Last week I went to a Holland Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s 9th (featuring our very own Jayne Gort and our friend Jessica Fashun!). It. Was. Beautiful. As we were sitting there enthralled by the beauty and unbelievable skill of the musicians, it occurred to me that they must have incredible hand, wrist, and arm strength. I mean, I felt fatigued after clapping for like 3 minutes, and yet these musicians were using their hands and arms to draw bows over strings, or fingers to pluck strings are press keys or valves for over an hour. It was really impressive.
It got me thinking about the importance of hands and wrists in our lives. They are our connectors, our paintbrushes, our all-utility tools. They help us express ourselves, get us what we need, create, maintain, and fix everything around us.
Unfortunately, as we age our hands can lose their strength, preventing us from completing everyday tasks like unlocking our door, picking up a piece of paper, opening a jar, or holding onto a shopping cart. Axios Finish Line recently put out a newsletter about the importance of hand strength. Besides helping us to grip better to avoid falls or to catch ourselves when we do fall, handgrip strength is also associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and higher good cholesterol levels.
Age also affects our wrist flexibility. Decreasing amounts of lubricating fluid in our joints cause them to become stiffer and less flexible, and the cartilage becomes thinner. Ligaments also tend to shorten, losing flexibility and making joints feel stiff. In the case of wrists, these limitations can increase shoulder, neck, and back pain.
So stretching your hands and wrists is equally important, providing much-needed flexibility and mobility and lessening the likelihood of injury. Because of the wrists’ heavy involvement in most daily activities, stiffness and pain can affect athletes and office workers alike. Many strength exercises (like plank or push-ups) and activities of our daily life (like computer work) tend to keep us in forearm pronation and wrist extension. This repetitive use leaves us strong in our wrist extensors and forearm pronators and weak in our wrist flexors and forearm supinators. This muscle imbalance can lead to limited wrist mobility, because we tend to lose mobility in the positions where we’re weak.
Signs of limited wrist mobility include:
- Feeling compression or pain in the wrist when you are on your hands and knees, or in a plank position.
- A tendency to set yourself up in planks with your hands more in line with your head than your shoulders.
- Difficulty straightening your elbows when you are on your hands and knees.
What to do? Here are some simple exercises to try, including some hand and wrist prep videos.
Thumb Push & Pull of War: Like a hand & knee push of war, but with your hand and thumb. Make sure to go both directions.
Finger Pinches: This helps with grasping small objects throughout your day.
Farmer’s Carry: This is good for improving grip strength in the hands and wrists. Grip strength is essential for performing daily activities like lifting and carrying grocery bags. The farmer’s carry also strengthens the muscles in your biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders, upper back, and more. To do it properly: Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms resting at your sides. Squat or bend and grab a weight in each hand. Engage the core and pull your shoulder blades down and back while standing back up, returning to an upright posture. Begin walking keeping your head up, shoulders back, and core muscles engaged for the time or distance you’d like.
Wrist Rotations: Great for flexibility and range of motion, and can be done anytime, anywhere.
Finger Pull Back: These feel so good and help to increase finger and hand flexibility and fine motor movement.
Finger Flicks: These release tension and increase flexibility and strength.
Wrist Prep video:
Wrist & Forearm Stretch video: