9 Wrist Mobility and Strengthening Exercises


by Mark Sisson



Woman exercising with hand weight is guided by occupational therapistThe importance of wrist mobility and strength are almost impossible to overstate. Without a strong, mobile wrist that can fluidly operate across multiple planes, our ability to grab and manipulate things with our hands would be nearly useless. Without the mobile wrist, our manual dexterity doesn’t really exist—our arms become those pincers people use to pick up trash.

You need adequate wrist mobility, whether you work a keyboard for a living (carpal tunnel syndrome), catch barbells in the rack position, throw projectiles, cradle infants, work on cars, cook, drink coffee out of mugs, wave goodbye, play Ultimate Frisbee, or shoot hoops (with good follow through). If you plan on giving awesome high fives or becoming a dominant arm wrestler or engaging at all with the physical world, you absolutely need mobile, strong, durable wrists.

Seriously, though, adequate wrist mobility is important for everyday life and intense exercise alike.

And yet the wrist is a common weak link. Who’s actively training the wrist? There’s no “wrist day” at the gym. Today that changes. Today you learn the proper way to improve mobility and strength at the wrist.

1. Wrist Rolls

Wrist rolls are simple. Lace your fingers together and, using plenty of push-pull oppositional strength, put your wrists through every possible range of motion. Rotation, flexion, extension, adduction, abduction—just make sure you’re fully extending and fully flexing and fully rotating. Roll them through all ranges of motion.

If you work in front of a computer, I’d recommend doing a few sets of these before and after the work day.

2. Prayer Stretches

Wrist prayer stretches are static stretches that increase in intensity. Put your hands in the prayer position in front of your face: palms and fingers flat against each other, fingers pointing up the ceiling (or sun, or heavens).

Then, while keeping your hands together and fingers still pointing up, bring your hands down toward your navel. Continue descending until you can’t keep your palms touching any longer, then hold it there for 3-5 seconds. Repeat, trying to go lower each time. 12 reps.

3. Palm Lifts

Get on your hand and knees, hands flat on the floor and positioned directly underneath your shoulders (so your arms are a straight line perpendicular to the floor). Slowly lift your palms off the floor while keeping your fingers flat on the ground. At the top, your wrist should be stacked directly over your hand. Try to keep your arm perpendicular to the floor. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower your palm to the floor. 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

4. Rear Facing Palms Up Wrist Stretch

Get on your hands and knees, back of your hands flat on the floor with the palms facing up and your fingers pointing toward you. This places your wrist in flexion, and by shifting your bodyweight backwards by sitting back on your calves, you go deeper into wrist flexion. Do this carefully and slowly. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. Avoid pain, but discomfort is fine.

5. Rear Facing Palms Down Wrist Stretch

Get on your hands and knees, palms of your hands flat on the floor and your fingers point back toward you. This places your wrist in extension, and by shifting your bodyweight backward onto your calves, you go farther into extension. Like the last stretch, be careful, move slowly, and avoid pain. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.

6. Weighted Wrist Extension/Flexion

Weighted wrist extensions and flexions strengthen the primary movements our wrists perform. However, many people are biased toward either flexion or extension, and training both patterns with weight can help balance out our strength and mobility.

For extensions:

  • Hold a dumbbell and place your forearm on a surface with your wrist and hand extending beyond the edge.
  • Your palm should be facing the floor.
  • Your wrist should hang down, bent in passive flexion.
  • Bring your wrist into full extension against the weight’s resistance.
  • Hold for a half second, then slowly lower it back. Repeat.

For flexions:

  • Hold a dumbbell and place your forearm on a surface with your wrist and hand extending beyond the edge.
  • Your palm should face the ceiling.
  • Your wrist should be hanging in extension.
  • Curl your wrist up into full flexion against the weight’s resistance.
  • Hold for a half second, then slower slower it back. Repeat.

For both movements, use a light dumbbell. This isn’t a movement for massive weight. You’re training small but essential movement patterns. 3 sets of 12-15 reps, each wrist.

7. Weighted Pronation/Supination

Beyond just extension and flexion, the wrist can also perform pronation and supination. These are rotational movements at the wrist, used to do things like handle a screwdriver, turn a door handle, or throw an object. They’re important to get strong, because doing so can give you the kind of “farmer strength” that so many people are missing these days.

Supination is moving your wrist in clockwise rotation—external rotation. Palms down to palms up. Pronation is moving your wrist counterclockwise—internal rotation. Palms up to palms down. You need to train both movements, and the best way I’ve found is to do it while holding a heavy mace, club, or sledgehammer in your hands. It’s simple.

  • Hold the shaft out in front of you with your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
  • Slowly alternate between supinating and pronating your wrist. Rotate the object counterclockwise, then back up clockwise.
  • Control the motion. Don’t rush through the movement.

Don’t go too heavy. If the object is too heavy, you can always slide your grip up toward the head to shorten the lever. As you get stronger and progress in the movement, you can slide your grip farther down the shaft to lengthen the lever.

2 sets of 6 reps (3 in each direction) with each arm.

8. Weighted Radial/Ulnar Deviation

Radial and ulnar deviation refers to moving the wrist from side to side. Flexing and extending along the “edges” of the wrist joint, like when you unscrew or screw on a pickle jar lid. Here’s how to train it:

Hold the same object you used for the supination/pronation exercise down at your side. Your arm should be straight and perpendicular with the ground.

For radial deviation, the head of the mace will be out in front of you. Raise the head of the mace by bending at the edge of the wrist, as if you’re raising a flag up to the sky. For ulnar deviation, the head of the mace is behind you. Raise the head of the mace behind you by bending at the other edge of the wrist. Again, you can adjust your grip to shorten or lengthen the lever and change the resistance.

2 sets of 6 reps (3 in each direction) with each arm.

9. Static Hold

The wrist is also a stabilizer. A wrist that can hold its position even as gravity and exterior forces try to destabilize is a strong wrist. If you throw a punch, hold a wrist lock, or carry anything heavy, you want a stable wrist.

The best way to train wrist stability is to do static holds with the very same object you used for the last two exercises. You will hold the mace/sledgehammer/club out in front of you with your elbow bent 90°, and that’s all you’ll do. Just hold that position.

That’s it! You don’t have to do all these exercises all the time. They are assistance exercises, not primary ones. But keep them in your back pocket for whenever you have a few minutes to train, be consistent, and in no time at all you’ll notice your wrist mobility and strength have improved and that your performance in other areas has as well.

Take care, everyone.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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