To be able to comfortably do a push-up or a handstand (or a plank for that matter), a person needs to have their wrists be able to bend to a 90º angle. Most people’s might passively (being pushed there) bend to 90º, but most people can’t actively pull their hands into a 90º angle at their wrists.
There are two ranges of motion that need to be examined here:
- Passive Range of Motion (ROM) to 90º at the wrists. Passive ROM is defined as the amount of motion at a given joint when the joint is moved by an external force or therapist .
- ‘Yes I have this!’ That’s a good start, but not all a of what you need to ensure your wrists don’t get cranky from time to time.
- ‘No mine don’t bend to 90.’ No worries this post will help you work on it. However, some people may have some type of boney block or other obstruction that may never allow them to obtain a 90º angle. If you have tried to increase your passive ROM for sometime now without much success-you may have some form of obstruction that having a medical professional look into might be a good idea as seeing a medical professional will, as least, provide you with a potential reason for your limitation-if one is found that is.
- Active Range of Motion (ROM) to 90º at the wrists. Active ROM is defined as the range of movement through which a patient can actively (without assistance) move a joint using the adjacent muscles. Movement occurs because of the contraction of skeletal muscles .
- ‘Yes I have this!’ Great, you are ready for push-ups and handstands. However, I would recommend to continue reading to find out some more exercises you may not know to continue to make your wrists as badass as they can be for you.
- ‘No I can’t actively pull them to 90.’ That’s ok. As noted earlier, most people don’t have this ROM. This post will give you some exercises to increase your active ROM to build those sturdy wrists to help reduce the potential of injury.
Test your active ROM now.
As you can see my active ROM still needs a little work. 😉
Your Two Exercises
First, if you need to increase your passive ROM (you answered ‘no’ to having 90º of passive ROM ~or~ you want more than 90º for more advanced hand-balancing techniques) than some passive static stretching is needed, but it needs to then be followed by some active ROM exercises.
The First Exercise is Wrist PAILs and RAILs, an exercise I learned in my Functional Range Systems training. PAILs stands for Progressive Angular Isometric Loading, which are isometric muscle contractions that strengthen the muscles on the open side of the joint or the muscles being elongated in the passive stretch. In the case of your wrist this is your hand and inside of your forearm.
RAILs stand for Regressive Angular Isometric Loading, which are isometric muscle contractions that strengthen the muscles on the closing side of the joint or the muscles in a compressed/shortened position in the passive stretch. In the case of the wrist this is the top of the hand and the forearm. Both PAILs and RAILs are use to help expand ranges of motion by strengthening your end ranges in any given joint, for this post-you’re wrists! (For more info read this)
The video below explains the protocol. I suggest starting this once or twice a week to begin and then work up to three times a week.
The Second Exercise is Wrist CARs, or a Controlled Articular Rotations. Now you might be thinking this is a fancy way to say a wrist circle, but it is not. The emphasis here is on ‘controlled’. CARs require contraction of the muscles to pull the joint through it’s fullest ROM. CARs also emphasis the isolation of each joint so that only the joint you are focusing on is moving-no other joints join in on the rotation party!
CARs help you see where your current ROM is and help to maintain the ROM you currently have in that joint. It’s a great follow up for after your PAILs/RAILs work to help continue to promote any expansion in your ROM you found during your PAILs/RAILs work.
Important details about Wrist CARs
- Make sure to isolate the wrist and make sure the Ulna and Radius (your forearm bones) do not rotate when performing your wrist CAR. You will know that have because you will feel them turn under your hand when you set yourself up as I have in the video below. You will probably be surprised at how little ROM the wrist actually has.
- Engage your muscles on all sides of the wrist joint to pull into all the areas of the rotation. Contract at about 30-50% of the muscles contraction power.
- You will notice that the wrist moves a bit more sideways towards the pinky finger then it does sideways towards the thumb. You will also notice that when you flex the wrist and the palm comes up to face you it is at a slight angle with your pinky finger leading the way. This is just the structure of the wrist.
- Make sure that your hand and fingers don’t change shape from a flat palm and straight fingers-they will want to help, keep them extended.
Wrist CARs can also be performed every day at a lesser intensity (10-20%) as a way to maintain the ROM you currently have. As with PAILs and RAILs, begin performing this exercise once or twice a week and working your way up to three times a week with those stronger intensities.
As always please feel free to contact me with any questions.
CPT, PN1, 200 RYT, FMS II, FRCms, FRAs, Kinstretch