Aching wrists make Yoga poses tricky and affect your training as well as your body. The solution is to strengthen your wrists and master strong holds! So how do we make our wrists more resilient?
Whether your wrists hurt or not, it’s a good idea to do regular wrist training to strengthen them and prevent injuries. Strong wrists improve your hand balances in yoga, enhance your bench, military and overhead presses in the gym, and improve your grip and wrist stability in other sports.
Your daily work affects the wrists a lot – computer work is a prime example, but not the only one. Manual work can be tough on the wrists and strain them, whilst playing musical instruments or creating art can also pose a wrist challenge. On top of that, most people are right- or left-handed which means one of your wrists is likely getting more workout than the other without you even realizing.
The result can be wrist strain and pain, limited mobility, or achiness experienced in some yoga poses. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your wrists! The wrist alone consists of 13 bones and then you have muscles and tendons running over it from your arm all the way down to the fingers. Wrist pain often results from muscles strained by repetitive movements, shortened tendons or slight misalignments of the wrist bones.
The key to healthy and strong wrists is working on mobility and flexibility, strengthening and breaking movement stereotypes.
Mobility and flexibility
The wrist moves in all directions – flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction (sideways movements). Yet, we often limit its movements to only a few, and we tend to repeat those few a lot. Improving the wrists’ range of motion by working on their mobility and flexibility ensures that muscles and tendons around the wrist don’t get shortened and strained. It also prepares your wrists for physical activity, warms them up and releases tension.
Whether it’s a work break or warming up for Yoga practice, there’s a few simple exercises that can help.
- Rotation – make a fist and rotate your wrist one way, then the other. Isolate the movement to the wrist only, your forearm shouldn’t move. Do 10 rotations each way.
- Flicking imaginary water off – put all your fingers together in a pinch and then energetically open your hand, stretching your fingers, and the movement of the wrists is slightly forward. As if you were flicking water off your fingers at someone or wanted to scare them – got it?
- Pulling thumbs down – rest your forearms on your knees or yoga blocks, your hands are facing each other with thumbs up, make fists with your hands, thumbs hidden inside the fingers. Now, pull your fists down, pinky finger side leading the way, and you should feel a great stretch on the thumb side of the wrists. Stay like that for a few breaths and repeat.
- Stretching the inner wrist – stretch your right arm in front of you, palm up. Place your left hand across the right, so that the first two fingers of the left hand rest on the palm and the third and fourth fingers rest on the right hand fingers. Then press with your left hand down and towards you, allowing your right wrist to bend, so that your right palm faces the space in front of you. There should be a 90° angle between your right hand and forearm. Make sure your arm stays straight, no bend in the elbow (unless your elbow is hyper mobile – then put a microbend in it). Hold for at least 20 seconds, and then switch hands. Make sure you don’t yank on the fingers, always apply pressure mostly to the palm or both palm and fingers – if you pull on the fingers only, you can easily train the tendons and hurt yourself.
- Stretching the outer wrist – same as above but your starting position of the outstretched arm is with the palm facing down.
You can do the latter two stretches while kneeling on the floor – either on all fours or sitting on your heels with your knees apart, depending on what your wrists can take. Place your hands down in different wrist positions – start with fingers facing forward, then fingers facing to the sides, and then towards you. Stay in each position for several breaths, and adjust the angle of the wrist so you feel a good stretch but no pain. Then turn your hands over so the palms are facing up and your fingers point towards you, move your weight slowly forward and back. The floor serves to apply even pressure needed to stretch your wrists. Make sure you put weight on your hands gradually so you don’t strain the wrists.
Check out our little wrist routine video to see more options!
Your wrists may be flexible and move freely but still hurt. Unless you have an underlying condition, this may be due to the lack of strength in the muscles stabilizing the wrists. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we simply don’t have many opportunities for strengthening those muscles in our daily lives. Here are some simple, yet very effective, exercises that make your wrists stronger, more stable and resilient.
