Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 01:40 pm
I’m surely not the only person to have experienced wrist pain when performing barbell rows.
In fact, I know this definitely isn’t the case, and many of you suffer with the same uncomfortable, and often painful, feeling.
Your first thought is usually that you’re doing something wrong, and this is generally the case.
Then again, you could actually be down to certain muscle weaknesses too.
So, in this article I’d like to reveal why your wrists hurt when doing barbell rows.
Additionally, why you’re feeling this discomfort and how you can fix it.
Why Barbell Rows Hurt Your Wrists
The main reason that barbell rows hurt your wrists is that you’re allowing your wrists to bend. Your wrists should remain perfectly in line with your forearms throughout the movement. If not, this is usually a sign that you’re using too much weight or you’re leading with your hands as opposed to your elbows. You can usually tell if you’re using too much weight as your torso becomes more vertical and you tend to use your hips rather than your back to move the weight.
You’re Not Keeping Your Wrists in Line With Your Forearms
If your wrists hurt during barbell rows, or any exercise for that matter, it’s because you’re allowing your wrists to bend.
As I say, this is true of any exercise, although it is especially true of upper body barbell pushing and pulling exercises.
This is a common complaint when people bench press, overhead press, or perform bicep curls.
Basically, when performing bent over rows (or any of the other exercises mentioned) you must ensure that your wrists stay perfectly in line with your forearms.
However, when performing overhand rows there is a tendency to bend the wrists forward, especially during the final few inches of the movement.
The same can be said when you do underhand rows, although this time the wrists bend backwards.
In effect, you’re almost performing wrist/forearms curls, but with a barbell loaded with much more weight than you’re used to.
And this of course will put a great deal of stress on the wrist joint, forearm, and the various attached ligaments and tendons.
Why Do Your Wrists Bend During Barbell Rows?
The first reason that your wrists may bend during rows is simply that you’re using too much weight.
In fact, excessive weight, more than you can typically handle, must be the number one reason for pain or discomfort when performing any exercise.
Actually, that’s not strictly true.
The main reason will be poor form, although this often goes hand-in-hand with using too much weight.
When it comes to barbell rows there are a couple of tell-tale signs that you’re using more weight than you should.
Firstly, you may find that you “bounce” or use your hips, as opposed to your upper back, in order to pull the weight towards you.
This actually happens quite often, although it’s more commonly associated with feeling bent over rows in your hamstrings.
But still, if the load is particularly heavy then you may well feel it in your joints, wrists included.
The second tell-tale sign that you’re using too much weight is that you’ll find it very difficult to keep your torso in the correct position.
Personally, I’m not a fan of having a completely horizontal torso, which is parallel to the floor.
For me, I much prefer to hinge at the hips and my torso is approximately at 45 degrees.
However, you’ll typically find with excess weight that it’s much harder to keep your torso in the correct position and you’ll end up far more upright.
In effect, you’re performing an upright row with an ever so slight forward lean.
If you find yourself doing either of these things it’s time to start rowing with less weight.
As with any exercise, perfect your form first and then look to progress.
7 Solutions if Your Wrist Hurt When Doing Barbell Rows
What Can You Do to Avoid Wrist Pain During Barbell Rows?
There are a number of things you can do to avoid sore wrists from rows.
You can obviously try all of these solutions and see which one (or combination) works for you.
Decrease the Weight
Obviously, excessive weight on the bar is the first place to look.
So, if you’re “bouncing” or standing too upright, you’ll immediately know what the issue is.
Don’t Lead With Your Hands
Something else that is extremely important during any pull-based exercise is that you should always lead with your elbows and not your hands.
Most of us tend to pull with our hands in order to bring the weight up during rows, and even during exercises like pull ups, chin ups, lat pulldowns, etc.
If you do this it’s likely that you’re going to feel these pull-based exercises far more in your arms and joints.
Plus, I don’t feel it does anything for the mind-muscle connection.
Personally, I much prefer to lead any pull-based exercise, barbell rows included, with my elbows.
