How to Do Wrist Curls: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Wrist curls are often recommended to build forearm strength. They may seem like an easy exercise, but they do require proper form to prevent injury or strain. Incorporate wrist curls on days that you work on building your upper body strength.

Also Known As: Dumbbell wrist curl

Targets: Forearms and wrists

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, bench

Level: Beginner

How to Do a Wrist Curl

Wrist curl

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To get started, you need handheld weights like dumbbells or even a weighted barbell. If you are new to exercise, start with lighter weights to prevent injury.

Kneel down behind a bench or other flat surface. Bend forward at the hips and rest your forearms on the bench about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing up. Your back is flat and your shoulders are back and down. Your wrists are in a neutral position (not lifted or lowered).

  1. Exhale and curl your wrists upward. Perform this movement slowly to engage the forearms and prevent the weights from straining your wrists. 
  2. Inhale as you extend your wrists downward as far as they will comfortably go.
  3. Return the wrists to a neutral position once you are finished with this exercise, then set the weights on the floor.

Your forearms are stationary during this exercise; only your wrists should be moving.

Benefits of the Wrist Curl

Wrist curls are an isolation exercise that targets the muscles in the forearm. Research indicates that single-joint resistance exercises such as this are effective at increasing muscle thickness and improving the power of the joint being flexed.

Exercising the forearms is an important part of rounding out the entire arm rather than focusing solely on the biceps and triceps. It can also improve your ability to perform other upper body exercises that engage these muscles, such as pullups and the suitcase carry

Wrist curls not only train a part of the body that is often neglected, but they also help improve grip strength and encourage stronger wrists. Grip strength allows you to get a firm grasp on weights and bars when working out at the gym.

A strong grip also benefits you during many sports and exercises. It is critical in rock climbing, for instance. Grip strength can also improve the speed and power with which you throw a ball. It's even essential in daily life activities, such as carrying groceries.

Other Variations of a Wrist Curl

There are a few modifications that can make the exercise easier or more difficult depending on your fitness level.

Unilateral Wrist Curl

Beginning exercisers may want to curl one wrist at a time. This makes the exercise slightly easier while enabling you to focus on the form of each arm. Keep in mind that you will need to repeat the movement on both sides to keep your muscles balanced.

Seated Wrist Curl

You can also perform wrist curls in a seated position. This option may be preferred by individuals with knee issues that make it difficult to get into a kneeling position.

Sit on a bench or in a chair with your back straight, legs shoulder-width apart, and feet flat on the ground. Rest the back of your lower arms on your knees or the chair's armrests, letting your wrists hang over the edge. Perform the curls in this position.

Reverse Wrist Curl

Once you master regular wrist curls, try reverse wrist curls (also referred to as wrist extensions). Instead of having your palms face up, this exercise involves your palms facing down, toward the floor. The rest of the movement is the same.

This variation does target the wrists more than the forearms. So, if you want to strengthen both areas, consider alternating between regular wrists curls and this reverse variation.

Common Mistakes

Here are some of the errors commonly made during this exercise, as well as how to avoid and correct them.

Lifting Too Much Weight

The wrists and forearms are not especially strong parts of the body. So, it's not realistic to use the same amount of weight you would for other exercises, such as a bench press or biceps curl.

If you are new to this exercise, start with a lower-weight dumbbell. As you begin to gain strength, you can work your way up to a heavier weight.

Thrusting the Weight

With each repetition, make sure you are moving steadily and with control rather than thrusting the weights recklessly. This can strain your wrist and cause injury.

Holding Your Breath

Holding your breath shifts the focus away from your forearm muscle and can cause tension and strain in the body, as well as affecting your blood pressure. Proper breathing involves exhaling as you curl your wrist upward and inhaling when returning to the starting position.

Not Resting the Arms

During this exercise, you rest your arms on a bench or, if in a seated position, on your legs or the armrest of your chair. This is similar to how you rest the arms during seated biceps curls or preacher curls.

Resting your arms on a stationary object or body part ensures that the focus of the motion is on the wrist so the forearms are the only muscles engaged. Any other positioning may not isolate the forearms properly, causing you to feel the exercise in other muscles.

Safety and Precautions

Do not perform this exercise if you have pre-existing wrist issues. If you have weak wrists, you may want to wear gym gloves for added protection and support.

Always practice proper form to prevent strain and injury, especially nerve-related injuries. If you feel pain in your wrist or forearm at any time during this movement, stop the exercise immediately.

Aim to complete up to 15 wrist curls per arm, per set, working up to three sets of 15 reps. Take a short break in between the sets, resuming the exercise once you feel ready or to switch arms.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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