Guest post written by: Kate Galliett
Your electronics are destroying your ability to do push-ups. They’re also wrecking your downward-facing dog. And if you’re doing burpees (shudder), it’s jacking those up too.
The way you position your hands when using a mouse, trackpad on a laptop, or holding your phone all mimic the same problem position. And it’s this position that is creating an epidemic of people who have lobster claws for hands.
Lobster claws are terrible for your ability to get strong and fit.
The positions you spend the most time in will be the positions your body molds into. Just like rocks molded by the wind perpetually blowing from one direction, your body is molded by the repetitive signals you send.
And when you make the hand position that is ubiquitous for using technology, you’re teaching your body to change the original length-tension relationship of your forearm and hand muscles. This changes how your hand articulates with your forearm bones via the wrist, and that changes everything for how your hand functions.
This is also can change how your shoulder functions, more on that later.
The “technology position” puts your wrist extensors in a slightly shortened position and moves your wrist slightly off it’s original axis with your radius and ulna. While your hand, wrist, and forearm are intended to move in all of these ways, flexing and extending, it’s the holding of one position for an extended period of time that is the issue. Hold the “technology position” for long enough and your body starts to form the bones, soft tissue, and nerves within that tissue into the new, less-excellent position.
Hold any position for enough hours per day and your body learns to maintain that position, because that’s the signal you’ve been sending it. In this case, “make strong the slightly flexed, slightly off-axis position”. Then the time comes to use your full range of motion – flexing and extending as much as the joint was intended to – and you can’t.
You place your palms flat on the floor for your workout, and you can’t. It hurts to do so. You have to turn your hands out to the sides like seal flippers, or you prop yourself up on your thumb and fingers instead of having the palm flat to the ground.
A Body Is Always Listening
Your body is always listening and responding to what it thinks you’re asking it to do. By losing range of motion in your hand and wrist, you also change the range of motion and function in your shoulder.
The shoulder joint is capable of a large amount of movement. That means that it can do lots of things, but it also means that it’s got potential to move sub-optimally for the task at hand.
Here are a few factors that lead to sub-optimal movement at the shoulder joint:
- sub-optimal hand and wrist function, leading to a loading of the shoulder joint that supports faulty movement patterns
- over-recruitment of bicep and tricep in relation to the pecs, delts, traps, and lats
- poor technique, literally not knowing how to do a movement correctly, thus recruiting the wrong muscle fibers for the task at hand to “muscle” through it
- soft tissue around the shoulder joint that is in poor condition (rigid, tight, non-pliable)
- imbalanced length-tension relationship of the muscles anterior/posterior to the shoulder
- overusing one movement pattern for long enough that it causes excessive wear and tear in the shoulder joint
It all boils down to the signals being sent and the body positions being chosen. There is a constant conversation happening between your brain and your body talking to each other. The message you send about how your hand and wrist function impacts the signal that is sent to your shoulder joint about how it should function.
Common Hand Position Mistakes
Let’s look at any exercise where hands are on the floor. When your palm is flat to the floor, with fingers facing forward & fully extended, you have a stable base of support that signals to your shoulder how it should function.
If your palms are not flat to the floor, acting to press the floor away from you, you are more likely to let your shoulder blades “float”. Pressing the palm into the floor tells the muscles stabilizing the scapula to ‘brace’. The scapula, humeral head, and ribcage need to work in an organized fashion when moving, or else soft tissue gets inflamed from either being impinged between the bony processes of the shoulder joint or from overuse.
And if you’re in a position where you’re not moving while hands are flat on the floor – like in a straight-arm plank, for example – you still want to be engaging the shoulder girdle correctly.
Turning your fingers outward during a push-up does allow you to make full palm contact with the floor, but, only because you’ve changed the angle the wrist is at in relation to the hand. With fingers turned out, you don’t have to extend the wrist as much, but that also changes the position your elbow must move in as you do a push-up. And that new elbow position inhibits your ability to bend your arm to bring your chest to the floor.
Propping yourself up on your thumb and fingers, instead of flat-palmed to the floor is going to force your thumb to act like the third leg of an easel, stabilizing your entire upper body on the tiny thumb joint. The stability of your arm isn’t the only issue. Having your body propped up on your thumbs and fingers, instead of on your palms, significantly increases the tension throughout the arm, making it much harder to move through an optimal range of motion for a push-up.
