These 5 Wrist Mobility Exercises Can Keep You More Comfortable on the Bike
Spending hours in the saddle can do a number on your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as your wrists... wait, what?!
Even though cycling is typically considered a leg-dominant activity, it can also impact your upper-half, including your hands and wrists. In fact, wrist pain is “fairly common” among cyclists, especially for cyclists who ride for two-plus hours at a time, says Craig Secor, P.T., D.P.T., a Richmond, Virginia-based physical therapist and bike fit specialist.
Many times, wrist pain while cycling is linked to a less-than-ideal body position on the bike, says Jennifer Paras-Tan, P.T., D.P.T., founder of JenniCycle Physical Therapy. This can stem from your bike fit. But in some cases, it’s due to a lack of wrist mobility that can impede your ability to reach for the brakes or comfortably grip the handlebars.
Here, we explain all you need to know about wrist mobility and cycling, including what it is, why it matters on the bike, and how you can improve it with simple at-home wrist mobility exercises.
What is wrist mobility?
Simply put, wrist mobility means you can comfortably move your wrist joint through various ranges of motion, says Paras-Tan. Mobility requires both strength and flexibility, she explains.
There are four ways you can move your wrist: flexion (bending your wrist forward so your fingers point down), extension (bending your wrist backward so your fingers point towards you), ulnar deviation (movement of the wrist towards the pinky), and radial deviation (movement of the wrist towards the thumb).
As humans, there are “normal” ranges of motion we’re supposed to have in the wrists. For example, it’s ideal to have about 80 degrees of flexion and 70 degrees of extension, says Paras-Tan. Now, if your mobility is slightly less than these ranges—say, you have 70 degrees of flexion—it doesn’t automatically mean you have poor range of motion or that you need to improve your mobility, says Paras-Tan. It really becomes a problem when your mobility (or lack thereof) stops you from doing daily activities, like opening jars, twisting door knobs, or, in the context of cycling, reaching for your brakes or comfortably gripping your handlebars.
Why does wrist mobility matter in cycling?
First things first: When it comes to cycling-induced wrist pain (as well as hand pain, numbness, and tingling), “the position of your body on the bike is way more important than the mobility of your wrist,” says Secor. That’s because how you’re set up on the bike can affect how much pressure is placed on your hands and your wrists, he explains.
For example, if your handlebars are tilted forward, that can stretch the top part of your wrists, especially the area close to the thumb, says Paras-Tan. This can cause pain and tingling that can sabotage your performance and may even cause you to stop your ride early because of the discomfort, says Paras-Tan.
“In general,” says Secor, “we want to try to decrease the amount of pressure through your hand and your wrist to be able to ride for long periods of time without discomfort.”
By adopting a more upright versus hunched forward posture on the bike–which you can achieve by adjusting the saddle, raising your handlebars, adjusting the stem length, and/or doing core strength work—you can decrease hand and wrist discomfort, says Secor.
In general, it’s ideal to have a mostly neutral wrist position on the bike (meaning, your wrist is in line with your forearm), says Secor. This decreases the amount of compression on your nerves and reduces your chances of tingling, numbness, or pain. If you’re fit properly to your bike, then your wrist should be in a fairly neutral position, he explains.
That said, the amount of wrist mobility needed for cycling depends on what kind of cycling you’re doing. For example, if you’re mountain biking with flat handlebars, you’ll probably need a little bit of wrist extension to grip the bars, says Secor. If your handlebars are really wide and you’re gripping right on the ends, you’ll need some radial deviation, he adds. And, if your bike has a grip twist shifter (basically, a gear shifter that you twist to operate), you’ll need some wrist flexion, he says.
Now, if you have limited wrist mobility, it can impede your ability to safely operate your bike, says Paras-Tan. That’s because the muscles that move your fingers are also the muscles that extend your wrist. So if you’re curling your fingers trying to reach for the brakes, but you have decreased flexibility on your wrist extensors, this may limit your ability to squeeze the brakes.
Subpar wrist mobility can also just make long rides painful, because your wrist may be put into positions that it’s not able to comfortably hold. By improving your wrist mobility, you can maneuver your bike more safely and endure longer rides without pain, says Paras-Tan.
5 Wrist Mobility Exercises You Can Do at Home
If you’re experiencing wrist or hand pain, numbness, or tingling while cycling, your best bet is to check in with a bike fit specialist. They can make sure the bike is properly fitted to you and propose adjustments that would reduce compression on your hands and wrists.
Beyond that, doing wrist mobility exercises may help if your pain on the bike is caused by a true lack of mobility and your wrists feel chronically tight. To up your wrist mobility, try the following exercises from Paras-Tan.
How to use this list: You can do the first three wrist mobility exercises, which are stretches, as often as twice a day. Perform them up to the point of a tolerable stretch, not a painful stretch. Do the fourth move, a strength exercise, two times a week to start. After two weeks, progress to three times a week, says Paras-Tan. Follow the reps listed below for each exercise. You will need a flat surface, like a table, chair, or bench, and a set of light dumbbells.
1. Wrist Extension Bodyweight Stretch
From a seated or standing position, extend left arm straight in front of elbow, at about shoulder height. Bend left wrist so fingers point down toward the ground. Use right hand to hold the left in this position. You should feel a stretch on the back of left hand and on the top of left forearm. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. That’s 1 rep. Relax and repeat. Do 3 reps. Then switch sides. Make sure the stretch is gentle; if you feel a pulling sensation or any pain, back off.
2. Wrist Flexion Bodyweight Stretch
From a seated or standing position, extend left arm straight in front of elbow, at about shoulder height. Bend wrist so fingers are pointing straight up. Use right hand to hold the left in this position. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of left forearm. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. That’s 1 rep. Relax and repeat. Do 3 reps. Then switch sides.
3. Wrist Extension Table Stretch
You’ll need a flat surface for this stretch, like a table, desk, or counter. Place both palms flat on the surface, fingers on the table and pointing away from body and elbows straight. Shift bodyweight forward until you feel a stretch in forearms. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. That’s 1 rep. Relax and repeat. Do 3 reps.
4. Wrist Flexion Table Stretch
You’ll need a flat surface for this stretch. Place backs of hands on a flat surface, fingers pointing toward body and elbows straight. Lean back until you feel a stretch in the front of wrist and front of forearm. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds. That’s 1 rep. Relax and repeat. Do 3 reps.
5. Wrist Curls
You’ll need a light set of dumbbells. (After two weeks, progress to a heavier weight, one that you can comfortably do 10-12 reps with, says Paras-Tan.) From a seated or standing position, rest forearms on a table or thighs with wrist hanging at the edge. Hold a weight in each hand, palms facing up and thumbs pointing away from body. With control, curl wrist forward so hands move toward body, then reverse and curl wrist back so hands move away from body. That’s 1 rep. Repeat. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
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