Climbing and my body have trouble getting along sometimes. Put another away, I get injured a lot.
Recently, I’ve been dealing with minor elbow pain and chronic wrist pain. I visited a physical therapist for my ailments who recommended I try the TheraBand FlexBar as a way to treat both. It could help strengthen my wrists, she said, it could reduce my elbow pain, and it had some research studies backing up its effectiveness.
Following her recommendation, I bought a green FlexBar in March and have been using it for a little over three months at the time of writing. Here is my experience with it as a climbing recovery tool.
Disclosure: I’m not a medical professional of any sort. If you have serious wrist, elbow, or forearm pain, see your doctor!
My results from using the FlexBar for over 3 months
After three months of consistently using the FlexBar, my wrist pain has noticeably decreased. I also no longer experience uncomfortable tightness in the area around my elbows after a long climbing session. I used the FlexBar two to three times per day on my off days and believe it was a large part of my improvement.
The FlexBar is no panacea—I still have minor wrist pain—but, at the end of the day, it ended up being an affordable and effective recovery tool for the minor (and not so minor) tweaks and aches that pop up in my forearms from time to time. I’ll continue using it for probably as long as I’m climbing. I don’t regret buying it in the least.
Strengthening exercises you can do with the FlexBar
My physical therapist recommended only one exercise to me, and thus I use only one exercise to keep my wrists strong and elbows healthy. Here it is:
1. I extend both arms in front, palms down, holding the ends of the FlexBar in either hand.
2. While holding my right wrist in place, I use my left wrist to twist the FlexBar slightly backward, like revving a motorcycle, to produce a slight amount of tension. Notice how the FlexBar’s ridges are twisted in the photo below.
3. While holding my left wrist in its slightly ‘revved’ position, I twist my right wrist forward then return it to the neutral position. I treat this movement as one rep and I do reps until I feel fatigue, usually 20-25. This exercise works the muscles on the bottom of my forearm.
4. I then repeat this exercise for my left hand.
5. I then repeat steps 1-4 for both hands but twist in the opposite directions—I twist the stabilizer wrist forward and then twist the exercising wrist backward like I’m revving a motorcycle. This works the muscles on the top of my forearm.
The Climbing Doc describes a variation of this exercise and one extra exercise in her video explainer of the FlexBar. It’s an informative video if you’re interested in getting one:
Robin O’Leary also shares a couple different exercises that I never used but are designed to treat tennis and golfer’s elbow:
Which color FlexBar should you get?
From reading about the FlexBar and working with my physical therapist, it appears that the green and red FlexBars are the most popular. The green one offers more resistance, the red one offers less. (There are two other colors: blue and yellow, but I don’t have personal experience with them.)
Which color should you get? The Climbing Doc makes the following recommendations in her video:
- Red: good for most women, men with an acute injury
- Green: good for women who have been training with the red one for a while, men with a mild injury, men with lots of muscle mass for whom the red one is too easy
Due to my wrist pain being more severe when I first started physical therapy, I started with the red FlexBar. After just a couple weeks of therapy, though, my therapist recommended I upgrade to the green FlexBar, which is the one I still use.
The FlexBar is currently the most important tool in my small, yet growing, climbing recovery toolkit. I use it on most off days as a way to mitigate elbow pain and keep my wrists and forearms strong.
Unlike some questionable pain-relieving products out there, there are actually published research papers corroborating the FlexBar’s effectiveness for treating certain types of elbow and forearm pain. That’s always reassuring!
If you’re a climber experiencing minor climber’s elbow or wrist pain, the TheraBand FlexBar is worth checking out. It’s affordable, easy to use, and—in my experience—effective.
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