Ever find yourself lying in bed after a long day, an awesome night at the CF box, and you realize that your hand is pulsating? You’re almost asleep and your senses perk up shifting your attention from sweet dreams of Brooke Ence (or Jared Stevens) directly to your hands. You’re muscle ups, hang-cleans, and handstand walks are flooding back into your mind because your hands hurt. Callus rigged, raw and sensitive, has a heartbeat of its own and it’s the last thing you want to worry about.
Flash forward to the next day, you’re wrapping up a Metcon of T2B and you feel it – the dreadful rip. The bar is covered with blood and you’ve still got 6 minutes left. It sucks; you know it and we know it. So what is there to do? Are calluses tiny round medals you wear proudly on your hands from hours at the box or are they just simply signs of neglect and poor care? In this complete guide to calluses and hand care, we’ll answer that question and more.
What are calluses?
Calluses can be signs of hours spent and weight lifted, but they can also be extremely finicky and painful areas that keep us from workouts or reaching our full potential during lifts and gymnastic movements. Calluses may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean they have to make us miserable. Calluses are the body’s natural armor that is built up over time. In some sports, it’s important to have strong toughened calluses such as runners and hikers. Others, such as Crossfitters and gymnasts. Believe it or not, there is a way to have happy, tough, and (mostly) painless skin that doesn’t wreak havoc on your training or your nightly dreaming.
You also may notice that calluses can be thin or thick. Typically speaking, it’s when calluses become thick and stick out from the hand, that they cause pain and problems during movements. On the flip side of building up the skin, have you ever noticed that you can develop nasty blood blisters in the same spot? That’s because the same type of rubbing that makes calluses can cause layers of skin to literally separate away from each other allowing fluid to flow. If the callus isn’t maintained, it can be rubbed into a blood blister.
Why do calluses hurt?
Just push through the pain they said, it’ll be easy they said. Said nobody ever. Calluses hurt and they can shift your mind away from even the toughest of Metcons. You may have to push through your workout when you notice them getting sensitive and achy, but by implementing proper hand care, calluses don’t have to be the reason why you scale down any longer. Calluses hurt because they’re an extra addition to your hand that it doesn’t naturally have. Have you ever looked at your hands after a manicure or after a good home-hand care routine and see that your hands naturally have a flat surface? Sure, there may be areas where the skin gently rounds over your bone structure, but overall even the wrinkles and creases sit flat. The same goes for calluses. Your hands will toughen-up like little buttercups over time, but by trying to keep callus growth at bay you’ll notice pain will go down, resilience and endurance will go up.
How do you deal with calluses?
So if the answer is taking care of your hands to avoid pain, rips, tears, and annoying buildup, what exactly should you do? They sure don’t teach proper hand care in school and chances are your mom will just recommend you to stop lifting so much and go get a mani/pedi ever so often. For those of us that take pride in our training and it's a regular part of our lives, there is hope.
Sweaty hands, nerves, humid conditions, you get the point, your hands get moist and that’s not ideal for gripping the bar, no matter how gnarled it might be. Your form becomes compromised, you slip, you lose the bar, and it’s just quite frankly annoying. Insert – chalk. Lightly rub chalk on your palms and areas of pressure to counteract moist hands. Avoid using too much chalk, or grabbing the bar of chalk and dusting up your entire body (just don’t be that person) and wipe excess on your clothes or a nearby towel. Chalk is meant to give your hands a break from the friction of lifting and reduce perspiration. Side note- clean your bars, don’t be that person either.
Don’t Wear Gloves
Bitch mittens. No, I’m kidding, but gloves don’t have too much of a place in Crossfit and are pretty generally frowned upon. The idea is to develop the strength and proper technique needed for the long run. If you’re not getting through your weight, eat your ego and go down in weight. Over time your strength and grip strength will build, you just have to work at it. While gloves might seem like a nice solution, it’s only temporary and will end up keeping you from your full potential. Of course, do what is right for you, but the desire to prevent callus formation from happening isn’t a good enough excuse to wrap up in gloves. Do you have a torn callus, cut, or injury? Then sure, a glove might be a good option in this case. There’s nothing wrong with them, and quite honestly, nobody cares if you wear them, just be smart and use the tools that will help you be a better athlete in the long run.
Use Grip Tape
Grips and thumb protection protect your skin while maximizing grip on the bar during lifts and movements. They certainly should not be used in place of good hand care but can maximize performance when used in conjunction. Companies like WOD&DONE have been able to create a grip just for Crossfit athletes and they’re on a mission “to create a product that will protect your hands with minimal interference”. They’re chalk and sweat-friendly and have a comfortable, large grip area without the bulk or slip.
