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Wrist Care For Athletes (Calisthenics, Gymnasts, Weightlifters etc…) – The COMPLETE GUIDE!

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I spent the final 2 months of 2019 with a fractured wrist that left me unable to do even bear weight on it in a quadped position. It was a dire situation that left me operating so far beneath my capacity that training just sucked. I showed up but I didn’t enjoy it. I tried as best I could but my performance sucked, too. There were times I questioned whether I had a future as it never seemed to improve. This ‘no man’s land’ leaves you seriously contemplating what all the work was for; why take it this far? The hours won’t be returned and now this is it?

Sounds morbid but these are the thoughts invading your mind when dealing with injuries severe enough they affect almost everything. Damaged wrist? Goodbye gripping. Goodbye bearing weight on the hands and above all, goodbye confidence in your body.

Of course other major joints can be just as problematic or even worse but ironically such a small joint can cause ridiculous limitations. But it makes total sense as the wrist is the key link for transmitting force in so many movements – ESPECIALLY in calisthenics.

So when there’s a wrist issue, rest assured your form and progress will be halted in some way. And what makes it worse is how long the recovery/healing process can take! My journey was long and arduous and I hardly saw a difference from day to day and even week to week seemed much the same.

Many will tell you the best way to heal from an injury is to never let it happen in the first place. Rather than just take the prevention only route, we’ll find the cure too.

Wrist warm ups

Most people barely warm up let alone warm the wrists up directly. Obviously it depends what you’re working on; granted back squatting doesn’t require much wrist priming BUT, upper body calisthenics work sure does! The biggest stumbling block for warm ups is a lack of direction and the hard truth that warming up is boring. I’m not disputing you there. I hate it too, but it’s paramount, believe me.

In the video below you’ll see my personal wrist routine. I use this on EVERY upper body session I do, irrespective of whether I’m hand-balancing or not. I’ve religiously and diligently ran this routine for months now, trying to progress where possible, by drawing the knees back or moving to a full plank position along with trying to improve the mind-muscle-connection and overall movement quality/precision.

This is done over a long time frame but doing so has given me my most bullet proof wrists to date as you can see in my Instagram post below (first knuckle push ups for reps on toes & wrist flexion push ups done comfortably for reps on the toes). 2 months ago I couldn’t even have my hand flat on all fours……….

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WRIST RECOVERY: First knuckle push ups on toes & full wrist flexion push ups! From virtually broken wrist in November to the strongest wrists I've had to date! 🙏 Back in November 2019 I busted my wrist bad enough that I couldn't even extend my wrist unloaded without agony, let alone load it without tons of painkillers. Even a quadped position forced me to have my bad hand in a fist 💩 Needless to say the next 2 months were a struggle. I felt the wrist in everything, even pulling moves. I couldn't grip the bar properly and thus, couldn't exert any force like I was truly capable of. This meant a perpetual state of feeling like I'd lost so much of my level from the earlier parts of the year. And as a by product, left me wondering why I was even doing it and whether I still wanted to anymore. It's crazy how something seemingly so trivial can impact everything! Instead of quitting, I rode it out and reduced offending exercises. Gradually I found the pain would subside day by day – if even by 0.5%. Despite pain, I would work on my wrist prep/warm up routine even if it was so far regressed from what I used to do. I didn't care. I didn't judge. I just DID. And now we see the current standards of my wrist health – first knuckle push ups done clean, on the toes & WITHOUT the elbows bending at all, as well as the 'wrist breaker' flexion push ups done for reps! Resilience in the wrists are absolutely crucial for all things calisthenics – from hand balancing to muscle ups, the wrists are the linchpin. If they're screwed, your movement will be screwed. Trust me, I'm living proof. The road back from injury is long, arduous and character testing. Your love for your passion fades in front of your eyes and you don't know when, or if, it will return. Take the slice of humble pie and enjoy the ego being slayed. It's temporary. I promise you'll become a better athlete down the line 👊 #calisthenics #wrists #injury #rehab #rehabsuccess #strength #wriststrength #wristprep #handstands #handbalancing #mobility #functionalstrength #handstrength #recovery #training #gymnastics #philosophy #falsegrip #pushup #comeback #mindset

A post shared by James R (@straight_talking_fitness) on

Wrist ‘cures’/rehab

This isn’t as general as the warm up routine because there’s a whole host of possible issues one could be dealing with here – injury is often ‘subject specific’. However, one of the best ways to rehab or even ‘prehab’ an area is to assess the structural balance there. Which is essentially looking at strength ratios between agonist/antagonistic muscle groups. Again, which basically means ensuring one action of the joint isn’t way stronger than its opposite action.

In the case of the wrist, let’s imagine you’ve got crazy strong wrist flexors (think showing off your forearm muscles) but weak wrist extensors (think reverse wrist curls or the handstand/push up wrist position). This would put you at risk for a wrist strain if you were to go right into high frequency handstand work. A good idea for someone in this position would be some wrist extensor work 2-3 times per week for a few quality sets each time.

And flexion/extension is only scraping the surface of possible movements at the wrist………there’s pronation/supination, ulnar and radial deviation to consider too.

A great way to train these actions is with a long hammer style object or even a light dumbbell as shown in the clips below:


Radial Deviation………

Ulnar Deviation…….

The last 2 drills will be more relevant for the parallette using athlete but are still key functions to a healthy wrist joint, and are well worth working on! If you don’t have my magical implement above, a hammer is a good alternative. You can grip higher or lower depending on your strength needs and if you don’t have hammer access, a light dumbbell held closer or further away from one end will work, too.

An example routine –

A complete wrist strengthening/prehab routine could like like the following:

A1) Wrist extensions – 12-15 reps

A2) Wrist curls – 12-15 reps

A3) Pronation – supination – 12-15 reps

A4) Radiation/deviation – 12-15 reps

x 2-3 total rounds.

The tempo is important here, too. You want to think of moving cm by cm. Basically trying to feel & control every portion of the range with a distinct pause in the end range/hardest position. The reps are slightly higher here too as the range of motion is pretty small and therefore you need to accumulate enough time under tension.

Putting it all into practice

The wrist warm up is best done in circuit fashion also – both for the sake of time and to get a nice warming up effect on the wrists. The strengthening/prehab routine works well when placed at the end of your session as a finisher. How many rounds is up to you. I generally do 2 progressive rounds of the warm up and use the strengthening routine when I feel I need it.

Your needs may be different. Again, this isn’t medical advice, just a general idea on how and why you should allocate some care and attention to the wrists, even if you’re not a calisthenics athlete or gymnast. You might feel it;s not worth the time but if you have aspirations of reaching a high level, you need your joints to be able to tolerate high workloads and that takes sensible preparation.

Let me know what you think of this routine and if it’s helped you. And if you’d like me to do a similar thing for other areas such as shoulders or even hips?

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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