Wrist pain experienced while performing a bench press repetition is a pretty common complaint - but not one that should be ignored, as training through the pain can easily result in acute injuries of the wrist and forearms.
In order to remedy wrist pain from benching, the first step to take is to cease performing the bench press at the usual level of intensity, and to then attempt to trace the actual cause of the pain itself.
For the most part, wrist pain while performing the bench press is due to an improper grip angle, as well as hand placement that is too far apart or too close together along the barbell - two errors in set-up that can injure the wrist at higher amounts of weight.
Unless performing a specific bench press variation, lifters are meant to maintain a neutral wrist position as they perform the exercise - meaning that the smaller bones of the palm and wrist will stack atop those of the forearm, evenly distributing resistance and reducing the risk of injury.
From the lifter’s perspective, this will appear as if their knuckles are facing the ceiling, and the bar is resting against the fleshy pad beneath their thumb. While this is considered somewhat less secure in terms of maintaining a hold on the bar, it is far more advantageous from a biomechanical standpoint.
As was touched upon in the last section of this article, the wrist must be maintained within a neutral position so as to evenly distribute the load of the barbell across the forearm and hands.
It is somewhat more complex than simply stacking the wrist atop the forearm however, as the barbell must also be resting against the base of the palm and thumb, rather than the upper portion of the hand, as this base is where the most soft tissue and individual bone mass is found.
As such, it is not enough to say that wrist pain from benching can be prevented by maintaining a neutral wrist - one must also place the bar in the base of the palm in line with this neutral wrist position so as to take advantage of it.
Whether the lifter’s hands are too far apart and causing them to rotate inwards, or too close together and placing excessive strain on the inner portion of the wrist - both instances of incorrect hand spacing can result in wrist pain, as well as shoulder pain and/or elbow pain depending on their biomechanics.
Ideally, the hands will be placed just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart along the bar, allowing the wrists to be maintained at a natural angle despite the elbows remaining relatively tucked against the sides of the torso during the eccentric phase of the exercise.
The aptly-named suicide grip or other types of bench press wrist forms that involve partial and full flexion of the wrist as the exercise is performed can directly result in pain and injury.
This is because the fragile bones and tendons of the hands are pulled into a disadvantageous position while beneath the load of the bar, resulting in an increased risk of injury and causing discomfort for all but the most flexible of lifters.
Wrist pain can also be caused by a lack of internal support within the hand, often caused by utilizing a thumbless or unsecured grip around the bar.
Not only does this result in an increased risk of pain and injury, but utilizing a thumbless grip will also create a less secure exercise - increasing the risk of the bar slipping from the lifter’s grip as well.
If you have indeed confirmed that your wrist discomfort is directly related to how you go about executing the bench press, then the solution is quite obvious; identify the errors you are making in your bench press form and correct them.
Whether it be excessive flexion of the wrist, poor bar placement within the hand or the use of alternative grips meant for more niche scenarios - each error can be corrected by simply following standard bench press form.
Though more of a band-aid solution rather than a permanent one, the usage of wrist straps will both force the wrist into an advantageous and neutral position, as well as provide additional mechanical support so as to prevent the wrist from collapsing beneath the weight of the barbell.
Keep in mind that wrist straps are only meant to be used as temporary measures, as they will likely only reinforce bad bench press habits and can even result in poor development of the tissues therein due to a lack of direct training stimulus.
For lifters with a previous history of injury or body proportions that are incompatible with the standard barbell bench press, performing dumbbell bench press repetitions instead is an excellent way of reducing strain placed on the wrist - especially for lifters who have trouble with hand distance along a barbell.
Additionally, switching to dumbbell-based exercises will help correct many other issues relating to poor bench press performance, such as muscular imbalances or reduced stabilizer muscle utilization.
Finally, there is always a chance that your wrist pain is simply a result of overworking the bones and tendons of your arms. Exercises of high intensity like the bench press can place significant strain on the body, much of which will not recover as rapidly as the tissues that make up our skeletal muscles.
This can cause pain and stiffness over long periods of time, and can usually be remedied by taking a “deload” week, or by taking time off from the gym so as to allow the body to recover properly without being interrupted by subsequent exercise.
Do note that this is entirely an ineffective solution if your wrist pain is a result of improper bench press mechanics, as the same mechanics will still be present when you return to the gym. Ensure that overtraining is indeed the sole cause of your wrist pain prior to returning to the bench, in this case.
If you've gone to the extent of following all the above and you're still experiencing wrist pain while you bench, it is best to consult the advice of a medical professional.
Though unlikely, it is possible for the wrist to become sprained or fractured when utilized in a disadvantageous manner for excessive periods of time. While these injuries are usually accompanied by other symptoms, the risk of permanently reducing your wrist’s physical capabilities is real, and as such the advice of a physician is absolutely necessary.
1. Mausehund, Lasse; Werkhausen, Amelie; Bartsch, Julia; Krosshaug, Tron. Understanding Bench Press Biomechanics—The Necessity of Measuring Lateral Barbell Forces. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2022 - Volume 36 - Issue 10 - p 2685-2695 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003948
2. Son H, Kim J, Hong G, Park W, Yoon S, Lim K, Park J. Analyses of physiological wrist tremor with increased muscle activity during bench press exercise. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2019 Mar 31;23(1):1-6. doi: 10.20463/jenb.2019.0001. PMID: 31010268; PMCID: PMC6477828.