A common problem for those newly initiated to CrossFit is wrist pain.
The sport notoriously incorporates a variety of exercises that strain this joint and if you aren’t used to soliciting it it can easily become inflamed.
Handstands and all their variations, any lift requiring the front rack or the overhead position all stress the wrist from different angles so much that even the more advanced athletes can experience wrist pain from time to time, especially if they are ramping up volume in their training.
There are two major aspect that we can control to reduce wrist pain:
- Volume control
- Specific exercises
In this article we will cover just how to apply exercises and modulate volume while answering the most common questions our coaches receive regarding this topic.
- How does “volume” affect wrist pain and what’s the carry over in my performance?
- What types of exercises can I do to improve wrist pain?
- What is the WRIST FLOW and to apply it.
- What are eccentric wrist exercises and how to use them.
- What are banded wrist stretches and how to use them.
- What is the correlation between wrist pain and grip strength?
Volume and wrist pain in CrossFit
As we mentioned, different exercises put pressure on the wrists from different angles so it’s important that in your training the volume on these joints is accounted for.
Although some inflammation is acceptable for newcomers and occasionally for more advanced athletes if you find that your wrists are often in pain you should evaluate if some substitution can be made in your program to take some volume away from your wrists.
Additionally if your wrists are not strong enough yet they can become the limiting factor in exercises execution.
A typical example is seeing athletes break up bigger sets of overhead squats not because they lack the strength capacity to complete them but because their wrists are in pain.
Although using something like wrists wraps can be helpful in the short term only working on improving grip strength will ultimately allow to build resilient wrists that can hold up to high volume sets and training.
Wrist specific exercises
There are 3 major groups of wrist specific exercises we recommend to our athletes.
- The first group which all fall under the “wrist flow” works on wrist mobility, strength and resilience.
- Then we have eccentric exercises who specifically work on tendon health and resilience.
- Lastly we have banded wrist stretches that work on the wrist mobility and can alleviate pain.
Starting from a kneeling position with your weight distributed between knees and hands, move your weight forward bringing the shoulders over your fingertips and allowing your upper body to support most of your weight.
Keep moving forward as long as you are able to keep your palms onto the floor without too much discomfort then return back to your starting position.
Repeat the movement in a rocking motion for about 10 times then turn your hands so that the fingers are now pointing outwards and palms are facing each other.
Now repeat the rocking movement but this time going from side to side looking to stretch the wrists while not allowing the palm to come off the floor.
This position can be particularly helpful for those who handstand walk with their hands turned outwards.
Finally rotate your hands once again so as to have your fingers pointing backwards towards yourself.
This is the most challenging position of the 3 so don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t able to maintain it without having your palms come off the ground a bit.
Once you’ve gone through these first 3 positions it’s time to move onto the more strength specific positions.
Starting with your hands on the floor, palm down and fingers pointing forwards, you will then bring your hands into fists and position the knuckles on the floor while supporting part of your weight.
Next move your hands so that your fingers point inwards “facing” each other and the back of your hand is in contact with the floor. Again allow for some of your weight to fall onto the wrist then move back to the starting position.
We like to program these wrist flows for time.
We recommend athletes to shoot for 30-60 seconds of the first flow and 20-40 seconds of the second “strengthening” flow.
You can also progress the movement by adding more weight onto the wrist.
You can do so by simply allowing for your center of gravity to move slightly forward or by progressing to a “half” plank (one knee still resting on the ground) or even a full plank.
Eccentric movement to improve tendon health and resilience
The eccentric part of any movements is notorious for having the best benefits in terms of tendon health.
This holds true for wrist tendons as well, that’s why we love having our athletes implement a simple tendon exercise that only requires a pvc.
With a pcv in one hand do your best to keep your elbow locked out and arm straight in front of you parallel to the ground.
Start slowly rotating your wrist about 180 degrees, then slowly return back to your starting position.
Your range of motion might be limited therefore feel free to stop yourself where you start to feel uncomfortable.
The exercise will feel easiest when you are holding the pvc in it’s center. Once you are comfortable with the movement you can start progressing it by moving your hand close to one of the two ends of the pvc.
Band assisted stretches to alleviate pain
In order to perform this set of exercises you will need a medium resistance band and a rack or stable object to latch the band onto.
You will start setting up by looping the band around the rack to secure it, then fix the other end around your wrist with the band resting on the back of your wrist.
Move backward in order to create tension in the band then with your free hand flex your banded wrist forward, backwards and from side to side to stretch it out while maintaining extra tension from the band.
As a second option you can move onto the floor while keeping the band around the wrist.
Maintaining the tension, move back and forth like with the wrist flow.
If you feel relief you can also introduce pushups.
Lastly, as a third option, position yourself looking in the direction of where you fixed the band.
Place your hands with your fingers pointing towards you while the band stays around your wrist increasing the stretch in the wrist.
The final component to wrist pain prevention and alleviation is to introduce more grip work to your training.
There are many ways you can work on grip strength, so many actually that trying to cover them inside this blog post would only create more chaos.
We will address the benefits of grip training in a future blog post.
However, keep in mind that your grip capacity is something that will need to be built up with time if you have just started in the sport, especially if you don’t have a background in a sport that was particularly heavy in grip strength recruitment such as rock climbing.