Wrist pain got you down? You’re not alone. The wrists take a beating when performing certain strength training and bodyweight exercises like pushups. Some wrist pain is common, especially if the form is off or you’re not strong enough to support the move.
But you could also be dealing with more serious issues like arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or a wrist injury. If you have concerns or severe pain, your first step should be to visit your doctor.
But if the discomfort is minor and only triggered by certain exercises like pushups, try a few of these modifications or exercise alternatives to see if they can help alleviate the pain.
One of the things that makes pushups such an amazing exercise is the ability to modify them and make them accessible for so many fitness levels. So, if you’re not able to successfully perform a full pushup, try some modifications first.
According to the American Council on Exercise, developing core strength and stability around the spine along with upper body strength can help you stay safe when doing pushups. To do this, you may need to start with some modified versions that target the same muscles.
Pushup bar with a static hold
If your gym has pushup bars, you can use them to get into a pushup position, but instead of going through the full range of motion, you perform a static hold. This takes some of the pressure off of your wrists and requires more recruitment of the chest.
- Place two pushup bars a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Place your hands on the bar and get into a pushup position.
- Engage your core and glutes and lower yourself to the bottom position of a pushup. Hold here for 5 seconds.
- Push up to the starting position and repeat.
- Do 8 to 10 times.
Pushup with dumbbells or kettlebells
If you don’t have pushup bars, you can use two dumbbells or two kettlebells. This takes the bend out of your wrists and keeps them straight, which alleviates pressure on your hands and wrists.
- Put a dumbbell or kettlebell on the floor under each shoulder, about shoulder-width apart.
- Get into the pushup position by grasping the handles with your palms facing each other.
- Perform a pushup.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times.
Standing pushups against the wall
Standing pushups are an excellent beginner move. They also help take the pressure off of your wrists and shoulders.
- Stand facing a wall.
- Place your hands on the wall, a little wider than shoulder-width apart. They should be by your face when you lower to the wall.
- Walk your feet back, so there’s distance between yourself and the wall.
- Bend your elbows and lower toward the wall.
- Push your hands into the wall and press back to the starting position.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times.
Bench incline pushup
Minor pain can sometimes be alleviated by getting off the floor and performing a modified bench pushup. Using a bench allows you to use less body weight and focus on your form, which takes the pressure off of your wrists.
- Stand in front of a weight bench (bench should be lengthwise).
- Put your hands on the bench, a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Arms straight.
- Walk your feet back until your legs are extended, feet slightly apart. This will look and feel like the top of a pushup position.
- Lower your chest to the bench as far as you can go.
- At the bottom, pause, then push yourself back up to the starting poison.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times.
If you’re not quite ready to add pushups to your routine, no problem. You can do several other exercises that target the same muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) and help get your body ready to execute a proper pushup.
Remember, these moves shouldn’t cause pain. If you feel any discomfort or pain while performing these exercises, stop and ask a personal trainer or physical therapist for guidance.
Dumbbell chest press
The dumbbell chest press is an excellent upper body exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Make sure to go light and focus on form, especially if you have wrist pain.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Start by lying on the bench — feet flat on the floor and together.
- Hold the dumbbells directly above your chest. Arms are fully extended.
- Engage your core, keep your back against the bench, and slowly lower both dumbbells to the sides of your chest.
- Pause, then press them back to the starting position.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times.
If the dumbbell chest press is still causing any pain, you can modify it further with a machine chest press. Most machines have two or three different handgrips, which allows you to find the position that causes the least amount of wrist pain.
TRX chest fly
You need a TRX suspension system or a similar system to perform this move. TRX straps allow you to perform movements in a full range of motion by using your body weight for resistance.
- Anchor the TRX straps.
- Face away from the anchor.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grab the handles with an overhand grip.
- Extend your arms at shoulder-height in front of you.
- Lean forward, so your body is in a diagonal position. Weight will be on your toes.
- Spread your arms out into a “T” with elbows slightly bent.
- Lower your chest to the ground as your arms extend out to the sides.
- Reverse the movement until your body is upright, arms are at shoulder-height in front of you, and hands close together.
- Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
If you don’t have access to TRX straps, you can perform the same move with exercise bands that have handles.
Standing medicine ball wall push
This standing exercise targets the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.
- Hold a 10-pound medicine ball in your hands — ball is close to the body with hands and palms up.
- Stand facing a wall about 2 feet away. Step forward with your right foot, so you’re in a slight stagger stance.
- Engage your core and push the ball toward the wall hard enough that it bounces off the wall and comes back to your hands.
- Pull bull in toward your body and repeat.
- Do 10 ball pushes.
Forearm plank (low plank)
Taking the wrists completely out of the movement can alleviate pain and allow you to focus on the muscles you’re trying to target. The low forearm plank allows you to strengthen the same muscles you would during the pushup, but without placing your wrists in a compromising position.
- Place a yoga mat or exercise mat on the floor.
- Lie down on the mat with your elbows under your shoulders and legs fully extended.
- Push up until your body makes a straight line from your shoulders to your toes.
- Forearms are flat on the floor and hands are in a fist facing each other or flat on the floor.
- Tighten your core and glutes and hold for 30 seconds.
Even if you’re not experiencing wrist pain, it’s a good idea to incorporate a warmup that includes stretches and other exercises to help increase flexibility and build strength in the wrists.
The following stretches and exercises are ones you can do at the gym, at home, or even at work if your wrists are feeling tight.
- Squeeze a tennis ball for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Make a fist and hold for a few seconds. Open your hand and stretch your fingers apart as wide as you can. Repeat 5 to 10 times with each hand.
- Extend your right arm out in front of you and turn your hand, so the fingertips are facing down, palm open wide. With your left hand, pull the right fingertips and thumb down to stretch. You should feel it in the bottom of your wrist and palm. Repeat 5 times on each hand.
- Place your hands in a prayer position in the middle of your chest, elbows out to the sides. Press hands together and move them down your body until they start separating. Repeat 10 times.
Minor soreness and discomfort are something you might be able to manage with some simple home remedies. That said, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor if you have questions or concerns or if the pain is severe.
Here are some home remedies to try for managing wrist soreness and pain:
- Make sure you’re practicing proper ergonomics when working at a computer or desk.
- Perform daily stretches.
- Rub some cream on your fingertips and massage the forearms.
- Wear a wrist brace or splint.
- Do contrast therapy of heat and cold on your forearms and wrists.
- Soak your hands and wrists in warm water and Epsom salt for 20 minutes.
- Take an anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication.
- Rest your wrist and keep it elevated.
If sore wrists are getting in the way of your daily activities, your first step should be to visit your doctor’s office. Your doctor can determine if something more serious is going on and treat the pain appropriately.
You may also want to consult a physical therapist for specific exercises and remedies to help manage the pain.
Signs that it’s time to call your doctor include:
- daily pain that interferes with tasks
- pain that doesn’t get better when you stop an activity
- symptoms don’t improve with rest
- pain that wakes you up at night
- pain that doesn’t get better with over-the-counter medications
- reduced range of motion
- pain while at rest
- tingling and numbness in your hands
Wrist pain and soreness can happen with any type of exercise that requires your hands and wrists to be flexible or push weight.
To build the strength needed to perform an advanced move like the pushup, you may need to start with a modified version or alternative exercise. The good news is most of these alternatives target the same muscles and can be just as effective as a standard pushup.
That said, if changing exercises or modifying the move doesn’t alleviate wrist pain or soreness, it might be time to call your doctor or consult with a physical therapist.