The bench press is probably the most popular exercise in bodybuilding. Whether you first performed it in gym class in high school or at a big box gym when you made the decision to get in shape, this movement has very likely to have crossed your path before. This is no baseless cultural phenomenon, as the bench press is a great compound upper-body exercise. It builds powerful chest, shoulder and tricep muscles, all while engaging your lats and core as stabilizers. Getting stronger on your bench press will increase all of your upper-body lifts; you never see a really weak guy bench press 405lbs.
Benching, however, is not without its downfalls and risks. One of the most common ailments of bench pressing is wrist pain. Wrist pain generally occurs at higher poundages, which can hinder strength gains and ruin workouts due to the pain. If the pain is consistent, it can even lead to prolonged injury such as tendinitis. An injured wrist affects all facets of daily life and can be a huge hassle to get over – not to mention putting most weightlifting exercises on hold until recovery has been completed. Today, we’re going to talk about how to stop this pain and even how to prevent it in the future.
The Cause of Wrist Pain During Bench Press
When you fall forward, you don’t land on the back of your hands, do you? Why is this? Well, because that would almost certainly break your wrist. Your wrist has a set range of motion, and going past this range of motion can lead to pain and fracture. How does this relate to the bench press? When the bar is positioned in the middle of your palm and you take the bar off the rack, the wrists bend back. “What’s the big deal? My wrists bend the same way with pushups.” That’s absolutely right; but, when you’re doing a pushup, you A) don’t have something in your hands that you are gripping, B) can push off of the floor evenly with all parts of your hand and C) aren’t supporting hundreds of pounds on the surface area as small as a barbell’s.
When you grip a barbell with conventional grip (middle of the palm), which is how most people start out, the wrists bend back past their normal range of motion, putting a large amount of stress on the joint and causing pain. The more weight, the more stress, which is why you won’t typically feel wrist pain in your first few warmup sets. As you get deeper into your workout and you reach your working weight, those wrist joints compress and bam! Ruined workout due to wrist pain. Fortunately, you don’t have to simply accept wrist pain, there are some solid solutions to get you benching comfortably (and even give you a stronger bench).
Solutions To Get Rid of Wrist Pain During Bench Press
We’re going to discuss a few different solutions to help relieve the wrist pain you’re experiencing. It’s important to note now that if the pain persists even after trying each of these solutions, you may want to see a doctor or specialist to help diagnose the issue since it may be beyond just bench pressing. Anyhow, let’s get to the fixes and try to get rid of that wrist pain for you:
The Bulldog Grip
If you’ve never heard of the bulldog grip, let me preface by saying that it is not in any way related to how you hold an actual bulldog. You hold them with love. Barbells, however, you hold in a manner as to not injure your wrists. The bulldog grip is essentially a slightly pronated grip that will help you keep your wrists straight throughout the movement.
To achieve this, grip the barbell low in the palm and turn your hands slightly in (moving your index finger down and your pinky finger up). That way, the bar will rest on the lower-outside of your palm and your wrists will remain straight throughout the exercise. This grip will take a little bit of getting used to, and you shouldn’t go straight to your one rep max – take some time to warm up to the grip and get the muscle memory down.
Under heavy loads, keeping your wrists straight can be difficult, even with a modified grip. However, if you’re having trouble, wrist wraps can help. The purpose of wrist wraps is to keep your wrists from moving throughout your exercise. Most Olympic lifters either use wrist wraps or tape to help keep their wrists straight under the intense loads that they’re pressing. It doesn’t matter how strong your wrists are, 400lbs is 400lbs and having that stress bending a joint is bad news. Wrist wraps are inexpensive and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.
Going into a bench press with cold wrists could also leave you susceptible to injury; which is why warmup sets are important. In between warmup sets, there are a few stretches you can do to increase mobility. First, stick your hand out like you’re shaking someone’s hand and move your hand up and down while keeping your forearm still. Second, hold your hands out palms down with your hands parallel to the floor and rotate your hands in and out, getting a nice stretch in those wrists. These two simple movements can do a lot in terms of warming up your wrists and getting you ready for your working sets.
Pulling The Bar Apart
“Pulling the bar apart” is probably the best form cue to remember while performing the bench press. When grabbing the bar, try to pull it apart and it will put your hands, wrists and elbows where they need to be for the pressing motion. If you’re having trouble with the bulldog grip, remembering this cue could be an easier way to get your wrists straight while under the bar. Remember, pull the par apart to set your hands for the set, then focus on the vertical eccentric and concentric motions of the exercise to make sure you’re focusing on pumping out strong reps with good form.
The main cause for wrist pain during the bench press is the compression of the wrist joint due to improper bar placement in the hand. While it may feel unnatural at first, changing your grip to straighten your wrists is extremely important to both short-term and long-term wrist health. This can be achieved with the bulldog grip with the assistance of wrist straps if you need them and the phrase “pulling the bar apart” as a cue to set your hands, shoulders and arms before you start your heavy pressing. Taking one or more of these simple steps to prevent wrist pain will pay off great dividends in overall health, as wrist pain or an injured wrist is a very serious matter. A hurt wrist can make you miss work, put all weightlifting on a hold and ruin your golf game. Change up your grip, stretch, throw on some straps and get to pressing safely!