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Tips for Improved Wrist Mobility

POS of CrossFit Invictus
Tips for Improved Wrist Mobility
Written by Nichole DeHart

Lack of wrist mobility can be the limiting factor for many of our members in movements like cleans and front squats. I usually hear comments like ‘my wrists feel like they are going to break’ or ‘there is piercing pain shooting up my forearm.’ These are statements that I would prefer not to hear from an athlete. However, your poor wrist mobility (and more than likely, your accompanying poor thoracic mobility/posture) can be caused by many factors, such as typing at your keyboard all day and checking Facebook too often. If you can’t break your Facebook habit then here are some sure fire ways to improve your wrist mobility:

1) Wrist Rotations. This is very basic. Wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every possible direction. Hold any position that feels a little tender/limited for a few seconds. Repeat often throughout the day.

2) Planche Push Up Position. Get into a plank position (elbows fully extended at the top of the push up). Turn your hands inward so your fingertips are pointing toward your toes. Keeping a rigid torso, shift your body forward so you have an angle from your shoulders to wrists. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds (or as long as you can bear) and repeat. If this is too intense, drop down to your knees and complete.

3) Front Squat Rack Position. If this position is bothering you as you front squat, chances are you need to get your wrists working through the range of motion required for a front squat. It is not your wrists holding the bar in place, it is your shoulders but . . . you need good wrist mobility to get that heavy bar sitting correctly on top of your shoulders. Load a bar on a desired rack setting. Set up in a rack position, with your elbows pointing as far forward as possible and weight sitting on your shoulders. Pick up the bar and rotate your elbows forward, then re rack the bar. Repeat this process until you see a change in your rack position.

4) Static Holds. Pull your wrist back into extension and/or flexion and hold for at least 20-30 seconds.

5) Wrist Walks. I just discovered this drill and love it. Place your palms on a wall, with your arms straight and fingers pointing to the ceiling. Keeping contact with the wall, walk your hands down the wall. Go as far down as possible without letting your palms come off the wall. Once you reach the point where you can’t walk your hands down any farther, turn your hands around so your fingers are now pointing to the floor. Walk your wrists back up the wall as far upward as possible. Repeat as desired.

6) Check Your Keyboard. Get your wrists in a neutral position when typing! Check out Invictus extraordinaire Cynthia Lumley’s article on a standing work desk.

Enjoy these drills and I wish you good wrist health! If you have other wrist drills that have helped you improve your wrist mobility then please post them to the comments section.

  • POS

    Great article Nichole. The one thing I have found that has helped my limited wrist flexibility in the racked positions is working on the tricepts and loosening them up. Kelly Starrett has a lot of good tips but one that seems to work is mashing your tricept on a racked bar, kind of like flossing yoru hamstrings but for the uper arm. It was episode #339.

    I figure the combination of increased wrist flexibility and improved rack position would be good.

    • Calvin

      POS,
      Sounds like your issue is more to do with poor shoulder flexion and glenohumeral external rotation.

  • mrjling

    Yup, good stuff! I suffer especially on OHS.
    Coach Sommers has some great stuff on wrist work too.

  • mrjling

    About the site: Would be nice to be able to have a quick way of viewing previous days WOD. Going back and forth between days too.

    • http://www.crossfitinvictus.com/wp2/members/admin/ admin

      Thanks for the feedback. Currently the best way to do this is to choose the current month in the ‘workout archive’. We’ve looked at other ways and may implement one in the future. If you see a good example of this somewhere let us know!

      • Cynthia

        Love the new website! It’s very pretty!

        Re: scrolling back to yesterday’s WOD, Crossfit One World has their site set up so you can click on the current day’s WOD and after it pops up you have the option to scroll back one day (and then keep on scrolling as far back as you want and scroll forward until you reach the current day.)
        (Maybe show the date instead of the title of the blog article)
        That is the extent of my computer input. :)

        • POS

          Are you cheating on us with Freddy and One World :)

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1301889044 Cj Martin

          Thanks Cynthia! We will look into it.

