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I have recently started trying to do negative chin-ups in several occasions, but afterwards I feel a mild pain in both my left and right wrists. It is not the kind of "healthy" discomfort of sore muscles, but rather the kind of thing that, when ignored, eventually sets up as a tendonitis.

After a day or two it goes away, then I try again, and it comes back.

This means, not only I have to do negatives in order to gain strength to eventually perform chin-ups, but rather I have to strengthen my wrists first, in order to be able to do negatives...

So, I have two questions:

1) What exercises can I do to gradually and gently gain strength in my wrists?

2) Will the bodybuilding writs wraps help by pulling too? Why and how? Should I wear them always when attempting dumbbell lifting and calisthenics, or would that protect my wrists but also prevent them from becoming stronger?

I have seen this wonderful video of a man performing several chin-ups at age 89, so I am not going to give up (I am 41).

Remark: by wrist straps I mean something like that: enter image description here

which (I think but it is only a guess) act by relieving some tension from the transverse carpal ligament during heavy lifting. Nothing to do with the straps used to assist the grip in heavy deadlifts.

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1  
There's a bunch of good wrist mobility exercises described in this pdf, try doing them once a day or even more often (the PDF also has bodyline exericses which you could try, but then moves on to gymnastic skill work which you might not be interested in). There's also a related question here on the site. BTW, my father is approaching 60 and he can manage about 7 chins, having started from zero 2 years ago - just stck to it! –  VPeric Aug 27 '13 at 16:27
    
@VPeric Wow! Great news! Thanks. I can't find it now, but I saw recently a 72 year old in youtube performing chinups, and he said he started at age 40. So, it seems possible. Again, thanks. +1 –  Mephisto Aug 27 '13 at 22:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The cheapest piece of exercise equipment for grip strength is one of those binder clips:

enter image description here

They come in difference sizes, so start small and work your way up. Pinch it open between your pinky and your thumb. This tip comes from Mr. Ed Coan himself. When your grip breaks, it's always the pinky side first. If you get that side stronger the grip will be harder to break.

Next in the grip builders is to pinch grip a dumbbell by the fat part and increase time. When you get to 30s grip you can get a heavier dumbbell. This allows you to build up the grip with what you can handle right now.

Assess your Set Up

Something I recommend you do is to assess your setup on the pull-up bar. It could be that your hands are too close together or too far apart and your wrists are bending at an unnatural angle. When you add weight to that it stresses the ligaments and tendons rather than strengthening the surrounding muscle.

It also might be that you need to focus on neutral grip pull-ups for the time being until your grip naturally gets stronger from the pull-ups.

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I guess that neutral grip means hanging from two small towels from the pullup bar, or something similar. By the way, I knew it was you after reading the first line. Great tips, as usual. Thanks. (+1) –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 13:48
    
(Additionally, it would be great to know your opinion about the wrist wraps too. Should I use them? When do you usually wear them?) –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 13:52
    
Wrist straps are used when you are wanting to get your back stronger than a weight you can hold in your hands. For example heavy shrugs, or you are working around a ripped callous. They don't strengthen your ability to grip--just hold something heavier than your hands are ready for just yet. Neutral grip would be palms facing, some pull up rigs will have a pair of grips protruding straight out. –  Berin Loritsch Aug 7 '13 at 14:09
    
I think you are talking about different straps. I edited the post, showing a picture. –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 14:41
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Ah. Those don't help grip. They help stabilize the wrist when when pressing heavy things. Basically it helps keep your wrist from folding on itself. That's not a problem with pulls. –  Berin Loritsch Aug 7 '13 at 15:35

I would suggest doing an exercise that will work your grip and another muscle group at the same time, like dead-lifts, shrugs, farmer's walk, etc. Probably the easiest of the ones mentioned would be shrugs and easy to progress since you can incrementally add weight after every week or so.

I don't like using straps or gloves or anything that will artificially improve my grip or hold. You are your weakest at your weakest link (grip most of the time) so it makes sense to strengthen it, not enhance it artificially.

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I used to have problems with my grip half a year ago, so i started to train my forearms to increase my strength in my grip.

Some excercises i added on my arm day to increase my grip strength -

seated-palms-down-barbell-wrist-curl 4 sets of 25

reverse-barbell-curl 3 sets of 15

I use gloves to get a better grip so the weights don't slide off. I consider the gloves to be very good for pull-ups.

Gloves i use :

enter image description here

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It seems in the picture, that they have sort of a strong wrap around the wrist, right? Is that particularly helpful when pulling? –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 12:16
    
Yeah it does, but for me wrist wraps don't help me with pull-ups it's the glove it self. The glove's friction helps me hold on with less effort. –  Anton Aug 7 '13 at 12:24
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To add on to the list of grip improving exercises is: Deadlifts(these are awesome and you should probably do them anyways) and farmer's walks (these are also pretty fun and you can do them with light DBs and build up). –  Tristan Aug 7 '13 at 21:41
    
I tried a nearly identical gloves in a Decathlon shop a few days ago, and they didn't help at all, but rather they forced me to press my grip harder, since their thickness adds to the diameter of the bar. Perhaps nice to keep your skin soft, but quite counter productive if you want a stronger grip with less effort. (Perhaps your gloves are quite thin and it is not the exact same case). –  Mephisto Aug 15 '13 at 21:21

What works for me is a slower and more cautious progression.

Coming back from a shoulder injury, I started with three sets of five dips. I could have done many more, but I took it super slow. The next workouts looked like this:

  • Three sets of five again
  • Three sets of six
  • Three sets of six
  • Four sets of six, since I wanted more volume but felt that my form started to deteriorate ever so slightly towards the end of a set
  • Four sets of six
  • ...and so on until I was doing three twenty-rep sets plus weighted dips

I think this approach works well for coming back from an injury and taking it easy on potential injuries. For what it's worth, I've also found pull-up negatives to be helpful with elbow tendon inflammation.

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Thanks, Dave, +1. That is more or less my approach now with push-ups. With the dumbbell exercises, I am doing the exercises of the workout I have designed, but with a couple of pink 3.3 lb dumbbells and lots of reps until it burns. It will be so for at least a couple of weeks until I see that everything responds OK and I can start with the linear weight progression. Additionally, I am going to do that binder clips exercises too and the pinch dumbbell grips in Berin answer. –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 15:40
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@Mephisto Careful with repping out the small weights to failure--that has an inflammatory effect just like heavy weights do. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 7 '13 at 16:05
    
Ouch! Thanks, I didn't know (in fact, I barely now anything about fitness and what I know is very confusing and full of contradictions). –  Mephisto Aug 7 '13 at 17:24

To strengthen your grip for pull-ups, I'd keep it simple. Hang from a bar for as long as you can or a minute, whichever comes first. Repeat for up to 4 sets. This will improve your pull-ups no end.

As for your wrist, take it easy and if it gets worse go see a specialist. I've trained a number of people who have had wrist pain when they first start calisthenics, make sure you do some wrist circles before you start to warm-up. Usually it clears up after a few weeks once they start to adapt to the exercises, but as I say if not then drop it back and go see a specialist.

For more help on getting your first pull-up, check out my tutorial

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