If not strong enough for fingertip push-ups, the default push-up in this hand position will be to sink the torso into the shoulder joint, causing a winging of the shoulder blades, which is a clear indicator that the lats and serratus anterior are not bracing the shoulder joint correctly and can lead to injury.
So what are you to do if you can’t support yourself on your hands yet with high-quality stability and control of your shoulder, elbow, and wrist? The video below includes simple solutions you can start on today to bring better mobility and soft tissue reconditioning to your forearms and wrists. When doing the fingers stretch and clench drill, focus on spreading every single joint as straight as possible, and clench each joint as hard as possible, not just from the fist but from each finger joint as well.
Begin now and bring your push-ups and downward-facing dogs to a new level of glory.
Kate Galliett is the creator of Fit for Real Life where she brings together body, mind, and movement to help people become highly-charged and fit for real life. She coaches clients in-person, online, and through her foundational strength & mobility program, The Unbreakable Body. She holds a BS in Exercise Science and has worked as a fitness professional for 12 years. Her secret ingredient is always smoked paprika.
Andrew H says
Great post, I had never considered the implications of prolonged technology use on the upper body as a whole. Fortunately my wrist & elbow stability seem to be quite good, probably due to my regular doing of calisthenics. But for those of us who do use technology regularly, would making sure to avoid keeping the wrist in one static position for an extended duration be sufficient ward off the negative effects outlined here?
Kate Galliett says
Yep! It’s a multi-pronged approach you have to take:
– less holding static hand position during tech use
– mobility work for the areas being held in position all day (just like we do for the rest of our bodies)
– strengthening work done to bring up the strength of our hand and forearm muscles
Clark Connery says
I like a lot of this, but I had one issue: You mention that, when pointing the hands outward during a pushup, you won’t be able to bend your elbows fully and drop your chest to the floor. It’s worth noting that if you’re doing a planche or pseudo-planche pushup, then many people will either turn their hands out or even fully supinate their hands so that the elbows track beside the hips. The chest can reach the ground when performing this task if the individual has the strength to perform the move.
I understand that this article might not be intended for more advanced people doing pseudo planche or planche pushups, but I thought it worth noting that hands-turned-out might be necessary when preforming various techniques.
I’ve actually experienced some alarming grip weakness in my left arm because of this … thanks for the wake up call!
Rhys MacMillan says
It is fine to have emotional based opinions and viewpoints based on assumptions. However, without providing evidence, the arguments presented for “technology hand” become specious and devolve into hyperbole. You might be able to make a hypothesis that the increased use of handheld technology has led to dysfunction, but there is no evidence to support this. A simple Google search for “technology hand” results in one finding for the term, and that is this article. This would indicate that this is a concept imagined by the author. As a former biochemist, I would assume Mr. Wolf is familiar with the limited value of unsupported anecdotal opinion.
Biome Onboard Awareness says
Actually, technology based hand/arm injury is real as I learned from an injury due to incorrect keyboard ergonomics. I entrapped my ulnar nerve at the elbow which required surgical release. Entrapment occurred from typing on a laptop keyboard that was positioned on my desk to effect the FDA/CDC 2006/2007 global recall of the contact lens Complete Moisture Plus multipurpose disinfecting solution. It was a grassroots effort of three women that involved corresponding with federal and state health and parasitic agencies, corneal experts fighting the parasitic, fungal, or bacterial epidemic, and then finally evidentiary submittals to the EPA then open for public comment for the Water Containment List nominating a re-evaluation of acanthamoeba parasite (it comes through tap water and was found to be the parasite involved in the eye infections.) It took a lot of typing to finally force the global recall action! Lesson learned: if you type a lot, pay attention to correct keyboard ergonomics.
Omega 3 Movement says
It’s a good thing I stumbled across this post. I work out regularly, but that’s nothing compared to the time that I’m sitting behind my laptop.
Sean Donnelly says
Great article Kate I hadn’t ever thought about the effects of “tech hand”. I thought that just by using the left and right hand equally for mouses and smartphone use would do the trick. But I guess I need to do a bit more. I’ll try these stretches out starting today.