Mountain bikers are particularly prone to wrist pain—from vibration, maintaining the same upper body position for long periods of time and a propensity for crashing. Pedalling over rocks, roots, drops and other unpredictable terrain generates vibration that you and bike have to absorb, and hand and wrist pain are a common side-effect of supporting your weight under these conditions.
Mountain biking also exacerbates a common muscular imbalance—caused by spending most of the time with our wrists in mild extension—between the top and bottom of the forearm. The top of the forearm—from the wrist to the elbow— is typically tight from overworking, and the bottom—from the palm to the inner elbow—is often weak, underused and susceptible to nerve damage.
If your wrists are not conditioned to withstand rugged and repetitive training, they won’t have the resilience to withstand injury. Yoga—little and often—can be a great way to strengthen this vulnerable joint—to reduce wrist pain, improve your riding and minimise time away from the bike.
RAMP IT UP SLOWLY
Yoga has the power to both hurt and heal your wrists, so if they are weak, you need to ramp up the intensity slowly. If you wake up with sore wrists, don’t be tempted to plough on. Take a break for a day or so for your muscles, tendons and ligaments to heal and grow stronger.
In these poses, back off any movement that causes wrist pain, tingling or numbness and don’t try to muscle through it. If you have any concerns, please consult a medical professional as you may have a more serious condition that needs to be addressed.
1. LEVEL ONE: CAT-COW VARIATIONS
Here is a 2-minute sequence you can do on all fours. As your weight is distributed between your hands, knees and lower legs, it’s a good place to start to build strength in your wrists.
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2. LEVEL TWO: DOWNWARD DOG
Next, we’ll move onto Downward Dog—an upper body strengthening pose that doesn’t require 90 degree extension at your wrists. There is therefore less weight going through your wrists than in a pose like Plank.
Pay close attention to the placement of your hands.
- 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.
- Notice how you distribute your weight, being careful not to dump into the heels of your hands, as this can lead to compression and discomfort in your wrists.
- Lift your forearms up out of your wrists.
- Hold the pose for 5 deep breaths, in and out through your nose. And repeat 2-3 times.
Pay attention to how you distribute your weight through your hands in this pose and apply this to how you position yourself on the bike. Notice where you can let go of tension and where your alignment can be improved.
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3. LEVEL THREE: SIDE PLANK PROGRESSION
The key to protecting your wrists is to develop a strong core, by which I don’t mean 6-pack abs but a solid base of support from which to generate powerful movement. When your hips, core and shoulders are strong, you decrease the load transferred into your wrists.
You should be able to hold Side Plank for a minute or so but if you’re recovering from injury or have weak wrists, start gradually, holding for 5-10 breaths every other day.
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4. LEVEL FOUR: CROW
Our final pose is Crow. This is an advanced arm balance in which all your weight goes through your wrists when your feet come up off the mat. It may take you a few weeks or even months to master but consistent practice is guaranteed to keep your wrists strong and resilient.
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Paying close attention in yoga can help you to ride with more awareness of your body and therefore in a potentially less injurious way. As you notice issues with your alignment and areas where you’re holding tension on the mat, you can start to be more conscious of your postural and movement patterns 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.
Please share any tips in the comments relating to your training, riding position and equipment that you have found to help reduce wrist issues.
Cover photo credit: Graham Mattock