How to Strengthen Wrists to Knock Out Every Move at the Gym

Photo: Getty Images/ svetikd
When you hit the gym, there are a few muscles that tend to get most of the attention (ahem: abs, butt, and arms). But there’s one body part that gets overlooked as much as Chris Kirkpatrick did when you were deciding which member of N'SYNC you wanted to marry in 2002, and that's your wrists.

I know, I know, "strengthening your wrists" isn't quite as sexy as, say, building your butt into a perfectly perky peach, but it should still be an important part of your workout routine. Hear me out: Though wrists are a little snoozy to talk about, the strength of your wrists actually impacts the strength of pretty much the entire rest of your body.

Like, how can you hold a plank, or even a set of dumbbells, if you've got weak wrists on your...hands. LOL. "Having strong wrists is critical for developing upper body pushing and pulling strength—if you can’t grip something, then it is very hard to make gains," confirms Geoff Tripp CSCS, and head of fitness at Trainiac.

Since they're so crucial to the workout at hand, I reached out to pros to talk about how to strengthen them and nine moves you need to say "bye, bye, bye" to weak wrists forever.

Why should you worry about strengthening your wrists?

"Wrist strength is extremely important when it comes to injury development and overall body strength," explains Aaptiv trainer Mike Septh. "Without developing strength in the wrists, overall body strength will be limited. Around half of your muscles pertain solely to hanging and pulling, so developing that strength is really important."

Septh notes that any exercises where you push or pull will be directly related to how strong your wrists are, so think deadlifts with barbells or dumbbells, rows with barbells or dumbbells, and assisted or unassisted pull-ups. "Having stronger and more stable wrists gives you the ability to focus on the areas that the work should actually be coming from versus the areas that it shouldn't be," he says . "At the end of the day, wrist and grip strength will improve your range of motion overall."

He explains that by strengthening your wrists and grip, you'll be better equipped to strengthen other parts of the body. "Training your wrist and grip strength impacts the entire muscular chain that assists in maintaining grip strength through the forearms, lats, rhomboids, rear delts, and serratus posterior," says Septh. "You'll be able to manage heavier lifts for longer, so you can focus on fatiguing the right muscles during deadlifts—AKA your glutes and hamstrings—instead of fatiguing your wrists."

So basically, strong wrists help build strong, well, everything else, so you've gotta give them their fair share of individualized attention when you hit the weights.

How can you test your wrist strength?

Before you dive full-force into wrist training, Tripp suggests figuring out your starting point so you know how much work you have to do. "To test if wrist strength is low, look at grip strength. If your grip strength is weak, or you can’t grab and hold onto something, then your wrist strength is low," he says.  From there, he tends to have people hold onto a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell, then looks at their grip strength and wrist angle. "If your joint angle isn’t correct, and there's too much wrist flexion or extension, then you won’t have much grip strength," he explains.

There are two things you need to worry about when considering how to strengthen your wrists: Strength and mobility. The first one is pretty obvious, but according to Septh, "healthy flexion and extension of your wrist will show an increase in strength in and of itself." So, you'll need to work in some moves that will give you a fully fluid range of motion. "Without mobility in your wrists, you’re not able to access full range of your extensors and flexors, which will, in turn, increase the likelihood of injury," he explains.

A few ways to spot this: You’re in a push-up position, and the first thing that fatigues are your wrists. You’re performing a bench press or overhead press and you have a difficult time keeping a neutral wrist. Your hands are the first to give out during moves like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and pull-ups.

How can you strengthen your wrists?

"A great way to gain strength in your wrists is to make sure you have proper joint angles when performing a lifting movement or carry," says Tripp. "Keep your wrist neutral, so avoid flexing or extending your wrist, maintain a strong grip, and maintain strength in your shoulders.  There are simple forearm flexion and extension exercises you can do that will help, but I see the biggest improvements in wrist strength and injury prevention when a client learns what a good wrist angle looks like. Keeping your joints in line with each other when performing a movement is key for overall strength." Here, a few moves to make it happen.

1. Loaded kettlebell or dumbbell carry: Grab a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells (Tripp suggests using a moderate to heavy weight in order to force good joint alignment and muscle recruitment). Keep your wrist neutral as you grip the object and stand tall while pulling your core in and pack your shoulders down and back. Then walk 15 to 30 feet, maintaining your posture and breath. When you feel strong enough, switch to holding onto one kettlebell or dumbbell, but be sure you're not leaning while you walk.

2. Light dumbbell supported wrist flexion and extension curls: Grab a lightweight dumbbell, and use the end of a bench with a towel under your forearm for support. With your arm on the bench and your wrist off of it, perform a small flexion curling movement with your palm up, using just your wrist. Then, switch to extension curls with your palm down. Tripp suggests one to two sets of eight to 15 curls in each direction.

3. Pull up top hang: This move can be done either with a machine or a band. Perform a pull up, but hang at the top for five to 10 seconds. Be sure to focus on a strong grip, and don't let your wrist curl.

4. Chin up top hang: Similar to the pull up top hang, this move can also be done with a machine or band. Do a chin up, and hang at the top with a strong grip. Keep your wrists neutral, and hold for five to 10 seconds.

5.  Reverse forearm curls: This move can be performed with an EZ curl bar or a set of dumbbells. Start with your forearm at 90 degrees (AKA parallel to the floor) and curl the weight all the way up to the top of your shoulder. Then, control the descent back down to 90 degrees.

6. Isometric deadlifts: "Nothing changes from your standard deadlift, but instead of performing multiple repetitions, you instead perform one rep and hold it for three seconds," explains Septh. "You can start by using sixty to seventy percent of the weight you normally deadlift and then work your way up from there."

7.  Farmer's carries: Start by holding two dumbbells on either side of the body—as if you were carrying two suitcases—and walk back and forth holding onto the dumbbells and keeping the wrists strong and neutral as you go.

8. Battle ropes: In a hip-hinged position with your feet shoulder-width apart and a battle rope (with a little bit of slack) in each hand, make a drum-beating movement for 30 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest. Repeat five times, and you'll get wrist strength with an added dose of cardio.

9. Wrist circles, flexion and extension moves: Next time you're stuck in traffic or bored at your desk, try out this easy wrist strengthening move. "Simple wrist circles, flexion and extension are great moves to do throughout the day to maintain mobility at your wrist joint and not get stuck in one spot for too long," says Tripp. Zero equipment (or effort, really) required.

Wrist exercises aren't the only element of strength-building that you're probably forgetting when you're planning out your weekly gym routine. Here's why you should be prioritizing recovery for the sake of getting stronger (and a whole bunch of strength-training moves to help get you started). Plus, the exact way you should be organizing your workouts in order to see results. 

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