by coming into that same position with arms out, palms down. This time, engage the muscles so that your wrists move toward each other, taking your thumbs closer to your forearms.
How the Wrist Works
Some of the muscles that control your wrist are biarticular – meaning they cross 2 joints . These 2-joint muscles cross both the wrist and your fingers, a fact that impacts how to lengthen and strengthen the muscles through their full range of motion.
For example, to strengthen your extensors fully in a shortened range, you must extend BOTH the wrists and fingers – not just the wrist. In other words, you cannot fully strengthen all of your extensors if your fingers are flexed – like when your wrist is extended while gripping a dumbbell.
Because of this, we have to put special care into determining how to strengthen wrists effectively. Don’t worry, I’ve got ya covered and we’ll get there in a bit.
Real-World Wrist Usage
Building and maintaining effective wrist strength is important for a lot of things you do, especially when you consider that those wrist flexors are largely responsible for your grip strength .
This means any sport that requires you to hang on to a bat, stick, club, or racket will depend on the strength of your wrist muscles.
Baseball, tennis, racquetball, hockey… in all of ‘em you’ve got to maintain an effective grip while performing complex combinations of flexion, extension, radial, and ulnar deviation at your wrist.
And it’s not just sports that have you holding equipment that depend on your wrist strength – anything that has you grabbing an opponent, like MMA or wrestling will be asking a ton of your wrist and grip ability.
Beyond sport, you need proper wrist function and grip strength to perform many daily living activities. Carrying groceries, doing handyman jobs around the house, cleaning, and working on your car all put demand on the muscles of your wrist.
How to Strengthen Wrists Using These 5 Unique Exercises
These 5 exercises represent a comprehensive and detailed approach to wrist strength that will help you build stronger wrists from every angle and through all ranges of motions, while considering ALL of your wrist’s functions.
Because our gripping muscles are much more developed than their counterparts, it’s important to focus on your wrist extensors to restore muscular balance to the joint. And the last exercise I’m including in this article will do just that.
Curl Variations: Regular, Hammer, Reverse
These 3 curl variations are each aimed at a different aspect of wrist strength.
The regular curl will create dynamic flexor strength, but I’ve just listed it here for completeness because most people don’t need to build strength in these muscles.
However, the wrist muscles strengthened via the hammer and reverse curls will definitely help restore muscular balance working the radial deviators and extensors, respectively.
- Grab an EZ curl bar or dumbbells and start with your palms facing up and shoulders back
- Start to curl the bar up towards your shoulders slowly and with control
- Lower down, maintaining control, and repeat for 10 reps
- Use dumbbells for this variation, starting with hands by your sides, palms facing in
- Keep the palms facing in towards each other as you lift the weights up towards your shoulders and back down for 10 reps
- With either the EZ curl bar or dumbbells, start this variation with palms facing down
- As you curl the bar up, make sure to keep your wrists straight and stable through the entire range of motion
- Repeat 10 reps as you avoid bent wrists or relying on momentum
KB Bottoms Up Walk
This second drill is excellent for building reactive wrist strength. Focusing on reactive strength and your wrist’s stabilizing abilities will help protect you from injury. And as a bonus, your grip strength and balance will also be tested.
- Grab a kettlebell handle with one hand
- Bring it up above your head so it’s in a “bottoms up” position
- Fully extend your arm and from here, simply take a walk around
- Experiment with walking in circles, taking big and small steps, quick steps, etc. – when the KB falls, simply lift it back up and start again
For this move, you’ll work on building dynamic stability, balance, and control throughout a wide range of wrist movement, which occurs as a result of rotational movement of the two arm bones – the radius and ulna. Experiment with trying this drill with levers that require a different grip – for example, try both the thick end of a baseball bat and the thinner handle.
- Grab some sort of a lever, like a baseball bat or golf club
- Take your arm out in front of you, gripping the lever, palm face down
- Perform some simple rotations through the wrist
- Move slowly and with a strong grip – don’t let momentum take over
False Grip Hang -> False Grip Inverted Rows
This hanging technique will force you to maintain good grip strength while your wrist is fully flexed.
And because both finger and wrist flexion engages all flexors in fully shortened range, this move will also help increase the length of your extensors. This extensor lengthening is important, especially if you have something like carpal tunnel or are always in extension from typing.
First, try the false grip without holding anything
- Make a strong fist
- Maintain the fist while fully flexing your wrist
- Work up to a hold of 30 seconds to a minute
- If you notice the power of your grip going down when you flex the wrist, start over
Next, put this position to work by incorporating gymnastics rings:
- Setup rings at a height that you can do an inverted row with feet on the ground (either legs straight or knees bent, depending on your strength)
- Grab in the middle of the rings then rotate the rings down so your hands are at the bottom of the wrings by flexing the wrist
- Let the rings rest in the bend of your wrist
- From this position, perform inverted rows, maintaining strong grip on the rings and full wrist flexion
If you can do these, feel free to progress to False Grip Chinups and perhaps one day, Muscleups. 🙂
Full Wrist Extension Holds
This next exercise is great because it’s a full wrist extension move that doesn’t just have you extending at the wrist, but at the fingers as well. In contrast, when you grab a barbell, your wrist might go into extension, but your fingers won’t.
This full extension also means you will be getting a good stretch of the opposing muscle groups – across the palm and wrist flexors:
- Reach your arm out in front of you with your wrist in a neutral position as you start to extend your fingers
- Maintain this extension in the hand and fingers as best you can as you also start to extend the wrist (so that fingers start to point up)
- Hold here, starting with about 10 second holds and building to holds of 30 seconds to a minute as you’re able
Strengthening your wrists can prove to be a great way to improve the results in everything you do and help you prevent injury.
So, incorporating these 5 exercises to strengthen wrists is a good idea whether you’re getting back at it after a sprain or just want to keep performing the activities and sports you love with ease, strength, and an effective grip.