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How to Strengthen Your Wrists for Handstands

*written by Wes Hendricks, DC

Introduction

In this article, you'll learn my favorite wrist mobility and strengthening exercises to work towards healthy and pain free wrists.

Even if a handstand isn’t a goal of yours (not sure why it wouldn’t be) this routine is a must for anyone who is on a computer or their phone all day long (so all humans). 

The four exercises are in this article are:

  • Active Wrist Peels
  • First Knuckle Raise 
  • Wrist Lock Stretch  
  • Reverse Wrist Push Ups 

When approaching the development of strength and mobility for the wrists, I shy away from using objective mobility angle measurements of how much theoretical joint mobility is required to safely and efficiently perform a handstand.

After years of working with thousands of athletes, some have “terrible” wrist mobility but are pain free and have a near perfect handstand line. Others that have textbook wrist mobility are plagued with chronic wrist pain.  So the correlation isn't there necessarily.

Instead, I've shifted my focus to strengthening the wrists in multiple planes of motion in order to keep them healthy.

In a handstand, our wrists are loaded into extension.

Because of this, athletes typically end up just stretching their wrists into wrist extension. This is the equivalent of just doing squatting movements and never incorporating any hip hinging into our lower body training.

At some point we are most likely going to develop an overuse injury from just working the same lines of tension over and over again. 

When we apply this same logic to the handstand, we need to include just as much wrist flexion movements into our work as extension movements.

With all of these movements, but especially wrist flexion, please please take your time and start extremely conservatively.

The carpal bones of the wrist and their associated tendons and ligaments are small, weak and deconditioned in 100% of the people reading this article.

Aim to strain with all these movements but not cause any pain. Zero tolerance policy to pain with these.

Exercise 1 - Active Wrist Peels

I am a huge fan of this stretch because, although we just talked about how important wrist flexion is for healthy wrists, we still need to include wrist extension work.

This is a great stretch as it not only addresses the wrist joint but also the forearm flexor muscles that can limit your wrist mobility. 

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • With a locked out elbow, place your palm flat on the floor 
  • Have your fingers pointing towards you 
  • Slowly begin to peel the heel of your hand off the floor (this is done by bending the elbow)
  • Stop when the base of the knuckles (or for most of us, our calluses) begin to lift off the ground
  • Repeat

The most common error is going too fast with this and letting the fingers come off the floor.

I recommend starting with 3 sets of 10 reps.

 

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Exercise 2 - First Knuckle Raise

The first knuckle raise addresses the wrist strength you need to catch yourself if your feet start to go too far in front of or behind you in the handstand.

This level of strength is important to be able to find your balance while being upside down. 

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • Place your palms flat on the floor, fingers spread apart as far as possible 
  • Slowly push your fingers into the floor 
  • This will cause your palms to the base of knuckles to raise up off the floor 
  • Pause for a moment in the top position 
  • Under control, lower yourself down to the starting position 

The biggest mistakes when doing these are:

  • Bending your elbows
  • Using momentum

I recommend starting with 3 sets of 10 reps.

 

Exercise 3 - Wrist Lock Stretch

The wrist lock stretch will help you train wrist flexion, which is often neglected. I will repeat myself again, I guarantee you you have never worked this position, so please take your time with this one! 

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • With locked out elbows, fingers pointing towards you, place the back of your palms on the floor 
  • The starting position may be enough at first to elicit an appropriate stretch, if this is you, this is completely fine 
  • If you feel you need more of a stretch, slowly and under control rock your butt back towards your heels while keeping your elbows locked. 
  • Pause for a moment before returning to the starting position 

The most common errors are:

  • Letting the elbows bend 
  • Letting the wrist lift off the floor

I recommend starting with 3 sets of a 10-30 second hold, depending on tolerance.

 

Exercise 4 - Reverse Wrist Push Ups

Reverse wrist push ups address the wrist extensor strength needed to help balance out all of our wrist flexor strength we are gaining from our first knuckle raises.  

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • With elbows locked out, place the knuckles on the floor so your fingers are facing each other 
  • Slowly and under control, simultaneously break at your wrists and elbows 
  • Lower yourself down to the bottom position of a push up 
  • Pause for a moment 
  • Under control return to the starting position 

The biggest mistakes when doing this is are:

  • Using momentum
  • Progressing to quickly

I recommend starting with 3 sets of 10 reps.

 

Putting it all Together

After reading all of this, you may be wondering how to put it all together for your own use or use with a client.

I recommend:

  • Do these 2-3x/week
  • Do them in the order listed
  • 3 sets of 10 reps for the active wrist peels
  • 3 sets of 10 reps for the first knuckle raise
  • 3 sets of a 10-30 second hold of the wrist lock stretch
  • 3 sets of 10 reverse wrist push ups

If you need a more in depth program for your handstand beyond this wrist guide, you may be interested in our Handstand Development Program.

 

About the Author

Wes Hendricks, DC, is a sports chiropractor and bodyweight training coach. He is the founder of REBUILD and works with athletes all over the world helping them develop their bodyweight skills and reclaim their physical health.

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