Strong and mobile wrist extensors help you in just about every sport. The drill I’ll teach you challenges these muscles in a whole new way for lasting gains in strength and mobility.
What are the Wrist Extensors?
Strong wrists are key to our workouts and daily activities, whether or not we realize it.
Maneuvering a hockey stick, taking down an opponent in the ring, performing a pushup, even changing lightbulbs around the house demand both strength and mobility in the wrists.
Your wrist extensors, which work to extend both your wrists and your fingers play a big part n this. If your palm is facing toward the ground and you activate the wrist to point the fingers up, you’ve got wrist extension.
Your wrist extensors are a group of 9 muscles that run along the posterior of your forearm, crossing your wrist, and running along the top of your hand to your digits . There are 2 layers of extensor muscles – a more superficial layer and a deeper layer.
While these 9 muscles all work for wrist extension, the individual muscles can aid in other movements. This means that adding additional movements to wrist extension can help us target specific extensors.
For example, adding radial deviation (moving your wrists toward each other if your palms are faced down) to wrist extension can selectively fire up one particular muscle – the extensor carpi radialis – relative to other muscles.
The extensor carpi ulnaris, on the other hand, becomes more engaged when we add ulnar deviation to wrist extension.
This idea will come in handy as we use the technique I’ll teach you today to intelligently activate and elongate your wrist extensors.
Why do the Wrist Extensors Get Tight?
Tightness in these wrist extensors is a common issue, and one that probably gets less attention than it deserves. Part of the reason it’s so common has to do with the way we live our modern lives.
For many, many folks, the vast majority of the workday is spent typing at a computer. And at this pose, your wrists are slightly extended.
That means that for about 8 hours a day, your wrist extensors are shortened and contracted – no wonder they are tight!
And even if you don’t use a computer all day at work, you probably spend a good deal of time on your smartphone, a hobby that also generates a whole lot of extension time.
What’s more, many other repetitive tasks can cause extended time in an extended pose – from gymnastic style exercises to playing an instrument.
Why Static Stretching Isn’t the Answer
If you are new to Precision Movement or my way of coaching, at this point you might be thinking, “well if my extensors are tight, I just need to do a few stretches.”
And this seems like the obvious approach based on what a lot of us were taught.
But the real issue lies in restoring wrist MOBILITY not wrist FLEXIBILITY.
If we were just to focus on increasing wrist flexibility, sure, let’s throw in some static stretches and call it a day. But all this does is increase range of motion without any increase in strength or control and worse – the increased range of motion doesn’t stick.
This approach sets you up for wrist injury – flexibility without muscular strength, active control, and joint stability is a painful injury waiting to happen.
Our bodies are often smarter than we are. Which in this case means that a focus on flexibility creates a neuromuscular system that is prone to reflexively tightening back up again.
Your body senses that these ranges with no control are a dangerous place to play, so it tightens back up to protect itself.
Talk about a waste of time and energy.
So, let’s skip over the static stretching and jump instead to a wrist extensor stretch method that WORKS.
PNF Stretching. UPGRADED.
The method I’ll teach you today is so effective because it’s not a static stretch but a technique similar to those from a system of rehabilitation you may have heard of called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF).
Instead of typical static stretching, one of the techniques from the PNF system involves alternating periods of contracting and relaxing at end range.
One of the benefits of the contract-relax method of stretching is that it inhibits the myotatic stretch reflex, which is a reflex designed to prevent muscle tears by contracting muscles when they’re being lengthened.
This reflex happens very quickly and automatically, but when we actively contract and relax the muscles, we override this unconscious reflex, allowing us to achieve greater range.
Research has found PNF techniques to be effective. For example, one study of college athletes found that PNF stretch techniques increased hamstring flexibility by nearly 10% while static stretching had no effect over the course of the study .
PNF can have some real, impactful results. And what’s great about the technique I’ll teach you today is that it takes PNF to the next level.
I call this an End Range Activation (ERA) sequence. This is a method I’ve come up with to improve upon the methods and success of PNF.
It combines the standard contract-relax-antagonist-contract (CRAC) approach that strengthens the agonists (muscles that bring you into the range), the antagonists (muscles that bring you out of the range), as well as the other muscles that can affect the range, which in this case includes the radial and ulnar deviators.
Strengthening all of these muscle groups at an end range of motion inhibits the neuromuscular system reflex to tighten muscles at ranges where stability and control aren’t present, giving you gains that last.
The Wrist Extensors ERA Sequence
When your wrists are flexed, your extensors are elongated.
As detailed in the anatomy section above, certain wrist extensors also extend the fingers, thus to fully elongate all of these muscles requires wrist and finger flexion. So be sure to maintain a strong grip with the fist throughout the drill.
- Take your right hand by your side with arm bent and elbow at 90 degrees.
- Make a fist with your hand and then flex your wrist fully so that your fingers move closer toward your forearm
- Hold this position as you place your other hand underneath your fist and press upwards. Resist with the fist and hold for about 5 seconds
- Next move your hand to the top of your fist and press down, again resisting and holding for about 5 seconds
- Repeat this pattern by pressing on both the inside and outside of your fist, holding and resisting the press for about 5 seconds each
- Switch arms and repeat entire sequence
So, what’s happening here? This sequence is helping you activate and train different muscle pairs and movements to build long, strong wrist extensors.
As you push up against the fist, you fire up the flexors even more as they resist the upward pressure that is trying to move the first back into extension.
Pushing down against the knuckles fires up the extensors. Pushing laterally, away from the midline, fires up the radial deviators. And pushing in medially fires up the ulnar deviators.
It’s a simple but powerful way to lengthen the extensors and gain wrist flexion range.
This is very useful for any sports that require gripping and holding on to an opponent, swinging a golf club, exercises on gymnastics rings and more.
The technique is from a course I’ve released called Upper Limb Control.
If you have issues like tennis elbow, golfers elbow, wrist sprains, or tightness in the forearm, then this course addresses the root causes of these issues by restoring proper function, strength and mobility. Learn more about Upper Limb Control here.