My wrist is derailing my chest presses.
March 13, 2012 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a way to make my wrist not whine at chest presses? Are there any women's fitness gloves that stabilize and support the wrists, without a lot of padding? Or a different solution?

I'm not sure what's relevant, so here's my full workout regimen:

I'm a mid-20's woman who works out three times a week for about 75 minutes each time, with about 30 minutes of that being elliptical cardio and the rest weights. I've been doing this at a slowly increasing level for over 10 months now.

Weight-wise, I alternate lower-body days and upper-body days, and always work out my back and abs. So it averages to twice a week that I work out my upper body.

The past three upper-body sessions, I've noticed that since I've upped the pound amount of machine-controlled (not free weight) chest presses I do, my right wrist has started to feel uncomfortable with the pressure. Despite being totally able upper-body-wise to handle the increased weight, which is currently still quite low, anyway. (It's currently at 15 pounds, moved up from 10 pounds, plus the inherent weight of the machine, which is definitely there but I'm not sure what it equates to.) I do about 50 reps per workout day, and I also do several other similar machines (chest incline, etc) at various reps on those workout days.

Apart from this wrist-tweaking business, I have no problem working out normally without wearing gloves, and don't particularly want to start wearing them since I'm afraid they'll just be more of a nuisance... but will if I get good suggestions. I did browse Amazon, but a lot of those gloves look more like they were designed to protect from calluses than to deal with wrist issues. I don't care at all about my small calluses and just want my wrist to stop giving me grief.

Or if there's an alternate solution I'm missing, please let me know. Thanks!
posted by vegartanipla to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are no gloves I'm aware of that would help you with your wrists. For the most part, gloves help mitigate calluses and help with grip.

What will help is strengthening your wrists. You can do this directly with exercises like wrist curls and whatnot or via other exercise where the wrists is a helper (like the chest press).

Since you're using a machine, it the track of the chest press machine fixed or can you move your wrists. If you're asking your wrists to move in a fixed motion that isn't natural for your frame it will hurt and strengthening your wrists won't help.

What you could to to help strengthen your wrists while working only our chest, switch to doing dumbbell chest presses. You may have to use lower weight than the machine says at first but the great range of motion will more than make up for it.
posted by birdherder at 9:46 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding birdherder. If your wrist is giving you grief, there's probably a good reason; wearing a support brace might make it feel better but won't deal with the underlying issue. I would agree it's probably a mild repetitive strain injury brought on by a bit of unnatural form, either from a machine that doesn't quite suit you or a flaw in your technique.

Switching to dumbbells, at least for a while, is a great idea that will help shore up any weak spots in your forearms. Also, pay close attention to what your wrists are doing during the exercise. There shouldn't be a whole lot of movement or bending going on during a bench press, and your wrist should stay more or less inline with your forearm (see this article for picture examples).
posted by vohk at 9:58 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gloves won't offer much if anything in the way of wrist support; their only effect is to keep hands soft, compromise grip strength and satisfy the urge to accessorise (and okay, they are helpful when you have a hand injury like a thumb sprain or bruise that needs cushioning).

If you think wrist support will allow you to keep training, try searching for wrist wraps instead. You likely don't need anything very fancy or heavy-duty at your current level, something like these would do.

A more determinant factor will be what you do to treat the injury (or proto-injury) in the long term. It may well be a simple wrist mobility issue, caused by/exacerbated by inefficient lifting form. One positive change you can make is to stop using machines, which enforce artificial movement patterns and increase injury potentials, and switch to using freeweights instead.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:00 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The bar or wherever you grip must be deep in your palm. This helps to keep your wrist straight. If your wrist is bent during the press it will cause the symptoms you describe.
posted by caddis at 10:01 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want the weight to be directly over the rest of your arm; if your wrist is bent back it will end up having to support more of the weight. Which, on preview, is ditto basically everyone else. It might also be that the machine is forcing you into an unnatural position as per birdherder -- see here for dumbbell press "info sheet." (Honestly, I like the DB bench even more than the canonical barbell bench press.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:34 PM on March 13, 2012

Being hurt is always tricky. You have my sympathy. I would second what others have said about the machines. It seems counterintuitive, but the machine makes it easier to put suboptimal stresses on your hands. With dumbbells or a barbell, you will get positive feedback from your hands and wrists when you have good placement.

That said, it's not exactly easy to do something as simple as putting your hands around a cylindrical bar. I highly recommend Starting Strength for learning all sorts of things, but if you don't want to buy the book, you can try our coaching for free... One common mistake is to line up the bar with the big pad just below your fingers. Instead, angle it along the creases in your palm. Just like making a fist, your index finger will be the highest, and the rest will slope down, rather than making a parallel row.

Once you've got the bar in your grip, make sure the force is transmitted straight down your wrist. Make sure the width is right. Any twist out of that neutral, straight position, whether forward or backward is going to be hard on the wrist. Good luck.
posted by wnissen at 10:34 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A really great, general rule for exercise in my opinion is that "If it hurts, you shouldn't do it". Hurting is your body's way of telling you that you are damaging it, don't damage your body.

Gloves won't help this problem, and in general I find relying on gear for weights is not a great idea, especially at lower weights. I would see if you can grab a gym staff member, or just another gym goer who looks like they know what they're doing, to check your form - people are totally happy to help out I find. If you can't do that, I would experiment a little with the form yourself. If it continues to hurt - at all - you should stop and move to another exercise. There are literally dozens of exercises that will mimc what chest-presses do. Here are over five pages of them. That could get you started.

I'm just full of generalisations here, and whilst I'm not as anti-machine as some, it's true that machines can sometimes be problematic in that they can encourage bad form, and contribute to muscle imbalance because they isolate so much. So your chest is up for the exercise, but your wrists aren't.

I would also just like to mention that this could be a wrist strength issue, but it may not be, and if it's something like carpal tunnel syndrome, or just a strain injury, wrist exercises are likely to make the problem worse not better. If you don't want to mix it up with different exercises, please please see a physio so you don't do any permanent or surgery-requiring damage.
posted by smoke at 3:43 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might not be about using machines (although dumbbells are better for many reasons) and it might not be about bad form or wrist strength. The fact you mention it is only one wrist suggests to me that it could (maybe) be similar to my issue, which is a ganglion cyst on my right wrist. It's totally invisible most of the time, but occasionally flares up into a visible lump. Even when small enough to not be visible, pressure on my wrist makes it hurt a fair bit. My doctor thinks it's not worth doing anything about if the pain is bearable, and says that weightlifting even though it causes pain will not do any permanent damage to the wrist. Obviously you shouldn't assume you have the same problem as me, but I'm just saying there are things like that that it COULD be. You should get your doctor to check it out.
posted by lollusc at 4:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thumbless grip (also referred to 'suicide grip') helps my wrist immensely.

Also: stop with the machines. Apparently that ROM isn't what your body wants. Try dbs.
posted by unixrat at 5:22 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: See, this is why I love AskMeFi - you guys save me the money and time of fussing with buying and wearing useless new stuff and instead provide great, varied insight into how to fix the issue.

I do like using machines but I'll try to both adjust my form on the machine as well as giving free weight dumbbells a try.

posted by vegartanipla at 10:38 AM on March 14, 2012

I do like using machines but I'll try to both adjust my form on the machine as well as giving free weight dumbbells a try.

Be aware that you might not be able to start with the 15 lb. dumbbells, at least not at the same number of reps -- free weights feel heavier than the machine equivalent. If I were you I'd start with 10s (or 8s if necessary) and do fewer reps (3 sets of 10-12 at most), concentrating on form and full range of motion. Move up to the next-heaviest set of DBs whenever you can do all 3 sets without pain or loss of form. Chances are that you just need to build some wrist strength, and db presses will help do that for you.

I'd also suggest doing the stretches in Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (or this free video). A lot of us who use our hands for a living have tight hands and wrists, and these gentle exercises will help even if you're not having carpal-tunnel trouble.
posted by vorfeed at 11:17 AM on March 14, 2012

This kind of reiterates some of the things other people have said, but:

1. Gloves won't really help with your problem.

2. Wrist exercices won't hurt, but I can't imagine you would really need them (for your problem) (read on).

3. You need to keep your wrists as straight as possible, such that your wrists aren't really under any stress at all (maybe a little? but not really). If you can get a hold of Starting Strength it goes into good detail about this, but assuming you can't/won't, keep the bar as low in your hand (if your fingertips are "up") as possible, as close to your wrist as possible. Since you're using a machine, you can use thumbless grips if you find it helps. But it's better to use free weights, for a number of reasons, and you don't want to use thumbless grips for those. So with a bar, you want to turn your hands kind of inwards: from your point of view, you turn your left hand clockwise and your right hand anti-clockwise, so that you're really pushing with the heel of your hand. This 1. keeps your wrists straight, 2. keeps the torque (with respect to your wrists) as small as possible so that you push against the weight most efficiently, and 3. activates your triceps (try pushing against the heel of your hands, you should feel your triceps contracting.) This applies to dumbbells as well.
posted by Busoni at 1:32 PM on March 14, 2012

Wanted to add, there are exercises in which wrist pain/flexibility is a potential issue: cleans, front squats, push-ups, and shoulder/overhead presses (you use the same grip as I described, but it's impossible to have the elbows directly under the weight. Still, it really shouldn't cause any pain). But the bench press does not belong to this group (nor does the dumbbell chest press). Performed correctly, the wrists are not the issue here.
posted by Busoni at 1:38 PM on March 14, 2012

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