Here’s a little write up to help everyone think about hand care and to think of a solution for those pesky blisters.
What you think chalk does for you.
This bar/pullup is heavy/hard and my grip is struggling. I’m sweating a little bit and I need some chalk to help me hang on to the bar. It will prevent me from getting rips and make me badass like Lebron James.
What is really happening?
It’s really hard to hang onto this bar and I don’t want to push through the necessary grip strength. I should take a break and put some magic dust on my hands. Oh shit I tore because I actually created more friction on the bar. PS my WOD time is slower because I used that chalk bucket as an excuse to slow down.
I’m serious. I see it all the time in the gym. Life doesn’t have chalk buckets sitting next to you when you need to climb a 100 foot tree to escape that velociraptor. Chalk is banned in many CrossFit gyms around the country. Chalk was even somewhat banned at the CrossFit Games Regionals this year. This is not just because it makes things dirty, it’s because it’s affecting your hand health.
Cause of Tears
Here’s the easy way to think of what causes tears and blisters: excessive friction. So, our goal to minimize blisters and tears is to minimize friction associated with our hands.
The culprits of excessive friction and tears:
- Water/Sweat: Wetness makes you stick to the bar when combined with chalk. The pasty mess will eventually create a glue to the bar that will cause an immense amount of friction and eventually tear your skin. Chalk isn’t a solution for super wet hands and sweatiness.
- Blisters/Callouses: Blisters and callouses make your hands a non-smooth surface. It might seem counter-intuitive, but, big callouses are at a huge risk for being completely torn off and exposing the dark, deep underworld of your skin. Additionally, when the skin is more rough from callouses, more friction is created. If you’ve had a big callous tear, you will know they are extremely painful and take several weeks to heal.
- Bad Grip Technique: Especially on pullups where 90% of tears occur, you should know how to grip the bar. The bar should be gripped in a way that doesn’t raise your skin and create a non-smooth surface.
How to Minimize Risk of Blisters/Tears and Bad Hands
- Solving Your Grip: Try this experiment. Put your thumb in the middle of the opposite hand. Now slowly close your hand over your thumb. What happens? Do you see the little mountain of skin forming the base of your fingers? Imagine a metal bar rubbing against that little mountain 50+ times. Tear alert! Now, put your thumb at the base of your fingers and close your fingers around your thumb. Notice how the skin stays much more flat? That is exactly what we want to do when we hang from a bar or grip a bar for high rep work. Yes, it will be hard to grip, but you can get stronger and you will be more comfortable in time.
- Using Chalk Intelligently: A little chalk goes a long way. You want enough to dry your hands, but not enough to stick to the bar and cause the pasty mess.
- Keeping Hands Dry: Sweat bands and towels help dry your hands. If you don’t have those around, use your shirt. If you are using chalk to keep your hands dry, then you are going down a vicious cycle which will result in tears.
- Taking Care of Your Hands: Most important is that you take care of your hands. As we said in the beginning, we want as little friction as possible and that means smooth hands. You need to buy a legit callous shaver like the one pictured below. You should shave your callouses down. Depending on how much pullup work we do, that means about once every 10 days or so. After you have them shaved down, use a pumice stone to smooth out the skin. You should clean your hands of chalk after workouts and make sure you use moisturizer if you are into that sort of thing. Use the pumice stone to maintain a smooth hand surface.
That’s about all for handcare. It’s not super hard, you just have to spend the few minutes a week taking care of it and you can live with a lot fewer tears.