3 Exercises to Get Rid of Hand Pain When Riding

Nov 30, 2019
by Liz Koch  
Many of us mountain bikers have had hand pain or will have hand pain. We have changed our grips, had a bike fit, changed our suspension, and many many more things. Those items have been talked about and will continue to change for different bikes and for different riding types. Many of those are very specific to you the individual, your hand size, and your local trails. In this article, I’m going to talk about an area that doesn’t get as much press, but can make a big difference in hand pain as well as for other areas of our bodies, including our back and our necks.

When we think about how we are connected to the bike, we know that is through our hands, feet and sometimes our butt if we are sitting down.

So that makes the connection of the hands and feet to the bike very important as well as how those two connect via the body. As you increase weight through your feet, you lighten up the weight on your hands. Another way of taking pressure off your hands is to be more stable through your trunk and your hips.

What… Pressure can be taken off your hands and held with your trunk and hips?

Yes!

I want you to think about a deadlift. You are lifting your hands up (typically with weights in them) and holding that load through your hips, trunk, and feet.

Now when we place our butt on the saddle then it takes away the ability to load your hips as much and makes the connection between feet to hands more from butt to hands. This then makes your trunk control/stability more important. Note: you don’t want to take all weight off your feet if your butt is on the saddle.

Demonstrating position
Good Morning Demonstration

As you can see in both pictures, you can use the same muscles to help offload your hands as you use when you are deadlifting


This main idea/concept of your trunk unloading your hands can help you to decrease the pressure and grip strain needed for biking. Now there are definitely times in biking that you will need to have more pressure through your hands, even sustained at times. However, the ability to unweight your hands and give them a bit of a break when you can, is very important.

So I’m going to give you 3 exercises that work on your strength and control of your hips and trunk to understand how to unweight your hands. Therefore, decreasing the pain in them, or letting them have a break during your ride. Another base exercise for this is a deadlift (good morning) adding in different rotational forces for your trunk to hold against them. Doing staggered stances and only holding the weight with one arm are key to challenge your trunk and hip control.

** Now there are always other reasons for hand pain. This is just a focus on an area that isn’t discussed as much, please seek care from medical professional if pain persists**


Exercise 1: Sitting and Unweighting Hands
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Objective
- To understand the concept of how to unweight hands from a sitting position and not move body

Perform:
- As needed to understand the control aspect to be able to transfer to biking

Things to Note:
- Don’t move trunk
- You will place more weight through feet, but hold some of the weight through trunk not all through feet



Exercise 2: Tall Kneeling Hip Hinge Hold
Views: 3,248    Faves: 1    Comments: 0


Objective
- To understand the concept of how to unweight hands using hips and trunk

Perform:
- As needed to understand the control aspect to be able to transfer to biking
- Great warm up for deadlifting
- As needed for core exercise

Things to Note:
- Your back shouldn’t be stressed, if it is, then engage/tighten your core more, or straighten back more



Exercise 3: Hip Hinge Hold with Arm Exercise
Views: 2,432    Faves: 4    Comments: 0


Objective
- To strengthen trunk, hip, and shoulder muscles with rotational stability for biking

Perform:
- Daily
- Do 10-15 reps 2-3 sets

Things to Note:
- Your back shouldn’t be stressed, if it is, then engage/tighten your core more
- Your Pec shouldn’t be working but actually stretching during exercise
- You will be using your shoulder blade muscles



About the Author:
Liz Koch, PT, DPT is a physical therapist that knows exactly what it is like to have pain. She has been to many PTs over her life, which directed her to becoming one. She has been a mountain biker since she was a kid and has recently opened up her own clinic in Western North Carolina, Blue Ridge BioMechanics. She wants to share knowledge so you don’t have to be in pain when riding and you can strengthen your body to not get into pain. She has focused this mission to Rad Mountain Biking Ladies on Facebook and through her online business, The Ride Life. Let her know if you have questions.

