Mountain bikers are particularly prone to wrist injuries, which can result from crashes, excessive vibration and maintaining the same upper body position for long periods of time. Pedaling over rocks, roots, drops and other unpredictable terrain generates vibration that the rider and bike have to absorb, and hand and wrist pain are a common side-effect of supporting your weight under these conditions. Riding also exacerbates a common muscular imbalance between the top and bottom of the forearm, which can contribute to the problem. The top of the forearm—from the wrist to the elbow— is typically tight and overactive, whereas the bottom—from the palm to the inner elbow—is often weak, underused and susceptible to nerve damage.
Yoga can help, both preventatively and therapeutically, by building strength in the wrists and keeping your body moving when you’re not able to ride or train at maximum effort. Working on strengthening and maintaining proper mobility in this vulnerable joint can help to reduce pain, increase your performance and minimize time away from the bike.
1. Building strength
The key to protecting your wrists is to develop a strong core, by which I don’t mean 6-pack abs, but a balanced base of support from which to generate power. When your hips, core and shoulders are strong, you decrease the load transferred to your wrists. Here are four yoga poses, which fall into the category of arm balances, that strengthen the core and upper body. I recommend you practice them regularly to maintain a level of conditioning that allows you to ride your fastest and hardest for longer.
These poses require 90-degree extension at the wrist, so skip onto the next section if you don’t have access to your full range of motion at this joint.
Click on each of the pose titles for full instructions.
It is important to ensure proper alignment in these poses so that you don’t further injure yourself or exacerbate existing muscular imbalances.
- Press your palms evenly into the mat, spread your fingers wide and check that your index fingers point straight ahead. - Press into the mounds at the base of your fingers to reduce the weight in the heels of your hands and engage the muscles in the undersides of your forearms. If your hands start to cup, this may signify weakness in the underside of your forearms and/or tightness on the insides of your hands. - Pay attention to how you distribute your weight, being careful not to dump into the heels of your hands as this can lead to compression and discomfort at the wrist. - Lift your forearms up out of your wrists. - Tune into the connection that runs from your core through your shoulders, arms and wrists to your hands. Allow the larger muscles in your body to do most of the work. - Check that your wrists are directly underneath your shoulders.
You should be able to hold each of these poses for a minute or so. If you’re recovering from injury or you have weak wrists, start gradually, holding the poses for 5-10 breaths every other day. The rest between attempts will allow your muscles, tendons and ligaments to grow stronger.
Back off any movement that causes pain, tingling or numbness. Don’t try to muscle through it. And if you have any concerns, please consult a medical professional as you may have a more serious condition that needs to be diagnosed.
2. Improving mobility
If your wrists are weak or injured, you should avoid weight-bearing poses until the pain subsides. In the meantime, you can practice gentler yoga sequences to work on restoring proper flexibility and range of motion in your wrists, as well as in the neck, shoulders and upper back. Here is an easy 15-minute upper mobility routine.
Practicing yoga can help you to ride with more awareness of your body and therefore in a potentially less harmful way. As you notice issues with your alignment and areas where you’re holding tension, you can start to be more conscious of your habitual patterns both during the day and on the bike. This focus on body awareness is one of the primary reasons many professional athletes value yoga as an integral part of their training. We don't always pay close attention to our bodies when we’re engaged in physical activity, especially at the most demanding level, but it is crucial for skill development and to perform at the highest level.
Notice how you distribute your weight through your hands in the poses and apply this to how you position yourself on the bike. Notice where you can let go of unnecessary tension and where your alignment can be improved.
4. Myofascial release
Stretching and yoga may not be enough to fully restore strength, flexibility and strength in your wrists. To break up adhesions in the connective tissue, you can take a lacrosse ball to your forearm, all the way from the base of your thumb up to your elbow joint, paying close attention to areas that feel tight.
Please share any tips in the comments relating to your training, riding position and equipment that you have found to help reduce wrist issues.
I’ve put together a 5-video Yoga For Wrists series, to build strength, increase flexibility and restore range of motion. You can find out more here: vimeo.com/ondemand/yogaforwrists. Email me at email@example.com if you have any questions about the series or the poses I recommend in this article.