The push up is without doubt the most popular bodyweight exercise on the planet.
We all know that push ups are a great way to develop the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Plus, they also happen to work the core and can be a great conditioning tool as well.
However, push ups do put a lot of pressure on the wrists, and this of course can lead to wrist pain.
So, in today’s article I’d like to discuss how to stop your wrists from hurting when you’re doing push ups.
Do Your Wrists Hurt When Doing Push Ups?
Wrist pain when doing push ups is down to a lack of mobility. It is advisable to warm up the wrist joints, as well as performing mobility drills. You should ensure that you perform push ups with correct hand positioning, so as not to put undue pressure on the wrists.
The Main Reason Why Push Ups Hurt Your Wrists
If your wrists hurt during push ups this will be due to a lack of mobility in the joints.
Wrist mobility issues are probably more common than you think.
Many of us spend many hours a day typing at a computer, which unfortunately leaves the wrists in an unnatural state of constant flexion.
Furthermore, wrist pain could also be caused if you’re fairly new to doing push ups, or you’ve recently upped your push up game.
Basically, if you don’t spend a lot of time doing push ups, or you’ve started doing a lot more reps, the increased activity could cause an issue.
How Much Weight Are You Pushing in a Push Up?
It is estimated that when performing a regular push up, you are lifting 64% of your body weight.
Even when looking at regressions of the exercise, a knee push up still sees you lifting 49% of your bodyweight.
And if you go with one of the easiest versions of the push up, with your hands elevated on a bench, you still happen to be lifting 41% of your body weight.
You must also remember that when performing any of the above push ups your wrists aren’t in their natural position.
In effect, you are applying a fairly heavy load, often for extended periods of time, that your wrists may not be used to.
How to Increase Wrist Mobility For Push Ups
Most of us understand the importance of warming up before exercising.
As the name suggests, it helps to warm up the body and to make it more mobile for whatever it is you’re about to face.
That being said, depending on your current level of strength and fitness, performing push ups could even be considered a warm up exercise.
However, it’s still important to warm up your wrists first.
The wrists are actually a far more complex joint than you may first imagine.
There are muscles that cross the wrist that enable you to move your fingers.
There are certain muscles which cross both the wrist and elbow joints.
So, in order to warm up the wrists and make them more mobile you’ll need to perform various motions in combination with each other.
These can range from having your fingers flexed and extended, your wrists flexed and extended.
You can also perform flexion and extension movements with both the elbows and forearms to help with wrist mobility.
Finally, it’s important to load your wrist in various positions, typically using a percentage of your bodyweight.
Wrist Mobility Drills
Here’s Men’s Health Fitness Director, BJ Gaddour taking you through a few wrist mobility drills.
You should also check Cody Sunkel’s video.
Admittedly, this is slightly more advanced and shows you how to progress to wrist push ups (ouch).
However, Cody includes a wide range of wrist conditioning exercises.
These will help to build strength in the ligaments, muscles and tendons of the elbows, forearms, and of course, the wrists.
Are Your Hands Placed Correctly When Performing Push Ups?
Okay, we’ve established that wrist pain from performing push ups is usually down to a lack of wrist mobility.
We’re also aware that we are pushing a high percentage of our own body weight while performing push ups.
However, performing push ups with your hands in an incorrect position could also be a reason for wrist pain.
I know it’s one of the most popular and frequently performed bodyweight exercises ever, but there’s still a possibility that you’re not doing it right.
The Perfect Hand Position For Push Ups
I cannot tell you how often I wince when I see other people performing push ups.
To be honest, the very first thing you need to look at is hand placement.
For the standard push up your hands should be in line with your shoulders and close to your chest.
So, at the very top of the movement, when you look down you should have your hands placed directly under your shoulders.
A good practice is to perform one push up at a time.
Check your technique – ensure that your hands remain directly under your shoulders throughout the movement, and that your elbows don’t flare out the sides.
Once you’ve performed one push up, bring your knees to the ground before you reset yourself correctly to perform another push up with perfect alignment and positioning.
If you place your hands either behind or in front of the shoulder you will simply be increasing pressure on your wrists.
I’m not quite sure why, but the vast majority of the time I see people performing push ups, their hands seem to be more in line with the head.
This is just asking for trouble.
Push Up Bars
Another way to avoid wrist pain while doing push ups is to use push up bars.
The main advantage of using push ups bars is that the wrists remain in a neutral position, thus meaning you are putting far less pressure on the joints.
Push up bars also have the benefit of allowing for a greater range of motion.
You can lower your upper body much further than the standard push up, which makes the exercise far more intense.
That being said, from a personal perspective, I’m not a fan of push ups bars simply because they avoid the issue.
I would much rather work on increasing the strength and mobility of my wrists, as opposed to completely ignoring it.
An increased range of motion in the wrist joint can actually help with various barbell lifts.
So in effect, stronger and more flexible wrists could mean bigger and better lifts, and therefore a stronger and more muscular all-round body.
The Cambered Hand Technique for Push Ups
Another option to avoid wrist pain during push ups is to use the cambered hand technique.
In truth, this is a technique that is typically used for far more advanced push-based exercises, such as handstand push ups, frog stands, the planche, etc.
However, I see nothing wrong with incorporating the method when performing standard push ups.
I think the best way I can describe the cambered hand technique is that your fingers create a C-shape, as opposed to resting flat on the floor.
Basically, the palms of the hand and the tips of the fingers are on the ground.
This actually creates two points of contact with the floor rather than the single point of contact that is created with a completely flat hand.
This is a fantastic way to take further strain off the wrist joint.
Here’s the cambered hand technique explained in more detail:
Hopefully you’re now aware of why you potentially suffer from wrist pain when performing push ups, and how you can go about correcting this.
As you can see the main reason is due to a lack of wrist mobility, and therefore this should be your first port of call.
I will also add that increased wrist mobility has a fantastic knock-on effect on many barbell lifts, especially the front squat and the Olympic lifts.
So, I truly believe that having more mobile wrists could help you get a far stronger and athletic body in general.
If push ups are your thing and you want to take them to the next level then I may just have the perfect thing for you:
This is a guide and series of videos that forms part of an exercise program I’ve recently reviewed.
You can discover how to literally become a “Push Up Professional”.
You will learn how to increase your calorie-burning potential, strength endurance, core development, and a whole host more.
So, please make sure you check out my Bodyweight Beast Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.