In the pecking order of body parts you’re looking to work out, it’s safe to say your wrists are nowhere on that list. They’re hardly vanity muscles (or vanity joints, as it were), and they don’t factor into conversations about building your VO2 Max, say, or how much you can leg press. So it’s safe to say that the top workouts for men don’t include wrist strengthening exercises. Think again. “Your wrists are rarely the star, but they play an important supporting role in preventing injury and helping you get the most out of your workouts,” says Derek Holmes, a personal trainer in Chicago.
It’s not just about making the joints stronger, Holmes adds: “Range of motion in the joint counts for a lot, too, when you’re lifting something heavy, so you don’t get injured.” Range of motion (or ROM) relies not only on increasing the flexibility of the muscles and ligaments surrounding your wrists but on getting the synovial fluids — the stuff that lubricates the joints — moving as well.
So how to go about achieving all this? These 7 wrist exercises will build strength while developing flexibility.
What it does: Stretches the ligaments (known as palmar radiocarpal, dorsal radiocarpal, ulnar collateral, and radial collateral) on both sides of your wrist.
How to do it: Extend both arms in front of you, palms facing the ceiling. Take your left hand and grab the fingers of your right hand. Gently pull them down toward the floor while holding your hand steady. Flip your right hand over so that your palm now faces the floor. Again pull your fingers down toward the floor with your left hand, feeling the stretch along your right forearm. Switch sides and repeat.
What it does: Strengthens underside of wrist, known as your flexor retinaculum.
How to do it: Grab a pair of light (2-5 pound) weights (or something simple like a soup can). From a seated position, bend your arms, place your forearms on your thighs, and face your palms skyward, holding a weight in each hand. Curl your wrist toward your body, then release. Do 10 reps, 4 times. (Top tip: When you finish your sets with palms facing up, turns your palms toward the floor, and go again—raising your knuckles toward to sky with each reverse-curl to work your extensor retinaculum.)
What it does: Improves 360-degree range of motion while strengthening ligaments.
How to do it: Using light weights in each hand, and stretch your arms out in front of you. Begin to rotate your wrists in opposite directions (one clockwise and the other counterclockwise), making 10 air circles with the weights (keep your arms still). Stop and rotate your wrists 10 times back in the other directions. Repeat two times.
What it does: Improves stabilization.
How to do it: Grab a bungee cord or exercise band tied in a one-foot loop. Slide your hands inside loop, palms facing each other, hands on either side of the band, maintaining pressure. Bend your elbows so that your upper arms are pressed to your sides and your forearms are extended in front of you, parallel to the floor. Without moving your elbows from your sides or breaking at the wrists, press your hands away from each other as far as they will go. Release. Do 10 reps, 4 sets.
Fingertip High Plank
What it does: Increases wrist strength and stability.
How to do it: You have 10 bones that are connected to the wrist joint (two from your forearm and eight from your hand, a.k.a. carpals). Engaging these bones in exercise helps strengthen the whole hand/wrist unit. To start, get into a high plank (arms straight) position. As always, keep your back flat and body in one long line from your head to your toes. From there, shift your weight to your left side and extend your right fingers so that you are balancing on your fingertips. Shift your weight back to the right and extend your left fingers as well. Come back to center and find your balance on your fingertips. Hold for one minute.
What it does: Improves range of motion for elbow and wrist joints; strengthens forearm.
How to do it: Start on all fours, arms straight. Place your hands beneath your shoulders, fingers pointed front and spread wide. Shift your weight forward over your arms. Rotate at your wrists so that your elbows face the outside, then the inside, keeping your hands firmly planted and arms straight. Do 10 back-and-forth rotations; 3 sets total.
What it does: Mimics opening a jar; strengthens palmar radiocarpal ligament and ulnar collateral ligament.
How to do it: Find a stable and sturdy vertical pole (it could be a table leg, an iron railing, or part of your kid’s jungle gym). Grab it with both hands (one stacked over the other). Using all your force, twist your hands in opposite directions, as if you are trying to dislodge the pole (except that by twisting one hand against the other, nothing will happen). Hold the twist tension for about 10 seconds; release. Repeat, twisting your hands in the opposite direction of your previous twist. Do 5 sets of twisting total.