How long do you sit at your desk, on average, per day? Per week? Likely, that answer is a lot longer than what would be considered healthy. Unfortunately, most of us are required by our jobs to sit. To stare at a screen. To type. Of the innumerable repercussions caused by today’s demands, one of the most-overlooked is loss of grip strength.
Think about this: when typing, how are your hands positioned? Unless you are hyper-aware of postural consequences, your wrists probably remain in a perpetually extended state. If you see wrinkles at the tops of your wrists, they are extended. You are basically holding an isometric contraction, similar to what you might be asked to do in the gym with exercises like the wall sit or plank. Naturally, the contracted muscles are going to gain strength over time, whether we are conscience of it or not. And, like many topics I have covered in this column, these repetitive patterns will develop into strength-related muscle imbalances. Gross imbalance of strength in the forearm can lead to discomfort and pain in the wrists and hands, one of the most common complaints I receive from my clients.
Here’s the good news: this is such an easy problem to fix. Our wrist flexors (the underside of the forearm) are rarely called upon in daily life to work against resistance. Luckily, there are many simple exercises we can do to strengthen them (insert gutter-minded joke here).
Squeeze exercises: An ordinary stress ball will do, or you can go pro and purchase an inexpensive climbing ring at your local outdoor store. Resembling a rubber dog toy, I prefer and recommend the rings over stress balls simply because they are bigger around, thus recruiting all of your fingers; not just the first three. Keep your tool of choice in the car and shoot for 100 squeezes per hand, per commute. Who knows, maybe the exercise will reduce the instances of single finger salutes when dead-stopped on I-25 (though I doubt it).
Plate pinches: If you don’t have weight plates at home, incorporate this exercise into your warm-up at the gym. Take a weight plate and hold it between your thumb and first two fingers. This may, in itself, be a challenge. Once your muscles adapt, add leverage by bending from the elbow. Progress to extending the plate out fully from the shoulder.
Dumbbell Grip: Positioning a dumbbell on one end (start with an 8- or 10-pound weight), place your whole hand over the top of one head of the bell. Ideally, all fingers would be contributing to the exercise. Don’t be surprised if you drop it- this is harder than it sounds- just keep your toes out of harm’s way. Perform the same progression of exercises as the plate pinches (above).
Forearm and hand strength are so important for the things we enjoy, from playing golf to playing the guitar. Give these exercises a try and you’ll be happy with the results, I promise. With such a preventative skillset at your fingertips (literally), why wouldn’t you?
Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer.