Here's Why You Should Add Wrist Weights to Your Upper-Body Workout

Yes, they may seem a little silly at first, but these hyper-trendy bangle bracelets have some real exercise benefits. Here's how to use wrist weights so you really feel the burn.

Woman Putting On Wrist Weights
Photo: Getty Images

If you want to build upper-body strength, your first instinct might be to reach for the heaviest weights you can (safely) lift and work your arm muscles to fatigue. After all, that's how you get those #gains — right?

While heavy lifting has its place in a strength training routine, don't underestimate the power of lighter weights in your arm workouts. Wrist weights, which attach to your wrist with a secure strap and often come in 1-, 2- or 3-pound variations, are one such method of incorporating lighter weights into your upper-body workout. They're often used in combination with ankle weights, which also range from 1 to 3 pounds and are larger in circumference to better fit your ankle.

So when should you use wrist weights for strength training, and what wrist weight exercises deserve a spot in your workout routine? Here's what experts say.

The Benefits of Strength Training with Wrist Weights

Wrist weights may be lighter than dumbbells or barbells, but they have certain advantages over other strength training options, says Peter Lee Thomas, a celebrity trainer known for working with Hollywood A-listers such as Halle Berry.

Wrist weights don't require grip strength.

One particular benefit is that wrist weights don't require grip strength. That's because unlike free weights, which you have to grasp to use, wrist weights can be physically attached to your wrists using Velcro straps or other fasteners.

"There have been times when I've hurt my hand, and I can't grip a dumbbell," explains Thomas. "But I can put on a wrist weight and I can get my workout in." For anyone recovering from an injury or unable to grip dumbbells, wrist weights are an easy modification to sub in.

Wrist weights are more portable than dumbbells.

Unlike dumbbells, wrist weights are extremely portable and easy to pack in a carry-on, points out Thomas. If you're traveling or just working with limited space in your home gym, consider wrist weights as a way to add intensity to your arm workout without adding bulk to your suitcase or gym space.

Wrist weights are an easy way to amplify your walks.

You can also try using wrist weights for walking, suggests Emilie Goldblum, an intuitive stretch movement body coach and former Olympic rhythmic gymnast. "To start my day, I always take a brisk walk before anyone else is up," she says. "Wearing [wrist weights] helps me gain momentum and work on warming up my upper body gently." Bonus: Research has shown that adding light weights to a 4-mile-per-hour walk has a similar intensity as running at 5 miles per hour.

Wrist weights are great for improving muscular endurance.

Finally, know that lighter doesn't necessarily mean easier. While choosing a heavy weight may build muscular strength, a light weight could increase your muscular endurance, as Shape previously reported. FYI: Muscular endurance is your body's ability to work for an extended amount of time (as opposed to how hard your body can work in any given moment). To build that endurance, you'll lift lighter weights at a higher volume (translation: more sets and more reps) than what you'd complete with heavier weights.

Tips for Using Wrist Weights During Upper-Body Workouts

Just because the weights are light doesn't mean you can get away with poor form, according to Thomas. In fact, you can use the lighter weights as an opportunity to perfect your technique for upper-body exercises before adding more load (read: weight); that way, you don't risk getting injured by progressing too quickly. Remember to roll your shoulders back and down to prevent them from rounding up toward your ears during upper-body movements (this keeps your upper back properly aligned). Also, maintain a slight bend in your elbow when your arms are extended (such as during overhead arm extensions or over-unders) to prevent hyperextension and injury.

Fasten wrist weights securely.

Since wrist weights are attached to your body, it's crucial that you fasten them securely. "Make sure they're Velcroed on for safety so they don't slip and hit you," advises Thomas. "Depending on the manufacturer, they might rub, so if need be, wear a wrist guard." FYI, a wrist guard looks similar to a wrist brace and acts as a protective barrier between your skin and your wrist weights. A wrist guard can also help stabilize your wrist by adding extra support; you can find wrist guards available for purchase online or in sporting goods stores.

Use a wrist weight that fits snuggly and doesn't slip.

While wrist weights usually come in one size, fit is still important, notes Thomas. "You want wrist weights to fit snugly so you can move freely and feel the workout, rather than constantly adjusting," he says. And heads up: You might be tempted to use ankle weights around your wrist as a substitute, but Thomas advises against it, noting that ankle weights will be too large and prone to slipping.

Avoid using wrist weights if you have elbow pain or an upper-body injury.

Finally, if you have chronic elbow pain, proceed with caution and check with your doctor or physical therapists before adding wrist weights to your workouts. The extra weight can worsen the inflammation you're already experiencing.Similarly, avoid using wrist weights if you're recovering from an upper-body injury, and make sure to talk to your doctor about if and when you can incorporate wrist weights into your workouts.

And if you experience any pain during your wrist weights workout, stop the movement right away and take off your weights, advises Goldblum. "No one should ever feel any sharp pain, shooting pain up the arms, or tingling pain, so always listen to what your body is signaling to you when trying new workouts," she says.

5 Upper-Body Exercises with Wrist Weights

Ready to add wrist weights to your workout? Here, Goldblum, a BALA ambassador, shares her five favorite wrist weight exercises for building upper-body strength, inspired by her background as a dancer and rhythmic gymnast.

Ballet Ports De Bras

A. Stand with heels together, feet forming a "V," and arms at sides. Raise arms in front of body to shoulder height, maintaining a soft bend in elbows with palms facing chest and fingertips touching. Keep shoulders relaxed and away from ears. This is the starting position.

B. Squeeze shoulder blades together and engage lats while extending arms out to sides.

C. Pause, then draw arms back in front of chest until fingertips touch.

Extended Overhead Rotation

A. Stand with heels together, feet forming a "V," and arms at sides. Raise arms in front of body up to shoulder height, then reach arms above head, slightly in front of forehead, palms facing down. This is the starting position.

B. Draw ribcage down and engage core. Rotate wrists, arms, and shoulders out toward the back of the room, ending with palms facing the wall behind you.

C. Pause, then rotate wrist, arms, and shoulders back to front, ending with palms facing the wall in front of you.

Torso Twist with Arm Extension

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and arms at sides. Extend arms above head, palms facing down.

B. Slowly rotate hips, spine, neck, and head to the right. While twisting, lower right arm toward the back of the room and left arm toward the front of the room, stopping both arms at shoulder height.

C. Raise both arms back overhead while rotating back to center, engaging hips and obliques throughout.


A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and arms at sides. Raise arms straight out to sides to shoulder height, with palms facing up.

B. Lift shoulders and rotate palms and arms as far as possible toward the front of the room.

C. Squeeze shoulder blades together, lift shoulders, and slowly rotate palms and arms back to the front.

Sumo Squat with Arm Extension

A. Stand with legs wider than hip-width, toes pointed out, and elbows tucked at sides, palms facing down.

B. Bend knees to lower into a squat while simultaneously extending arms out to sides and up to shoulder height.

C. Straighten legs to return to standing while simultaneously pulling elbows into waist, palms facing up. Focus on squeezing elbows in and toward back of waist while angling forearms slightly forward.

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