Today I wanted to talk about an epidemic among people who experience wrist pain during exercises like Down Dogs, planks and push-ups…weak wrist syndrome or wws for short 😉
Juuu-uuust kidding. Weak wrist syndrome isn’t real and even if you have wrist pain, there’s a good chance there isn’t anything wrong with your wrists.
HOWEVER, if you have wrist pain during exercise or you’ve ever suffered a wrist injury and felt like your wrist never quite went back to “normal,” you might believe that you have weak wrists.
So, let’s talk about why your wrists might feel stiff and sore, particularly when you weight bear into them (aka a plank position or yoga pose).
Assuming there isn’t an underlying injury/pathology, which in that case you should go to a medical professional, troubleshooting wrist pain often comes down to a couple key things:
1. You might need more wrist mobility
Planks and push-ups require putting a large amount of your bodyweight into your hands with your wrists in full extension. If you don’t have fabulous wrist extension, because you never practice it (seriously, who is spending their day mobilizing their wrists? Not me!), it shouldn’t be a surprise if it feels icky to load up your wrists in the direction that they don’t move.
How can you check wrist mobility? Simple. Reach your arms out in front of you at shoulder height and pull your fingers back towards your face like “Stop in the name of love” or “Talk to the hand.”
Does it feel difficult to get there? Your wrists might be a little stiff. This isn’t a crisis, but it is a sign that this is something you might want to work on 😉
2. You’ve progressed a little too quickly into an exercise (aka your wrists haven’t had time to adapt to the load/weight/level of challenge)
As I mentioned above, weak wrists aren’t a thing, but not being well adapted a load is. Oftentimes, when an exercise doesn’t feel good in our body, it’s because we increased the challenge or the weight too quickly. This is particularly easy to do in bodyweight exercises, because your only option for weight/load is your body – aka all or nothing.
This is why continuing to practice planks and push-ups with wrist pain doesn’t typically make your wrists feel better. You need to gradually load your wrists and arms over time in a way that doesn’t hurt, until one day you’re strong enough/well adapted enough to do the full version of the exercise.
3. You need more shoulder stability and/or upper body strength
Wrist mobility is important, re what I just said about being well adapted for load, if you don’t have the strength to hold yourself up in a plank or a push-up AND the ability to control how your shoulders move (aka stability!), your wrists can still feel sore even if you have good wrist mobility.
With these things in mind, what can you do about it?
There’s not one right way to go about this, but here’s what’s worked well for myself and my clients…
- Do exercises to mobilize and wake your wrists as part of your warm-up or when you’re sitting at your desk and need a stretch break
- Work on exercises to improve upper body strength and shoulder stability/control outside of push-ups (e.g. rotator cuff work with a band, chest presses, and rows)
- Start loading your wrists/practicing planks and push-ups in a way that doesn’t induce pain (e.g. incline push-ups, bird dogs, or neutral grip push-ups with your hands on a bar)
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