Change Your Grip
Most people don’t understand the correct way to grip a bar or a chin-up bar. As a result, what happens a lot, is that the calluses we create at the distal end of the hand from lifting get torn. Building up a large amount of skin hangs on the gnurl of the bar and ends up ripping. Changing the grip on the bar can influence how much and where calluses grow. The way to grip the bar is to grip the bar with intention.
What not to do when gripping the bar
Put your hand in the same position that most take a grip on the bar without thinking about it. The bar will be in the palm of your hand, and when you wrap the fingers around, tension is applied. Let the skin be affected by the tension as it pulls down towards your fingers. The configuration of the skin as you pull away from the bar creates a line across the distal palmer fold is what produces the callus. The skin has stopped at the crook of the fingers. The crease is the callus formation site. If that site gets repeatedly squeezed, the callus will build, it gets thicker, and it becomes unpliable. It literally hands on the bar, and if it gets bad enough, it will create a sore into the phalangeal fold and you’ll have a bloody callus.
What to do when gripping the bar
The correct way to hold the bar is to instead of placing the palm of the hand on the bar, you’ll be placing your hand where the bar will try to go anyways, closer to the phalanges. You’ll see minor creasing in the fingers but an absence of the crease at the end of the palm. There’s no crease and no opportunity for a huge gathering of callus formation. There’s nothing more aggravating when doing pull-ups, butterfly movements, or otherwise, than a rip that effects not only the rest of your competition but the rest of your movements throughout training.
By changing your grip you may notice that your grip reduces your strength or be wary that it may reduce your strength. In turn, it will strengthen your grip over time and reduce pain and callus build up. Yes, you’ll still have it, but it will not be as limiting as before.
Sanding Down Calluses
Keeping A Grip On Your Fitness – Invest in your hands, buy a WODROD. The WODROD is a revolutionary tool when it comes to hand care and Crossfit. It’s a compact, easy-to-use tool for maintaining callus growth, keeping hands smooth, and keeping your hands healthy for maximum training effort. The rod can be used before, during, and after your workout. It has a unique weight and knurled, barbell-inspired handle with a perforated, abrasive insert sleeve. It comes with patented 3M sanding tape designed specifically for WODROD and optimum hand health.
The sleeve is conveniently removable and replaceable, with an entire extra roll stored right inside the bottom of the handle. And don’t fret when you need to replace your sanding tape – replacement tape cost starts at just $5! When you first purchase the WODROD you automatically receive two rolls of tape lasting anywhere from 2-6 months depending on use. Best of all? Avoiding rips and tears by spending a few minutes each day sanding down your hands with this tool. Doesn't get much better than that! Oh, and did we mention you can custom engrave the handle?
It’s time to ditch the St. Ives lotion and stop smelling like a freshly powdered baby. Moisturizing hands post-WOD is important. Even more importantly? Moisturizing after you use your WODROD. Hands down (no pun intended) the best natural skin care for athletes is W.O.D.Welder to help prevent and repair shreds and tears. We recommend using the Solid Salve to hydrate your calluses and hands in addition to the Hands as Rx Cream to hydrate skin and allows it to breathe and maintain elasticity. Best of all? If you’re trying to treat rips and tears, apply the Solid Salve liberally, and often. You’ll start healing in just 24 hours.
Everyone has a personal approach and has an opinion about hand care in Crossfit. Whether it’s the person who thinks rips and tears are cool, who feels some sort of badge of honor from bleeding in the middle of a competition to someone who never bats an eye and pushes through the pain. There are also the people in between who care but don’t know what to do, about calluses. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of lifters, we have one common consensus – having a big ol’ dried up callus sitting on your hand during your WOD is like taping a pebble to your hand and expecting everything to be ok. Well, I’m here to tell you, it sucks and you don’t have to suck at taking care of your hands any longer. After all, rips AREN’T cool, bro.
Proper Hand Care
I’m not trying to tell you that calluses are something you have to obsess about and take perfect care of. But I am telling you there are a lot cooler badges of strength to wear like smashing times and PRs than having a hand full of ripped skin. Taking a little extra time every day to dedicate to your hands isn’t much to ask of yourself, and trust me, you can thank me later.
Hand care doesn't have to be intimidating, expensive, and take up a lot of time. But with a little extra effort post-training, every day, you can avoid rips, tears, and annoying calluses and focus on what matters most – your performance. Gain the competitive edge you’ve been looking for all along with our complete guide to hand care and calluses.
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