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While your body may love you for the strength gains you achieve in the gym, your hands may not feel the same way. Repetitive friction from gripping activities like holding onto a barbell, dumbbell or rig for bodyweight exercises are culprits of calluses and blisters.
If you’re really unlucky, hands that are not maintained can split open, creating a huge mess on the bar and in the training area. These injuries can leave you out of commission for a week at a time with what is essentially an open wound.
It’s not uncommon for circuit-style workouts to include hundreds of reps in a small window of time, leading to skin breakdown. While our hands and feet are home to some of the toughest skin on our bodies, they can only withstand so much.
Calluses form from repeated pressure of rubbing against the bar or a dumbbell handle. Blisters form because of shearing forces that can separate the skin, occurring most often in movements like pull-ups or toes-to-bar. In my experience, blisters become more of a daunting issue, as blood begins to pool underneath and eventually bursts after continued gripping activities.
The tips of your fingers also can become damaged depending on where the bar is loaded: closer to versus farther away from the palm, leaving a gap and exposing the pads of the fingers to excessive friction.
If you’re an Olympic weightlifter or athlete who hook-grips (wraps your thumb underneath your fingers) for gymnastics like toes-to-bar, pull-ups or bar muscle-ups, there are some serious shear forces occurring on the inside of your thumb. Damaged thumbs may result in workout modifications or avoiding certain movements all together because of the potential of re-ripping what is already tender skin.
When it comes to protecting your hands and maximizing your workouts, here are some must-do’s and don’ts:
You do not need gloves. The skin on your hands is strong enough to withstand the rough metal of the bell. Plus, leaving gloves behind will make your grip stronger, which in turn will make you stronger. If you’re looking for a novice lifter in the gym, just look for the gloves.
Instead of gloves, use chalk. Chalk is made of magnesium carbon, which absorbs liquids. The chalk will allow you to train your grip while absorbing sweat to prevent slipping, keeping your hands dry and grippy.
Do Not Pick Your Hands
It’s incredibly tempting, but you must avoid picking your hands. When you pick calluses, your body responds by making them thicker, which of course is not ideal. And if you’re chronically picking at your hands, your wounds will never heal.
Protect Your Hands in the Gym
Do yourself a favor and buy some reliable grips or thumb tape in order to prevent your hands from ripping in the first place. I have tried so many different kinds, but I keep coming back to the following two products:
Wod & Done: The thumb tape, finger tape and single-use hygienic grips come in a bunch of cute colors and never slide or move around when I sweat, ever. The finger tape is a great option for smaller calloused areas on the finger pads that wouldn’t get covered with traditional grips or thumb tape. Also, a great option for gymnastics-heavy programming is Victory Grips. These grips are made of leather, are reusable and last forever.
Double Wrap: If you have open blisters or calluses (or both) that you want to nip in the bud, try double wrapping. On a higher-volume day, try a disposable grip under a leather grip to protect your hands, or continue working out with already-ripped hands.
Protect Your Hands Outside the Gym
Use a pumice stone or a microplane to get rid of dead, dry, unwanted skin that causes excessive calluses. W.O.D. Welder offers prepackaged kits with everything you need for optimal hand care [link]. A more budget-friendly option would take a visit to your local drug store to snag these items.
If your hands are dry, cracked or peeling from excessive chalk use, dumbbells or barbell cycling, a daily moisturizer would be a good option to add to your hand-care regimen. However, if they are not actually dry, I wouldn’t moisturize at all.
For truly dry, cracked hands, consider the differences between these three products before purchasing:
Lotion: Winter is a great time for lotion. Stick to fragrance-free, non-oily bases that will soak in almost immediately.
Cream: This is for skin that is flaking off around the beds of your nails or knuckles. If your hands are dry enough for cream, it shouldn’t even need to be rubbed in.
Balms: For severally dry hands, apply this at night before you sleep.
Painful hands should be the last reason you’re missing a workout, and rips are absolutely not a badge of honor. Try at least one of my suggestions above and work to maintain pain-free gripping for whatever your workout throws at you.