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Health and Fitness Tips

Wrist Workout

Wrist curls, an often overlooked exercise, are necessary for building grip strength and developing forearm muscles. Many neglect forearm training and significantly inhibit their full potential.

Wrist curls require flexion of the wrist (palm moves toward the forearm), incorporating the flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris and palmaris longus muscles. Each has an attachment that crosses the elbow joint and the wrist joint. Muscles that cross multiple joints can usually be worked from both ends; however, the attachments of the wrist flexors are so close to the elbow that movement around the joint (i.e. biceps curls) does little for forearm development.

Wrist curls can be done two ways: 1) with your arms resting on a bench or your thighs, and 2) with your arms behind your back. Both movements work the forearms in a similar fashion to a comparable degree. However, the two exercises differ in the amount of stress placed on the wrist joint, the range of motion (ROM) allowed and the angle of muscle involvement.

Arm position and the forces of gravity cause greater stress to be placed on your wrist joints when you perform wrist curls on a bench. This is not an issue for most individuals, yet can be troublesome or cause discomfort for some, particularly those with previous injuries or joint problems. If you suffer from wrist problems, you may find behind-the-back curls less stressful due to the vertical position of the arms.

Some claim behind-the-back wrist curls allow greater ROM, but actually this position restricts ROM by preventing wrist extension (back of hand moves toward the forearm) at the bottom of the movement. Although ROM is reduced, it shouldn't significantly affect muscle development.

The big difference between the two variations is the angle of muscle involvement. Neither variations is the angle of muscle involvement. Neither variation is better, but they are different. Stressing the muscles from different angles leads to stimulation of different muscle fibers, and this enhances muscle development, especially when you perform both exercises regularly.

Your thumbs can be either over the bar (closed grip) or under the bar (open grip, on the same side of the bar as your fingers) Some feel the closed grip limits flexion at the top of the exercise, but this isn't an issue for most. Try both positions; choose the one you feel provides the greatest ROM with the fullest contraction.

Regarding elbow position, the muscles are stretched more when the arms are extended (elbow straight, as in the behind-the-back wrist curl), than when flexed (elbows bent). More stretch means a greater contraction of the muscle fiber, so this is a strong argument for choosing behind-the-back curls. To allow for greater stretch when doing wrist curls on the bench, keep the bend in your elbows to a minimum. Train your wrist extensors, too, by doing reverse wrist curls. You should train all the muscles that move a joint, not only to promote symmetry, but also to maintain balance and prevent injury.

Remember that strong wrists are key in the development of a well-balance body.

Rick Gusler is a certified personal trainer and diet nutritionist who serves his clients through Gusler Body Sculpting Fitness Center in central Denver. To schedule a free consultation, or to learn more about the Gusler method of body sculpting, spin yoga, or Rick's Boot Camp, please contact him at 303.860.7131 or online at

Gusler Body Sculpting Fitness Center, LLC
459 Acoma Street · Denver, Colorado 80204 · 303-860-7131
Hours: Monday-Friday: 6am-8pm · Saturday: Closed · Sunday: Closed