Warm Up Your Forearms!
This is the forearm warm-up routine that I was taught my first semester of massage school more than five years ago. I very quickly experienced relief from the nagging aches in my forearms that had begun to plague me since I started regularly massaging people in school and at home for practice.
Who benefits from this warmup routine?
More people than you may think. I have recommended this routine to fellow massage therapists, artists, stylists, and anyone who works with a computer or puts a writing implement to paper on a regular basis.
Given the universality of computers these days, I do not believe there is anyone who could not benefit from a warm up that will keep their wrists and fingers limber. If you have ever felt tenderness in your arms at the end of the day, this routine could be for you.
For anyone who works with their hands, this routine is essential for keeping the tools of the trade in good working shape.
Why the forearms?
The forearms house the bellies of the muscles that flex and extend the wrists and fingers. The belly of the muscle is the thick, "meaty" part of the muscle, as opposed to the tough tendons that attach muscle to bone. By the time they reach the wrist, the wrist and finger flexors and extensors have turned to tendon. In order to improve the strength and flexibility of these muscles, you have to address the whole forearm, not just the wrist and fingers.
The muscles that flex the wrist and fingers--the muscles that allow you to make a fist--are located on the anterior, "non-hairy" side of the forearm.
The muscles that open the fingers and extend the wrist--think of holding up your hand to make a "stop" gesture--are located on the posterior, "hairy" side of the forearm.
Step One: Shake 'Em Out!
To begin, hold your hands up at your sides, keeping your wrists loose, and just shake your hands vigorously for about 30 seconds. This helps to loosen up the muscles and joints and prepare them to be worked and stretched.
Step Two: Flick
Hold your hands out palm up in front of you. Touch your fingertips to the tip of your thumb. Gently but quickly "flick" your fingers out about 10-15 times.
Step Three: Circle
Still holding your arms out in front of you, circle your wrists about ten times in one direction, and then ten in the other direction.
Step Four: Self Massage
Massage your forearm with your opposite hand. Starting near the elbow, grip the fleshy part of the forearm and gently but firmly lift the muscle away from the bone. This action is a stroke called petrissage, which means "lifting and kneading." Do not be alarmed if your skin looks a little red after a few seconds. This is called hyperemia, and it is caused by the blood vessels widening due to the warmth of your hand and the kneading action. This makes your muscles warmer and more pliable so that the stretch will be more effective.
Tip: When massaging your forearms, do not use your thumbs in opposition to your fingers. Instead, make a "duckbill" with your hands by keeping your thumb parallel to your fingers and using your palms to lift and knead. This will prevent the tendons in your thumbs from overuse.
Step Five: Stretch
Every action your body does is performed by the contraction of one or more muscles. The concept of stretching is to undo the action of the muscle you are trying to stretch. Therefore, to stretch the extensors, you must flex, and vice versa.
IMPORTANT: Do not rush into any stretch! While a good stretch will feel a little uncomfortable at first, that discomfort should begin to diminish within a few seconds. If it does not, then you have stretched too far. Ease up. Hold each stretch for a period of 30-60 seconds. Too short a stretch will have no effect. Too long will trigger a contract response in the muscle.
Stretch the flexors and extensors as pictured below, taking hold of the fingers or hand to gently pull your forearm into the stretch.