*If you have pain please consult with a doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation, Liz Koch and companies are without liability if you injure yourself while performing these exercises*



90 Comments

  • 37 2
 How to get rid of hand pain while riding : rock climb, your hands will get jacked.
  • 88 2
 Be single....
  • 30 1
 @Jeeef: And ambidextrous...
  • 22 3
 @Jeeef: being single is really not a prerequisite...
  • 5 1
 @seraph: Knowing many rock climbers, not many have companions unless they're dating fellow rock climbers or convince whoever they're dating to get into it. They're an interesting and insanely fit breed. f*ck rock climbing, too scary.
  • 3 1
 Climbing works great for dealing with arm pump, but does very little for pain caused by spending long hours in the saddle with weight on your hands. Nor will it compensate for a bike setup that's not at all ergonomic. And the longer bikes get, and the steeper seat tubes get, the more important these things become.
  • 1 0
 I see this comment a lot, but as somebody that climbed at a high level before getting into mountain biking my hands still got tired as fuck when I first started
  • 3 1
 @Jeeef: That's only one hand. :-)
  • 5 0
 @lucky13p0: one hand that could strangle an elephant
  • 2 0
 @seraph: true. Even us married folk are affected.
  • 1 1
 @Jeeef: I want to upvote but +69 is too perfect damn it!
  • 1 1
 @scott-townes: funny how most climbers i know consider mountain biking terrifying.
  • 1 0
 @tunnel-vision: can't say I know many rock climbers myself who think MTB is scary.
  • 1 0
 @privateer-wheels: I concur. The only super dedicated climber I know that also rides is a road rider which is insanely terrifying compared to MTBing. They're psychos.
  • 22 2
 As a strength coach, I’m super stoked to see this type of content on PB! Awesome info, well explained.
  • 39 0
 As not a strength coach, I'm also super stoked to see this type of content on PB
  • 28 0
 @makripper:

As someone who rides in coach on a train, I tend to read these articles while enjoying a cold beer during my travels.
  • 21 0
 @johnnygolucky: as someone who watched Coach in the early 90s, I tend to say dated jokes.
  • 12 0
 @PtDiddy: as someone who flies coach I’m moderately stoked on most things, this article included.
  • 7 0
 Sitting on the couch, reading this article post-ride, I'm stoked
  • 8 0
 @bmxslinger: as someone who coaches both of his girls soccer teams, I find it hard to find time to ready these articles.
  • 7 0
 As someone who plays sport, "Thanks, Coach."
  • 6 0
 As someone who wears Coach, this content helps me see how the other half lives. Awesome info; it keeps me grounded.
  • 9 0
 Great article! I've been dealing with numbness in my hands for a while. Similar to carpel tunnel. That's actually what I thought it was since I had been diagnosed with it many years ago. I recently started going to the Dr to see what could be done. Turns out it's not carpel tunnel, but something referred to as 'cyclists palsey". It's caused by excessive pressure on the palm area of the hand. Proper posture and fit and taking weight off your hands is one of the things that really helps with preventing the numbness. I see a lot of information about it in the road cycling community, but a lot less in the mountain bike community. I'm glad to see it. Hope to see more of it, and even more in depth.
  • 9 2
 I pretty much eliminated my hand soreness issues with the following.