Essentially, pretend there’s an imaginary person standing behind you and you’re trying to elbow them in the gut.
This will help you to lead with your elbows and it’s also likely to hit your upper back and lats to far greater effect.
Try Different Hand Positions & Grips
Talking of hands, your elbow pain during rows could be down to how you’re gripping the bar, or even where your hands are on the bar.
So, if you find that your elbows hurt with an overhand grip then try an underhand grip and see if that makes any difference.
And obviously, vice-versa as well.
Then again, having your hands too close together or too far apart could be the cause of the problem.
Therefore, play around with hand positioning and see if that relieves your wrist pain.
From personal experience I can tell you that I struggled with my wrists when performing underhand rows with a wide grip.
However, as soon as I ensured my hands were shoulder-width apart I felt instant relief in my wrists.
So, play around with various hand positions (and try both overhand and underhand) and see what works for you.
Try Different Equipment
Something else you could do is to try other equipment to see if this relieves the pain.
As an example, the EZ curl bar was specifically created with wrist position in mind.
Many of us will perform bicep curls or tricep extensions with an EZ bar, as once more, it takes the pressure of the wrists.
I see nothing wrong with performing bent over rows with an EZ bar, and you may find this to be the perfect solution.
The next step is to try rows with dumbbells.
Basically, your wrists are in a very unnatural position when you row with either an overhand or underhand grip.
In fact, the same can be said when you perform pull ups and chin ups.
In truth, the best way to perform all these pull-based exercises is with a neutral or hammer grip.
This means that your palms will be facing each other.
And of course, this is much easier to achieve when rowing with dumbbells.
The final piece of equipment that can help is the use of wrists wraps.
Now, I’ll openly admit that I’m not a fan, but if rows are causing you wrist discomfort then this is a viable option.
The reason I say I don’t like this is that it does little to improve your grip strength.
This is actually another reason why your wrists hurt during rows, and I’ll discuss this in further detail in a moment.
That being said, wrist wraps will definitely allow you to keep your wrists aligned with your forearms.
This also means that you should be able to concentrate far more on perfect form and should find it helps you to lift more weight.
However, as I say, I’m not a fan of this method and would only use it as a last resort.
You Have Poor Grip Strength
Okay, so I’ve mentioned poor grip strength in relation to feeling rows in your wrists.
Additionally, I’ve also said that this is why I’m not a fan of using wrist wraps.
Basically, by using wraps you’re not really dealing with the issue, but rather masking it.
So, for me, improving your grip strength is a must if you want to perform barbell rows safely and effectively.
Plus, increased grip strength will lead to greater weight being pulled during rows, and a wide variety of other exercises too.
My favourite couple of ways to improve grip strength are through dead hangs and farmer’s walks.
In order to perform a dead hang, you simply do that, hang from a pull up bar, with overhand grip, for as long as possible.
Your aim is to increase the time you hang on a regular basis.
And as for farmer’s walks, well, I truly believe that whether you have issues with grip strength or not, you should be performing them anyway.
Farmer’s walks are a fantastic exercise and can help to improve your all-round strength, muscularity, and even conditioning.
So, just grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and get to walking.
Once more, progression is the name of the game, so look to increase weight regularly.
How I Improved My Grip in 30 Days
So, as you can see, the main reason your wrists hurt when doing barbell rows is that you’re allowing your wrists to bend.
This generally occurs because you’re using too much weight.
Then again, leading with your hands, as opposed to your elbows, can also direct the stress more onto your forearms and wrists.
Furthermore, where you hold the bar, and which grip you use, can also have an impact.
Plus, if your grip strength is weak then this is likely to be felt in both your wrists and forearms once more.
So, the solution is to reduce the weight and work on your form.
Try various grips and hand-widths while holding the bar.
Perhaps, try an EZ curl bar or dumbbells to relieve the pain and ensure that your wrists are in a more supported or natural position.
Finally, it makes a great deal of sense to work on your grip strength, as this will improve your barbells rows, while keeping your wrists pain-free.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.