How to Do Wrist Curls

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman performing wrist curls

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

Also Known As: Dumbbell Wrist Curls

Targets: Forearms, Wrists

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, Bench

Level: Beginner

The forearms are a very visible part of the body, which is why wrist curls are often recommended to build forearm strength. Exercising the forearms is an important part of rounding out the entire arm rather than focusing solely on the biceps and triceps. 

Adding forearm exercises to your upper body routine is a great way to introduce variety while working out a part of the body that is often neglected. Performing wrist curls not only trains the forearms, but it also improves grip strength and encourages stronger wrists.

To get started, you will need hand-held weights like dumbbells or a weighted barbell. If you are new to exercise, start with low weight and work your way up to prevent injury. Wrist curls are also performed while seated, so you will need a place to sit, such as a bench or chair. 

You can implement this exercise on days where you work your upper body. If you are up for a challenge, try alternating regular wrist curls with reverse wrist curls or wrist extensions.

Benefits

Isolation Movement

Wrist curls mainly target the muscles in the forearms. This is an isolation movement, which means this exercise isolates the muscles it is intended to work. Compared to compound movements, isolation movements are effective at correcting weakness and improving the strength of a specific muscle. For this reason, compound movements often make up the bulk of a strength training routine with isolation movements added as needed.

In the case of wrist curls, this exercise isolates the forearm. It may be utilized to correct the weakness or imbalance of this muscle to round out the upper body. It can also be used to increase forearm strength, which translates to increased strength in the entire arm. Having strong forearms can help improve the performance of other upper body exercises that engage the forearms, such as pullups and suitcase carry

Grip Strength

Another benefit of this exercise is improving grip strength. This is not something you may think about often, but having a strong grip comes in handy both in and out of the gym. Grip strength allows you to get a firm grasp on weights and bars as well as support your body in many sports and exercises. For example, grip strength is critical in rock climbing. It’s also essential in daily life activities, such as carrying groceries.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Performing wrist curls seems like an easy exercise, but it requires precision and proper form to prevent injury or strain. You need limited equipment, including a place to sit and hand-held weights.

The following instructions will help you perform wrist curls safely and effectively:

  1. Assume a seated position. A bench will work best, but you can also use a chair with armrests.
  2. Place your hand-held weights at your feet. You can use two dumbbells or one weighted barbell. Individual dumbbells are recommended for beginners so you can focus on one forearm at a time.
  3. Grab the weights and hold them with your palms facing up. Be sure to grasp them tightly but comfortably.
  4. Sit with proper posture to avoid slouching. Your legs should be about shoulder-width apart and your feet should be flat on the ground. Rest the back of your arms on your knees or the armrests of your chair. 
  5. Adjust your arms so your wrists are hanging over the edge of your legs or armrests.
  6. Slowly bend your wrist up and down to engage the forearms. Each movement should be slow and controlled to prevent the hand-held weights from straining your wrists. 
  7. Exhale as you curl your wrists upward and inhale as you curl your wrists downward. Your forearms should be stationary during this exercise. Only your wrists should be moving.
  8. Repeat the exercise up to 15 times per arm in a set. Take a short break in-between sets and resume the exercise when ready or switch arms.
  9. To release the exercise, return to the starting position. Slowly lower the weights to the floor.

Common Mistakes

Though it seems simple, there are many ways to perform wrist curls incorrectly. Here are some of the errors commonly made during this exercise and how to avoid and correct them.

Lifting Too Much Weight

Using weights that are too heavy is a common mistake of many strength training exercises. The wrists and forearms are not objectively strong parts of the body, so it is not realistic to use the same amount of weight you would for other exercises, such as bench press or bicep curls.

If you are new to this exercise, start with one arm at a time and use a lower weight dumbbell. Work your way up to a heavier weight as you gain strength in this area.

Thrusting the Weights

The range of motion in this exercise is small. Only your wrists are moving up and down. 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

Proper breathing technique is an important part of this exercise. You should exhale as you curl your wrist upward and inhale as you return to the starting position. Some people hold their breath during this exercise, which shifts the focus from your forearm muscle to your breath. This can cause tension and strain in the body as well as affect your blood pressure.

Not Resting Arms

During this exercise, you will have to get used to resting your arms on your legs or on the armrest of your chair. This is similar to resting your arms during seated bicep curls.

Resting your arms ensures that the focus of the motion is on the wrist so that the forearms are the only muscles that are engaged. Positioning your arms any other way may not isolate the forearms properly and you may feel the exercise is in other muscles.

Modifications and Variations 

Here are modifications to make the exercise easier or more difficult depending on your experience level.

Need a Modification?

For beginners, it is recommended to isolate one arm at a time. Rather than using a weighted barbell that you would hold in both hands, use two separate dumbbells — one for each hand. This makes the exercise slightly easier, though it will take twice as long as you must repeat the exercise on both sides. You can also use a lighter weight to make the exercise more beginner-friendly. 

Up for a Challenge? 

Once you master regular wrist curls, try reverse wrist curls or wrist extensions. Instead of having your palms face up, you will face your palms down toward the floor. The rest of the exercise is the same. However, this targets the wrist more than the forearm. 

Safety and Precautions

Engaging in any type of strength training must be taken seriously to prevent strain or injury. The following tips will help you perform wrist curls safely:

  • Do not perform this exercise if you have pre-existing wrist problems.
  • Wear gym gloves for added protection and support. This may be especially helpful for those with weak wrists.
  • Always practice proper form to prevent strain and injury, especially nerve-related injuries. 
  • Don’t rush through the movement. Take it slow and steady to effectively target the forearm.
  • Keep your feet planted on the ground. If you use your legs to assist you in this exercise, you may not challenge the forearm for an effective workout.
  • If you feel pain in your wrist or forearm, release the exercise immediately and safely.

Try It Out

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

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