Wrist Wraps: Do You Need Them?
Wrist wraps... Wrist straps... Lifting wraps... Lifting straps... Wrifting wraps... Strapping wraps…
I hear a mix of these terms regularly. In fact, many people tend to use them interchangeably, but I assure you, they are not the same.
So let’s set the record straight before I go any further: “wrist wraps” and “lifting wraps” are the same; on the other hand, “wrist straps” and “lifting straps” are the same.
Sure there are knee wraps too, but for the sake of this article, we’ll keep everything focused on the wrist.
What are wrist wraps vs lifting straps?
Let’s talk about lifting straps first. Lifting straps are designed to help you lift more weight. That’s it. Essentially your grip will become a limiting factor in your bigger lifts, so what the straps allow you to do is to take stress off the hand/forearm and place more on the strap. This enhances your ability to lift more weight. To elaborate, there are a couple different strap models out there. One is a standard lifting strap that has one end that wraps around your wrist and a “tail” end that wraps around the bar. The other strap model is a figure-8 lifting strap, which looks exactly like a figure-8 and allows you to loop your hand through both ends while the middle of the figure-8 sits on the bar. The figure-8 model is exactly what we offer at Element 26 for heavier lifting and accessory pulling variations. I’m not going to go into too much detail about lifting straps, but if you’d like to read more about them, here’s a blog I wrote all about straps.
Wrist wraps are a bit different. Similar to lifting straps, wrist wraps can also help you lift more weight, but the mechanism is different. Instead of attaching to the bar, wrist wraps wrap around your wrist and create a more stable position to move upon. Your ability to keep your wrist closer to a straight alignment (or more neutral), allows more force to be applied through that joint. Hence why you can lift more. Wrist wraps can come in varying thicknesses/widths. Depending on your goals and your sport (powerlifting vs bodybuilding vs functional fitness vs Olympic lifting), is what will determine the thickness and width that you require.
How do wrist wraps work?
Every time you grab a barbell or a dumbbell and attempt to press it, whether you’re flat on a bench or pressing overhead, there’s going to be a degree of wrist extension. Wrist extension is the movement that occurs when the wrist is bent backwards. This is a great movement to have for exercises such as burpees or push-ups... However, too much wrist extension and not enough upper body strength can cause joint pain, tendinitis, and wrist sprains/strains. On top of all that, the amount of weight you can lift is also significantly reduced because there’s a force leak in the chain. Remember, some wrist extension is necessary, but when you’re pressing a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell, you need to avoid the excessive extension.
I'll repeat it again, wrist wraps minimize the ability of the wrist to fall into extension, keeping the wrist joint in a straighter alignment.
By keeping the wrist in a straighter alignment you reduce the stress on the tendons and ligaments on the front side of the wrist while reducing compression on the backside. Like a weight lifting belt where you also need to practice your lifting form and continue to work on core strength, the same is true for the wrist and arm position. Aside from using wrist wraps to help support your wrist joint(s), you must also practice your grip strength, neutral wrist pressing variations and work on overall wrist flexibility into extension (working on flexibility will help positions such as the “clean-grip” in a front squat). The wrist wrap is a fantastic tool to promote more stability to the joint, but it becomes even more valuable as your wrist position gets better, forearms get stronger and flexibility improves. Remember it’s a tool not a “one-time fix.”
What makes a good wrist wrap?
If the wrist wrap is able to keep your wrist stable, in a position close to neutral alignment, then it has accomplished the job. Depending on the width of the wrist wrap, you’ll have varying degrees of stability and compression. Remember, the more difficult it is to move your wrist backwards into extension yields MORE STABILITY and LESS MOBILITY. And as I stated earlier, the width of the wraps will depend on the athlete using them. For example, powerlifters and bodybuilders are typically pressing loads that are relatively high. This requires a high-amount of wrist stability so there are no force leaks in the upper body chain. Because of the large requirement for wrist stability, these athletes will tend to choose wider wrist wraps to help support their needs. Meanwhile, the functional athlete that is moving from one exercise to the next will need slightly more wrist extension available for a range of movements throughout a WOD. Therefore, a slightly thinner wrist wrap that allows some degree of extension while ensuring the wrist does not overextend is perfect for the Functional Athlete.
Are wrist wraps for you?
Before I ever recommend a piece of fitness gear, you must understand why you’d use it. For example, just because you have wrist pain does not mean you need a wrist wrap. But if you’re having pain with wrist extension when front squatting with a clean-grip rack position, it’s been persistent for some time (over 3 months), and you’ve been working out for 2+ years.... then I’d say go for it!
If you’re a powerlifter trying to hit a 500 lb bench press and have perfect form and bar control, then wearing wrist wraps is like adding gasoline to a fire. Everything gets better!
Meanwhile if you’ve only been working out for 4 months, have wrist pain because your wrist is in extension and you’re only bench pressing 115 lbs, then I’d fix the wrist extension issue (along with the bench press form) first, before investing in wrist wraps. The better control you have of your wrist when pressing or the more flexibility you are able to achieve into extension, the more benefit you’ll get from the wrist wraps.
Injury history is a huge factor as well. If you’ve had prior wrist issues or surgeries and the joint has a restricted ability to move into extension, then I would recommend a wrist wrap to promote some more stability and to avoid tendonitis along with other wrist overuse injuries.
Here’s the bottomline: If you’ve been training for several years while actively working on your wrist flexibility/stability, yet still have pain and/or you just want to make your wrists more stable to lift heavier.... then you’re ready for wrist wraps.
The type of wrist wraps will depend on your sport. If powerlifting is your sport and you have a relatively thicker bone structure, then wider wrist wraps are going to be better for you. If you’re a Functional Athlete and require a high degree of mobility then wrist wraps that are less wide, such as the IsoWraps that we have developed at Element 26, will be better suited for you.
Understand why you’re choosing the wrist wrap first before you go and purchase just any wrist wrap out there. Consider your sport demands, training goals and injury history to determine how much wrist stability and mobility you require.
If you’re interested, you can check out the Element 26 IsoWraps by clicking the button below.
I hope this was helpful! For any questions regarding wrist stability, mobility and/or wraps, you can email me directly at the address below:
Keep training hard, and as always, I’m rooting for you!
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Element 26 Co-Founder
Online Store: www.element26.co
Want to further connect with the Team at Element 26?
We would love to continue to support you on your fitness journey, so definitely follow us on Instagram. And when posting your training videos and post workout selfies, use the hashtags #element26 and #TeamE26 and then tag us @element26.co so we can share! We'll be here for motivation, accountability, training tips, and gear launches/updates.
If you are ready to have an even deeper connection with other athletes who are all-in on their fitness journey, we invite you to join our private Facebook Group: Team E26: Less Ego, More Iron. The catch, you have to be committed to your journey and committed to helping others along the way. Success is determined by the strength of the community!