Getting my effective top tube correct (adjusting saddle not too stretched out or cramped)
Raising bar height to help off load pressure on hands.
Thick comfy grips, ODI Rogues seem to be the best
High volume tires (2.6) with inserts, running low PSI
Setup fork with good small bump compliance
  • 4 0
 @in2falling: Great advice! I've done those things as well. I prefer the Ergon grips. All personal preference, I know. I've considered a coil conversion for my forks and use one in the rear. I'd also like to try Oneup's new bars, but that would also mean I would need a new stem. I'm just glad I now know what I'm dealing with and there's things that can be done to help
  • 4 0
 @in2falling: this. The chromag squarewave has been a savior.
  • 4 0
 @itsonlyaname616: try Revgrips as well
  • 3 0
 @jaydawg69: Revgrips are a game changer. The real deal, I’m over the moon with the results.
  • 2 0
 Mine was arm pump when racing Mx . However , if I had a great start ( top 5 ) the pressure of the guys behind was insane and my arms would pump up and could hardly hold on let alone brake or use the clutch . But if I got a terrible start and had to come from the back my arms would be fine and could ride relaxed , and I seemed to finish in the same ish spot either good or bad start ! So my conclusion is , arm pump is all in the head , for me anyway !
And don’t hold on to tightly !
  • 1 0
 @bigcrs: I couldn't agree more. Rev grips are awesome.
  • 2 0
 Some nice handlebars like spank vibrocore or oneup work a treat as well
  • 1 1
 Had great hopes for Revgrips, but they fell apart within 5 mins of riding. They work loose within minutes, out of desperation I tightened them so much it damaged my carbon bar but they still came loose with the small rubber dampers dropping out. Can't understand how anyone could sell a product engineered so badly - good idea, poor execution, and at least for me a waste of money
  • 1 0
 @frazzazi: sounds like pilot error to me. I used them all season, bolted on to a set of Turbine R carbon bars, using a proper carbon paste between grip and bar. They have not moved a millimeter from where they were originally installed. Zero issues, and bags more comfortable with them.
  • 11 7
 I have a feeling that the incidences of hand pain will only increase as the industry shifts seat tubes angles more forward to triathlon like angles. While it is great for climbing on the steeps it also puts more weight on the hands while riding. I know this first hand as I demoed a new Hightower. After an hour my hands were done. I can ride my old Hightower for 3 plus hours with no issues. The bikes were pretty much identical other than the geometry. Exercises are always appreciated! Thanks for the article Liz.
  • 3 0
 Could be proper sizing and position. I am thorough with position and reach and haven't had issues w old vs new bike.
  • 9 2
 Raise your bars
  • 4 3
 I was comparing identically spec’d Hightower ones and twos. The bar height and width etc were identical. The saddle position and corresponding reach were 1.25 inches more forward on the new bike relative to the bottom bracket. I have shorter legs and a longer torso that most so I run a shorter seat height than most on an XL. The further forward you slide your saddle the more weight you put on your hands. The issue I really have is that my subtle office hands are quite wimpy. I may be an old school hold out but I do not enjoy the new triathlon like geo on the newer bikes. I have NO issue sliding forward in my saddle a few times during a ride. @kleinblake:
  • 2 0
 @dldewar: raise your bars. You can’t change one aspect of geo and not expect it to correspond to a change in set up. Run your bars higher and you’ll feel more comfortable on climbs and descents.
  • 1 0
 @kleinblake: Wish I could - demo is returned. On another tpoic - the new hightower is WAYYYYY better on the descents. I will give it a go if I get another demo....
  • 1 0
 Yeah, I switched from a Giant Anthem to a Transition Smuggler in the last year, and while they have just about identical ETT, the Transition has a much steeper seat angle and my hands/wrists have been in pain after almost every ride. Getting a higher bar did not seem to help matters. I want to mess around with a couple other things, but I'm starting to think about shopping around fro bikes with more conservative seat angles, assuming there are still any made.
  • 1 1
 I would first try the following.

Go for a completely non technical ride on it where you do not need a dropper. See if you get the hand pain.

Now do the same ride again with the dropper removed and a setback seatpost installed to bring your saddle back the difference between old and new bike.

If you get no hand pain then order yourself a laid back dropper post.
9point8 makes one. The fall line.

If I got one of the new “tri” mtbs that is what I would do.

I assume you have a good idea of your saddle position relative to the BB on your previous bike.

Ride hard. I do not disagree with the other suggestion of the bar height but there is only so much that helps.

Ride hard.