- Partial hand lifts – start on all fours, hands down on the mat. Slowly peel your palms off the floor but keep the fingers flat on the mat. When you’re at the highest point, lower your palms back down again. Do this slowly, with full control and make sure your hands are synchronised so one is not leading. If you find this easy, shift your weight a little forward so there’s more weight on your hands, and try again. When lowering your hands down, stop half-way and hold. This adds intensity to the exercise and you should feel it in your forearms. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to feel moderate fatigue in the area.
- Wrist pumps I – this can be performed with weights, dumbbells or elastic bands. Sit with your forearm resting on your knee, palm of the hand facing down, hold a weight of your choice, and then lift the weight up from the wrist – so your hand is moving up but your wrist stays in the same place. Then, lower the weight down again with control. Repeat 10 times, rest, and then do two more rounds before switching sides. When you’re done, flip the hand position over so now your palm is facing up and do the same set with this setup.
- Wrist pumps II – same as above, except that your hand position is first the thumb side up for a series of repetitions, and then the pinky side up for the same series (requires rotation of the forearm). You may find each wrist has different strength, and that’s ok, but keep the number of repetitions the same for both hands.
- Crusher squeeze – this is also great for stress release! Hold a tennis ball or anything else of a similar size (even a scrunched up towel or socks would do) in your hand and squeeze tight, hold the squeeze for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 5-10 times.
These exercises are not that exciting and many of us may not have the patience to set time aside just for them. However, they can transform your yoga practice, and any athletic performance where you rely on your wrists strength. It’s easy to make them a part of your day if you do them when you’re watching TV or slip them in between more strenuous exercises.
Breaking movement stereotypes
The above can help with wrist mobility, flexibility and strength but in the meantime, you can tweak your practice so you’re not hurting your wrists (if they’re aching). These modifications alter the angle of the wrist so it’s more sturdy. At the same time they also help to strengthen the wrist so it’s a win-win!
- Cupcake hands – a lifesaver for many Yoga practitioners. Whenever you’d normally put the weight of your upper body on your hands, try to do a hand position called ‘cupcake hands’. Imagine you’re holding a cupcake in each hand, and you don’t want to squish it – then turn your hands over and that’s your new hand grip. Granted, it’s not for every Yoga pose so start with the easier ones, such as plank, cat-cow stretches, cobra, or poses where only one of your hands is touching the floor (e.g. low lunge with a twist).
- Finger press – in positions where you want or have to put the hands palms down, so they can support your weight, always spread the fingers wide and press them into the floor. This ensures that your weight is distributed more evenly across your hands, rather than just resting on the base of the palm. For more challenging positions, such as crow, you can fold your mat and place just the base of your palm on the edge of it, with the fingers and most of the palm on the floor. This tiny tilt helps to distribute the weight of your body more into the hand and away from the wrist. Don’t make the tilt too steep because that would affect your stability – a little is enough!
- Fist support – if you have truly achy wrists, many positions can be performed with your hands folded into fists with the thumb on the outside. This completely cancels out the angle your wrist would normally be in, and it shouldn’t hurt at all. Try it for plank, reversed tabletop, or cobra.
If you know why your wrists may be hurting – for example the angle of your wrist when you’re working at a computer – change the wrist position. Get a wrist-support mousepad, change the position of your keyboard, and do the exercises described above! A simple thing like switching the hands can also be a great relief for the dominant hand – try to use the mouse with your non-dominant hand, when you’re doing DIY alternate your hands whenever possible, or when you’re cooking stir with the non-dominant hand. In a nutshell, pay attention and be creative.
Wrists to lean on
Often neglected, our wrists deserve proper attention. When we are awake, they are constantly working, doing minor things we are not even aware of. They support our body weight in training, and make it possible for us to lift not just weights but literally anything. It’s no wonder they may get tired or injured so it’s crucial that we take care of them. Maintaining their range of motion through flexibility and mobility exercises should be your daily routine. Strengthening the wrists is vital to ensure the wrists’ stability in challenging positions and should be done at least 2-3 times a week for noticeable results. If your wrists are hurting, don’t quit your practice but modify your wrist position using our advice.
Soon, you’ll be rewarded with strong wrists that will support you without fail!