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Wrist wraps, front rack and OHS mobility
Wrist wraps, front rack, and overhead-position mobility.
This blog is directed at anyone who may have some issues with wrists, and/or the front rack/OH positions. As a caveat to start the blog, I want to ensure you that this is written because I’ve seen a LOT of people have issues with this. It’s not geared at any one person in particular, and it’s not meant to be belittling or to call anyone out. In fact, I’m going to be the first to say that I’ve had to work really hard and have learned the hard way about many of the issues I’m about to write about, so I’m not claiming perfection by any means! Personally, my overhead position still has a ways to go to be better–but it’s improving (although slower than I would like!). This is purely meant to be a quick reference guide about some main points regarding the topics. I will do my best to be concise and provide links to additional information if you desire to pursue it. The links provided are by no means an end-all be-all guide to fixing or addressing any problem, but’s they’re all a place to start (and the result of a quick Google search on my part–you could probably find better references if you spent some more time on it).
1. The supported position holding a weight overhead in the hand is for the wrist to be at extension. Many people think that your wrists should be neutral when holding a weight overhead. Incorrect. Your wrists NEED to be flexible enough to be in a position of extension under a load, or else you will be putting the carpals in your wrist in jeopardy. If it hurts to do bear crawls, crab walks, pushups, burpees, etc…that’s a great indicator that your wrists require some work on their flexibility! Don’t guard your wrist flexibility; exploit it and make it better! I see a lot of people trying to guard putting their hands flat on the ground during warmups—those same people always have a hard time in a rack position or overhead, and it’s all because of that constant guarding against wrist extension. Start fixing the root of the problem (or at least part of the root of the problem)!
I must mention, however, that you can certainly extend ANY JOINT too far (hyper-extention), and that wouldn’t be good, but I bring this point up because most people operate under the misconception that your wrists should be neutral while you’re supporting a weight overhead, which is definitely not correct or good for the wrists.
2. Related to the first point, let’s address the purpose of wrist wraps. Wrist wraps are meant to apply compression to the carpals as support, but to also ALLOW THE WRIST TO BE IN A POSITION OF EXTENSION. The capitalized portion of that last sentence is generally the part that most people don’t understand. Wrist wraps are not meant to be strapped tight in order to PREVENT the wrist from being in a position of extension. Wrap your wrist wraps snug enough to provide support relative to the weight you’re lifting (i.e.: if you’re warming up, you probably don’t really need them, whereas if you’re going for that 1RM jerk, you probably going to want them tight) but still allowing the wrist to reach extension. For example, if you’re hitting a big split jerk and going for that 1RM, your wraps will probably be really tight, because even when they’re really tight, the weight of that bar will force your wrist into extension and be really supported while overhead. However, if you have 75# on that bar and your wrap it as tight as you can get it, the weight will not be heavy enough to put the wrist in extension while the bar is overhead. Personally, I tend to wrap tighter as the load increases.
3. Know what movements warrant the use of wrist wraps and what movements do not! When you’re pushing a lot of weight overhead (push press, jerks), snatching, overhead squatting, or even doing handstands/HSPU’s, I wouldn’t bat an eye at using wrist wraps, because you’re needing to support those carpals while the wrists are at extension under a load. However, deadlifts, front squats, toes to bar, pull-ups, rowing, double-unders, farmer carries, and drinking coffee do NOT warrant the use of a wrist wrap. It may even surprise you to know that you probably shouldn’t be wearing wrist wraps when you’re performing cleans–as long as you have an appropriate front rack position and you’re receiving the bar properly, your wrists won’t suffer being forced into an inappropriate position. I do understand, however, that many people don’t have good front rack positions and have a want (or even simply a need) for some extra wrist support. Which leads me to my fourth point…
4. If your front rack or overhead position is less than ideal, you’re going to need to take measures to work on it. Upper back (thoracic spine) mobility, shoulder mobility (external rotation), wrist flexibility, and—believe it or not—even hip and ankle mobility play a part in that (if you can’t squat with an upright torso, you’re going to have to fight that angle at the shoulder even harder to keep a weight in a rack/OH position, right?). I could write a book about fixing mobility issues, but lucky for me, there are people a lot more intelligent than I who have done so already! Fixing your structure is a full-time gig. Think about it: if you slouch at your desk for 8 hours a day and then lay on the couch with shitty posture to watch TV for a couple hours at home, do you think 2-3 minutes of rolling out on a foam roller before you overhead squat is going to undo all that damage that having no discipline with your posture did? Of course not. Actively think about your position and your posture, and take appropriate measures (here, or here, or here, or here…the list goes on) to improve the hangups that are keeping you from performing at a higher level, being healthier, and (most importantly) being injury-free!
Ok, that’s all I have for now–I hope many of you find this quick blog about the purpose and use of wrist wraps as well as the importance of front rack and overhead position mobility useful. Believe me when I say this: we are all dealt a hand, and I get that. Some people have different structures than others, different limb lengths, etc…that may make it harder or easier to be in better positions than others. No matter how easy or difficult some of these positions may be for you, you can ALWAYS improve the hand you were dealt if you don’t like it! It’s just going to take time, hard work, and some patience and discipline….and you’re going to have to WANT it.
As always, follow up with me if you need more guidance and I would be happy to expand on any of these points for you. And go easy on me….I knocked this out while eating lunch today, so forgive any typos or other errors!