@roma258:
  • 4 2
 Thanks Liz, let's give her a hand! Was recently handed some thick Deathgrips (XL hands) to replace my beloved thin ones and holy hell are they more uncomfortable. Whoever recommends thicker grips needs to do some first hand research.
  • 2 0
 Renthal pushons all the way. Super thin works with my big hands.
  • 5 0
 But you need some load on your hands to keep your front wheel loaded.
  • 1 0
 No. You need to put weight forward. But that can be supported by back muscles instead of hands.
  • 1 0
 @ak-77: that doesn't make sense. To get weight onto the front wheel you need to load the bars which comes from your hands. I guess you only need to weight the front around corners and can unweight between corners and use your back then.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: No, to get weight on the front wheel you need to get weight forward, so displace your center of gravity. You can do that by leaning forward (assuming you stay seated). If your back muscles are ok you can put your chest near your stem without putting any force on the bars. Force distribution between front and back wheel depends only on the position of your center of gravity. If you lean forward and don't put force on the bars there will be a torque on your body toppling you further forward. You transfer the force on your front pedal via your legs and core to your upper body, pivoting around your saddle to counter that torque. You can of course choose not to use your core, and instead push on the bars to counter the torque. It works, but that causes hand pain for some. Only when standing up (or maybe with extremely steep sta?) can your COG get so far forward that you really need your hands to partly support your weight.
  • 1 0
 @ak-77: but this doesn't work when you are standing and descending - this is when your upper body is taking a bashing. IMO if you have strong wrists, arms and shoulders you are going to ride DH better.

I guess you can receive the load on your bars when seated.

This feels a bit like the notion that you use clipless (clips, pads whatever you want to call them) to pull up on the return stroke. I have read that it is less efficient than just testing on the return stroke. As such you are best to let the muscles do what they need to and not try and balance with others. If some muscles are weak you need to strengthen them.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: I don't think the advice in this article is aimed at those who charge hard on the downhills. Even then using back muscles to support your weight will help a lot but it is mostly about absorbing the high speed impacts I guess.
  • 1 0
 @ak-77: got ya. Tried it yesterday and it works but hard work on your absolute tho.
  • 1 0
 I just tell myself to engage my "lats". Also, I drop my elbows rather than push away. Minimal hand pressure, even on 5+ hour (50 mi) outings.

I also tuned my position out of the "no-man's-land" area between a roadie position and an upright one. In the "no-man's-land" position, the upper body weight wants to fall. In the roadie drop position, it can't fall any further. In an upright position, you don't want to go any more upright else it's too much pressure on the arse. The position I'm in, is more of an "universal athletic position", where my shoulders stay directly above the feet (relative to pull of gravity).

