Twist That Wrist: Wrist Variations for Weight Training

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Weight lifting is no different from badminton, bare-knuckle Muay Thai fighting, or unicycle relay racing; if you fail to modify your training from time to time, then your progress will inevitably slow to a halt. You can stay ahead of your body’s natural adaptation to stressful training by implementing the often-trivialized, but ever-so-essential concept of grip variation. Everyone knows they have to work on wide, narrow, and shoulder-width hand spacing on any exercise that will allow it. However, too often dismissed or ignored altogether is the rotation of one’s wrist. For almost any free weight exercise, two to three wrist variations can be applied, each targeting specific areas of a muscle belly.

Three types of wrist variations

Neutral grip, also commonly referred to as hammer grip, maintains palms facing one another. Think of hammer curls, or front delt raises with thumbs leading the way. The overhand grip keeps thumbs facing one another. Your standard barbell bench press utilizes an over-hand grip. Reverse/underhand grip is just the opposite and keeps the pinkies facing one another. These are great for rows, curls, chin-ups, triceps cable extensions and more.

Change up your wrist positions

Each grip variation serves a unique purpose, and you will quickly notice how even a subtle, 90-degree wrist rotation can considerably alter both the strength and the focal point of a contraction. Let’s take single-arm cable rows, for example. Start with a neutral grip for about fifteen reps. The focal point should be the middle/outer portions of your lats.

After two or three sets, switch things up a bit and move on to reverse grip, recruiting more of your lower and inner back muscles. Take note of both the drop in strength that occurs and the change in the squeeze sensation. After imposing sufficient suffering by way of the neutral grip, transition to over-hand to complete the trifecta. An even greater drop in strength occurs here, since your elbow flares out to the side, calling on your upper back, rear delts, and traps to carry the load.

After two or three sets, switch things up a bit and move on to reverse grip, recruiting more of you lower and inner back muscles. Take note of both the drop in strength that occurs and the change in the squeeze sensation.

Where do you start?

You just performed the same exercise in three distinct ways, targeting three completely different sections of your back by merely rotating your wrist.

As a point of clarity, this change in strength plays no roll in how effective one grip is over another at producing a quality physique; it merely highlights the diversity of the modes in which a single muscle group can contract.

So where do you start?

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Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

For a more in-depth perspective, check out these articles from Muscles Pro, RDL Fitness, and Muscular Strength.


Choose your favorite dumbbell exercise

Almost all of these will provide ample opportunity to trial alternate wrist variations. Once you become more confident with the movements, you can begin experimenting with wrist rotations on barbell, EZ bar, and cable exercises, but for now, stick to the basics.


Grab a comically light weight for your first few attempts.

These movements can feel a bit awkward at first, and I’d hate for any of you to tear a labrum because you thought reverse pressing the 70s was going to impress the girl on the hack squat machine.


Keep your core tight and your feet firm on the ground

Any new movement has the potential to recruit muscles that haven’t been activated in years, and maintaining a strong base will encourage better form, avoiding injuries and isolating the intended muscle groups.


Start where you’re comfortable

Before anything else, use the grip that feels the most natural to you. Feel the squeeze of the muscle fibers you wish to target, and compare that to other wrist rotations of the same exercise. Again, using light weight is PARAMOUNT for the first week.


Ramp it up!

Once you gain a better understanding of the different grips for a particular lift, and especially the soreness you experience the following days, begin progressively increasing the weight week by week. Do not let beach season sneak up on you this year; begin your transformation into a sword-wielding, bone crushing savage TODAY!!

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About the Author

John DeLuca

John DeLuca


After a brief stint in the Men’s Physique competition realm, and even winning first place in his final show, John decided to use his expertise to help normal, everyday people create the body they’ve always desired. His book, “The Busy Body: Principles for Building a Great Physique without Missing out on Life” is the culmination of over a decade of honing his craft. John is currently an RN in the Cardio-Thoracic Surgery ICU at Duke Hospital.
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