It's All In The Wrists

As a professional fitness trainer I have worked with all ages and fitness levels, male and female, throughout the past 14 years. Over the past several years I have noticed a commonality in even young and fit individuals, including athletes. It’s not speed, agility, cellulite or body fat. These issues continue to fluctuate on a wide basis, plaguing the older and sedentary, favoring the young and fit. The link I am referring to is weak wrists. Placing clients in various positions, including but not limited to pushups and Triceps dips, I often receive feedback on the discomfort this pressure causes in the wrists.

I don’t have a scientific study as to why this is a wide spread phenomenon. Anecdotally, however, I have a pretty good idea of why this is. You may also figure this out before even reading to the end of this paragraph. Typing on a keyboard does not put stress on the wrist, at least not in the way to entice bone density. Dialing the cell phone, clicking the remote and alas, hoisting a cold beer, all do not add to the bone density of the wrist. Additionally, people of all ages are doing less and less manual labor. Shoveling, planting and hoeing in the garden will all cause wrist bone density. As will chopping wood, hauling an anchor and even a garden hose. Pushing a lawn mower and even a vacuum cleaner will put appropriate pressure on our wrists, and forearms, and entice bone density.

In our modern society, however, when is the last time you did any or all of these activities on a regular basis? Certainly our children don’t. And adolescents run in horror from chores, hiding on Facebook or Twitter. Even our young athletes, pressured at early ages to perform and achieve, are not receiving the benefit of a balanced workout.

Why should we care if our wrists are weak? As with any other part of the body, we need skeletal muscle to ensure strength and strong bones to avoid injury. Losing skeletal muscle not only weakens us but also shows us that that particular part of the body is vulnerable. Without stress causing our bodies to build lean mass (stress referring to proper physical activity) the underlying bone may be porous, or weak, leaving us vulnerable to injury.

As we grow we all need to ensure we have adequate physical activity, adding lean mass to our body, avoiding too much fat on our bodies and ensuring appropriate stress to our skeletal frames to build dense bones. Without strong bones in our wrists and forearms we are very vulnerable to injury as we get older.

A fall, or simple trip, where we put our hands down in a protective reaction, may mean a broken wrist or a break further up in the Radius and Ulna (both bones running from the hand to the elbow.) In addition, we need to stress the muscles of the hands and forearms in a positive way, to maintain strength as we grow older. Although this article is not intended to diagnosis or treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or other wrist/hand problems, appropriate stress on the hand, wrist and forearm may help avoid problems in the future.

Many of us have heard about “repetitive stress” injuries, which can effect various parts of the body from different daily and/or occupational tasks. Inappropriate, repetitive stress to the wrist may occur with data entry work or simply too much time spent at the keyboard.

Appropriate stress means we are challenging our body in a conservative, progressive approach with positive results. Applying this to the hand, wrist and forearm means we would not go out and attempt 100 full pushups when we first begin to exercise. As with any other exercise, forearm stress should begin with light intensity and progress appropriately. New comers should begin with wall pushups, standing upright and pressing the body away from the wall. Progress to bench pushups. A sturdy workout bench or even picnic bench will do. When these are easy the next step would be to bring the pushup to the floor. With all pushups remember to stop your range of motion at 90 degrees at both the elbow and shoulder joint.

A popular exercise to stress or train the forearm is a “wrist curl.” The forearm is rested upon a bench with the palm facing towards the face, holding a hand weight. The fist is gently clenched and the hand curls towards the face while the forearm does not move. This is great for the muscles and tendons but will not stress the bone or add to bone density.

A simple but great exercise is a supine medicine ball throw. Buy a four pound to eight pound medicine ball. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Holding the medicine ball directly over the chest extend the arms and throw the ball up. As the ball begins to descend, start to bend the elbows and receive the catch. If you have a partner you can also play medicine ball catch. You can also get into the yard and mow the lawn and plant a garden!