Wrist pain when bench pressing is very common, especially as one becomes stronger. However, unlike bench press shoulder pain, there is a decent chance that bench press wrist pain is not your fault.
The major causes of wrist pain include technique errors and a few factors outside of your control (which I will discuss how to deal with in this article). First off, we will look at technique errors that may cause wrist discomfort.
Before we start, I need to make a quick distinction describing the positions of the wrist:
- Wrist flexion involves the wrist bending in a motion during the concentric part of a wrist curl. In other words, if you are doing a wrist curl, wrist flexion is the motion that brings the dumbbell closer to your bicep.
- Wrist extension involves motion in the opposite direction. Your wrists are in extension when you do a push-up, and are moving into extension when you do a wrist extension.
- Neutral wrist position refers to the in-between position; the natural position your wrist would be in if you let your arms hang relaxed at your side. Your wrist would be in this position during a push-up off your knuckles.
Now that you know these distinctions, we can describe the technique error that causes bench press wrist pain.
If you bench with your wrist in extension, odds are at some point you will develop wrist pain. Many lifters line the bar up along the base of the first set of knuckles. This causes the wrist to go into extension, which is a very bad situation.
Very Basic Wrist Anatomy
The problem with the wrist going into extension is that the wrist really has no way to support a bench press in this position. If you think about it, the only musculature which opposes wrist extension is the part of the forearm exercised during wrist curls. How many people can do a full range of motion wrist curl with the same weight they use on the bench press? No one that trains seriously!
The end result of this is that since the musculature cannot support the barbell, the soft tissue and bone of the wrist does. This creates pain over time (and sometimes right away if you are benching heavy enough).
Bench Press Wrist Pain Solutions
The only way to stop wrist pain when bench pressing is to keep the wrist out of extension. The correct hand placement varies slightly from person to person based on the size of your hand. The key rule to remember is when benching, the barbell, your wrist, and your elbow should form a straight line. If the barbell sits “behind” your wrist, you are settnig yourself up for pain.
The easiest way to stop this is to simply change your hand grip, but that is easier said than done. It takes a lot of practice to do and may require you to drop the weight for a bit. If you have benched the “wrong way” for a long time, changing your hand position often makes you feel like the bar is going to fall out of your hands.
Fortunately, there are a few tools you can use to help you still increase your max bench press even as you work to improve your technique.
Wrist Wraps – Not to be confused with wrist straps, wrist wraps are tough, elastic wraps that you can use to compress your wrist in the proper position. These will help your wrist from falling into extension during a bench press.
Since the wrist has very little supporting musculature as it is, using wrist straps will not make your wrist “weak”. The only downside to this piece of equipment is that they take about a minute to put on. As a result, these are not needed for warm-up sets. You can warm up to your heaviest sets on the bench and then throw on some straps during your top sets for best results.
Even if you do not have wrist pain or have perfect technique, it is not a bad idea to invest in a pair of these when lifting at 90%+ of your max, especially if you can bench more than 300 pounds. Even losing your neutral wrist position for a split second with 315 pounds can result a wrist injury.
Fat Bar – A fat bar is gentler on the wrist because the large bar distributes the weight across a broader place of the hand. This spreads out the load among more tissue and reduces load at any given part of the wrist. Those with bench press wrist pain can often perform heavy sets of bench with a fat bar without pain.
For those who do not have access to a fat bar, a low-cost product like Fat Gripz can be attached to a standard barbell for a similar effect.
If you experience bench press wrist pain,
- Fix your technique (bar, wrist, elbow should form a straight line)
- Wear wrist straps for very heavy sets
- Bench with a Fat Bar or Fat Gripz while the wrist heals
- Supplement with fish oil to reduce inflammation
In my experience, this is all that is required for the vast majority of lifters. With that said, you never want to bench in pain. If pain continues or worsens, you should see a doctor, as rarely some factors such as a benign cyst, soft tissue injury, or ligament tear may be the cause of your pain. Only your doctor will be able to diagnose such a condition.