Building Wrist Strength for Your Yoga Practice
Wrist injuries are common in yoga because we are constantly moving in and out of poses that put pressure on our wrists. A lot of poses that are incorporated into the daily practices of most Yogis (Downward Dog or Plank, for example) put pressure on our wrists, particularly when moving between them. These weight-bearing movements need proper muscle strength in order to avoid injury. This is especially true if you plan on advancing your asana practice into more physically demanding postures, such as arm balances or inversions, which rely on your wrist joints to support your body. Personally, the more I advance my own practice, the more I find myself spending time putting strain on my wrists. Consequently, it becomes even more important to make sure I spend time building strength in order to avoid injury.
Generally, one of two things happen that lead to pain and/or injury in your wrist(s). Reaching the end of your range of motion (ROM) with arms fully extended in weight-bearing exercises such as a plank can place undue stress on your wrist joints to compensate for the inadequate range of motion. If you don’t have the wrist flexibility, your body will rely on your joints to support you (which is why I have included a wrist stretch at the end of my strengthening exercises). Either of these two issues can cause pain in, or injure the wrists. They are common and are easily preventable.
I decided to incorporate wrist strengthening exercises into my practice due to the reasons listed above. For me, many advanced asanas in my current practice require my shoulders to come past my wrists, like in crane pose, or pressing into handstands. When I first started, I would frequently feel pain or weakness in my wrists and knew it couldn’t be a good thing. Unfortunately, basic conditioning moves (like the ones which follow) are often overlooked in yoga classes. I chose these exercises (which I do 3-5 times per week) while working alongside my yoga teacher during my studies, as well as consulting with some of my weightlifting and gymnast friends who are similarly afflicted by such injuries. Start small, with three sets of ten repetitions per exercise, building up over time to four or five sets of ten to twenty repetitions.
All of this leads me to the following five wrist strengthening exercises demonstrated in the minute-long slideshow at the top of this post, and below in collage form, with instructions to follow (Sorry to my cell phone viewers, the location of the picture collage might be at the top of the page until I can get this location bug fixed. My apologies.) :
1. Towel Wringing
We all know how this one goes. Anyone who has ever gotten their clothing soaked or wrung out a dish towel will be very familiar with this exercise. Take a towel and hold it parallel to the ground with your arms extended in front of you. Twist one wrist forward and one wrist back as if wringing water out of the towel repeatedly. Who knew all those years doing dishes were actually helping you gain wrist strength?
I promise this is not as weird as it sounds! Extend your arms parallel to the ground and open your hands as much as you can, reaching all the way through your fingertips. Then squeeze into a fist as tightly as you can. Rapidly repeat this motion. You can also play with bending your wrists back or down to see how that works different groups of muscles in your hands and forearms.
3. Wrist Curls
For this you will need hand weights, a soup can, or a (filled) water bottle like in my slideshow above. Rest your forearm, palm up, on your leg or a table (or some other level object), parallel to the ground with your wrist over the edge. Curl your wrist up and down.
4. Pronated Wrist Curls
This is exactly the same as #3, but you will set yourself up with your palm facing the ground instead of the sky.
5. Wrist Hammers
Take whatever you were using for a hand weight and hold it by your side as if you were holding a hammer in your hand (again, arms down and by your side, or in the parallel to the floor position described in step #3). Pretend that your weighted object is a hammer and move only your wrist to tap down that invisible nail, and then bring it all the way back up, and back to neutral; again moving only your wrist. This one will feel slightly awkward at first and your body’s natural tendency will be to flex at the wrist as you move the “hammer” up. Keep your wrists neutral, not flexed during this exercise.
6. STRETCH IT OUT
Don’t forget about your wrist mobility. There are a number of ways you can achieve the same stretch as in my slideshow above, without having to stretch as deeply. Try, for example,bending one arm and using the other hand to gently flex back the fingers and palm of the other hand and then slowly extend your forearm to the ground. This is a much gentler way of achieving the same muscle release and you can build up to more intense stretches.
Thank you all for taking the time to go over my recommended wrist strengthening exercises for yogis. Remember, while I am a trained yoga instructor, I am not a doctor. If you feel pain or severe discomfort in your wrists and/or have had serious injuries, please consult a medical professional before trying any new exercise regimen.
I'm Cheryl. I moved to California from Vermont in 2015, gave up the path I'd spent years planning for, and started down a road to a happier, more fulfilling life. Goodbye suits and courtrooms, hello bare feet and yoga mats. After a few years, a couple of cross country moves, and a broken heart, I know I don't have all the answers, but I'm slowly starting to get the hang of things. :) I'm just taking things one day at a time, trying to figure out how to live my best life and help others do the same.