Written by Nash Woods
Fixing imbalances is crucial to developing athletic performance while avoiding injury. Imbalances of the physical body will tend to occur anytime that one system is used more frequently than its antagonistic system. Just about every sport, hobby or lifestyle, has a quality of biased movement that over the course of months and years will develop some sort of imbalance and as the level of skill, strength or profession increases, the risk of injury becomes higher. In the mainstream methodology of CrossFit, one of these asymmetries that may be commonly found is the lack of balance in the flexors and extensors of the forearms and fingers.
CrossFit is an excellent program for forearm flexion. The flexor muscles in your forearm are responsible for finger and wrist flexion, hence the name, and gripping a barbell or pull-up bar is a great way to train these muscles. Workouts like “D.T.” are notoriously known for the forearm “pump” achieved through the high demands on the flexor muscles. Unfortunately, however, our methods tend to be biased towards movements that use flexion and this can lead to deficiencies that can be responsible for elbow and wrist pain. Although mobilization techniques can help ease the symptoms, long term remedy requires building a more balanced forearm to truly fix the root problem. The best way to do this is to strengthen the wrist and forearm extensors.
One of the ways to strengthen the extensors is a reverse grip curl. Grip a barbell with an overhand grip (pronated) with hands about shoulder width apart and keep the wrists stiff as you curl towards your chest.
Another simple exercise to correct the deficiency of the flexors is the reverse grip wrist curl. Set up a box or a bench to rest your forearms on extend at the wrists to your end possible range, a motion similar to revving the throttle of a motorcycle.
To truly balance the full breadth of the hands and forearms, however, the fingers will need attention, too. One of the best ways to do this can be done with a large bucket full of rice or sand. Drive your hand deep into the bucket and extend your fingers while removing your hand upwards and repeat. Spend a minute or so on each side and if you notice one side fatigues more quickly than the other, this may be another indication of imbalance that should be addressed.
A similar exercise can be done with a hair tie or rubber band. Encircle your thumb and fingers inside the loop extend against the elastic. This nearly mindless activity can be done at random intervals throughout your day as you can keep your tie or band on your wrist or in your pocket. Work to increase your endurance with the band and eventually work your way to a band of higher tension.
If you aren’t working to balance your body, you will eventually suffer, whether these imbalances come from your training methods or simply lifestyle and professional choices. If you’ve been experiencing wrist or elbow pain and mobilization exercises have served as only a temporary solution to a chronic problem, try introducing these exercises into your regular accessory work with light loads and high repetitions. Your body will thank you with pain-free and higher level performance!