Maybe you’re recovering from a sprain or a strain. Or you have to stop and shake your wrists out whenever you do push-ups. Or your wrists are just screaming from the hours you spend at your computer.
Whatever the cause, these wrist exercises can help.
First of all, because you need your wrists for many normal, necessary daily activities. And second, it’s hard to keep your upper body strong without pushing movements that load your arms and shoulders through your wrists—the very movements that can be excruciating with wrist pain!
Many people with wrist trouble think they only have two options: wait it out or see a professional (and you should see a professional if your problem doesn’t improve).
In this article, I’ll show you a third option: how to actively fix your wrists using a series of wrist exercises that only take a few minutes every day.
I’ve successfully used these exercises with my physical therapy patients for years, and recently one client of ours, a sports orthopedic surgeon, let us know that he’s been using them with his patients, too:
First, we’ll go over 5 wrist stretches that will ease pain and give you better range of motion. Then we’ll go over 4 wrist strengthening exercises that protect your wrists over the long term.
5 Wrist Stretches For More Range Of Motion
Here’s a quick breakdown of each exercise:
1. Wrist Circles To Increase Range Of Motion
- Bring your hands up with your elbows close to your body, making fists.
- Rotate your wrists in a circular motion.
- Try to keep your palms facing downward to maximize range of motion.
- Do 15-20 circles in each direction.
2. Backward Facing Wrist Stretch
- Place your hands out in front of you, rotating your wrists around so that your fingers are facing your knees.
- Start with your fingers closer to your knees (this is easier than further away).
- Keeping your palms flat on the ground, shift your body back toward your heels, then forward toward your hands.
- Do 5 repetitions and hold for 5-10 seconds on the 5th rep, and repeat again for one more round..
3. Forward Facing Wrist Stretch
- Start with your hands flat on the floor in front of you with fingers facing forward.
- Make sure your elbow pits are facing forward and pulse forward for 5 reps, holding for 5-10 seconds on the 5th rep.
- Do one more round of pulses with a hold at the end.
4. Palm Heel Up Side-To-Side Stretch
- Make sure your hands are flat on the ground with fingers spread out.
- Lift the heel of your hands up off the ground. Then push your hands into the ground while focusing on the knuckles, and go side to side.
- If this position is tough, bring your hands closer to your body.
- Do this for about 15 seconds going side to side.
5. Wrists Shakes
- Simply shake your wrists out for 10-15 seconds (just like Andre 3000 so eloquently said in Hey Ya).
Now let’s look at how we make the wrists stronger.
4 Wrist Exercises For More Strength
Here are the 4 exercises broken down:
1. Palm Pulses
- Put your hands flat on the ground, splaying your fingers as wide as you can.
- Pull your palms off the ground, keeping the top part of your hand and your fingers pressed into the ground.
- Pulse in and out of this position 10-30 times.
2. Back of the Hand Wrist Extension
- Start with your knuckles on the floor with your arms straight.
- Adjust your weight by sitting back or leaning forward.
- Open your palms, and roll the back of your hands to be flat on the ground.
- Do 2 sets of 8-10 reps.
3. Seal Walk
- Start with your palms on the ground, with fingers facing your knees.
- Shoulders over your hands.
- Walk forward, crawling on your hands and knees, trying to keep your chest up.
- Do 2 sets of 10-12 reps per hand.
4. Rear Facing Wrist Holds
- Start with the back of your hands on the floor, fingers pointing toward your knees.
- Hold the position for 3-10 seconds and aim to work toward a full 30 second hold.
Now that you know what to do, we want to give you the 80/20 on how your wrists are supposed to work and we’ll quickly look at what’s probably going wrong.
A Very Brief Overview of How the Wrist Works
Here’s a little refresher on wrist anatomy to help you understand what’s going wrong and how to fix it.
There are ten bones connected to the wrist joint. You’ve got the two coming in from your forearm (the radius on the thumb side and the ulna on the pinky side), and then eight coming in from the hand, which are called carpals.
The bones and ligaments are supportive structures of course. But just as in anything, if they are not acclimated to the forces of vigorous, repetitive training, they will lack the resilience to withstand injury. As such, ligament sprain and bone stress fractures are common problems.
Improving the capacity of our wrist bones and ligaments takes consistent, progressive, and patient work. And if you want to reduce your risk of injuries, the patience part is key.
The muscles of our forearms and wrists create the movements of flexion, extension, and radial/ulnar deviation. Hand rotations (supination and pronation) actually come from the elbow joints. So wrist “circle” exercises are a combination of elbow and wrist movements.
Our forearm and hand muscles actually have a great potential for strength improvement, as again most of us tend not to use them to their full capability.
Steady incremental strength training for the wrists can lead to significant results.
How Your Stiff, Weak Wrists are Holding You Back
There are quite a few wrist conditions (strains, sprains, tendonitis, bursitis, TFCC tears, stress fractures) that can be improved with proper wrist conditioning.
The beginning of wrist conditioning work is ensuring you have the adequate wrist flexibility to perform your training safely. You want to be able to flex and extend your wrists to at least 90 degree angles without a lot of force for most training that loads your wrists.
If your wrists can’t flex and extend properly, loading them with your bodyweight (or more) through training is like finding a stuck hinge and, instead of loosening it properly, just pushing harder and harder until something gives.
There is also quite a bit of wrist strength-endurance needed to perform bodyweight exercise, especially in exercises involving some level of hand balancing. While the common recommendation for building wrist conditioning is to spend as much time on your hands as possible, you have to work up to it, especially if your wrists already hurt.
“What if these exercises are too uncomfortable for me?”
If your wrists are so restricted that you can’t perform the exercises as shown in the videos, don’t worry about it. You just have to adjust to your own level.
A good option is to do the exercises on a table or other elevated surface to take some of the pressure off.
And if even that is too uncomfortable, feel free to do them on a wall.
The important thing is to move within the range you can, and not to move into pain. Stop just short of where you feel pain and spend time working on the range you’ve got.
Over time, that range will increase and you’ll be doing more and feeling better.
Get Past Restrictions and Get Back to Doing the Things You Love
Feeling restricted from activities you want to do is a terrible feeling. You want to feel in control of your body, and to be confident that it can handle whatever you need it to do for you.
When your body is unencumbered by restrictions, you can feel truly free to pursue any activities you want.
Maybe you’ve wanted to take up climbing, or you’ve been hesitant to try something like grappling because you know it will put strain on your wrists. Once you free up that restriction with diligent practice, you’ll be free to take up any sport or activity. And that freedom is a beautiful thing.
Do you feel like you have other body areas that would benefit from improved flexibility and mobility? GMB Mobility could be the answer you are looking for!
Build Flexibility That Actually Helps You Move
GMB Mobility is a guided program that improves your total body mobility. You’ll resolve restrictions so you can finally move and perform your best.