Do your hands, wrist or elbows ache after training? Are you sporting callouses the size of several small moon craters? While I continue to maintain callouses are sexy, grip strength and basic mobility of the wrist/elbow can limit progress in the gym and quality of life.
Often, these areas are irritated by repetitive habits tasks such as typing for hours on our computer or texting. This means these already tightened up areas are at a greater risk of injury during exercises such as dead-lifts, front squats, pull ups, etc which require extreme ranges of motion and heavy gripping.
Over time poor training and repetitive habits can lead to chronic conditions such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and Tennis Elbow.
While I am no expert in this area, I have seen enough cases to understand what NOT to do and some basic fixes to get your training back on the right track:
1. What NOT to do
When it comes to sparing the wrist and elbow, the first cue I give my clients is to “sit back on the hands”. Much as we press through the heel to load the glutes and hamstrings, shifting the weight in to the back and outside of the palms ensures we bear the majority of our bodyweight through the triceps versus the wrist and elbow.
When performing movements such as push ups, barbell and dumbbell presses, the next thing to consider is wrist position. Rather than allowing the wrist to be loose and floppy, I want you to think about “dominating the bar” by gripping as hard as possible and attempting to maintain a locked out wrist. If you cannot do so, this means the weight is either too heavy or basic technique has not been established.
Moving on to exercises to avoid, an excellent article by strength coach Eric Cressey mentions that barbell and dumbbell triceps extension variations can kill the underside of the elbows while dips can irritate the medial aspect of the elbow in the bottom position, or just bother the AC joint at the shoulder girdle.
While I am somewhat on the fence about Dips for the general population (see the above cue to shift the weight in to the OUTSIDE of the hand), I acknowledge there are better exercises for those with shoulder dysfunction.
2. Stress relief
In terms of mobility issues of the wrist and elbow, one of the most common restrictions we find is a lack of wrist extension.
This makes sense if we consider that we spend the majority of our day flexing our wrists forward typing, holding heavy bags (man bags), dumbbells, etc. We also spend a good majority of this time with our shoulders hunched forward in a caveman like position meaning most wrist problems go hand in hand with shoulder dysfunction.
What this means in practical application is that if your wrist and elbow hurt, we need to keep in mind these areas are connected to the shoulder and look upstream first. With this idea in mind, there are a few important items to address when combating sore wrists (click on each link for video):
As a flexibility routine, I recommend performing this series of drills during off-days and before your workout.
3. Re-working the problem
Though it is easy enough to identify the problem, one quote I will always remember is that you cannot stretch your way out of stupid. This basically means that if we continue to adopt the same habits we can continue to expect the same result.
While the training tips above were a good first step, you will get the best result for addressing the things we do most throughout the day. For most, I recommend a basic primer on proper hand placement while typing.
The next question when daily habits are addressed is how we can continue to strengthen the triceps and biceps without trashing the wrist and elbow.
Generally we want to stay away from exercises such as skull crushers and tricep extensions which involve the elbow as a horizontal hinge. Two exercises which I have found to fit the bill for this purpose are the incline close grip press, and thestanding cable pushdown.
For both exercises, I recommend keeping the elbows tucked tightly in to the body, NOT locking the elbows out and shifting the weight in to the outside/back of the hand.
What I really hope to underscore with this article is that much of the pain endure in these areas can be prevented or eliminated with simple maintainance.
But even I will admit this only scratches the surface. As with all injuries or pain, it is always important to ice with acute injury or pain and see a doctor or specialist when these things persist.
Do you currently experience pain in this area? What are some stretches you use in your own routine? Any resources you recommend for knowledge in this area? Drop some info below and contribute to the discussion in our forum!