With several thousand handstand challengers now, I get a lot of people who come to me with the same questions: “My wrists are too inflexible for handstands! How can I fix this?” or “I have wrist pain or hand numbness when performing handstands, what can I do to overcome this?”. And for the longest time, I needed to tell those people to seek out a good wrist mobility program, or to see a qualified healthcare pro. Then I remembered I knew Jarlo Ilano from Gold Medal Bodies, a qualified and practicing physical therapist (MPT) since 1998 and board certified orthopedic clinical specialist (OCS)!! I reached out to him for advice to give to handstand challengers and enthusiasts, and he wrote this terrific post to help you guys out. Take it away Jarlo!
Wrist and hand pain is a common complaint for many people as they begin handstand work, especially for those that haven’t been involved in consistent weight-bearing activities on their hands. Which is to say, the majority of people!
It’s completely natural to have discomfort as you begin handbalancing training. You are simply not used to supporting your bodyweight through your hands.
It’s often a simple matter of spending the proper amount of time and activity in conditioning and strengthening the wrists and hands.
BEGIN WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS
Your best bet for avoiding wrist problems is prevention because injuries to this area are often long lasting and can make you more vulnerable to re-injury. Wrist pain can derail your training and stop your progress in its tracks.
The key is to find the proper amount of time and activity. Too little won’t prepare you and too much can lead to injury.
A quick internet search reveals a wide variety of wrist exercises, some better than others, and only a few specifically useful for handstand preparation. But before you follow the recommendation of any famous handstand guru, you’d be best served to start at the beginning.
Work on the primary wrist motions of flexion and extension in weight bearing…THEN build strength and flexibility with flexion and extension alone, before moving on to “preparation” activities that may be inappropriate for you. Those advanced “preparation” exercises often require personalization and modification to fit your needs.
If you are trying to perform a handstand, but can’t extend your wrist (bend it backwards) to at least 90 degrees without a lot of force, then you are already setting yourself up for problems. You are basically attempting to place your entire bodyweight through an inflexible structure.
The same goes for wrist flexion (bending it forward). Though it is not the same position as in a handstand, it is part of having the adequate range of motion for proper positioning and hand and forearm muscle control. Decreased motion in this position can indicate that your wrist joints are inadequately prepared for the rigors of consistent, daily handstand training.
FOUNDATIONAL WRIST MOVEMENTS FOR FLEXIBILITY
These videos show the most fundamental wrist movements and stretches. They are outtakes from the Gold Medal Bodies Focused Flexibility Program and serve as both stretches and as wrist conditioning, depending on how you modify the repetition and force of pressure through your hands.
For improvement of wrist flexibility by itself, follow the directions as stated in the videos. But for wrist strengthening and conditioning exercise you will need to adjust the exercises to fit your needs.
Start with 10 pulses, followed by a 30-second hold, for a total of 3 sets each. Rest for one minute between sets.
Start with 10 pulses, followed by a 30-second hold, for a total of 3 sets. Rest for one minute between sets.
BUILDING STRENGTH IN THE WRISTS
There is quite a bit of strength-endurance needed for holding a handstand safely, especially in the beginning stages of training when you use a wall for assistance and hold for long periods of time.
To train with proper handstand form, you need to focus on repetition and increasing the time you are loading weight onto your hands. This will condition your body in the appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the wrists and hands are often the weak links in the chain, so they may give out before the rest of your body receives the proper training effect.
To modify the above stretches and turn them into a strengthening exercise, you need to adjust the amount of pressure you place through your fingers and hands and perform the movements as repetitions rather than holding for a stretch…just like you would train biceps curls or bench presses or any other feat of strength.
To do this, shift your weight forward onto your hands and apply enough pressure so that you experience fatigue and difficulty continuing after 10 to 15 repetitions. I hesitate to say the word “failure”, but you should feel as if the last repetitions in the set are difficult, and to continue on would require taking pressure off your hands.
- Wrist flexion strengthening: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, with a minute of rest in between sets.
- Wrist extension strengthening: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, with a minute of rest in between sets.
RECOVERING FROM AN INJURY
If you’re suffering from nagging pain or numbness, then you need to first, seek a health care professional. These are signs of an injury, and you need to get checked out and cleared to start any handstand exercises or wrist strengthening. If you think you may have an injury at all, go and get checked by a doctor or physical therapist! This article is no substitute for appropriate medical care!
Following an injury, there is an acute period of significant pain and it’s best to perform range of motion exercises in as much pain free repetition as possible. It could be as simple as active wrist flexion and extension, and wrist circles. If you have been prescribed exercises by your physician or physical therapist, then that is what you need to do.
As you improve and are ready to begin exercise again, you can modify the above exercises to fit a recovery protocol to improve circulation and slowly prepare your wrist and hand joint and soft tissues for increased work.
Begin in the same position and apply pressure to your hands by shifting your weight forward as before, closely following the caveat of “no pain(!)”, and apply enough pressure to experience moderate fatigue when reaching at least 30 repetitions. This high repetition count encourages circulation of both blood and synovial joint fluid to assist in healing, as well as preparation for harder work.
- Wrist flexion recovery: 3 sets of 30 repetitions with 30 seconds of rest in between sets.
- Wrist extension recovery: 3 sets of 30 repetitions with 30 seconds of rest in between sets.
Follow these movements up with the flexibility protocol after these exercises, again closely paying heed to having no pain in the performance.
STEP-BY-STEP WRIST CONDITIONING PLAN
The following is a step by step plan integrating the above wrist exercises into your handstand training practice.
- Perform the wrist flexion and extension weight bearing movements, with high repetition and light pressure. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 20-30 repetitions, again using light pressure. This is simply a warmup.
- Perform plank holds with an emphasis on leaning your shoulders over and past your hands to condition the wrists and hands. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10-20 second holds. This move is demonstrated in this video.
- Move on to your handstand training with your appropriate progression and plan.
- Perform the strength-endurance protocol for your wrists as described above.
- Finish the session with the wrist flexibility protocol as described above.
Following this plan with an emphasis on wrist and hand preparation, conditioning, and flexibility will assist in preventing injury and properly preparing you for hand balance training.
Adding the few extra minutes it takes to perform the exercises can save you from weeks of frustration and poor progress because of wrist problems. Take the time now to prepare yourself the right way and reap the benefits of consistent steady training.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you feel you are ready to tackle your wrist inflexibility?
Did this information work for you?
Do you have any questions for Jarlo?
Let us know!
Note: Jarlo and the rest of the guys at Gold Medal Bodies recently released an amazing, totally comprehensive stretching program to help you conquer wrist flexibility and other flexibility goals, like the splits. If you happen to buy their flexibility program, I do receive a commission. I don’t do this often, so when I do, it’s only because its a product or service that I would use myself, have used myself or would recommend to my close friends!