What’s the most effective way to warm up your hands? Let’s address this question from the perspective of biomechanics. The potentiation exercises we’re going to discuss will be performed as isometrics. While there are more advanced and efficient methods to activate your muscles, performing controlled isometric exercises is the safest and easiest way to get started.

As we discussed last month, isometric warm-ups are intended to elicit a post-activation potentiation (PAP) response, which is often called “muscle memory” or, more accurately, “motor-control memory.”

What Is an Isometric?
An isometric is a form of resistance exercise that generates no change in position. Imagine pushing into a wall. The wall will not move, but if you push with more force, your body will contract harder in response. This is based on Newton’s third law of reaction forces, which states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Isometrics are a great place to begin potentiation exercises because it’s unlikely that you will injure yourself performing an isometric—as long as you stay within the guidelines below.

  1. Stay within your active range of motion. Make sure that you’re controlling the motion to achieve each position and not forcing yourself into an extreme position.
  2. Avoid pain. If you experience some pain near the end of your range of motion, avoid going that far. Back off into a position that doesn’t hurt. Pushing into pain will only cause more pain.
  3. Avoid fatigue. Remember that these are warm-up exercises. As soon as a warm-up becomes physically challenging, you’re entering into the realm of resistance exercise. Fatiguing your muscles during a warm-up will not help increase force production.
  4. Feel the muscles that you want to feel. To make your warm-up efficient, focus your attention on the movements of the muscles being used.
  5. Contract the muscles being used as hard as you possibly can. Try to contract your muscles as if you’re a bodybuilder flexing on stage. This high level of contraction will help increase your awareness of the muscles being used for each exercise. The more awareness you have, the faster and more readily you can prepare your body for an optimal performance.

Internal Components
To warm up the hands, we are going to focus on the wrist, finger extensors and flexors, and the radioulnar supinators and pronators.

Isometrics for PAP
To help you produce the most amount of torque (force in a rotary environment), use one or both of your drumsticks to perform the following exercises.

Radioulnar supination from a 90-degree elbow position
Turn your hand outward to meet a barrier. Push into the end of your range of motion to create a contraction, and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat three to five times.

Supination

Radioulnar pronation from a 90-degree elbow position
Turn your hand inward to meet a barrier. Push into the end of your range of motion to create a contraction, and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat three to five times.

Pronation

Palm-down wrist extension
Extend your wrist to meet a barrier. Push into the end of your range of motion to create a contraction, and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat three to five times.

Extension

Palm-down wrist flexion
Flex your wrist to meet a barrier. Push into the end of your range of motion to create a contraction, and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat three to five times.

Flexion

I’ve been asked if it’s a good idea to play through rudiments to warm up the hands. I encourage that completely. The most effective method I’ve found is to alternate between doing a series of isometric exercises (like those described previously) and playing rudiments for two or three cycles. This ensures that you’re activating all of the muscles in the hands and applying them efficiently within a skills-based environment
(i.e., drumming).

Next month we’ll explore ways to properly warm up the muscles in your legs. See you then.

Muscle and exercise specialist Brandon Green is the founder of Strata Internal Performance Center, and is the owner of the drummer-centric biomechanics and fitness website drum-mechanics.com.