By Geoff Rand
Our sport is one of minimalism. You don’t need a lot of gear to do CrossFit. However, in some situations some CrossFitters will find that a few pieces of gear, when used correctly, help them avoid injury or pain, and possibly do more work. If you’ve ever experienced wrist pain during a lift, wrist wraps may be of help to you.
What are wrist wraps used for?
When you place your wrist joint under heavy load there is a chance for discomfort or injury. Wrist wraps can help support and stabilize the wrist during these lifts. They help protect the wrist when in an extension position such as the rack position, when in a deviation position as in an overhead squat, or the neutral position of a shoulder press.
However, you should not wear wrist wraps all the time. If you do, they will become a crutch and you will develop a weakness in your ability to flex your wrist forward and bend your wrist backward under load. A rule of thumb is to only wear wraps when working with loads over 50% of your 1 rep max.
Wrist wraps are also not advised for use with bodyweight or gymnastic movements. These movements help develop wrist strength, and when done properly, they should not be stressing the wrist joint to the point where you require additional support.
A good plan would be to start light with no wraps and then don the wrist wraps as the load starts to get heavy. That way, you help to develop your wrist strength and only add the wraps when you start to approach the limits of your ability.
What are the different kinds of wrist wraps?
There are generally two kinds of wrist wraps, a thick, stiffer style, usually secured by Velcro, and a lighter, more flexible style secured by a cord. The thicker style is best for more static lifts like bench presses and overhead squats where there is not a lot of flexing required from the wrist. The thinner style is used for snatches, push presses, clean and jerks, and thrusters, where a lot of flexibility is required. Do you need to own both? Probably not, but each type of wrap has a specific range of movements it is best for.
How do I wear them?
They aren’t sweat bands. You want the wrap pushed up high on your wrist, by the wrist crease just under the base where the thumb meets the wrist. Some wraps have a thumb loop that assists with placing them in the proper position and keeps them from spinning when you velcro them. They should be snug, but not overly tight. Avoid cutting off circulation.
What else do I need to know?
Like anything else in CrossFit, wrist wraps should not be used as an aid to allow you to mask improper form. If you are experiencing wrist pain when lifting relatively light weights, you might have a form or mobility issue. Have a coach watch your movement and make adjustments as necessary. You may not even need wraps. A lot of athletes lift quite heavy without the aid of wrist wraps. My advice is if you are not experiencing discomfort or instability in your lifts as they are right now, don't start wearing wrist wraps.
Also, know that wrist wraps can, and should, be washed. They are not going to magically smell better sitting wet week after week in your gym bag. And, put your initials on them. About 90% of us have the black and red Rogue ones.
As you progress with your lifts and movements, you may find certain exercises that could benefit from the use of wrist wraps. You might find, like I do, that wearing them during overhead squats helps to stabilize an already somewhat unstable position and also give you the confidence to lift heavier. However, it’s important to avoid becoming dependent on them, and you should test your ability to do the lift without them from time to time. When in doubt, ask a coach.