Wrist Pain From Bench Pressing

Portrait of a handsome personal trainer spotting a woman while she lifts a barbell in the bench press

If your chest's strength was stopping you from pressing more weight, you might accept it — or at least know how to improve. When your wrists, though, are the scourge of your bench-pressing attempts, it's both frustrating and debilitating. Wrist pain from bench pressing is usually related to issues with form and stabilization through the wrists.

Proper Wrist Position

During a bench press, the proper position for your wrists is neutral, meaning that the wrists form a straight line with your forearm and don't bend back to support the weight. The bent-back position over-stretches the wrists and causes pain during or after the exercise. The more weight you bench, the more dramatic this overstretch and consequent pain can be.

Pain is a big incentive to change your form for the better, but what if it also improved your power? When you bend your wrists, you essentially place a stop gap between your pectoralis major muscle and the weight. You're not drawing a straight line of strength. Straighten your wrists, and the lever that's pushing the weight up is direct — the weight sits directly above your chest, rather than slightly behind it.

Grip Matters

How you grip the bar in a bench press affects your ability to keep the wrists straight. Instead of holding the bar in the middle of your palm, as is often mistakenly done, place the bar in your thumb and index finger first, and then turn your hands just slightly in toward each other.

This creates a grip that's slightly slanted and provides greater stability in the wrist joint. The weight centers over your forearm, so it's less likely to pull your wrist back. It's called the "bulldog" grip, as your hand position mimics the foot position of this meaty dog breed.

Keep your grip firm and be sure to wrap the thumb around the bar, too. When you hold the bar too lightly and only in the fingers, you lose some stability in the wrist, which may cause pain.

Say No to Extra-Wide Grips

Placing your hands excessively wide to mimic elite powerlifters sets you up for wrist pain. These lifters use wrist wraps to help support their joints and have trained over time to bear this position. A wide grip puts your wrists outside of your elbows, which increases the pressure on them. To keep wrist pain at bay, position your wrists just above your elbows. As a bonus, this position is better for your shoulders, too.

Extra Protection

If you correct all the form issues in your press, but still suffer from wrist pain, you might benefit from some specific strengthening exercises. Wrist circles, wrist hammer curls and reverse wrist curls are some moves to include in your regimen.

Wrist wraps are another option if you can't seem to correct the wrist pain with form and strengthening. Long wraps form a stronger support, but if you wrap them too thickly, you'll restrict movement. This can cause another host of problems. Use wrist wraps as a last resort, not as a way to compensate for bad form.

Getting ready. Close up of strong muscular man carefully wrapping his hand with boxing bandage while preparing for training.

A trainer can help you find proper bench press form.

Sometimes, to resolve wrist pain, you need to revise your form and bench a slightly lighter weight than your chest may bear for a while. It's OK to give your wrists a chance to heal so you can return to heavier weight with gusto and less chance of injury.