The bench press and the overhead press cause a lot of compression on your wrists. This can lead to pain and reduced mobility if not addressed.
Luckily, you can protect them with the proper grips, some between-set moves, and a little special attention at the end of your workouts.
1 – Check Your Grip
When doing any barbell pressing exercise, you need bone support. Placing the bar too high on the palm will lead to excessive wrist extension. This will overstretch your wrist flexors, leading not only to pain, but to far less force exerted into the bar.
Instead, grip the bar towards the base of the palm and squeeze it as hard as you can. This will allow you to drive your wrist bones directly into the bar leading to a much better transfer of force.
Grip Setup for the Strict Press (False Grip)
Proper False Grip, Overhead Strict Press
Improper False Grip, Overhead Strict Press
I'm a big fan of the false grip for the overhead press. It's very comfortable and easy to set up for most people. Placing your thumbs on top of the bar lets the bar sit much more naturally on your wrists, which leads to much greater force exerted into the bar. It has the added benefit of putting your shoulders in a more neutral position which can help to save you from impingement.
Grip Setup for the Barbell Bench Press
Proper Bench Press Grip
Improper Bench Press Grip
Most lifters should be wrapping their thumbs around the bar. Unlike the overhead press, if the bar rolls forward in your hands during the bench, it has nowhere to go but right across your neck. Although some lifters can put up huge numbers with a false grip, the risks just outweigh the benefits unless you really know how to lock it in.
To grip the bar properly, place it diagonally in the base of your palm. Think of externally rotating your shoulders so that your grip tightens and you get the feeling of "breaking the bar" in your palms. You should feel your wrist bones drive up into the bar and your triceps tighten as you squeeze.
2 – Do Some Pulling or Gripping Exercises Between Sets
Doing some sort of pulling or gripping exercise after pressing is not only great for your shoulders, but your wrists too. Rows, pull-ups, weighted carries, or hanging from a bar will fire up your forearm flexors, get some blood flowing to your wrists, and allow for some slight distraction of the carpal bones.
Even if you choose to go light to focus on your pressing, the extra forearm work will help keep your wrists prepped for your next set.
3 – Do Direct Forearm Exercises
Give your wrists a little TLC at the end of a heavy pressing day by doing some direct forearm work. Train wrist flexors and extensors, and do some form of radial deviation and ulnar deviation for a balanced, well-developed forearm. Here are a few exercises that will help you target all of these components:
Reverse curls are a great way to isometrically train the wrist extensors. Keeping your wrists locked out as you do curls will lead to a stronger grip and a more stable bar when you press.
"Hand blades" are a great way to strengthen your forearm flexors and add mobility to your wrists. Keep your fingers straight and give yourself a little bit of assistance as you go onto your fingertips.
Doing rapid pulsing contractions with the forearm will increase blood flow and restore some movement to stiff wrists. Choose a light Body Bar or barbell and perform radial and ulnar deviations for approximately 30 seconds.
Decompression feels amazing after loading your wrists with heavy presses. You can easily decompress the wrists by placing your feet on the break in your wrists and pulling up with your arms.