To get such a position, I tend to raise my grips to be similar height off the ground as the saddle. With modern steep STA bikes, I've had to use riser stems and bars.
  • 1 0
 Maybe this has been posted but after years of having my outside three digits going numb after an hour in the saddle(regularly 3hrs riding), I rolled my handlebars forward so the bend is more neutral. I did this maybe 15 years ago and have had zero hand pain since.
I've never understood why bars are bent backwards towards the rider. When we outstretch our arms our hands naturally stay straight, not bend outward, so this bend in the bars puts a lot of pressure into your hands therefore cutting off circulation. If you try this and it doesn't help I'll refund your money
  • 1 0
 I found the same issue and do the same with my bars. New bikes are always set up with the pointing toward the rear of the bike. Angling the up for me helps.
  • 1 0
 Maybe you guys have a different hand profile. Put your hands out again and look at the angle of your knuckles. I have been a kayaker for over two decades and switching to a bent shaft paddle (similar ergo) made a world of difference. That said, if your bars aren’t angled correctly to seat height, etc., you’ll have some discomfort.
  • 4 0
 ESI - Extra Chunky Grips helped with any pain I've had. The thinner ones are OK too, but Extra Chunky are better imo.
  • 1 0
 Great advice that gets at the root of the problem! As a pro DH racer taught me it’s common for people to put too much weight on the bars because they’re not centered on the bike and using the hips and core. Getting the weight distribution right is “the difference between doing 200 pushups and dribbling a basketball 200
times.”
  • 1 0
 Hip hinge is the key to stay in the center of the bike and gotta have core power to maintain that posture going dh. Thanks for sharing great exercises Liz. I think replacing components is short term fix just like peep trying to buy lighter components to get faster. Smart athletes will appreciate advice and do the work ( core, deadlift, upper lats, etc) bc it’s a long term fix. Bad habits will never leave you if you keep buying components to feel less pain.
  • 5 1
 Maybe, just maybe, 90-degree seat tube angles are a bit excessive?
  • 1 0
 I have some solid-Jade Baoding Balls. I started using them casually and noticed how quickly they developed arm pump. I’m thinking they would be good for hand/wrist strength and dexterity.
  • 2 0
 In my case:
-switch to flat pedals. To keep enough pressure on your feet, you end up reducing hand pressure
- start rock climbing
- do enough strength training
  • 2 1
 But will this really help with aggressive trail riding or DH? Seem like the main issue is the impact on the wrist. Get ergonomic grips and play around with rotating your brake levers. Get powerful brakes...
  • 1 0
 +1 on strong brakes! Shitty brakes will give you arm pump in literally 5 minutes.
  • 2 0
 Nice. This is something I have always struggled with. Going to try these exercises for sure.
  • 1 0
 I find a lot of cross country guys that complain about hand pain also like say how they run the suspensions super stiff so the can “stay efficient.”
  • 3 0
 This is gold! Thanks.
  • 4 2
 4) Buy yourself some ESI foam grips. Unreal.
  • 4 4
 I agree. I had pains in plams of my hands after 1.5-2h mark on my “roadie” which is a 26” HT frame with road wheels and fork. Tried different bar position, different grips, bought Esi chunky, get pains only after 3h-3.5h but I almost never ride that long.
  • 4 2
 flatten out your brake levers
  • 1 1
 Exactly
  • 1 0
 Actually there is a point where they can be too flat. You have to be careful with that concept. Too flat makes you bend/roll your wrists back too far, which then can cause muscle spasms in your forearms.
  • 2 1
 Got any ideas on getting rid of pain when crashing ? Way more relevant for me.
  • 5 5
 Welcome to: 3 ways to stop hand pain whilst riding.
1. Ride more
2. Don't ride less
3. Ride more, whilst not riding less
This has been: 3 ways to stop hand pain whilst riding
  • 1 0
 Get a powerball gyro - seriously, they work your hands and forearms pretty well.
  • 1 1
 Regular post ride lifting of 20oz* of fluid from table level to mouth level always helps.





* that is the correct size for a pint friends over the Atlantic! Wink
  • 4 2
 Ride more......
  • 1 0
 fact
  • 3 6
 excercise #1: Do not follow recommended air spring pressures, but adjust to 30% sag, leave compression damping mostly open, add tokens for ramp up, and adjust rebound according to speed. Your hand pains will ameliorate. Use body English to stabilize your position on the bike, not overly stiff and tiring suspension settings
  • 5 0
 This is a good guide to set up a fork for someone who only rides on flat ground and normally remains seated. With too much sag and too little compression damping, forks get very harsh when you ride them faster and down steeper things.
  • 2 3
 @AgrAde: Ehhm, my local trails are -10 degree steep double black shit
  • 2 1
 Maybe now people won’t blame “modern geometry” for their hand pain
  • 4 3
 caressing that butt would easy my hand pain i tell you what.
  • 1 1
 Carbon bars and finding a grip you like both make a huge difference in my opinion.
  • 1 0
 Nice rocky mountain thunderbolt! Wink
  • 1 0
 It is an altitude Smile love it!
  • 2 2
 As Chopper used to say "Tryactin"
  • 1 0
 Fit Jones bars.
  • 1 2
 Pole Stamina with a case of ED!
  • 1 2
 Switch to a unicycle and STFU.
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