How to Improve Wrist Mobility

Understand these multi-joint muscles to maximize your wrist mobility

By Coach E

how to improve wrist mobility

Whether you like to swing a golf club, impress in the kitchen, or even drive a car, wrist mobility is vital. Try this drill to keep your wrists healthy and mobile.

Why Wrist Mobility Matters

Well-rounded wrist mobility is crucial for so many things you LIKE to do, and so many things you NEED to do.

Sport movements like swinging a tennis racket or a baseball bat both require multidirectional wrist mobility. But, so do tasks like cooking, painting, opening a brand new jar of jam, struggling through putting together an Ikea chair and steering your car around the block.

But if you spend most of your time typing at your desk or texting on your phone (i.e., pretty much everyone), chances are high that your wrists are pretty stiff. And chances are also high that you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how your wrists move or getting them to move through their full range of motion.

The most well-known movements of your wrist include flexion, or moving your palm toward your forearm and wrist extension, moving the back of your hand toward your forearm.

The most well-known movements of your wrist include flexion, or moving your palm toward your forearm and wrist extension, moving the back of your hand toward your forearm.

Image by www.researchgate.net

But wait, there’s more!

There’s also ulnar deviation, or moving your pinky toward your forearm (in the direction of your ulna), and radial deviation, or moving your thumb toward your forearm (in the direction of your radius).

Wrist Anatomy

Your wrist is surrounded by multi-joint muscles that span several joints. For the most part, these muscles start in your forearm and cross the radiocarpal joint between your radius and the first row of small carpals, or wrist bones [1].

Your wrist is surrounded by multi-joint muscles that span several joints. For the most part, these muscles start in your forearm and cross the radiocarpal joint between your radius and the first row of small carpals, or wrist bones.

They continue on to cross the midcarpal joint between the first and second row of carpals and the carpometacarpal joints between your carpals and the long metacarpal bones that make up the base of your fingers.

But these muscles aren’t done yet and many continue on to cross the metacarpophalangeal joints between the metacarpal bones and the first phalangeal bone of your fingers (i.e., your first knuckle), and even the interphalangeal joints between the more distal phalangeal bones.

hand and wrist bones
Image by www.physio-pedia.com

Multi-Joint Movements

That’s a lot of names and a lot of joints. But what does it mean for you?

It means that you’ve got to combine movements at more than one joint if you want to achieve the fully lengthened fully stretch or fully contract the muscles of your wrist.

Take for example, your wrist extensors that run along the back side of your hand.

To fully shorten these muscles, you’ve got to extend both your wrist and the joints of your fingers, otherwise some of the muscles will not be fully shortened position.

Likewise, to fully lengthen these muscles, you need to not only flex your wrist, but flex your fingers into a fist so that the muscles.

The 2 techniques you’ll learn below incorporate this anatomy and provide a thorough way to work the multi-joint muscles of your wrist.

Wrist CARs (Fist)

This first technique introduces your wrist to Controlled Articular Rotations or CARs. For this exercise, you’ll keep your hand in a fist to train fully lengthened extensors and fully shortened flexors.

Keep your elbow straight to help isolate the movement at your wrist. And aim for your fist to be at about 40-50% of your max strength – you don’t need to do a death grip, but you do want your hands to be firm and active.

  • Extend your arm out in front of you and make a firmly gripped fist
  • Maintain the first and as you slowly and with control move your wrist into your max range of radial deviation
  • Continue to move into your maximum wrist flexion, followed by ulnar deviation, then wrist extension
  • Complete 3 circles moving in each direction, then repeat on the other wrist

Wrist CARs (Extended Flare)

The second exercise is similar to the first, but with a crucial difference.

You’ll again be completing Controlled Articular Rotations, but this time, your fingers will be flared out and extended. This way, you’ll train fully shortened extensors and fully lengthened flexors.

  • Extend your arm out in front of you and flare your fingers out as wide as you can
  • Keep your fingers flared out as you slowly and with control move your wrist into your max range of radial deviation
  • Continue to move slowly and with control into your maximum wrist flexion, followed by ulnar deviation, then wrist extension
  • Complete 3 circles moving in each direction, then repeat on the other wrist

These 2 simple exercises will train your wrist muscles through their full ranges –  from fully shortened to fully lengthened.

If you don’t keep these muscles moving and working through their full ranges, you’re going to start to lose range. And because of how we tend to use our wrists all day – flexed over a keyboard, mouse, or smartphone – you might already notice that your wrist mobility is a little subpar when you try these drills.

Stick with the exercises and really focus on moving with as much control as you can. Blood flow to the joints of your wrist and hand will start to improve, your muscles will be challenged to work in their full range, and you’ll be focusing on incrementally increasing your range of motion.

Add in this exercise daily and both your sports performance and your dexterity performing every day activities should improve.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve the strength, mobility, and control of your wrist and hands, check out my Upper Limb Control course. This program is full of progressions for taking your wrists, hands, and overall performance to the next level.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

  • M. McCann says:

    I’ve seen a similar routine as the beginning sequence for hand grip training. In trying to maintain my forearms, wrists and hands I repeat something similar with arms abducted 45 degrees to side. And repeat with Arms extended behind. This helps retrain Bi/Triceps and opens neck, shoulder and arm fascia.

    I’m sending this link to many of my clients.
    Thanks this and your ‘damage control ‘ videos are great.

    • Coach E says:

      Nice thanks for the additional tips Michael. Definitely useful to hit all those multi-joint muscles.

      • Mike says:

        Interesting client follow up: one client’s work turned into a couple weeks of data entry, her arms, shoulder and neck were all locked up. After treating her I had shown her how to do your routine and sent the link. She not only for that routine helpful, she reports she’s teaching her office mates and the receptionist . 👍

        I believe the reason the additional position are necessary is that for the most part when doing the exercises in front only reinforces the tightness often found in the forward head and shoulder posture. Taking a que from one of Pavel’s tips and from Active Isolated Stretching, I try to take advantage of exercises that can be modified.
        Cheers

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