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3 Wrist and Forearm Exercises To Increase Bone Strength

When you think of osteoporotic fractures, which bones do you normally picture breaking? Most would say the hip, spine, or leg. But very few think of the forearm. And I think that’s a mistake.

After all, did you know osteoporotic fractures of the forearm are more common than spine and hip fractures? It’s true. And it turns out, most of those forearm fractures occur in the wrist. So it makes sense to focus more on the forearm and wrist with some effective ways to protect and strengthen them!

That’s why I’d like to share 3 wrist and forearm exercises that increase bone strength in that area. The following exercises not only increase muscle strength and range of motion but if you are someone who suffers from tennis elbow, like my mom, they are also very helpful.

Lateral Wrist Exercise

This exercise targets the wrist extensors and flexors. In doing so, the exercise helps to restore movement in your wrist, while also improving flexibility of the wrist muscles. And that’s good for anyone, not just for those worried about bone loss!

Bonus: if you have tennis elbow, you’ll definitely want to read this.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, occurs when inflammation surrounds the outer side of the elbow. It’s simply caused by repetitive overuse of the wrist extensor muscles. These repetitive motions can cause lesions in muscle tissue. As the name suggests, tennis elbow is commonly caused by strain from playing tennis or other sports, but can also result from everyday work! Approximately 1% – 3% of the population suffers from tennis elbow.

This lateral wrist exercise is a lateral wrist flexion and extension that is a combination of a light warm-up, stretching, and exercise. It relieves pain from tennis elbow by actually creating a collagenous scar in the affected muscles. The tension from the wrist extensions creates new fibrous tissue to form, which protects the muscles from future damage.

Here’s how to perform the exercise:

  1. Begin standing with your arms out in front of you, palms facing down.
  2. Then bend your wrists forward and backward until you feel a light, pain-free stretch.
  3. Repeat 10 times on each arm.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Alternatively, you can also do this exercise seated with your forearm supported by a table. Your wrists and fingers should hang over the edge (you can also put a rolled up towel for padding underneath your forearm). Then bend your wrists forward and backward, just like the picture above. Advanced: you can also add a 1- or 2-lb. dumbbell for extra resistance (and benefit to your forearm).

Bone-healthy benefit: You’ll increase your flexibility at all ages. Increased flexibility improves your range of motion and protects your joints. As you may know, deteriorating joints can also impact bone health because the protective cartilage on the end of your bones wears down and the bones can rub together. That rubbing causes searing pain and can lead to osteoarthritis.

As we age, our joints can lose up to 50 percent of their range of motion! So incorporating this (and the other two) exercises will help combat that loss.

Seated Wrist Curl with Dumbbell

This seated wrist curl helps to develop your flexor muscles: Wrist flexors, supinators, pronators, and brachialis.

Start light with this exercise! Do not use heavy weight if you are just beginning or have a wrist injury. Wear a wrist wrap if you need the support.

Here’s how to perform the exercise:

  1. In a seated position on a Bosu ball or chair, place your forearm on your thigh with your palm facing upward.
  2. Using a 1- 5 lb hand weight (the weight should be just enough so you feel fatigued at the end of your set), flex your wrist upward.
  3. Focus on keeping your forearm well placed against your thigh for stability. You can also use your opposite hand and thigh as pictured.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

While you’re in between sets for your seated wrist curl, you can also add in the seated wrist reverse curls. This will target your extensor muscles. Here’s how to perform the seated wrist reverse curls:

  1. Start in the same seated position with your forearm on your thigh.
  2. But this time, your palm will face downward.
  3. Using your weight, extend your wrist upward fully.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

*Try not to lift your elbow from the thigh when extending your wrist. Keep your palm down.

Progression: Once these exercises are no longer a challenge, increase the weight by 1 pound and add an extra set too.

Bone-healthy benefit: These seated wrist curls can stimulate bone building by stressing your bones (in a positive way). Your bones crave weight-bearing exercise, which forces the bones to strengthen, just like muscles strengthen over time when they lift weights.

Here’s how it works. As you may know, osteoblasts are your “bone-building cells”. After they’ve done their bone-building, they “retire” from that phase of their life and turn into osteocytes. Osteocytes lie in your bones and send signals throughout your skeleton, like the bones’ version of a nervous system. These signals direct and balance the activity of current bone-building osteoblasts and bone-resorbing osteoclasts. This way, you keep your bone remodeling system in check, so you maintain a healthy amount of bone!

Meanwhile, exercise from weighted wrist curls ensures your osteocytes actively signal new osteoblasts (and muscle cells) to form. And research shows increased forearm muscle strength (from new muscle cells) is highly correlated with better bone density. So your forearm receives a consistent stream of new bone-building “recruits” to remain strong.

Tennis Ball Grip Strength

The Tennis Ball Grip Strength targets your wrist flexors and extensors.

Of course, you will need a tennis ball (you can also use something similar in size like a lacrosse ball or another ball with some “give” like I’m using below).

Here’s how to perform the exercise:

  1. Grasp the tennis ball in one hand while sitting or standing.
  2. Slowly squeeze it as hard as you can, and hold for 2-3 seconds.
  3. Slowly release your squeeze.
  4. Rest for 3 seconds and then repeat 10 times.
  5. Switch hands and repeat steps 1-4 above.
  6. Repeat twice on each hand (for 3 sets in total for each hand).

Progression: Once this exercise is no longer a challenge, add an extra set and increase your squeeze time by 1-2 seconds.

Bone-healthy benefit: As the name suggests, this is a great exercise to increase your grip strength. And handgrip strength is an indicator of potential fracture risk since it’s linked to fragility and increased likelihood to fall. In fact, some studies show those with weaker hand grip strength tend to have lower bone mass in the hip and the spine. Decreased grip strength indicates impaired muscle strength, and therefore diminished physical ability, which causes greater mortality risk in older people. The bottom line is, once your grip strength starts to weaken, it’s generally a sign of worse things to come.

All three of these wrist and forearm exercises should be performed 3x per week, provided they do not cause or increase pain. Check with your physiotherapist prior to beginning this workout regimen to see if these exercises are suitable for you.

As you’ve seen, these exercises are more than just forearm strengtheners. Each supports healthy bone density!

Tend To Your “Forgotten Bones”

When it comes to osteoporosis exercises, you don’t usually see much in terms of wrist or forearm exercises. That’s unfortunate, because grip strength and arm strength are good indicators of overall strength, and they play an important role in flexibility and range of motion.

Obviously, it’s important to strengthen the muscles in your spine and lower body, as they tend to be common bone density loss areas. But your wrists and forearms are critically important too— especially as you age. Why?

Because the chance of falling increases with age. And guess what we usually use to brace ourselves from the sudden impact? That’s right, your wrists and forearms. Your wrists and forearms absorb that initial impact, placing incredible pressure on those bones.

So, why not prepare them and ensure you’re safe, rather than sorry? And that’s where the three wrist and forearm exercises come in! But before you start, please consult with your healthcare provider to make sure these exercises are safe for you to perform.

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Monica is the PR and Outreach Manager and Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal. She’s an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, and has a B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she played varsity soccer for four years. Monica pulls from her experience in athletics and health to contribute to AlgaeCal and has also been featured on myfitnesspal blog, Prevention, and Huffington Post.