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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Hand Position During Ground-Based Exercises

Hand position on the ground is a rarely discussed but vitally important topic for movement.  With a greater recent emphasis on ground-based exercise in many training systems, hand-to-ground interaction merits our close attention.  The hands are hardly a novel discovery, as the link between the hands and the brain is obvious to anyone with a sense of touch.  (Hand shaping is an important part of many skilled hand movements and includes a number of hand shapes (Sacrey 2010))

Both in infants and in adults, the hands are sensory antennae to the outside world.  Baby uses the hands to gather information about nearly everything in its environment.   With few exceptions, adults don’t choose crawling as their primary locomotion, yet other than our move toward upright bipedal posture, very little changes in the hands’ priority in for human touch.  Look at human homunculus and you’ll see how much is devoted to the hands.  Some may explain this as an evolutionary adaptation.  It pays to have great sensitivity in our hands due to the role they play in connecting us to the world.   

Biomechanically during ground based exercise (crawling and its variants) the hand performs a similar role to the foot.  There’s a lot of discussion about arch and foot structure in many movement fields; you can say the same thing for the hands as relates to quadruped stance.  Just as the foot, knee, and hips closely interact, the hands closely interact with the elbows and shoulders.

Also note how gross motor skills of feeling the ground precede more refined motor patterns of object control, within which are then coordinated into skills of feeding, writing, speaking and ultimately task sport specific skills.  (The sequence of language-related gestures are also found to be characteristic of functional hand movements. It is suggested that these findings show that the arm and hand gestures that accompany human speech are derived from the same neural substrates that produce functional movements. (Whishaw 2010) 

In the infant, optimal hand placement is crucial immature structures can develop into biomechanically sound joints.  With older kids and adults, hand placement.  Just as with the foot, there’s surely a balance to be found between optimizing joint biomechanics balanced against the need for the brain to express its sensory exploration via different hand orientations.   Hand placement matters, especially during static postures, but there’s no need to overthink it during locomotion such as crawling (though if someone’s hand placement is consistently sloppy, crawling may not be the best exercise for them). 

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Take home message: pay attention to hand placement.  Hand placement can both feed forward and feedback…Placing the hands into a biomechanically advantageous position can make it easier for the rest of the body to move.  Suboptimal hand placement can signal problems elsewhere.   It’s a small detail but can be a significant one.       

References

Whishaw IQ, Sacrey LA, Travis SGGholamrezaei G, Karl JM.  The functional origins of speech-related hand gestures.  Behav Brain Res. 2010 Dec 25;214(2):206-15. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.05.026. Epub 2010 May 24.

Sacrey LA, Whishaw IQ.  Development of collection precedes targeted reaching: resting shapes of the hands and digits in 1-6-month-old human infants.  Behav Brain Res. 2010 Dec 6;214(1):125-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.04.052. Epub 2010 May 6.

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