  • Kim

    This article is speaking directly to me, Nicole. Thanks!!!

  • Kim Singer

    My two cents: if you have a history of wrist injury or joint laxity, be careful with the intensity and frequency of just cranking on your wrist to “get more motion.” Focus on shoulder and elbow mobility in the rack position for example because most often its an upstream issue. The wrist is a delicate joint and too much stress can be damaging. Obviously there’s a place for wrist mobility work and extensor/flexor bundle work (like with a lax ball) especially if you’ve had an injury and the above exercises are great for that. And seriously, please be nice to your wrists…chronic wrist pain from laxity, carpal instability, or ligament injury sucks. Just ask Kobe Bryant.

  • Jaimie B

    Thanks for this blog!! I have really bad wrist mobility due to multiple fractures over the years, so doing front squats and overhead squats cause me a lot of pain sometimes. I’ll try these drills before performing these movements next time.

  • Shawn D

    Great article again Invictus! I know for me that shoulder mobility has a *huge* effect on my wrist mobility. Even if my wrists aren’t the specific problem, doing some of these drills in a warm up seems like a good way to help warm up the wrist joints–especially here in the cold, snowy north of Montana.

  • Calvin

    I would add hold-relax/PNF stretching to the list as well as soft tissue work on the wrist flexors and extensors with a lacrosse ball.

    Though, I have to agree with what Kim said about wrist pain typically being an upstream issue. Keep in mind, normal range of motion for wrist extension is only about 70 degrees. Wrist pain in the front rack position isn’t necessarily caused by a wrist issue though it can lead to one. Lacking shoulder flexion and external rotation will cause you to be in a poor position when you rack the bar. Throw in some protracted shoulders (aka “douche-bag shoulders”) and poor t-spine mobility and you have a perfect storm for wrist pain. Kelly Starrett explains more here: http://www.mobilitywod.com/2010/11/episode-99365-solving-front-rack.html. That’s just my two cents.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1301889044 Cj Martin

      I whole-heartedly agree with Calvin (and K-Star). What is manifested as wrist pain in the front rack position is rarely the result of poor wrist mobility. Rather, most of the athletes we work with that complain of wrist pain are starting from a very poor position. Protracted shoulders and a locked/immobile thoracic spine is number 1 issue we notice with folks walking into the gym. So rule out position/posture before you jump straight to addressing wrist mobility.

      That said, sometimes folks just have tight wrists. It’s rare, but it happens. If you’re one of those people, this post is for you. Hit the soft tissue work, hit the PNF work, and try a few of the techniques that Nichole lays out and you should be good to go.

  • Jaimie B

    Also, since reading this blog, I have decided to create my own standing desk at home! A fun blog that Steph shared with me, in additon to Cynthia’s: http://www.fitbomb.com/2011/06/stand-in-place-where-you-work.html

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  • Vince G

    Don’t overlook the forearm to upper arm ratio. Some people don’t have the correct ratio to achieve the position coaches are telling them is attainable. A bad coach will tell their athletes that it is just a matter of flexibity even when that not true.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=37901883 Cody Rice

      Hey Vince,

      Only in extreme (read very extreme) cases is this an issue. Often, athletes will try to grip the bar in-line with, or just outside the shoulder. This can usually be cured by increasing shoulder external rotation and using a wider grip, as seen in the picture of Matt Chan here: http://www.crossfitproper.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/matt-chan-2-500×438.jpg

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=654029151 Victoria VanNederynen

    Good article!

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  • cablebfg

    So, I have a question. If I think wrist flexibility is an issue, but I also know that shoulder mobility is an issue for me as well, should I just bundle everything together?

    One reason I am pretty positive wrist mobility is an issue is because it generally hurts to do handstand pushups. That’s got very little to do with shoulder mobility.