Wrist pain during bench press can be a pesky hindrance to your progress. It’s disheartening to finally reach your heaviest lift and then be stopped by wrist pain.
But don’t worry; there’s no need to give up chest exercises. In this blog, you’ll discover why your wrist hurts while bench pressing and what you can do about it. I’ll provide clear answers and practical fixes so that you can continue making strides in your lifting journey without any wrist pain. So, keep reading!
1. Improper Form & Technique
a. Elbow Flaring Out
Why is it a problem?
Flaring the elbows out puts more stress on the shoulders and wrists. It reduces activation in the triceps and chest muscles, which can lead to injury (shoulder impingement), imbalance in muscle activation, or overuse in vulnerable joints, like the wrist.
It can also impact the bench press mechanics, making it harder to control the barbell, completing the lift less efficiently, and causing an energy leak leading to less lifted weight potential.
Avoid pushing the elbows out. Create an angle of 45-70 degrees (depending on your grip width) by bringing the elbows slightly ‘down.’ Do this by keeping the wrist on top of the Elbow. While completing the press, the bar should travel diagonally from your mid-chest (nipple level) over your shoulders and not in a straight line.
Imagine bending the bar (breaking it into half), activating the upper back muscles, and putting your wrist, elbows, and shoulders into a safe position. This is essential for safe lifting. However, as I say this, I can neatly lead into the next mistake that can cause you pain:
b. The Scapula (Shoulder Blade) Lacks Retraction and Depression.
Why is it a problem?
The position of your shoulder blades (retraction & depression) and the trunk (slightly arched, tight lower back) is critical in bench pressing.
Jobs requiring long hours of sitting (which we do with poor posture) make this movement more challenging. Pushing and lowering the bar/load with rounded shoulders and a lack of upper back and core engagement (shown in the picture) leads to injuries, stress on the wrist and other joints, and decreased power output.
To optimize the mechanics of your bench press and avoid injuries, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together (like pinning a pencil between them) and pulling the upper traps slightly ‘down’ (depression).
Doing so will activate the chest muscles, creating stability in the upper body and reducing stress on the wrists.
Retracting the shoulder blades will also help you raise your chest and create a slight arch, a safe space between the bench and your lower back. This will make your bench more effective and maximize your chest gains; ensure you keep your core braced and tight.
c. Wrong Grip & Wrist Position
The wrist position while bench pressing is often unnoticed or ignored!
Also, your wrist might get strong and adapt to a not-particularly-healthy grip/wrist position. This does not mean you won’t get wrist pain; on the contrary, it is more likely that you will.
It will also reduce strength and power and can cause muscle imbalances, which I will explain in more detail later in this blog.
As we can see in the picture, having the bar too high or too low can lead to energy leaks and put excessive stress on the joints, increasing the risk of injuries, just like bending the wrist too far back.
While having a thumbless grip (Suicide Grip) makes it harder to control the bar. The grip involves:
- Holding the barbell with mainly the fingers.
- Leaving the bar unsupported.
- Making this grip a more dangerous alternative.
Your wrist also gets vulnerable to injury, and the bar may slip.
No surprise, it’s called the suicide grip. No one wants a bar on their face, right? So, I would discourage you from using this grip.
d. Ulnar or Radial Deviation
Ulnar deviation means bending the wrist towards the pinky finger, while radial deviation is bending the wrist towards the thumb.
Many repetitive jobs like typing, construction, painting, and cleaning can put the wrist into this position, causing strains and other overuse injuries. While exercises like triceps extension, biceps curls, bench presses, and many others completed incorrectly can put your wrist at risk.
So, if you have a repetitive job and then train incorrectly, you will be more likely to develop wrist pain!
What can you do to avoid wrist pain and maximize your bench press lift?
Make sure you place the bar on the top heel of your palm! You should always maintain a straight wrist and wrap your thumb around the bar for more stability.
You can also try safer grip variations like:
Neutral Grip: Because of the neutral wrist and wrapped thumb position, this grip can be the best choice for beginners and those who experience wrist pain. The bar is in the palm, in a stable place, maximizing the effectiveness of your lift.
Bulldog grip: This grip is an excellent alternative for those who prefer wide bench presses, as it allows you to keep your wrist stacked. However, it can cause radial deviation (wrist bending towards the thumb). If you experience thumb-side wrist pain, this may not be a great alternative.
2. Forearm Strength Imbalance & Weak Grip
Imbalance in the wrist flexors and extensors can lead to uneven forces and stress in the wrist joint. Also, it is harder to maintain a straight wrist (or any of the techniques mentioned above) correctly when it’s weak, leading to repetitive wrist movements while bench pressing!
Therefore, it is essential to condition these muscles with exercises like:
- Weighted wrist flexion and extension
- Banded joint mobilizations
- Ulnar and radial deviation (movement of the wrist from the thumb to the pinky finger)
- Active hanging
- Single-arm suitcase carries
Also, how you complete other exercises (such as overhead press and rows) will have a massive impact on developing strength imbalances.
3. Overuse Injuries
It is easy to ignore the sign of pain, especially when hitting our heaviest lifts. Continued training with pain can lead to more severe problems that can put us out of training for months.
Some common overuse injuries:
- Tendinitis: Inflammation of the tendons in the wrist
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Nerve compression in the wrist, leading to numbness, tingling, weak grip, and pain in the palm.
- Wrist sprains: Injury to the ligaments that cause pain and swelling in the joint.
You can always modify the exercises and choose less stressful variations that let you move pain-free or with less significant pain. This will allow you to complete your chest workouts:
- Switch to dumbbells
- Use neutral grips that put less stress on the forearm muscles and the wrist. Such as Dumbbell Chest Press with the palms facing each other.
- Switch to the correct grip (neutral) and get used to that with a lighter weight before lifting heavy.
- Do exercises like the Kettlebell upside-down press – this will teach you about stable wrist position and safer lifting.
- Complete the exercises I mention below to fix strength imbalance or/and stability issues.
4. Scapular and Shoulder Stability
So, pay attention if you’ve got a weakness, imbalance, discomfort, or pain in your shoulder and upper back, as it can also result in wrist pain. It messes with the alignment and stability of your arm and wrist during bench pressing, making it harder to control the weight.
That’s right, it can cause your wrist joint to compensate, which leads to overuse and excessive strain.
Strengthen the low and mid traps and the rotator cuff muscles with exercises like:
- Prone Fly (Bodyweight)
- Scapular push or pull-ups
- Shoulder external rotation movements (side-lying or standing)
These exercises condition those most commonly underdeveloped muscles because of poor posture (sitting too long).
FAQs About Wrist Pain When Doing Bench Press
Shall I Use Wrist Straps?
Wrist straps are uncomfortable and can reduce blood flow. However, it can help keep the wrist straight during a heavy lift.
I recommend using it only some of the time, especially not for lighter lifts and complete sets, as it will weaken your wrist in the long run.
You don’t want to rely on a strap. Strengthen your wrist and only use it for your max/heavy lifts when you struggle to keep the wrist straight.
Do I Need To Avoid Chest Exercises if I Have Wrist Pain?
Modification in training, exercise variations with a more friendly grip, and equipment will do lots better for you than stopping exercising completely. However, you should pay attention to technique and mobility and identify the reason for your pain to get back to lifting barbells.
If you experience chronic pain, consult your GB or doctor for further advice and treatment.
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