What’s the number one thing I hear about planks?
“It hurts my wrists and my hands!”
There’s a good reason for that…. our hands and forearms are usually CRAZY TIGHT!!
I have a client who was a high level competitive volleyball player. We’ve been working together for years, and we know that her hands are tight and that she has well-entrenched patterns as a result of her sport. Look at the difference in her hand placement before and after a series of hand and finger exercises:
|Before: the left hand is still super tight and pulls away from the floor.
After: the right hand is able to make way more contact!
|Before: tension in the hand affects not only cupping of the hand and palm,
you can see her whole forearm is pulled off centre!
After: her hand is flatter and her forearm is more upright.
If you are a movement student and want to get moving, here is the exercise series: Movement Masterclass: Hands and Fingers. You will need a set of Yoga Tune Up balls to complete the whole series, but if you haven’t got any you can substitute a tennis ball. There is some discussion in the first part of the video, and the actual hand sequence starts part way in. Try doing the series every day for a while and see how your planks and downward dogs change!
There is a lot of discussion in the movement world these days about how to put your hands on the floor. There is the flat hand approach and the natural hand approach. They both have value and are appropriate in certain circumstances, but they both need a greater context than just the hand on the floor. The position of your hands is inextricably linked to what’s going on in your forearms and your shoulders.
There is a spiral effect that runs from the shoulder joint, down to the elbow, through the forearm, the wrist, the palm of the hand and finally into the fingers. Tensions in any one of those areas contributes to function and dysfunction everywhere else!
The natural hand position is definitely more comfortable for most people. It makes it easier to get the elbows to neutral (where the eye of the elbow is pointing forward), lessens the pressure in the wrists and fingers and provides better support for the shoulders. Bingo! Let’s do that, right?
For sure, some of the time it is a great idea to allow for less tension so you can work through the pose or sequence, to minimise discomfort or to actively seek a connection through the outer rim of the hand and trigger more work in the lats. But it doesn’t mean you should ALWAYS do that, any more than that you should ALWAYS use the flat hand.
The key is to understand WHY the position isn’t comfortable and deal with that. We live in a culture that doesn’t require a wide variety of hand movements. We don’t climb trees for food, we don’t carry that food a distance, we don’t make our clothes, our dishes, our tools. We don’t use our hands for many tasks that don’t have tools! We do manipulate computer key boards and mobile devices, drive cars, carry purses, use TV remotes. All those activities put the shoulder, forearm, hand and fingers into an internally rotated position and then do very small actions. Doing those things over and over creates a pattern, an organisation of the muscles all along the spiral, that makes it hard to plant the hand on the floor without some discomfort.
Rather than decide that one hand position is “better” than another, why not address ALL the parts involved, recognise the limiting factors and work to change them? Sometimes let your hands move out to a more comfortable position and move freely. Sometimes allow for a smaller range and less load and work to unwind the tensions that limit your movement. It’s the movement equivalent of sometimes having cake, sometimes having kale and sometimes getting into precise supplements to make sure all your needs are addressed!
When you are being a mover for yourself, it’s great to be able to enjoy all the hands-on-the-floor poses and exercises like plank, downward dog, crawling, push ups and the like. When you are being a movement teacher it is critical that you see and understand the bodies in front of you. You need to know when and under what circumstances you cue your clients to load their tissues to avoid injury or pain and to increase strength and mobility safely and effectively.
Ok, head back up to the top of the post, follow the link for the Mini Masterclass and go work your hands! Then hit the mat and cycle through all your favourite quadruped series, some down dogs, a few planks, some push ups and finish off with some crawling.
Every body is different. You bring your own history to the mat and so your results will be different from your best buddy. Or different from me, for that matter!
How do your hands and wrists feel? Does this series make a difference for you or your clients?
Let me know in the comments or reply to shoot me an email!