This article was originally published in British Strength Magazine. You can subscribe for free at www.britishstrengthmagazine.com
Achieving wrist flexibility - even if it's only for long enough to squat!
As we all know different variations of the squat require differing amounts of flexibility through the upper thoracic, gleno-humeral joint (read shoulder) (need to mention slave to scapulo-thoracic?) and wrist. It is not uncommon for people to be unable to get into a low bar back squat or Olympic style front squat position due to a lack of flexibility through these areas. Or if they can achieve the position it either puts too much stress on a point such as the wrist or they certainly don't wish to repeat that position over a number of sets. Therefore building mobility in areas such as the anterior shoulder and wrist, even if it's only long enough to complete your training sessions comfortably is desirable.
There are any number of reasons why this 'tightness' and restriction may be present. Excluding individual injury if both wrists are equally restricted then likely they are clamping down due to your body attempting to over stabilise the wrist as a result of instability elsewhere. In effect due to a lack of proximal stability (think neck and intrinsic core) your body creates a safer environment for itself by limiting mobility at the extremities. An indication of this being the case may be that even if you stretch them and loosen them up for a period of time they just tighten back up again and you don't make any progress. Simply put if you're doing something and it ain't working then you ain't doing the right thing. The key here is to work out where you need to work on to allow your tight areas to relax.
Muscles do not work as individuals. They work as systems. A number of you may be familiar with the Gray Cook's Anatomy Trains (worth a Google if you are unfamiliar). Systems or groups of muscles transfer force along the chain making movement way more efficient than it would be if it were completely segmented. Problems commonly occur along these pathways and it is common to find that one at the bottom is 'tight' due to something else in the chain not working efficiently. Imagine trying to use a whip with a section in the middle that doesn't bend properly and therefore interferes with force transference down the rest of the whip. Not very efficient is it? It's the same with your arm. It is also very common for an agonist / antagonistic pair to be interfering with each other.
Below I have outlined a couple of exercises (not stretches) that integrate the use of neck, shoulder and all the arm muscles at once. Done correctly these will not only stretch the 'tight' areas but hopefully also activate / stretch the other things that may be preventing longer lasting improvements. They can easily be integrated into a warm up or anytime you have enough room to wave your arms around. Of course without assessment I am unable to be certain that they will work for an individual, but they are a good place to start if the things you're currently trying aren't helping.
Exercise 1 - palm of L hand up with fingers pointing towards the floor. R shoulder internally rotated so palm is up and fingers pointed up towards the ceiling. Look in the direction of the palm that is up. Alternate hand positions rotating shoulders, head should always be looking at upward facing palm.
Exercise 2 - shoulders internally rotated, arms rotated in as far as possible. Bend head down and round back. From this position externally rotate shoulders and open chest out and extend upper back and look up at ceiling. Wrist position with shoulders internally rotated should be flexed. Wrist position when shoulders ER should be extended.
For both of these exercises move slowly between positions. Each time try to encourage more movement without forcing it. They do not need to be done in 'order' and can be done whenever or wherever you like.